No one heard the Talmadge girls speak, but they were famous. Very famous. Find out why.
After July’s #CleanMovieMonth, I binged-watched three Pre-Code films. Oh, the Poverty! Death! Adultery! Even More Death! A Code movie might be safer and better, but oh, what you’d miss.
In the first movie binge, Night Life in Reno, even the tiniest bit of adultery gets you shot. First, the avenging wife goes after the adulterer and then the adulterie! After watching this, I wouldn’t go to Reno for your divorce if I were you.
Then, I watched Blonde Crazy with Joan Blondell and Jimmy Cagney as a mild Bonnie and Clyde duo, and poor Jimmy gets it with a Tommy sub-machine gun! On a crowded New York street, no less. Yes, in Pre-Code, cops don’t even care about grandmas walking down the street. As I watched, I shouted, “Oh, come on. Really? A Tommy gun for a safecracker?” Yes, that’s what you get in Pre-Code.
Finally, I watched Safe in Hell, where it’s anything but. The star’s not only led into prostitution but she kills a man–twice. Yes, the same man, both times to save her honor. As sentimental as this movie was, it was my favorite. I cried as they led the star to the gallows with her white throat gleaming–she’d been in the tropics for months and her skin was still milky white and she never needed a haircut. Perhaps it is better in Hell.
I have to admit, I love the grittiness of Pre-Code films–the desperation of the people. No one lives a safe life of binge-watching movies, reading Facebook, and waking to a day at a secure job. No, in Pre-Code films, all depends on the characters’ wits and morality. I too dream of surviving in a Pre-Code world, walking to the gallows with my milky throat, my honor secure.
As part of July is Clean Movie month, I watched The More the Merrier, a screwball comedy produced during the Code. I was only introduced to the film a few years ago, which seems impossible given I’ve been watching Old Hollywood films since I was twelve. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, and is romantic and funny. It’s wonderful too because I haven’t worn it out like I have my other favorites Adam’s Rib and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, having watched them a gazillion times.
The More the Merrier is set in wartime Washington, DC, where a housing storage is in full swing. To do her patriotic duty, Constance (Jean Arthur) rents ½ of her apartment to Mr. Dingle (Charles Coburn), who then rents ½ of his ½ to a high type, clean cut, nice young fella, Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), who appears in the first scene carrying a propeller—all high type, clean cut, young fellas carry propellers.
The More the Merrier illustrates how close Hollywood played to the edge of the Code because it’s really a very naughty film. It has only one thing on its mind: to find love for Constance, albeit with a marriage contract. It also illustrates how the Code forced the writers and directors to play with words and situations to help Constance find love. Isn’t that so much better than watching a made-for-Netflix-movie where the people are you-know-what-ing before the title credits are over?
If you haven’t seen The More the Merrier, you really must. Constance’s clothes and hair styles are so fun and funky, and Joel McCrea is so charming, and Mr. Dingle is so damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed ahead. After watching it, you’ll know that Old Hollywood is better than New Netflix, especially Code Old Hollywood.
As you know, I was upset by One Night in Lisbon because Billie Burke disappeared halfway through the picture–I know, outrageous–, but we get lots of BIllie in We’re Rich Again, and she’s worth every second. Here’s her introduction to a gorgeous swimmer:
The whole movie turns everything upside-down. Billie and her husband are no longer rich, they have no money even for dinner, but they fill their swimming pool. Their oldest daughter is getting married and she mopes around reading a book–my kind of girl. The Grandmother plays polo with her own gang of young men. And no one does anything about the fact that they have no money until the two-faced country cousin arrives. It’s all wackadoodle like a screwball comedy with Billie Burke should be.
Again you can catch it free on youtube.