From Socialite to Streetwalker

There have been some terrific Pre-Code dramas that were set in the Depression and were actually playing in movie theaters at the time but, for obvious reasons, were not box office hits because audiences wanted escapism, not a reminder of their problems. Still, several of these social problem dramas like William Wellman’s Heroes for Sale (1933) and Wild Boys of the Road (1933) were championed by film critics and today provide an invaluable window into that era. Faithless (1932), directed by Harry Beaumont (Dance, Fools, Dance) and based on the novel Tinfoil by Mildred Cram, also belongs in that category, even if it was poorly received at the time, and deserves a revival for its unusual mixture of soap opera, social issues and adult themes like prostitution.

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How Low Can You Go?

Most classic movie fans are well aware of the impressive and versatile film legacy of William A. Wellman, who directed Wings (1927), the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar in the Academy’s history, as well as bona fide classics like the 1937 version of A Star is Born and the gritty WW2 drama, Battleground (1949). It has only been in recent years, however, that Wellman fans have become acquainted with the groundbreaking Pre-Code dramas he helmed in the early thirties thanks to DVD releases from the Warner Archive Collection.  Outside of occasional airings on Turner Classic movies, most of Wellman’s racy, vibrant work in the Pre-Code era had been unseen for years. But suddenly the floodgates were open and film buffs were finally able to enjoy the eyebrow-raising excesses of Night Nurse (1931), Love is a Racket (1932), Frisco Jenny (1932) and Heroes for Sale (1933), to name just a few. The diamond in the rough for my money though is Safe in Hell (1931), featuring a gutsy, no-holds-barred performance by Dorothy MacKaill. When you see this film, you can understand why the Production Code was created.

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