What exactly did "Pre Hays Code" mean?

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Jay_Z, Oct 15, 2020.

  1. Jay_Z

    Jay_Z Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I guess I have watched a couple of these, and I'm not really sure what to look for.

    What exactly was allowed, or generally accepted? I don't think they were doing full frontal nudity, or dropping F bombs, were they? What are the obvious signs that would mark a pre Hays Code movie from one after?
    Mechanical Man likes this.
  2. JFS3

    JFS3 Senior Member

    As for full blown nudity or language, no, but one pre-code film I'm aware of, The Miracle Woman (1931) with Barbara Stanwyck, was famous for a character flipping someone the bird.

    The Hays Code was a 1930's conservative backlash against the perceived decadence of the Jazz Age of the late 20's-early 30's that was supposedly "infiltrating" Hollywood at the time:

    Pre-Code Hollywood - Wikipedia
    ralphb and Chris DeVoe like this.
  3. OldSoul

    OldSoul Shattered

    Vallejo, CA
    Heavy innuendo, drug references, mild curses, violence.
  4. Big Jimbo

    Big Jimbo Forum Resident

    For example in the pre code movie “Night Nurse” both Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell are seen in their lingerie several times. In one scene at the hospital an intern leers at them, saying he’s seen more in the delivery room. Blondell advises Stanwyck not to marry an intern...all they want is a free helper once they get their own practice (Hays code would find that derogatory towards doctors). The plot concerns them caring for two young girls who are being starved to death by the bad guy the chauffeur (Clark Gable in an early role. Originally James Cagney was cast but “Public Enemy” made him too big for the role). He has run over one girl and hopes to marry the rich alcoholic widowed mother and get the kids trust funds. Ultimately a bootlegger Stanwyck has treated illegally first persuades the chief at the hospital to treat the girls and when the chauffeur tries to interfere, the bootlegger leads him away at gunpoint. In the end Stanwyck and the bootlegger are sitting in a car. He remarks the chauffeur won’t cause any trouble since he told a couple of friends that he didn’t like him. An ambulance comes by and when it reaches the hospital, they tell the attendant they have a gangland killing victim for the morgue...some guy in a chauffeur’s uniform. I am sure the Hays office would object to vigilantism.
    In an earlier version of “The Maltese Falcon” with Richard Cortez, a woman leaving Sam Spade’s office readjusts her stockings and dress, implying she had them off while meeting with him.
  5. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Detroit Mi USA
    Many early films used dancers who were scantily clad and some prominently without bras. Violence against women was nixed(Cagney smashing a grapefruit in his wifes face), and a bad guy always lost in the end among other things. The Hayes code even messed with Betty Boop.

    Pre Hayes .............................................................. post Hayes
  6. EdgardV

    EdgardV Forum Resident

    Pre-Code Hollywood - Wikipedia
  7. x2zero

    x2zero Forum Resident

    Brooklyn USA

    Check out the swimming scene from Tarzan and His Mate on YouTube
    SandAndGlass, vinnie, gillcup and 3 others like this.
  8. Big Jimbo

    Big Jimbo Forum Resident

    IIRC the first version of “King Kong” has more violence when Kong breaks through the wall on Skull Island, stomping on villagers and eating one. There may be some top less shots of the female natives. He will also sniff some women in hopes of recognizing Ann Darrow (Fay Wray).

    By towards standards pre code movies were pretty tame.
    OldSoul likes this.
  9. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Central PA
    [​IMG] Chris Hayes
    JamieC likes this.
  10. alexpop

    alexpop Power pop + other bad habits....

    Mean ?
    no bra, navel gazing. :)
  11. Vahan

    Vahan Forum Resident

    Glendale, CA, USA
    It was very ridiculous how "I never make love on an empty stomach" (from North by Northwest) was so highly offensive.
  12. George Blair

    George Blair Forum Resident

    Portland, OR
    Also, post code you couldn't show couples sleeping in the same bed, even if they were married. Bad guys were not allowed to get away with it, law and order must prevail in the end.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  13. cloggedmind

    cloggedmind Dr. Do-Very-Little

    I always wondered how Charley Chase got away with the "fan dancer" joke in The Three Stooges short Violent is the Word for Curly from 1938. It's tame and, yet, looks like an intentional wardrobe malfunction, as well.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020 at 1:33 AM
  14. HaileyMcComet

    HaileyMcComet Forum Resident

    In Modern Times, the Tramp, arrested for being a communist, snorts and eats cocaine, which allows him to foil a prison escape. The coke makes him a hero. That kind of thing was acceptable pre-Hayes, but was not supposed to happen under the Hayes Code. Modern Times came out just after the code went into force, but Chaplin did not care, and he was too popular for any regulatory agency to do anything about it.

  15. dance_hall_keeper

    dance_hall_keeper Forum Resident

  16. stepeanut

    stepeanut King of the North

    That’s a bummer. I really liked him in that schoolmaster sketch:

    cloggedmind likes this.
  17. Mothmanica

    Mothmanica Forum Cryptid

    Planet Earth
    The ''Pre-Code'' era was a time in American motion picture history from 1930-1934 when dynamic risqué cinema ruled the silver screen.
    There is a superb documentary about this extraordinary period called Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood {2008}
    which I consider to be essential viewing for film students, cinephiles & anyone who's interested in this fascinating & unforgettable epoch of filmmaking history.

    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020 at 7:04 AM
  18. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden MichiGort Staff

    Livonia, MI
    There are separate literal and practical definitions of "pre code" depending on context.

    The literal definition is films produced before the creation of the Motion Picture Production Code, which would mean prior to 1930
    The practical (and more common) definition is films produced before the strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, which would mean prior to July of 1934.
  19. Luke The Drifter

    Luke The Drifter Forum Resident

    United States
    My understanding is they did cut some violence in the Hays code re-release (this was NOT how the spider pit scene was lost, as it was actually believed to be too violent by pre-code standards!). They also removed the scene of Kong stripping off her clothes and sniffing her. I do not believe there were topless natives, but someone can correct me if I am wrong on that.
  20. Maggie

    Maggie funky but chic

    Toronto, Canada
    Pre-code Hollywood films did have some nudity sometimes -- usually a topless girl seen from a distance. But honestly, much of the time, it was much more about the subject matter than the explicitness of the content per se.

    Check out a film like Where Are My Children, a 1916 (!) silent starring Tyrone Power Sr., which deals quite explicitly with abortion. That would have never, ever, ever happened during the Hays era.

    Similarly, Murnau's Sunrise (1927) deals with an extramarital affair in a frank and non-moralistic fashion. There's no nudity or vulgarity, but it's candid in a way Hays films never would be.
    HaileyMcComet and trumpet sounds like this.
  21. mBen989

    mBen989 Forum Resident

    Scranton, PA
    Pre-Code I'd define as a talking picture made before the Hays code was enforced.
  22. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Detroit Mi USA
    IIRC there was a scene where Faye Wray was dropped in the water and her wet outfit was quite revealing.
  23. ralphb

    ralphb "First they came for..."

    Brooklyn, New York
    Another great pre-code Stanwyck is Babyface(1933), which makes no bones about the fact that she sleeps her way to the top. The metaphor of a skyscraper that they use may be a bit much, but it's a fun film and Stanwyck is her usual amazing self..
  24. Manapua

    Manapua Forum Resident

    IIRC in the 1932 film Bird Of Paradise, Delores del Rio swims naked in one sequence and dances topless in another although that is more apparent from the rear and side shots.
  25. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Detroit Mi USA

Share This Page