Before the Hays

A discussion of Pre-code films and why they matter now. (AKA why they are cooler than Desperate Housewives, MSNBC and why aging actresses need to grow a pair)

Miss Mend, Terrorism and Enemas across the ocean.

So yesterday, as I was recovering from the whole holiday experience, I decided to take on “Miss Mend”. When I hit record on my DVR for this one I did not quite realize what I had signed up for. A silent film made in 1926, it was originally screened as a serial. So, if you are not quite ready for four straight hours of a soviet Bolshevik revolution comedy, I recommend viewing this in increments. And if you are like me, anything Russian requires you to stop the film and do frequent Google searches on Russian comedy and culture you really want to watch this alone and with your search browser open.

Now I’m not saying this movie is bad, just very, very Russian. Which is weird, because when it came out the critics panned it for being very, very American. According to Guru Osborne the director was intentionally trying to copy American serials hoping to give Russian audiences what they wanted.

What I enjoyed about the film more than anything is the footage of Russia right after the Bolshevik revolution mid creation of the Soviet Union. The timing gives the audience this unique peek into Soviet Culture, politics and landscape during Soviet formation.

For example, who can forget a movie which has this dialogue card flash across the screen:

“I cross the ocean to save an entire country, and what stops me-An Enema!”

Good stuff. The plot is very, very complicated so I’m not even going to try and explain, but it basically deals with biological warfare.
I’m not kidding. This movie is extremely modern in the way they fund, research and attempt a biological attack against Soviet Russia. It is also just a plain fascinating glimpse at Soviet Culture, the landscape and the look and feel of what the average persons life looked like at the time. You are going to love the little ewok looking, kielbasa scrap eating street urchins.

This movie should be on the list of movies that the State Department watches.

So while you are stuck in the airport cursing the Underwear bomber, get it on DVD and watch “Miss Mend”.


Filed under: Miss Mend, , , ,

Dedicating life to study, worship and amplification of friend. AKA Latent Homosexuality.

Thanks so much for your comment Axbish about the posting Clive Brook and Robert Downey Jr., Real Men do Holmes. The premise of a man dedicating his life to the study, worship and amplification of another man, brings up all kinds of obvious questions. The first one being that Christianity or any ism for that matter is based on latent homosexuality. Me thinks thou “ism” protest to much. Ah….self loathing. How powerful art thou.

I’m not saying that men cannot have a close non sexual bond. Or a close sexual bond. That’s not the issue. The acknowledgment of affection between two people is the issue. The manipulation and denial of affection is where we get into an icky category. The mixing of a paternal relationship with a sexual one, the mixing of a teaching relationship with a paternal relationship and a sexual one, well that’s all kinds of craziness. Where the hyjinx really ensue is when you mix a figure of power (government leader, cult leader, political movement leader, ballet teacher) with a teaching relationship, replacing a paternal or maternal role and having sex with or manipulating the sexual lives of their subjects. Then you get all kinds of lawyers involved or human trafficking or multiple wives or just an all American Promise Ring.

So, I give you “Mad Genius”.

Now, if you have never been subjected to someone’s molding than this might not be the film for you. But speaking as someone who has been subjected to multiple molders and been the object of multiple moldings, this looks like a ton of fun.
(Honestly, I’m so oblivious, I could be being molded right now and not even know it).

Sorry, I digress, what we are having fun with is the Watsonesque dedication which may or may not come from repressed homosexual desire.

Here’s a great telling quote from the film:
Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov: I will create my own being: that boy! That boy will be my counterpart, he shall be what I should have been… I will mold him, I will pour into him my genius, my soul. In him all my dreams, all my ambitions will be fulfilled — the greatest dancer of all time! The film and play are a reference to or a loosely based depiction of the relationship between the great ballet dancer Nijinsky his mentor Sergei Diaghilev.

The film is a follow up or sequel to “Svengali” which depicts a romantic controlling relationship between a man and a woman. What is interesting about Mad Genius is that they explore that same story between two men. Holmes and Watson, Svengali and Triby (played by Marian Marsh who played Nana in “Mad Genius”), Karimsky and Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov these are all great relationships which illustrate the dedication of life study, worship and amplification of a friend or mentor.

So, Axbish, watch “Mad Genius” and let’s have some fun with what could have happened to Watson and Holmes if Holmes was harnessed in his ability and Watson was a lovely young ballet dancer.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Clive Brook and Robert Downey Jr. -Real Men Do Holmes

I don’t think what Robert Downey Jr. said on Letterman was at all problematic for the film. I mean just because he said out loud the screaming innuendo seems silly. And why is homosexual innuendo taboo, while heterosexual innuendo is acceptable. Sexual innuendo is sexual innuendo. People need to grow up. Seriously.

