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Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 (Film and Culture Series) Paperback – 5 Oct 1999

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Scholarly but at ease with a Hollywood aside or period slang... Providing a nearly complete chronicle and casting unifying light on an unexplored era in film. Kirkus Reviews Pre-Code Hollywood is a delight -- a text as witty and lively as the dialogue to be found in most of the pre-Code films under discussion. Filmfax Doherty keenly grasps the paradox at the heart of Hollywood censorship in the studio era. -- Clayton Koppes American Historical Review A pleasure to read. Where film criticism often seems doomed to crush the power and the immediacy of the moving image under the weight of theoretical abstraction and protracted analysis, Doherty's prose is swift, vivid and energetic, much like the films that he addresses here. -- Jeffrey Geiger American Studies Pre-Code Hollywood is not only fun to read, it's instructive -- a valuable, organized dip into a narrow slice of Hollywood history. -- Robert Gottlieb The New York Times Book Review Pre-Code Hollywood is not just a valuable exercise in film scholarship but also a fascinating cultural history of America in crisis. Doherty's discussion of Roosevelt's notorious manipulation of the mass media is itself worth the price of the book. -- Peter Kurth Salon.com Looks to become the standard work on this decidedly nonstandard age. -- Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times Excellent... Thomas Doherty's Pre-Code Hollywood cogently examines the [Pre-Code] pictures and their political impact. -- Richard Corliss Time A detailed and fascinating study. -- J. Hoberman The New York TImes This is a fascinating, in-depth look at an overlooked Hollywood era. Doherty re-creates the horse-trading over censorship and the social tensions and casual racism of a young industry... Highly recommended. Library Journal

About the Author

Thomas Doherty is associate professor in the American Studies Department and chair of the Film Studies Program at Brandeis University. He is the author of Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II (Columbia, 1993) and Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s, and is associate editor of the film journal Cineaste.

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On or about July 1934 American cinema changed. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 12 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Exciting subject matter, dull reading 9 Jun 2001
By wrbtu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a good book, but it doesn't capture the excitement of its subject matter. All kinds of wild & crazy things were happening in pre-code (1930-1934) Hollywood movies (extramarital affairs, prostitution, robbery, violence, etc.), & they happened for the most part without moral judgment on the parts of the movie makers. But this book presents this exciting period in a rather dry, humorless way. It contains lots of useful information about the era & its surrounding politics, but also leaves out a lot of things that should be mentioned. On the plus side, it contains a complete version of the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (which is referred to in so many books, but hard to find a copy of). The photos are great, but small in size & printed on the same porous paper used for the text (which results in less sharpness than if printed on glossy paper). The biggest negative, in my opinion, is that a number of important pre-code movies are not even mentioned in this book (for example, Norma Shearer's "The Divorcee"). And why the author spends 4+ pages analyzing "Congorilla" (a 1932 African documentary that was made during the pre-code era but has little to do with Production Code censorship) is beyond me; it's a good analysis but perhaps belongs in a different book!
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
OK, but there's better out there 1 July 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I love this era, and I love reading about this era, but even so, I gave up reading this book about halfway through. There are better books about pre-Code, at least two or three. Geoffrey Blake has a great book about how the Code came to be, and Mick LaSalle and Mark Vierra also have excellent books about the artistry and the gossip and the history. This one is OK, but I'd recommend it only to people like me who just can't get enough. And even then, I found out, I can.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Better Ones Out There 1 Aug 2001
By Melanie Daniel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a very respectable but uninspired treatment of the pre-Code era. Its virtues come mainly in the beginning, with an interesting introduction. Its weakness stems from the fact that the author seems more fascinated by the politics of the era than with the movies -- and that he fails to connect the politics with the movies in a way that ultimately illuminates THE FILMS, on an artistic level. I don't think he has a feel for the ART of the era at all, and as a result the best chapters are about Franklin Roosevelt and the newsreels of the day. A decent treatment, but better books are out there.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Censorship and Politics (And Who Can Tell the Difference) 18 Feb 2001
By Ricky Hunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Thomas Doherty's Pre-Code Hollywood (Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930 - 1934) is a wonderful study of Hollywood and the movies it produced before the Production Code gained its censorious teeth and bloodied them on celluloid. The most significant and interesting aspects of the book were the politics involved, both in the production of the movies and the movies themselves. Movies looked at vice, poverty, and politics, for example, with eyes wide open and this frightened many people in power who led a successful campaign against the industry. This book tells that tale very effectively. It is a joy to read.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
When Hollywood Films Weren't For Kids 30 July 2000
By A. M. Sulkin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Most film afficionados know about the milestone films that lead the Hays Office to establish a type of censorship code of ethics for the major film studios. This well researched book goes beyond the Mae West and gangster films, and offers a penetrating look at many forgotten films that were aimed at an adult audience in the time period between the advent of sound in the late 1920's and 1934, when the Hollywood Production Code was written and adhered to. Before Hollywood went "Hollywood" to present a fairy tale portrayal of 1930's depression America, a surprisingly high number of films addressing realistic social issues and sexual mores were written, filmed, and released to a wide audience. It would be almost thirty years before Hollywood would return to, and go beyond, its pre-code roots.
Doherty includes discussions of many well-known films in his narrative, but also does justice to long-forgotten films rarely seen since their original release. Although films stars such as Barbara Stanwyck and James Cagney established their screen presence and characters in the pre-code films, we usually remember them for their later work, with a few rare exceptions like Cagney's Public Enemy. Doherty recalls the early films of stars like these, and also remembers actors and actresses unknown to the current generation of filmgoers.
Many of the films covered in this book were ventures with low or moderate budget ventures, but they had a strong impact on audiences. Comparing a pre-code Warners musical like 42 Street to one of its post-code counterparts, like Golddiggers of 1935 illustrates the major change in tone and attitude films acquired as a result of the code. Pre-code language was stronger, more skin was shown, and plots were not sugar-coated with mandatory happy endings. Doherty paints a strong picture of a movie era too often glossed over in most film histories.
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