Precode Movies 101: TCM Offers a Primer for Beginners


We’ve acknowledged that the precode era is one of our favorite era in movie history. For those that might not know, precode movies are those made after the ascent of sound but before the Hayes code, which greatly restricted the plot, language, and attitudes that Hollywood pictures were allowed to portray, began to be strictly enforced by the Breen office in 1934.

That quaint, wholesome quality you may associate with old movies? The pictures of the 1930s and ’40s that might convince you, if you don’t already know better, that life was simple, pure and uncomplicated back in the good old days? Those came after the code kicked in. Precode movies are another thing altogether.

Some pictures that typify the precode era are playfully bawdy; others are downright gritty, sometimes even a bit shocking today (though rarely very graphic, by our standards). Tomorrow (Tuesday, July 31st), TCM is giving precode neophytes the chance to do some serious catching up, as they’ll be airing precode favorites all day long, from 6am till 8pm. If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss was all about, here’s your chance to educate yourself.

If it’s gritty you’re looking for, we’d recommend Safe in Hell (1931) and Three on a Match (1932); if you’re just looking for a little salty fun, give Jewel Robbery (1932) and Blonde Crazy (1931) a look. But honestly, we recommend loading up your DVR with every one of these entertaining pictures; they all have something to recommend them.

Here’s the line-up (all times Eastern):
6:00 am — Downstairs (1932)
7:30 am — Loose Ankles (1930)
8:45 am — She Had to Say Yes (1933)
10:00 am — Faithless (1932)
11:30 am — Hell’s Highway (1932)
12:45 pm — Safe in Hell (1931)
2:00 pm — Jewel Robbery (1932)
3:15 pm — Three on a Match (1932)
4:30 pm — Footlight Parade (1933)
6:30 pm — Blonde Crazy (1931)

Happy 110th Birthday, Joan Blondell!

The wonderful Joan Blondell was born into a vaudeville family 110 years ago today in New York City. A performer from early childhood, she provided a spark to just about any picture or program she appeared in. Here are 10 JB Did-You-Knows:

  • Blondell toured with her family’s act, the Bouncing Blondells, until she was 17, at which point the family settled in Dallas, Texas.
  • In Dallas, Blondell became a beauty contest contestant under the name Rosebud Blondell. She won the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant, was a finalist in an early version of the Miss Universe pageant in May of that year, and came in fourth in that year’s Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
  • Blondell relocated to NYC around 1927 to join a stock theatrical company, and in 1930, she appeared on Broadway opposite James Cagney in a play called Penny Arcade (Cagney would soon make his film debut in the film version of the play, Sinners’ Holiday; Blondell was in that picture, too, but she already had a small handful of films to her credit at that point). Both Cagney and Blondell repeated their Broadway roles in the film version at the insistence of Al Jolson, who’d seen the play on Broadway and purchased the film rights, though the play had closed after just three weeks.
  • Blondell and Cagney made six pictures together at Warner Brothers—more than any other actress.
  • Blondell was a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1930.
  • Blondell was married three times—to cinematographer George Barnes for just under three years, to actor and crooner Dick Powell for just under eight years and to theatrical impresario Michael Todd for just under three years. She had a son with Barnes and a daughter with Powell.
  • When she signed with Warner Brothers, Jack Warner urged her to change her name—he thought Inez Holmes had a nice ring to it—but Blondell refused.
  • In 1972, Blondell published a novel, Center Door Fancy, that was said to be something of a roman à clef, with characters based on former husband Dick Powell and his third wife, June Allyson, with whom he had an affair while married to Blondell.
  • Blondell was nominated once for an Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in The Blue Veil (1951).
  • In a career that lasted a half-century (if you count vaudeville, her career lasted 75 years), Blondell totaled more than 150 combined credits in pictures and on television. She worked until the very end, with her two final films released after her death of leukemia in 1979.

Happy birthday, Joan Blondell, wherever you may be!

Joan Blondell