Here is a very fun review from the New York Times from 1929 of the film “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” which is famous as being the only film where Holmes dies. Also interesting about this particular film is that it was not filmed in London or Hollywood, but at Astoria Studios in Queens, NY. The Dr. Watson apparently suffered a bit from being a little too much of a native New Yorker. Enjoy!

Startlingly changed in appearance, but as confident and knowledgeable as ever, Sherlock Holmes has been dragged from retirement to appear in a talking picture called “The Return of Sherlock Holmes,” which is now on view at the Paramount Theatre. The narrative is a concoction suggested by two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of the scientific sleuth—”The Dying Detective” and “His Last Bow.”
Holmes is shorter, healthier looking and younger than he was even when first introduced to the public. In fact, while watching his battle of wits with Professor Moriarty in this current adventure, it seems quite absurd for him to refer to his place in Hampshire and his bees as if he were in the evening of life. This can be understood when it is explained that Clive Brook impersonates Holmes, with sideburns, a rather old-fashioned lounge suit and a pipe as formidable in size as his revolver. The familiar double-peaked cap is replaced by a tweed hat; otherwise Sherlock Holmes in this film is much more Brook than Holmes.
As it invariably happens in motion pictures, one accepts this Holmes after the story has been running for a quarter of an hour and while the film is far from being a masterpiece, it arouses a certain amusement and interest, which, due to those portions directed by Basil Deane, the British producer and playwright, make it a better entertainment than most murder mystery films. The fun it elicits is not always intended and its thrills fall somewhat flat.
Most of the action takes place aboard “the fastest transatlantic steamship” and the surgeon aboard is the sinister Moriarty’s poison expert. In two instances Holmes disguises himself quite effectively, once as a member of the ship’s band and on another occasion as a humble steward. As the latter, Holmes goes to great lengths to ascertain the location of Moriarty’s cabin, by putting a phosphorescent solution on the heels of the ship’s surgeon’s shoes.
Dr. Watson has not been forgotten. It is his daughter who is engaged to marry Roger Longmore, the son of the man poisoned by Dr. Moran, at the behest of Professor Moriarty. Dr. Watson is no longer the interesting person created by Sir Arthur. He has some of the characteristics, but he appears to have been well-adulterated at the Astoria studio, where this film was produced.
It is quite evident that this talking film, the voices in which are often strangely resonant, is a mixture of Mr. Deane’s more refreshing ideas and those of hard and fast cinema experts.
The important paper in this case is Longmore’s confession of his activities with Moriarty. Holmes, once aboard the steamship, is eager to pet hold of this paper. Disguised as the German musician, he performs some sleight-of-hand tricks for the benefit of the passengers, and for some reason that is not quite clear Professor Moriarty decides to test this trickster, who has apparently torn a £100-note in pieces and then returned it whole to its owner. Moriarty hands the envelope containing Longmore’s confession to the supposed musician and Holmes tears up the contents of the envelope and succeeds in replacing it with a piece of blank paper.
The poisoning is accomplished by a metal cigarette case, which has a poisoned needle on the spot releasing the opening spring. Having succeeded in getting Longmore out of the way through this ingenious device, Professor Moriarty, on encountering Holmes in his stateroom, decides to tempt Holmes to poison himself. Holmes is prepared for this and after pressing the needle he shams a dying detective.
When Moriarty and Holmes are dining together, Holmes is asked whether he will have oysters. The sleuth insists that he prefers caviar. As the next course, Professor Moriarty suggests lobster and Holmes says:
“After caviar?”
In the final scene Dr. Watson is there with his “Amazing Holmes,” and Holmes comes forth with his “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.”
Mr. Brook gives a nice, easy performance. H. Reeves-Smith flounders about in the rôle of Dr. Watson. Betty Lawford is never really natural as the girl in the case. Donald Crisp is excellent as Dr. Moran. Harry T. Morey is acceptable as Moriarty.

THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, with Clive Brook, H. Reeves-Smith, Betty Lawford, Charles Hay, Phillips Holmes, Donald Crisp, Harry T. Morey, Hubert Druce and Arthur Mack, based on two of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, directed by Basil Deane.

MORDAUNT HALL New York Times 19 October 1929

Clive Brook made another Sherlock Holmes film called “Sherlock Holmes” (1932) which helps Robert Downey Jr.’s theory of a sexually confused Holmes. Sherlock appears in drag in this film!

Filed under: Uncategorized

Britney Murphy, another lost girl.

