vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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No, the Code...what if?

That's Carole Lombard in the film that vaulted her to stardom, with John Barrymore in the screwball comedy "Twentieth Century." But relatively few people realize it was released in the spring of 1934, only a few months before the Production Code was strictly enforced on July 1. (Another pioneering screwball, "It Happened One Night," was released even earlier than that.)

The screwball genre is popularly perceived as the industry's response to some of the restrictions the Code imposed on sexuality and other themes that couldn't be expressed openly. Perhaps some of that was true, but these pre-Code screwballs ("The Thin Man" was also released in the first half of 1934) show it wasn't mutually exclusive.

It begs the question: How would the screwball genre, and for that matter Lombard's career, have changed had Joseph Breen not been able to have the Code made ironclad in the industry? Screwballs would still have been made, and the looser morality probably wouldn't have affected them much.

Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle film critic and historian whose books "Complicated Women" and "Dangerous Men" are essentials for anyone interested in the pre-Code era, did an essay in 2009 on the 75th anniversary of the Code's strict enforcement (http://daily.greencine.com/archives/007539.html), and it's highly recommended. He explains just how the Code set back American filmmaking, and its long-range effect; when the Code ended in the late 1960s, things went the other way, and sexuality in Hollywood cinema ran amok:

"For an entire generation, Hollywood had been forced to depict romance without sex. With the lifting of censorship, the divorce between sex and romance remained in effect, as Hollywood now gave us sex without romance. If you're looking for a reason why there's nothing less sexy than a sex scene in an American film, look no further. In Europe, which never experienced such a divorce, in which sex and romance remained naturally intertwined, sex is about longing, and personalities, and about life. In American movies, sex is a plot point. "

Without the Code, Lombard probably would have made her share of screwballs, but they would have had an increased sexuality about them. Who knows, perhaps we would have seen this image, a "Twentieth Century" publicity still banned by Breen, on the big screen:


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