The Pre-Code era of Hollywood when films were much more explicit, suggestive and racy is generally believed to be that period between 1929 and 1934, the year the Production Code was officially enforced. After that the studios had to comply with a long list of restrictions imposed on motion pictures by Joseph Breen (director of the PCA aka Production Code Administration) in terms of subject matter, situations and characters if the producers wanted their films to get a commercial release. Of course, film censorship in Hollywood existed before 1934 but it was not always enforced. Complaints from moral guardian groups and religious organizations like the Catholic Legion of Decency were crucial in pressuring Hollywood to reduce the amount of sex, violence and decadence in movies. Some of their earliest targets were three films from MGM, which were a collaboration between director Tod Browning and Lon Chaney – The Unholy Trio (1925), The Unknown (1927) and West of Zanzibar (1928). All three of the films contain perverse and unsettling storylines but West of Zanzibar tops them all in terms of shock value even by today’s standards.Continue reading
Space travel was truly a visionary concept when Jules Verne first introduced it in his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon and it continued to attract readers when H.G. Wells explored the idea further a few years later in 1901’s First Men in the Moon. Although both authors were fascinated with science and technology, these novels were essentially outlandish adventures with elements of humor and satire. Even the first acknowledged film about an expedition into outer space—Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902)—was a whimsical fantasy rather than a realistic approach to the subject. Fifteen years later, the release of the Danish film A Trip to Mars (Himmelskibet), directed by Holger-Madsen, announced a new kind of approach.
What is the worst thing that could happen to a celebrated world class pianist? It would have to be something that destroyed his famous hands, wouldn’t it? The Hands of Orlac, based on a novel by Maurice Renard, has been adapted for the screen numerous times but the 1924 version by German director Robert Wiene remains a masterpiece of silent horror cinema.Continue reading
A master of 20th century cinema, the Swedish director and actor Victor Sjöström is best remembered for his moving performance as the elderly physician reflecting on his life in Wild Strawberries (1957). As a director, his highly acclaimed 1921 adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s novel The Phantom Carriage convinced MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer to bring him to America where Sjöström directed the prestigious projects He Who Gets Slapped (1924), with Lon Chaney, and two starring Lillian Gish, The Scarlet Letter (1926) and The Wind (1928), arguably the pinnacle of his Hollywood tenure. While The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) is not as well known, it is considered by many film historians to be Sjöström’s silent-era masterpiece and, nearly a century after its release, is enjoying a revival that should elevate its stature in the director’s pantheon.