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Pre-Code Hollywood


Pre-Code Hollywood refers to the brief era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines in mid-1934, usually labeled, albeit inaccurately, as the "Hays Code". Although the Code was adopted in 1930, oversight was poor and it did not become rigorously enforced until July 1, 1934, with the establishment of the Production Code Administration (PCA). Before that date, movie content was restricted more by local laws, negotiations between the Studio Relations Committee (SRC) and the major studios, and popular opinion, than strict adherence to the Hays Code, which was often ignored by Hollywood filmmakers.

As a result, films in the late 1920s and early 1930s included sexual innuendo, miscegenation, profanity, illegal drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and homosexuality. Strong female characters were ubiquitous, in such films as Female, Baby Face, and Red-Headed Woman. Gangsters in films like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and Scarface were seen by many as heroic rather than evil. Along with featuring stronger female characters, films examined female subject matters that would not be revisited until decades later in US films. Nefarious characters were seen to profit from their deeds, in some cases without significant repercussions, and drug use was a topic of several films. Many of Hollywood's biggest stars such as Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell and Edward G. Robinson got their start in the era. Other stars who excelled during this period, however, like Ruth Chatterton (who decamped to England) and Warren William (the so-called "king of Pre-Code", who died in 1948), would wind up essentially forgotten by the general public within a generation.


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