I just saw Jewel Thief (1932) last night on TV—what a delightful, naughty little film! Bored wife Kay Francis falls in love with urbane robber William Powell, who plies his victims with reefers, and promises to make love to Kay “in ways I’ve only dreamed of.” (I might add that the nasty screenwriters gave Kay, who talked liked Baba Wawa, lines like “Thewe’s someone walking in the gawden—I heaw the gwavel cwunching.”)
I think of Hollywood’s Golden Years as 1930–33, when movies were naughty but not filthy, before the reinforced Production Code was put into effect by evil madman Joe Breen, in mid-1934. What great films! They could get away with offhand, adult references to sex (all kinds) and drugs, and evil did indeed win out sometimes.
Just look at some of the films released in 1932 alone, maybe the high point of the early talkies: Bill of Divorcement, Blonde Venus (Marlene Dietrich in a gorilla outfit!), Call Her Savage (Clara Bow’s best talkie), Devil and the Deep (Tallulah Bankhead on a submarine!), Downstairs (John Gilbert’s best talkie), Freaks, Grand Hotel, The Half-Naked Truth (Lupe Velez as a cooch dancer), Horse Feathers, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, If I Had a Million, Love Me Tonight (one of the best musicals ever), The Mask of Fu Manchu (just ask Ike about that one!), Million Dollar Legs (maybe my all-time favorite comedy), Night After Night (Mae West’s debut), One Way Passage (great tear-jerker), Rain (Joan Crawford’s best performance, ever), Red Dust (Harlow and Gable!), DeMille’s *Sign of the Cross, Strange Interlude *(AND its two-reel parody, Strange Inner Tube!), *Tarzan the Ape Man, Thirteen Women *(bizarre!), What Price Hollywood? Jesus—and they say 1939 was a good year!
What are some of your favorite pre-Code films?