Harding and former head of the Republican National Committee ,  served for 25 years as president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America MPPDA , where he "defended the industry from attacks, recited soothing nostrums , and negotiated treaties to cease hostilities. Industrial Commission of Ohio that free speech did not extend to motion pictures,  and while there had been token attempts to clean up the movies before, such as when the studios formed the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry NAMPI in , little had come of the efforts.
Lord , a Jesuit priest, created a code of standards which Hays liked immensely  , and submitted it to the studios. After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code.
One of the main motivating factors in adopting the Code was to avoid direct government intervention. Joy, to supervise film production and advise the studios when changes or cuts were required.
The first was a set of "general principles" which mostly concerned morality. The second was a set of "particular applications" which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Miscegenation, the mixing of the races, was forbidden. It stated that the notion of an "adults-only policy" would be a dubious, ineffective strategy that would be difficult to enforce.
The Code sought not only to determine what could be portrayed on screen, but also to promote traditional values. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that they were the exception to the rule. James Wingate — were seen as generally ineffective. Therefore, events such as the Boston Tea Party could not be portrayed. And if clergy were always to be presented positively, then hypocrisy could not be examined either. Skirt-lifting was one of many suggestive activities detested by Hays.
In , The Hollywood Reporter mocked the code, and Variety followed suit in In the same year as the Variety article, a noted screenwriter stated that "the Hays moral code is not even a joke any more; it's just a memory. Ohio by instituting a censorship board in Virginia followed suit the next year,  and eight individual states had a board by the advent of sound film. By the s, the New York stage, a frequent source of subsequent screen material, had topless shows; performances were filled with curse words, mature subject matter, and sexually suggestive dialogue.
Allen of Paramount responded by collaborating on a list they called the "Don'ts and Be Carefuls", based on items that were challenged by local censor boards, and which consisted of eleven subjects best avoided, and twenty-six to be handled very carefully. DeMille was responsible for the increasing discussion of sex in cinema in the s. The economic disaster brought on by the stock market crash of changed American values and beliefs in various ways.
Themes of American exceptionalism and traditional concepts of personal achievement, self-reliance, and the overcoming of odds lost great currency.
The Depression profoundly influenced pre-Code Hollywood both financially and artistically. The cynicism, challenging of traditional beliefs, and political controversy of Hollywood films during this period mirrored the attitudes of many of their patrons. Scott Fitzgerald commented in Although films experienced an unprecedented level of freedom and dared to portray things that would be kept hidden for several decades, many in America looked upon the stock market crash as a product of the excesses of the previous decade.
Joan Crawford ultimately reforms her ways and is saved; less fortunate is William Bakewell , who continues on the careless path that leads to his ultimate self-destruction. The song was repeated sarcastically by characters in several films such as Under Eighteen and 20, Years in Sing Sing Less comical was the picture of the United States' future presented in Heroes for Sale that same year , in which a hobo looks into a depressing night and proclaims, "It's the end of America".
In Wild Boys of the Road , the young man played by Frankie Darrow leads a group of dispossessed juvenile drifters who frequently brawl with the police. The mob mentality displayed in bank runs was portrayed in films like American Madness , where Frank Capra depicted "the thin line between investor confidence and panic in Hoover's America. The studios were in a difficult financial position even before the market crash as the sound conversion process and some risky purchases of theater chains had pushed their finances near the breaking point.
Even so, 60 million Americans went to the cinema weekly. Early sound films were often noted for being too verbose. Groups of agitated men either standing in breadlines, loitering in hobo camps, or marching the streets in protest became a prevalent sight during the Great Depression.
Although social issues were examined more directly in the pre-Code era, Hollywood still largely ignored the Great Depression, as many films sought to ameliorate patrons' anxieties rather than incite them. Social problem films[ edit ] Hays and others, such as Samuel Goldwyn , obviously felt that motion pictures presented a form of escapism that served a palliative effect on American moviegoers.
Employees' Entrance received the following review from Jonathan Rosenbaum: He also threatens to fire Loretta Young 's character, who pretends to be single to stay employed, unless she sleeps with him, then attempts to ruin her husband after learning she is married. Warner , was the most prominent maker of these types of pictures and preferred they be called "Americanism stories".
The Jazz Age prelude was almost singularly used to cast shame on the boisterous behavior of the s. The film takes place in an unspecified southern state where workers are given barely enough to survive and taken advantage of by being charged exorbitant interest rates and high prices by unscrupulous landowners.
The planters supply the tenants with the simple requirements of everyday life and; in return, the tenants work the land year in and year out. A hundred volumes could be written on the rights and wrongs of both parties, but it is not the object of the producers of Cabin in the Cotton to take sides. We are only concerned with the effort to picture these conditions. In the end, however, the planters admit their wrongdoing and agree to a more equitable distribution of capital.
