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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The Naked Muse

Sculptor Richard Waldow (Brian Aherne) creates a work of art inspired by his model Lily Czepanek (Marlene Dietrich) in The Song of Songs (1933), a Pre-Code drama.

Here’s a rarely seen Pre-Code curiosity made during the early period of Marlene Dietrich’s career at Paramount, The Song of Songs (1933). It is usually overlooked amid the Josef von Sternberg collaborations that made her famous such as The Blue Angel (1930), Morocco (1930) and Shanghai Express (1932), yet, it provides a fascinating look at Dietrich under a different director (Rouben Mamoulian) as well as a departure from her usual persona as a vamp or prostitute (at least in the beginning). The film is also generously seasoned with romance, decadence, melodrama, earthy humor, some musical numbers and a disaster – there is a fire in the final act.

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For the Boys

Between 1941 and 1945 as World War II engulfed the world most major studios in Hollywood demonstrated their patriotism by producing numerous flag-waving musicals in support of the troops and to raise money for the war effort. Warner Bros. was represented by This is the Army (1943), Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) and Hollywood Canteen (1944); Paramount served up Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) and Here Come the Waves (1944); Universal had a major hit with Buck Privates (1941) starring Abbott & Costello and The Andrew Sisters; 20th-Century-Fox unveiled the mind-warping visual excess of Busby Berkeley’s The Gangs All Here (1943) and MGM brought their signature gloss and glamor to Thousands Cheer (1943) and Anchors Aweigh (1945). But probably one of the biggest extravaganzas of all in terms of star cameos and musical guests was Stage Door Canteen (1943), released by United Artists.   Continue reading