My Favorite Pre-Codes (or something like that) — Part 2

Several years ago, I started on a post about my favorite pre-Codes, which turned into a post about the pre-Codes I watch most often – and I discovered that these are frequently one and the same. I only included five films in the post, with a promise to write about more in the future. So today – more than six years later (better late than never, I always say), I’m serving up another list of my favorite pre-Codes that I watch over and over (and over). As it happens, I’ve previously written about all five of these, so if you want to read more about them, just click the title!

Stanwyck, Blondell, and their unmentionables.

Night Nurse (1931)

I can’t believe that Night Nurse didn’t make my first list – it’s one of the pre-Codiest pre-Codes out there. It’s got everything but the proverbial kitchen sink: extramarital sex, alcoholism, violence against women, child abuse, medical malpractice, murder, bootlegging – and let’s not forget the ever-popular gratuitous scenes of girls in their undies.

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lora Hart, the medical professional of the film’s title – and if Stanwyck alone isn’t enough to recommend this gem, her co-star is Joan Blondell: a winning team if ever there was one. Idealistic and dedicated, Lora finds herself caring for a pair of youngsters whose mother is more interested in identifying the source of her next cocktail than she is in the welfare of her ailing offspring. Turns out that they’re being slowly starved to death by their mother’s nefarious lover – Nick, the chauffeur (played by the scene-stealing Clark Gable) – and Lora is their only hope.

Night Nurse clocks in at an economical 72 minutes – and there’s not a single one of them that doesn’t hold your attention.

Best fight scene ever.

Private Lives (1931)

I fell love with this film, ironically, when I was addressing the invitations for my wedding, more than 25 years ago. As I sat at a card table in my living room apartment, surrounded by stacks of invites, I played Private Lives – which I’d recently taped off of Showtime – over and over again. By my third viewing, I was completely and irrevocably hooked.

Based on a Noel Coward play, the film stars Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery (how could it miss with these two?) as a divorced couple who are thrown together by happenstance while each of them are on their honeymoons with other people. It sets up an hilarious plot that’s punctuated by some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear.

A stellar cast.

Dinner at Eight (1933)

To accompany my preparations for dinner tonight, I selected Dinner at Eight. It’s one of those films where I recite the dialogue along with the characters. (“Ask that common little woman to my house and that noisy, vulgar man? He smells Oklahoma!”) Plot-wise, there really isn’t one – it takes a look at the lives of a group of disparate individuals invited to dine at the home of a shipping company owner and his socialite wife. But who needs a plot?

The all-star cast is absolute perfection – for my money, it’s got Jean Harlow’s best performance, John Barrymore manages to evoke both disgust and sympathy, Billie Burke is delightfully shallow, and Marie Dressler is a revelation. And while it’s not exactly oozing with saucy pre-Code situations, it does contain quite the scandalous relationship between Burke’s 19-year-old daughter and Barrymore’s alcoholic, 47-year-old washed-up actor.

From rags to this.

Possessed (1931)

You know me and Joanie Crawford – I’m mad about the girl, and she can do no wrong. Especially in this rags-to-riches tale of a small-town factory girl who tires of her humdrum life and her humdrum boyfriend and flees to the big city where she promptly snags a rich man. One minute, she making boxes for a living, and the next, she’s fairly drowning in diamonds, and singing songs in French to the delight of her fancy dinner party guests.

The rich man is played by none other than Clark Gable (who reportedly played the role of Crawford’s lover off-screen), a budding politician who loves Crawford so much that he won’t put a ring on it.

“You’re just a new kind of man in a new kind of world.”

A Free Soul (1931)

Norma Shearer again and, for the third time on this list, Clark Gable! Here, Shearer’s the free soul of the title, the daughter of an alocohlic attorney (Lionel Barrymore) who falls in lust with Gable’s character after her father successfully defends him in a murder trial. Leslie Howard’s on hand as Shearer’s longtime beau, but his steadfast devotion can’t hold a candle to Gable’s sex appeal.

There’s plenty of scandalous pre-Code goodness in the relationship between Shearer and Gable, and loads of melodramatics to go around, especially whenever Barrymore is in the courtroom. Just the way I like it!

What are some of your favorite pre-Codes?

~ by shadowsandsatin on February 21, 2020.

5 Responses to “My Favorite Pre-Codes (or something like that) — Part 2”

  1. My 3 favorites are Two Seconds, Beast of the City, and Crime without Passion

    • Wow, I haven’t seen Crime of Passion in years! I don’t remember a thing about it except it starred Claude Rains and it had an unusual opening. I will have to dust off my tapes and check it out again. I just saw Two Seconds for the first time a couple of years ago — I really enjoyed it. And I’ve had Beast of the City in my collection for years and never seen the whole thing. You’ve inspired me to watch it — thanks, Jay!

  2. I love Dinner At Eight. Also, I’m a Norma Shearer fan from way back !

  3. What a fabulous list of favorites. I love all of these two. I actually just finished watching Private Lives again this weekend.

  4. It is so easy to fall in love with Private Lives.

    You have put me in the mood to watch all of these movies. Right now!

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