April 23rd, 2019

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'Forbidden Hollywood': See the films, buy the book

That's Carole Lombard, playing a former streetwalker trying to go straight, with cabbie Pat O'Brien in "Virtue" (1932). It's one of Lombard's toughest characters, typical for films made in what now is known as the pre-Code era.

After the movie industry clamped down on the Production Code in mid-1934 -- while it had been implemented in 1930, Hollywood largely paid lip service to it -- she nor any other actress could play a prostitute, not without putting it well between the lines. In addition, issues such as premarital sex, interracial relationships and the like no longer were allowed on screen.

My Facebook friend Mark A. Vieira has written a book for TCM about these movies. "Forbidden Hollywood" (256 pages) examines this era, arguably the most frank period in American movie history. Lombard, who had some pre-Code successes but wouldn't fully come into her own until later in the decade, is part of the book, as are other actresses more associated with the time such as Norma Shearer, Barbara Stanwyck, Loretta Young and Jean Harlow.

This Sunday, TCM will air three standout pre-Code movies (all times Eastern):

* 8 p.m. -- "Little Caesar" (1930). While not the first gangster movie (they'd been made since late silent days), it was the first that truly captured the amoral tone of what was happening on the streets of Chicago, New York and elsewhere. Edward G. Robinson was brilliant as Rico, and the genre proved perfect for urban-oriented Warners.

* 9:30 p.m. -- "Red-Headed Woman" (1932). Jean Harlow's character Lil uses her sexual power, something she clearly enjoys, to rise from poverty to wealth. Anita Loos of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" fame wrote this clever comedy decrying sexual hypocrisy, and Harlow's as seductive with red hair as she is as a platinum blonde.

* 11 p.m. -- "Baby Face" (1933). Many would label this the definitive pre-Code film, especially after an uncensored version was found some years ago. Like Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way to the top, though she does it at work (John Wayne, then in between second-feature oaters, is one of her conquests). She also treats her black friend (the wonderful Theresa Harris) as a partner in a non-stereotyped relationship.

For more on the book (including how to order it for $22.95, 24 percent off), go to https://shop.tcm.com/forbidden-hollywood-the-pre-code-era-1930-1934-when-sin-ruled-the-movies-turner-classic-movies/9780762466771?utm_source=tcm&utm_medium=crosslink&utm_campaign=book-feature-forbidden-hollywood-mar-2019&utm_content=tcm-book-feature-forbidden-hollywood-mar-2019.
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