Jean Harlow

Britney Murphy

There is currently much speculation about Britney’s death. When Harlow died, there was much speculation that she was murdered. Harlow was very sick for a long time and simply died too young from a Kidney disease she suffered from. Britney is no Harlow, but had a vulnerability and everyday rawness that was similar to Harlow. She had an over sentivity with an awkward social over compensation that had a Harlowesque quality.

I think this may be why I enjoyed her so much in 8 mile . She was a great match for Eminem. Her performance in was exactly crazy enough to have you believe that she could dominate Mr. Mathers.


Filed under: Uncategorized

What I want for Christmas

TCM Classic Film Festival
I’m a junkie and this looks fantastic. I just want to meet Robert Osborne!

Filed under: Uncategorized

A Mountain out of a Mole

SJP has removed her mole. I gotta say, I’m a little bummed. One of the things I love about Sarah Jessica is that she’s goofy looking. I think she’s beautiful, but she’s not pretty. She has a big nose, skinny long face and kind of average looking. But, she has a thing and she is just so put together and charming she is beautiful. She reminds me of Streisand, Stanwyck, Crawford and Shearer. Ladies who give the average looking girl hope. So Sarah Jessica, I love you the way you are, and please don’t change anything else. You are fabulous!

Filed under: Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, ,

The Golden Globes and Pre-Code alternatives for the cheap and broke

The First Golden Globes Ceremony was not until 1944 so I’m not going to try and do a retro comparison to the current and past nominees.

Here are the nominees for 2010 all of which I cannot afford to see in the movie theatre.

The Hurt Locker-about the military bomb squad disarming roadside bombs.

Avatar-which looks incredible, but is obviously a message film about the Iraq War and Capitalism devouring the world. I could be wrong, all I saw was the trailer.

Inglourious Basterds is about Killing Nazis, great movie and Christoph Waltz is jaw dropping. They need to create a new category for this guy. Best performance in a movie EVER! He is unbelievable.

Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire about incest and abuse. I did not see this movie, but I will.

Up in the Air-about a guy who fires people and has a hard time committing. I can’t imagine people don’t relate to this. Didn’t see it yet, but I adored Thank You for Smoking and Juno.

So if you got fired from your job, are stuck on the couch because you are pregnant with your second child from your father, have PTSD from disarming roadside bombs in Iraq, are too busy to having a Nazi Revenge fantasy, or you are too broke to go pay the $15 to see Avatar at the Sony IMAX here are some Pre-Code options.

The Hurt Locker-Heros for Sale

Here’s a review from IMDB

“HEROES FOR SALE is terrific because it shows how an ordinary man can beaten by an ordinary life and still be great. As Barthelmess suffers the misfortunes of war and life he seems to grow as a spiritual person. The hypocrisy around him never seems to get to his heart. There’s a great scene where Barthelmess is sitting in the rain in a hobo camp when his eyes meet another man’s. It’s the banker’s son (Gordon Westcott) who took the war glory after he thought Barthelmess had been killed. The sanctimonious banker had fired Barthelmess for his morphine addiction, but finally gets caught for stealing from the bank’s depositors. The banker and son also did jail time (as Barthelmess did for leading a riot). The ironies of life become full blown there in the rain. A terrific scene.”

Avatar-King Kong because it was a huge break thru in special effects at the time. Peter Jackson is a big fan. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Inglourious Basterds-pre-code brother would be Triumph of the Will primarily because if you haven’t seen it and you don’t get all the Leni Riefenstahl references you lose a lot of the flavor of the movie. Watch the famous Nazi propaganda film, get in the mood, then go see the Nazi Killing movie. You’ll enjoy it more, I promise.

Precious-Well, you get my favorite. Baby Face. About a girl who comes from a home where her father prostitutes her out and works her way up the corporate ladder with her natural talents. Ahem. I think Precious actually uses her brains.

Up in the AirMadam Satan, this film is about a philandering husband and his wife who have a pointless life of leisure and get an invite to a costume ball on a zeppelin. I’m not kidding. Cecil B. Demille directed this movie. It exists.

Filed under: American Cinema, , , , , , ,

Some Joan Crawford Fashion

portrait by Ruth Harriet Louise
Can we just talk about the fabulousness of this? First of all the hair, my god, the hair. It’s so short and almost boyish. Actually, let’s just call it boyish. She looks like a boy. But then she’s got those half-moon eyebrows. So lunar. The thick neck, the nose. Did she have work done? I love the focus on her smooth perfect skin. And where on earth did that necklace come from. I wonder if this picture has ever been imitated?

