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.”
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. 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. 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.