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Pre-Code Movies: Clara Bow + Jean Harlow in Racy Fox Fare

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Pre-Code Movies: Clara Box Hoop-laFilm Forum, the New York City institution that about a year ago presented the Paramount Before the Code film series, will be presenting Pre-Code movies from Fox – Fox Before the Code (and Fox before it became 20th Century Fox). The series will take place between Dec. 1-21.

The Pre-Code era went from about 1928, or the beginning of talking pictures, to mid-1934, before the Production Code – a series of moralistic rules and regulations – became fully implemented by the studios, so as to avoid federal censorship of motion pictures (then not considered an art form, and thus not covered by the First Amendment.)

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Among the rarities to be screened during the three-week festival are Ben Stoloff’s Goldie (1931, Sun., Dec. 3), which has “cash hungry” Jean Harlow in an early, pre-MGM role; Frank Lloyd’s Hoopla (1933, Sun., Dec. 3), Clara Bow’s last film, and perhaps the one that boasts her finest performance (Bow can also be seen in Call Her Savage, on Sun./Mon., Dec. 10/11); Victor Fleming’s Common Clay (1930, Tue., Dec 6), with Constance Bennett suffering her way through some risqué misdeed or other (though Bennett usually suffered at RKO, not Fox). Lew Ayres plays her man in this one. (Instead of Joel McCrea, her frequent partner in suffering at RKO.)

Also, After Tomorrow (1932, Thu., Dec. 7), directed by Frank Borzage, and starring Charles Farrell and Marian Nixon (in lieu of Farrell’s usual gal, Janet Gaynor), as they discuss the pros and cons of pre-marital sex (seventy years later, still an issue in some circles); Sidney Lanfield’s Broadway Bad (1933, Fri. Dec. 8), with handsome and slimy Ricardo Cortez breaking up the marriage of Joan Blondell (and with Ginger Rogers in a supporting role); and The Worst Woman in Paris? (1933, Sun., Dec. 17), directed by Monta Bell, on his way down (he had guided Norma Shearer a number of times in the silent era), and starring Benita Hume and – ugh – Adolphe Menjou. Hardly great credentials, but since upon its release this romantic comedy outraged the Legion of Decency, it must have something good to offer.

The Pre-Code Fox festival will also screen two little-seen Spanish-language versions of early Fox talkies, Harry Lachman’s Nada más que una mujer (Nothing More Than a Woman, the 1934 Spanish version of Pursued), starring (Russian-born) Argentinian sensation Berta Singerman, and Frank R. Strayer and Miguel de Zárraga’s No dejes la puerta abierta (Don’t Leave the Door Open, the 1933 Spanish version of Pleasure Cruise), with Brazilian Raul Roulien of Flying Down to Rio brushing up on his Spanish. Rosita Moreno and Mona Maris are the two leading ladies.

The pre-Tracy-and-Hepburn Spencer Tracy will show up in no less than 8 titles. (Before becoming an MGM star, Tracy was a Fox leading man). Those are: Me and My Gal (1932, with Joan Bennett), the aforementioned Goldie, Bottoms Up (1934, with John Boles and Thelma Todd), Now I’ll Tell (1934, with Helen Twelvetrees), Looking for Trouble (1934, with Jack Oakie and Constance Cummings), the weird The Painted Woman (1932, with Peggy Shannon), Quick Millions (1931, with Marguerite Churchill, Sally Eilers, and George Raft), and She Wanted a Millionaire (1931, also with Joan Bennett).

Unfortunately, the Fox Movie Channel rarely shows the Fox Before the Code films. Those cultural gems from one of the most exuberant periods of Hollywood filmmaking are obviously available; all that is needed is for the powers-that-be at Fox to follow the example of Turner Classic Movies.

Film Forum website.

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Andre -

That *is* great.

L.A. had one such festival in the late (or mid) 90s. All very rare Columbia films made during the Pre-Code era. The quality of the films was highly variable, and, admittedly, most of them weren’t very good. But it was chance to see those rare movies — there was even a pre-WB Bette Davis in “The Menace” — that as far as I know were kept locked in vaults before the festival, and have been kept locked in vaults ever since.

Unfortunately, the Paramount Before the Code series never made it to Los Angeles.

Daniel Camargo -

That’s great that such pre-code films are brought to light again!

James -

Hey, thanks for the kind mention! Someone posted this information on the alt.movies.silent newsgroup. So, I thought I’d pass it along to the dear editor of this site. Gee, what a saliva-inducing group of films this is. And the Fox Pre-Codes seem to be among the rarest of the rare. In fact, I seldom see any Fox early films widely available aside from Shirley Temples(By then the studio being Twentieth Century Fox) and those splashy Technicolor musicals of WWII. Here’s hoping someone realizes the desire among early film buffs, to see these films and produces a DVD boxed set.


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