The avaricious businessman remained a recurring character in pre-Code cinema. In The Match King , Warren William played an industrialist based on real-life Swedish entrepreneur Ivar Kreuger , himself nicknamed the "Match King", who attempts to corner the global market on matches. William's vile character, Paul Kroll, commits robbery, fraud, and murder on his way from a janitor to a captain of industry. David Dwight, a wealthy banker who owns a building named after himself that is larger than the Empire State Building.
In films such as Paid , the legal system turns innocent characters into criminals. The life of Joan Crawford 's character is ruined and her romantic interest is executed so that she may live free, although she is innocent of the crime for which the district attorney wants to convict her. Stanwyck also portrayed a nurse and initially reluctant heroine who manages to save, via unorthodox means, two young children in danger from nefarious characters including Clark Gable as a malevolent chauffeur in Night Nurse In Blonde Venus , Marlene Dietrich 's character resorts to prostitution to feed her child, and Claudette Colbert 's character in It Happened One Night gets her comeuppance for throwing a tray of food onto the floor by later finding herself without food or financial resources.
Early in the Depression many Americans desired politicians who could give them something beyond empty reassurances and hollow promises. The candidate wins the election despite his incessant, embarrassing mishaps.
Washington Merry-Go-Round portrayed the state of a political system stuck in neutral. DeMille released This Day and Age in , and it stands in stark contrast to his other films of the period. Filmed shortly after DeMille had completed a five-month tour of the Soviet Union , This Day and Age takes place in America and features several children torturing a gangster who got away with the murder of a popular local shopkeeper.
The film ends with the youngsters taking the gangster to a local judge and forcing the magistrate to conduct a trial in which the outcome is never in doubt. The president solves the nation's unemployment crisis and executes an Al Capone -type criminal who has continually flouted the law.
After showing some of the progress Italy has made during Il Duce 's year reign, Thomas opines, "This is a time when a dictator comes in handy!
Heroes for Sale, despite being a tremendously bleak and at times anti-American film, ends on a positive note as the New Deal appears as a sign of optimism. However the judge lets the boy go free, revealing to him the symbol of the New Deal behind his desk, and tells him "[t]hings are going to be better here now, not only here in New York, but all over the country. By the time the film was released on March 31, , FDR's election had produced a level of hopefulness in America that rendered the film's message obsolete.
Although Hitler had become unpopular in many parts of the United States, Germany was still a voluminous importer of American films and the studios wanted to appease the German government. As a result, only two social problem films released by independent film companies addressed the mania in Germany during the pre-Code era Are We Civilized?
Mankiewicz and producer Sam Jaffe announced they were working on a picture, to be titled Mad Dog of Europe, which was intended to be a full-scale attack on Hitler.
Hays summoned the pair to his office and told them to cease production as they were causing needless headaches for the studios. Pre-Code crime films In the early s, the United States was still primarily a rural country, especially in self-identity. Griffith 's The Musketeers of Pig Alley is one of the earliest American films to feature urban organized crime.
Nonetheless, the urban-crime genre was mostly ignored until when Underworld , which is recognized as the first gangster movie,  became a surprise hit. According to the Encyclopedia of Hollywood entry on Underworld, "The film established the fundamental elements of the gangster movie: Gangster films such as Thunderbolt , and Doorway to Hell were released to capitalize on Underworld's popularity,  with Thunderbolt being described as "a virtual remake" of the film.
Many shots where machine guns were featured, scenes where criminals shot at law enforcement officers, some scenes involving stabbing or knife brandishing audiences considered stabbings more disturbing than shootings , most whippings, several involving choking, torture, or electrocution, and any scenes which could be considered educational in their depiction of crime methods.
Sadistic violence and reaction shots showing the faces of individuals on the receiving end of violence were considered especially sensitive areas. Birth of the Hollywood gangster[ edit ] No motion picture genre of the Pre-Code era was more incendiary than the gangster film; neither preachment yarns nor vice films so outraged the moral guardians or unnerved the city fathers as the high caliber scenarios that made screen heroes out of stone killers.
Doherty In the early s, several real-life criminals became celebrities. Two in particular captured the American imagination: Al Capone and John Dillinger. Gangsters like Capone had transformed the perception of entire cities. Capone appeared on the cover of Time magazine in He had become the most celebrated public outlaw since Jesse James. Dillinger's popularity rose so quickly that Variety joked that "if Dillinger remains at large much longer and more such interviews are obtained, there may be some petitions circulated to make him our president.
Robinson as gangster Rico Bandello. Nine gangster films were released in , 26 in , 28 in , and 15 in , when the genre's popularity began to subside after the end of Prohibition.
In , Jack Warner announced that his studio would stop making them and that he himself had never allowed his year-old son to see them. Robinson confronts Joe Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Joe wants to go straight and meets a woman. Rico, however, seeks a life of crime and joins the gang of Sam Vettori.
He rises to the rank of boss of the crime family. After becoming concerned his friend will betray him he threatens him, at which point Joe's girlfriend goes to the police.
Unable to bring himself to kill Joe and eliminate the witness against him, Rico goes into hiding. He is coaxed out by the police, who publish that he is a coward to the press.
Rico is killed in a blaze of gunfire; his last words are "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?