For Reel

Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood (2008)

Director: Steven Smith
3.5 Stars
Thou Shalt Not - Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code HollywoodThe early years of Hollywood talkies have a tremendously modern appeal for their comparatively free spirit. Reflecting on the pre-Code era, one admires what was as much as, “what could have been?”–that is, what would the film industry have looked like if an age of censorship didn’t begin to limit what filmmakers could and could not show? Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood is a serviceable overview of those magical years before the strict enforcement of the code in 1934, highlighting key moments and films that defined Hollywood in the early-1930s. Produced by Warner Brothers, there’s an obvious favoritism to their pictures, but it makes no claim at being exhaustive. One of the strong suits is the way that the film addresses the wealth of significant female roles in the period, with a particular focus on important films like Female and The Divorcee (Camille Paglia entertainingly reflects on how her impression of Norma Shearer was completely shifted having seen her early-30s pictures). Viewers interested in women’s roles of the period should also look into TCM’s documentary companion to Mick LaSalle’s compelling study Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood.

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