I love pre-Code movies with the passion of a thousand heart emojis. There’s a good reason why the banner of this blog comes from a poster for Baby Face and why I chose the the famous “Thou Shalt Not” censorship picture for my Twitter avatar.
When I discovered pre-Code cinema through a college course in 2010 (and they say you don’t learn anything useful in schools these days), I fell hard. Movies made roughly between 1929 and 1934 regularly make me swoon with their witty irreverence, their flamboyant style, their exquisitely hardboiled female protagonists, and their slick, snappily-dressed bad boys. (Plus, the lingerie. Can’t forget the lingerie.) These movies were intended to deliver large doses of risqué pleasure during some pretty dark days in American history—and they still bring the joy, more than 80 years after they were made.
Disclaimer: These valentines (for the most part) reflect the spirit of the films and characters they’re alluding to, not necessarily my views or opinions. If any of these valentines offend your delicate sensibilities, feel free to call the Legion of Decency on me. What can I say? I’m a bad influence.
Clara Bow plays rough in Call Her Savage (1932).
Herbert Marshall may be a crook, but he’s the crook that Miriam Hopkins adores in Trouble in Paradise (1932).
Clark Gable would bankrupt the undershirt industry to impress Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (1934).
Mae West knows that Cary Grant is only playing hard to get in She Done Him Wrong (1933).
Just gals being pals in Queen Christina (1933).
Pre-Code poster children Joan Blondell and Warren William feel the (cheap and vulgar) love in Gold-Diggers of 1933.
Count Dracula’s love for Mina will never die. Because it’s already dead.
Cagney and Harlow get cozy in The Public Enemy (1931).
Garbo wants some “me time,” but she’ll settle for some “me and you time” in Grand Hotel (1932).
Miriam Hopkins can’t choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper in Design for Living (1933). Who can blame her?
Barbara Stanwyck is feelin’ frisky in Night Nurse (1931).
Warren William is the Big Bad Wolf in Employees’ Entrance (1933).
Looks like Little Caesar just can’t quit his friend Joe Massara. (I can relate. I think about Douglas Fairbanks Jr. a lot too.)
Barbara Stanwyck knows what men are good for in Baby Face (1933).
Carole Lombard gives John Barrymore some tough love in 20th Century (1934).
Watch classic movies and get busy, like Bob Montgomery and Anita Page in Free and Easy (1931).
Yes, I even got a tad sentimental over Whitey Schafer’s famous “Thou Shalt Not” photograph, showing all the things you couldn’t do in post-Code films.