Friday, October 3, 2014

Moral Expectations

Turner Classic Movies, TCM, was showing pre-Code movies, and I was mesmerized.  Everything I expected was turned upside down.  I'd never seen so many over such a short span of time; taken together, they were the most interesting movies I'd seen in a while.

Barbara Stanwyck appeared in a few of them.  She specialized in changing into and out of a variety of outfits without changing her full slip... and what a slip it was.
There's not much worn beneath that slip, and the camera makes no attempt to hide the fact.
She was racy and she knew it.
She liked it, too.

I think it's that attitude which made me love the films.  They are unapologetically sexy.  In The Red Headed Woman, Jean Harlow sleeps around, smiles, sleeps around some more, has long and short term relationships, leaving a trail of bemused gentleman in her wake.  She's happily involved with her chauffeur, who's also her lover, who doesn't seem to mind the fact that his sweetheart is sharing her bed with others. 
They are living the high life and it's not costing them a thing.  There is no judgment, no moralizing, no teaching of lessons.  The movies are more interesting that way.
Gangster films still held to a more rigid code, it seems.  1931's Little Caesar kills off Cagney at the end, leaving him lying in the gutter.  "Is this the end of Rico?"  With Al Capone on trial for tax evasion that same year, the movies gave the audience what it wanted to hear: the bad guys don't end well.
But coming off the Roaring Twenties, when women's ankles and more were suddenly in view, the pre-Code movies took a much more benevolent view of sex.  It wasn't exploitative.  It was just sexy.  There was no need to show the business end of the sexiness, the allusions were clear enough.  It was the kind of raunchiness that led Daddooooo to say, "Oooo- la-la!!" and waggle his eyebrows.  It made the kids just a little bit squeamish, but there was laughter right there at the center.  It was sex and there were smiles.
That's not altogether a bad thing.


  1. I like the movies back then. Innuendo is sexier than a blow-by-blow (so to speak) showing.


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