Pre-code Hollywood: Rules are Made to be Broken

Pre-code Hollywood: Rules are Made to be Broken

Cinema Rediscovered 2022

Season

Please note: this season finished in July 2022

Listen up, all you dirty rats and hot dames. Let us transport you back to Hollywood’s savage years, when the restrictive censorship of the Hays Code wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Before the Hollywood censors decided to enforce the rules around sexuality, violence, drugs and hard living, a group of films we now call the Pre-Codes tested the boundaries by breaking every single one of them. And just as the gangsters and gold-diggers on-screen raised eyebrows by profiting from their nefarious deeds, cinema was enriched by some of the wittiest, wildest and most audaciously enjoyable movies Hollywood has ever made.

If you want to see women centre-stage and expressing their own desires, or criminals so charming you’ll pray they get away with the loot, step this way…

We’re showing brand new remasters of five classic Pre-Codes, from the sparkling Jewel Robbery (1932) starring Kay Francis and William Powell in a tale of Viennese gentlemen thieves wreathed in marijuana smoke, to James Cagney and Joan Blondell in the classic crime caper Blonde Crazy (1931). Norma Shearer throws herself at bad-boy Clark Gable in A Free Soul (1931), while in Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933), Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck learn how to get ahead, one notch on their bedpost at a time.

Following its launch at Cinema Rediscovered, Pre-code Hollywood: Rules Are Made to be Broken will be available as a touring programme across the UK.

About the curators:

Christina Newland is the lead film critic at the i paper and a journalist on film, pop culture, and boxing at Criterion,Sight & Sound, BBC, MUBI, Empire, and others. She runs an award-winning newsletter, Sisters Under the Mink, on the depiction of women in crime film and TV. Her first book, an anthology entitled She Found it at the Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema, was published by Red Press in 2020. She tweets at @christinalefou.

Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance writer, critic, film historian and curator. She writes for Sight & Sound,Criterion,Indicator, the Guardian, Empire and regularly appears on BBC radio. She is also the editor of Sight and Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin, an email newsletter. Her publications include the BFI Film Classic on Pandora's Box and 30-Second Cinema (Ivy Press), as well as essays in several edited collections. In 2021 she delivered the Philip French Memorial Lecture at Cinema Rediscovered. Her site: SilentLondon.co.uk is devoted to silent cinema.

Words by season co-curators Pamela Hutchinson and Christina Newland. With thanks to Park Circus and Warner Bros.


Previous screenings & events in this season

UK Premiere: Baby Face

classified 12A Pre-code Hollywood
UK Premiere: Baby Face
Please note: This was screened in July 2022
Film
Barbara Stanwyck climbs her way to the top of New York, one man at a time, in this bold Depression-era drama.

UK Premiere: Red-headed Woman

classified 12A PS Pre-code Hollywood
UK Premiere: Red-headed Woman
Please note: This was screened in July 2022
Film
Jean Harlow sizzles and the dialogue crackles in this boundary-pushing comedy of sex and social-climbing.

UK Premiere: Jewel Robbery

classified 12A Pre-code Hollywood
UK Premiere: Jewel Robbery
Please note: This was screened in July 2022
Film
An ode to drugs, sex, and diamonds starring veteran screen pair William Powell and Kay Francis as a gentleman thief and the posh lady who falls for him.
Pre-Code Holywood: Rules are Made to be Broken
Please note: This event took place in July 2022
Talk
Join the dream team (author, critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson and film critic and journalist Christina Newland) for a conversation about the rights and wrongs of Pre-code Hollywood.

UK Premiere: A Free Soul

classified 12A Pre-code Hollywood
UK Premiere: A Free Soul
Please note: This was screened in July 2022
Film
Socialite Norma Shearer risks total ruination after a sordid love affair with murderous gangster Clark Gable.

UK Premiere: Blonde Crazy

classified PG Pre-code Hollywood
UK Premiere: Blonde Crazy
Please note: This was screened in July 2022
Film
James Cagney and Joan Blondell sizzle as a con-artist duo robbing hotel guests in this brilliant crime comedy.