Filed under: Joan Crawford, ,

Just a follow up on “Wild Boys of the Road”

So I was reading the Times this morning and this caught my attention. Yesterday I wrote about The Wild Boys of the Road and thanks so much for the thoughtful comments on that posting. Leaving kids on their own to fend for themselves is terribly sad. Good lord, I’m a full grown adult and I suck at it.
I couldn’t think of many films yesterday dealing with the plight of children, I don’t know why I didn’t think of Slumdog Millionaire but that’s a good one reflecting street life of children in Mumbai.
This film obviously was very popular. I think that this film could possibly be made in every country. Isn’t that horrible. I mean think about it, they could do an 8 Mile Millionaire and a Katrina Millionaire. I don’t think it would be that difficult to find true stories of children living on the streets across America due to financial distress and broken families.

Anyway, the article in the NY Times about the problems with youth prisons in New York is barbaric. Just so terribly sad. What’s worse, is that this is an old problem.

I wrote a bit about The Godless Girl, but I think it deserves revisiting for a different reason other than religion. The Godless Girl is famous for exposing the reform school system in the United States. Just like the New York Times article, the Los Angeles Times did a report in 1927 about Queen Silver, who was a child prodigy orator that ran an Atheistic Society for whom the film was based.

The two lead character’s in the film both end up in reformatories due to an accident from a death resulting from a conflict between the Christian and Atheistic Societies. The Aetheistic Girl and the Christian Boy are both sent to a Juvenile Reformatory. The conditions depicted in the Juvenile Reformatory were based on six months of extensive research done by Cecil B. DeMille. What is particularly cool about this is that he hired a girl to go undercover and do time in the Juvenile Reform system and the conditions were reflected in the film.

“According to journalist Dorothy Donnell, director Cecil B. DeMille spent eight months and $200,000 on research before the production began. This included the enrolling of a young male informant into a boy’s reform school and a female informant into a girl’s school. Two large scrapbooks were kept in DeMille’s archive, containing sworn testimonials by many former inmates, with graphic descriptions of the brutalities they endured. Donnell later said, “I have seen these books, and read in them things so revolting that they will probably never be printed.””

Anyway, read the article Task Force Finds Crisis in New York’s Juvenile Prison System and see the films.

Filed under: The Godless Girl, The New York Times, , , , ,

So I’m bummed…Sunday afternoon and human trafficking

So it’s raining and cold and I have to do a bunch of stuff…then I got distracted and started watching
China’s Stolen Children on HBO. A documentary about all these kids getting kidnapped and people selling their kids due to extreme poverty and the one child law. It is really sad.

So if you see this kid, give him back.
Anyway, I’m thinking this is crazy this could never happen in the U.S. The way this current global economy is “lost boys” could be come a U.S. problem very quickly. I remember actually seeing this movie at one point, but I need to revisit it.

Wild Boys of the Road

Here’s the Trailer

Here’s a good quick description of the film:
Directed by William Wellman.
With Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips
US 1933, 35mm, b/w, 68 min.

“Impoverished by the Depression, teenage buddies Tom and Ed take
off to fend for themselves and lighten their unemployed parents’ load. Far from home, the boys’ romantic dreams of new found freedom and idyllic odyssey are shattered by the brutal lessons of the dog-eat-dog nature of life on the ragged fringes of
society. Director Wellman (Public Enemy) brings a vivid ferocity to this hard-edged road movie. Such clear-eyed and unflinching depictions of poverty, lawlessness and the victimization of youth would soon become rare in Hollywood.”

Many films we see now, Harry Potter, what is that vampire movie…Twilight, etc. don’t really show what harsh reality some families may be experiencing. I think that might be why Precious was so successful at the box office. People unfortunately, can relate. I could be wrong.

Maybe we need more of these films that talk about what children in the U.S. are experiencing so we don’t end up with a generation of teens being forced into horrific situations. We have protections in place now that the kids in the 30’s didn’t have, I believe this movie was used as a promotion for the ideals of the New Deal. Maybe they can make a film that promotes something about kids and health care.

Anyway, don’t mean to be a downer. Happy Holidays, enjoy the season, and don’t buy or sell any children on ebay. Thanks.

Filed under: The Wild Boys of the Road, , ,


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Pre-Code Hollywood

Pre-Code Hollywood From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation, search Pre-Code Hollywood refers to the era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound in the late 1920s and the enforcement of the Hays Code censorship guidelines, which went into effect on July 1, 1934. Until that date, movie content was restricted more by local laws and public opinion than adherence to the United States Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, which generally was ignored by Hollywood filmmakers. [1]