Film Forum

Good Films: Pre-Code movies

Wellman's Safe in Hell, via Warner Bros

Wellman’s Safe in Hell, via Warner Bros


Our “Good Films You May Have Missed” series calls attention to movies new and old that are all Filmworks worthy. Titles are available from Netflix and other streaming services.

From 1930 to 1968, the motion picture industry adhered to a strict Production Code that set moral guidelines and governed filmmaking choices at major studios. Many movies of the early 1930s skirted censorship from the Code and served viewers a lot of sex, violence, and Depression-era social criticism. Here are four you may have missed:

SAFE IN HELL
USA • 1931 • Dir: William A. Wellman
From Turner Classic Movies: “On the run from the police, a New Orleans prostitute [played by Dorothy Mckaill] gets stranded in a tropical haven for outlaws.”

LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, via Warner Bros

LeRoy’s I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, via Warner Bros


I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG
USA • 1932 • Dir: Mervyn LeRoy
Paul Muni is wrongly convicted and serves hard time. He escapes but is yanked back in this classic flick, which many viewers saw as a metaphor for the unfairness of the Depression.

Del Ruth's Blonde Crazy, via Warner Bros

Del Ruth’s Blonde Crazy, via Warner Bros


BLONDE CRAZY
USA • 1931 • Dir: Roy Del Ruth
Pre-Code movies were occasionally artistic. Says bloggers Lisa K. Broad and Michael J. Anderson: “Del Ruth’s direction borders on the genuinely experimental, with his recourse to fantasy in a sequence strung together with multiple super-impositions, and in the elan of his overhead mobile framing of a local jail.” Starring James Cagney.

Milestone's Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!, via United Artists

Milestone’s Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!, via United Artists


HALLELUJAH, I’M A BUM!
USA • 1933 • Dir: Lewis Milestone
Also from bloggers Lisa K. Broad and Michael J. Anderson: “Gleefully supportive of life on the bum. … [A]dvocates for a communal life and free moral system that clearly resides outside of American norms.”

Jim Piper is a Filmworks board member, a filmmaker, and a retired film studies instructor.

Every second Friday of the month, Fresno Filmworks screens first-run independent and international movies at the historic Tower Theatre.