Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Smut Peddlers 

A retrospective of pre-Code Hollywood films guaranteed to make you blush

Wednesday, Jun 29 2005
Comments
No semen is used as hair gel in Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, nor are there any demands for butter. Nobody even gets naked. But there are plenty of references to sex -- including extramarital sex -- as well as one instance of the act itself, though it's shot using a demure "Do Not Disturb" sign hooked to a hotel-room doorknob. It's tame by today's standards, but Trouble was released in 1932; the movie is characteristic of the racy output of mythological pre-Code Hollywood, an era when filmmakers were free to push whatever boundaries they saw fit before the Production Code Association cracked down on smut in movies.

Enacted in 1930 but not enforced until 1934, the Code regulated content for decades. Pre-Code films, however, had but one objective: Studios needed to separate Depression-era audiences from their few dollars. Hence, a bit of leg, a man's bare chest, a crook getting away guilt-free -- rampant "immorality" on the march. Of course, that's the stuff of life, and the films in the monthlong series "Trouble in Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood" look surprisingly modern.

Lubitsch's picture, for one, takes on sex, and bed imagery abounds: One appears under the title credits, and the crook Gaston fixates on a comfortable queen while in the presence of a lady (the two will eventually share that bed in a later scene, if only as silhouettes). The plot, too, is stern for 1932: Gaston is a master thief who steals from the rich without remorse; he latches onto a society dame and begins to grift her silly, pausing only to maneuver her into the sack. In the end, Gaston escapes with her money and nobody objects: not the victim, not the director, and presumably not Depression-era moviegoers. Today the scandalous film would be considered a witty romantic comedy; it's smart, tasteful, and fully aware that sex exists, with or without the bonds of matrimony.

About The Author

Michael Leaverton

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"