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Complicated Women [Hardcover]

Mick LaSalle
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Jan 2001
Between 1929 and 1934, women in American cinema were modern! They took lovers, had babies out of wedlock, got rid of cheating husbands, enjoyed their sexuality. led unapologetic careers and, in general, acted the way many think women only acted after 1968. Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer were at the forefront of an eruption of female talent; Ann Harding, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow all came into their own during the pre-Code era. These women pushed the limits and shaped their images along modern lines. Then, in July 1934, the draconian Production Code became the law in Hollywood and these modern women of the screen were banished, not to be seen again until the code was repealed three decades later. Mick LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, takes readers on a tour of pre-Code films and how the movies of the pre-Code are still worth watching. COMPLICATED WOMEN will include 35 of celebrated photographer George Hurrell's exquisite photographs.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press (18 Jan 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312252072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312252076
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,474,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"LaSalle's marvelous Complicated Women is the best kind of film book, making us see with fresh eyes the women of pre-Code Hollywood, a truly revolutionary lot by any standards. LaSalle wittily and insightfully celebrates the multiform 'New Woman' of the late '20s and early '30s. The author does a persuasive job of reminding us of the contribution of lesser-known stars while rescuing the much-maligned Norma Shearer from her gilded cage as MGM's plastic princess and restoring her to her rightful place as a breathtakingly risky (and risque) sensualist with plenty of career savvy. Bravo!"--Molly Haskell, author of" From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies" "Mick LaSalle's Complicated Women isn't just a great title for life, it's an eye-opening examination of pre-Code Hollywood that retrieves lost films and overlooked careers. It's also a delight to read and argue with."--David Thompson, author of "Beneath Mulholland and Rosebud" "Mick LaSalle is a guy who really knows his stuff. He's actually seen everything he writes about, evoking a whole era of forgotten movies in a refreshing style that's not just a series of rehashed plots, but a witty, insightful joyride without an ounce of pomposity or patronizing, while at the same time providing the unsuspecting viewer with a fun guide on how to 'read' pre-Code movies."--Bruce Goldstein, Director of Repertory Programming, Film Forum, New York "Mick LaSalle's Complicated Women is a revelation: He takes us back, with wit, passion, and intelligence, to those brief shining years of the early 1930s when Hollywood women movie stars like Norma Shearer could be erotic, funny, and independent--with no hell to pay."--Kate Buford, author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life "Sophisticated and provocative."--"Entertainment Weekly" "An overdue examination of a historic conflict between Hollywood and would-be monitors of morality."--"New York Times Book Review " "In prose as snappy --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Mick LaSalle is the film critic for the "San Francisco Chronicle" and teaches a class at University of California at Berkeley on pre-Code film. He lives in San Francisco. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
At the end of the silent era, Joan Crawford was dancing the Charleston on tabletops, while Norma Shearer was wearing a hoopskirt in the costume romance, The Actress. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DAZZLING! 5 Aug 2002
This is not the easiest book to find on these shores. I stumbled onto it at a friend's house, who'd found it at a used book sale, and after thumbing through it I knew I could not borrow it but had to own a copy for myself -- thus, off I went to Amazon.
Amazing. What a book. It does three things, all of them extraordinary. 1) It introduced me to a whole world of art about which I knew nothing; 2) It told me about an inspiring pocket of women's social and sexual history about which I knew nothing; and 3) It entertained me with a great story, told with magnificent wit.
I recommend it without reservation and with complete enthusiasm.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST FILM BOOK OF THE YEAR 27 Aug 2001
By A Customer
This is the best film book of the year, the critically acclaimed, passionate and witty history/study of the great age for women's pictures -- the five years before censorship came and wrecked the party. It's a great women's book, a great story and a great way to turn on to the pre-Code era, 1929-34. This book hasn't got enough press in the UK, but it rocks.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooray for Mick! 15 Oct 2000
By Barbara C. Hendrickson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While reading LaSalle's Complicated Women, I found myself lusting to see the movies he describes. Luckily many of them belong to Turner Classic movies. I just taped and watched four of them: Stanwyck's Baby Face; Kay Francis' Mary Stevens, MD; Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless; and Dorothy Mackaill's Safe in Hell. I couldn't believe my eyes! Stanwyck as a women prostituted by her own father who sleeps her way to the top of the corporation? Francis as a woman doctor who has an illegitimate child? Bankhead as a former rich girl who hits the street to make money for her injured husband's medical bills? And Mackaill as a call girl hiding out from the cops in Tortuga? And none of them had to die for their sins, even though they may have repented their behavior? I was born in 1932 and grew up with the movies of the late 30's and 1940's. I was familiar with some of those women stars, but I never saw such stories in post-Code films. The modernity of the pre-Code movies is astounding; the strong women who are their protagonists were lost for 30 years. I can't help feeling cheated by what the post-Code movies taught me about women and men and their "proper" relationships. Hooray for Mick!
