Pre-Code Hollywood: Articles

Antihero Ricardo Cortez: Best Showcases + Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Brother

Antihero Ricardo Cortez in Symphony of Six Million, with Irene Dunne. Directed by Gregory La Cava, this 1932 family/romantic melodrama may have been one of Cortez's favorite among his own movies (see further below). Based on a morality tale by Back Street, Imitation of Life, and Humoresque author Fannie Hurst, […]

How to Be a Latin Lover: Ricardo Cortez & Leading Ladies + Marriage to Tragic Drug-Addicted Hollywood Star

How to be a Latin Lover: Ricardo Cortez, formerly known as Jacob Krantz from a working-class family of Austrian/Hungarian immigrants that had settled in New York City, succeeded in restyling himself as the next – even if, according to some, “second rank” – Rudolph Valentino. It's unclear whether or not […]

'Latin Lover' - The 2nd Valentino & 1st (and Best) Sam Spade: Q&A with Ricardo Cortez Biographer Dan Van Neste

“Latin Lover” Ricardo Cortez, who went on to play a series of all-American scoundrels and criminals, in addition to similar unsavory types of other nationalities. Although never as big a star as fellow silent era screen heartthrobs Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Novarro, and John Gilbert – or fellow Pre-Code era antiheroes […]

Ricardo Cortez: Remembering the 'Latin Lover Threat' to Rudolph Valentino & Star of Original 'The Maltese Falcon'

Ricardo Cortez biography The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez. Dan Van Neste's book covers the life and career of Paramount's “Latin Lover” threat to a recalcitrant Rudolph Valentino; one who would later portray a sly, seductive Sam Spade in the original – and highly enjoyable – […]

Norma Shearer: 'Queen of MGM' & 'Liberated Woman'

Norma Shearer movies: Hollywood's early 'liberated woman' remembered. A top movie star of the 1920s and 1930s, Norma Shearer was known as the 'Queen of MGM.' Norma Shearer movies: Early 'liberated woman' & Best Actress Academy Award winner was the 'Queen of MGM' For decades a largely forgotten name, in […]

Loretta Young: Conservative Catholic Actress in Suggestive Movies

Loretta Young: Devout Catholic was featured in numerous sexually daring movies. Loretta Young films: Conservative Catholic actress starred in a number of risqué Pre-Code releases Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Loretta Young's 102nd birthday today, Jan. 6, '15. The Salt Lake City-born, Academy Award-winning actress can be seen in no […]

'Little Caesar' Movie: Edward G. Robinson Iconic - But Badly Dated - Gangster

Edward G. Robinson, Little Caesar Little Caesar is a good example of a film that is historically important, but that has dated very poorly. Tony Gaudio's camera work is mediocre, Warner Bros. musical director Erno Rapee's spare soundtrack is garbled, and the acting is for the most part wooden. Even […]

'The Letter' Movie: 'Murderess & Adulterer' Jeanne Eagels' Sole Extant Talkie

The Letter movie with Jeanne Eagels and Herbert Marshall Having watched William Wyler's masterful 1940 film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's 1927 play The Letter and having read quite a bit about Broadway star Jeanne Eagels' remarkable talent, I was expecting to find at least a modicum of interest in […]

Ann Dvorak Q&A Pt.2: 'Scarface' Actress Never Quite Made It to the Top

Ann Dvorak and Rudy Vallee in Sweet Music. See previous post: Ann Dvorak: Hollywood Rebel. Ann Dvorak's best-remembered film is probably the 1932 Scarface, starring Paul Muni, directed by Howard Hawks, produced by Howard Hughes, and released by United Artists. What was that experience like for her? Making Scarface must […]

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Ann Dvorak The name Ann Dvorak wouldn't ring even a faint bell for most people around at the beginning of the 21st century. Most people, I said – but definitely not everyone. A while back, author James Robert Parish heard a loud gong when I told him during lunch at […]

'In Old Arizona' Movie Review: Landmark Western Starring Best Actor Academy Award Winner

Best Actor Academy Award winner Warner Baxter in In Old Arizona TIRED IN THE SADDLE What makes Irving Cummings and Raoul Walsh's In Old Arizona (barely) watchable decades after its highly successful initial release is its sheer bizarreness. Technically, the picture, billed as the first outdoor talkie, is of interest […]

'A Lady to Love': Early Edward G. Robinson Paired with Talking Hungarian Rhapsody Vilma Banky

Edward G. Robinson was only 37 years old when he gave this hammy, scene-stealing, over-the-top performance as Tony, a middle-aged Italian grape grower in Napa Valley, California, in Victor Sjöström's A Lady to Love. Robinson is loud, peripatetic, hyperkinetic, and his accent sometimes sounds a bit too much like Chico […]

Griffith Cinema: Abraham Lincoln Biopic & 'Way Down East' Among Five Box Set Features

Way Down East with Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish: Griffith Cinema. One of the movies included in Kino's second D.W. Griffith cinema box set, Way Down East was one of the Broken Blossoms and The Birth of a Nation filmmaker's last major hits, as his career went fast downhill in […]

'The Misleading Lady': Claudette Colbert & Edmund Lowe in Early Pre-Code Talkie

While hardly a cinematic masterpiece, Paramount's 1932 romantic comedy The Misleading Lady (filmed at New York's Astoria studios) is an amusing romp that makes no special demands on its audience and has no pretensions about having something “profound” to say. Although the premise – taken from Charles W. Goddard and […]