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb writing, detailed research, long-overdue... 20 Jan 2002
By Breck Stewart - Published on
I must admit I bought this book first because of the fact that Norma Shearer was on the cover. I am a big fan of hers and always felt extremely frustrated that she is practically forgotten today even though she had such an impact on our movie culture from the silent days until her retirement in 1942.
When I saw that book on the shelves, I didn't even hesitate and bought it right away, not knowing anything about it or the author. I always buy any book related to actresses from old movies anyway. But as I started to read, I became completely engrossed in the story, the drama, the lives of these pioneer women. These actresses were literally strangled in their creative flow by those stupid, rigid and close-minded officials who in 1934, decided to put a stop to what they felt were abominations, destroying a brilliant path the movies could have gone for if given the chance.
This book is simply superb. There are no words strong enough to express just how much I love it. I had never heard of the author and was amazed at how much he knew about his subjects. His comments are often funny, touching and always right on target. I devoured this book while being on a business trip out of the country and it became my companion on those long hours on the plane.
I recommend this book to everyone. I have read the other reviews and agree with all those who are highly praising. One of them was written by a woman who, saying that it was a must for all women, was wondering how men might feel about this book. Well, I can tell you right now that as a man, I would very strongly recommend to anyone who wants to learn about our movie history.
I have read the book at least 10 times by now and always enjoy it immensely. I only wish there were other extremely good books like this one about that period in film culture which is probably the most fascinating ever, even to this day. And in closing, I really have to say that I was SHOCKED when I realized, like many other reviewers, that many of those pre-code movies wouldn't even be made today. I mean, this is mind-boggling when you think about it! We are in 2002 after all!
An absolute MUST!!!
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REDISCOVER SOME EXCELLENT FILM GEMS! 1 Oct 2000
By S. OBrien - Published on
Mick LaSalle's COMPLICATED WOMEN showcases the development of an exciting genre of films (1929-July 1934) that should really be seen by anyone interested in good films and film history. LaSalle writes with a sharp, informed intelligence and wit. He capsulates the careers of the era's most significant stars: Harlow, Francis, Crawford, Harding, Hopkins, Chatterton -- and reminds us of the strong, sexual, intelligent roles they were able to play before the Production Code. Garbo and Norma Shearer provided the foundation in 1929-30 for what followed. His emphasis on these two makes perfect sense -- they had the most prestige, fan appeal and power during this time to shift the gears of how women were to be seen in the movies. This book is also a great reference of film titles to go out and seek or watch for on Turner Classic Movies. It certainly made me redefine my own outlook on women's roles in old movies. What I saw growing up in the 50's and 60's at the movies was a gigantic technicolor bore compared to some of these films. This book is a must for every film library.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Age of Sexual Immunity 19 April 2001
By T. J Mitchell - Published on
Before the Hollywood infrastructure got its meat hooks into the fledgling talkie medium, there was a grace period when women spoke freely. The vamp, the seducer, even that most threatening of feminine archetypes - the socially empowered ingénue - were allowed to roam the parlors and nightclubs like a wild tonic in grayscale. For anyone who appreciates unfettered female expression and all its intricacies, Mick La Salle's book, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, is an inspired revelation. La Salle prods us to explore the concept of morality in 20th century America and its representation on film which, contrary to popular belief, does not plummet through decades of ignorance as one looks back from the 60s. In fact, he depicts an age (1929-1934) prior to the censorship of Production Code figurehead Will Hays and its chief architect Joseph Breen in which women were not burning their bras so much as simply not wearing them. With the focus primarily on the legendary Greta Garbo and the tragically forgotten Norma Shearer, Complicated Women lends insight into the burgeoning sexuality of the liberated heroine whose modern attitudes went without apology and, more importantly, without punishment.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome Back, Ladies! 21 Jan 2001
By Herbert Boomhower - Published on
As a lover of movie books about the classic era, I instantly fell in love with Mick LaSalle's book about the screen goddesses of the pre-code era. All of my favorite stars came jumping out at me from the printed page in all their beauty and glamour and reminded me that the era of filmmaking talked about was one of great change, changes that pretty accurately reflected real life, as women especially were evolving from the repression of many centuries. Mick LaSalle writes a very entertaining as well as a very informative story about those marvelous ladies and their films, and it's obvious that he likes and appreciates his subjects. Let's have more film books like this one. Could not put it down!
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