'Rain': Joan Crawford & Walter Huston in Sex vs. Religion Drama

Rain (1932) Dir.: Lewis Milestone. Scr.: Maxwell Anderson; from John Colton and Clemence Randolph's play, adapted from W. Somerset Maugham's short story “Miss Thompson.” Cast: Joan Crawford, Walter Huston, William Gargan, Beulah Bondi, Guy Kibbee, Matt Moore, Walter Catlett     The first thing you notice in the credits of […]

'Way Out West': William Haines' Campy Gay Cult Classic

Way Out West (1930) Dir.: Fred Niblo. Scr.: Byron Morgan and Alfred Block; dialogue by Alfred Block, Joe Farnham, Ralph Spence, and Henry Sharp. Cast: William Haines, Leila Hyams, Cliff Edwards, Polly Moran, Francis X. Bushman Jr. (a.k.a. Ralph Bushman), Charles Middleton, Vera Marsh   When a crooked carnival barker […]

'The Great Gabbo': Erich von Stroheim & Betty Compson in 'Terrific Early Talkie'

The Great Gabbo is one terrific early talkie. Sure, the film is old and creaky, while its technical aspects are cheap and primitive. But the story, the music, and the performances always keep me hooked. Directed by James Cruze, a top name in the silent era, from a story by […]

'Downstairs': John Gilbert Racy Pre-Code Sex & Social Drama

  Monta Bell's seldom-seen drama Downstairs proves not only what a great actor John Gilbert was, but, quite contrary to legend, how competent his voice sounded. All seems joyful in the house of the Baron and Baroness von Burgen (Reginald Owen and Freaks' Olga Baclanova). A symbiotic relationship exists between […]

'Golden Dawn' Review: Politically Incorrect Musical Extravaganza

Ray Enright's early musical Golden Dawn should be filed under the “What Were They Thinking” department. Warner Bros. certainly wasn't expecting commercial or popular success with this demented story set in darkest East Africa during World War I. The plot goes as follows: the Germans are holding British prisoners. The […]

'Blonde Venus': Marlene Dietrich-Cary Grant Racy Pre-Code Drama

Blonde Venus is my favorite of the Marlene Dietrich-Josef von Sternberg collaborations. This melodrama simply has it all. The film begins with the ever-dull and wooden Herbert Marshall as an American soldier in Germany during World War I. At one point, he and his troops come upon a group of […]

'Applause': Rouben Mamoulian's Revolutionary Early Talkie Stars Broadway Legend Helen Morgan

Rouben Mamoulian was one of the most talented directors of all time. His early musical Applause proves it. Applause stars stage legend Helen Morgan (above) as Kitty Darling, a chubby burlesque dancer who can do a high-kick number onstage, then proceed directly to her dressing room and have a baby. […]

Forbidden Hollywood: Racy Pre-Code Movies

The new documentary Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood and five Pre-Code films will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, March 3 (more details below). The five racy Pre-Coders are: The Divorcee (1930), A Free Soul (1931), Night Nurse (1931), Three on a Match […]

Fox Pre-Code Movies: Film Forum Showcase

Film Forum, the New York City institution that about a year ago presented the Paramount Before the Code film series, will have a Fox Before the Code (and Fox before it became 20th Century Fox) series between Dec. 1-21. The Pre-Code era went from about 1928, or the beginning of […]

'Jewel Robbery' Movie: William Powell & Kay Francis in Sparkling Pre-Code Comedy

Film scholars consider the 1932 comedy Trouble in Paradise to be the best work of actress Kay Francis. I disagree. Francis was good in everything she did – and if one particular performance could be named her best, that would be found in another 1932 release, the romantic melodrama One […]

'One Hysterical Night': Soporific Reginald Denny Star Vehicle

If nothing else, the silly (and mistitled) One Hysterical Night – Reginald Denny's first all-talking vehicle – serves as a good explanation as to why Denny, Universal's top male star and one of the most popular performers of the 1920s, saw his stardom quickly fizzle when talkies appeared on the […]

'Strange Interlude': Eugene O'Neill at MGM

LOVE IS A MUCH-FRUSTRATING THING By Marcus Tucker of Shadow Waltz With the advent of new technology comes experimentation. When sound arrived in Hollywood, films became stagebound because of the crippling limitations of the primitive equipment. But by the time MGM's film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's 1928 Pulitzer-winning play Strange […]

'Bachelor Apartment': Social Chasm & Lots of Drinking in Prohibition-Era New York City

Womanizing businessman Wayne Carter is hardly a looker, but he's got them dollar bills. Loads of them. The only woman in New York City left unimpressed by his millions is, of all people, the unemployed Helene Andrews. Perhaps the fact that Helene dresses like a man and has dark hair […]

Glamorous Actresses Carole Lombard & Mae West & Marlene Dietrich + Cecil B. DeMille DVD Sets

“Glamorous actresses”: Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray in True Confession. One of the highest-paid stars of the studio era, Carole Lombard was a top-notch light comedienne usually wasted in below-par dramas and comedies. True Confession, in which she's partnered with unappealing leading man Fred MacMurray (who, curiously, would excel as vile villains), […]

'Baby Face' 1933: Barbara Stanwyck Shocker in London

'Baby Face' 1933 with Barbara Stanwyck and John Wayne: Reedited and redubbed after horrifying censors. 'Baby Face' 1933: Barbara Stanwyck movie that shocked censors screening at the London Film Festival The racy pre-Production Code movie Baby Face (1933), starring Barbara Stanwyck and featuring George Brent as her romantic interest and […]