Uma Thurman and Maria de Medeiros in Henry & June (1990)

A film notable in history.

It was the first film ever to be rated NC-17. I can’t see any good reason for it. NC-17 means that 16 year olds may not attend under any circumstances. With an R rating, a 16 year old may attend with a parent. R would have been fine for this film. It’s an art film, the only controversy being the characters’ completely amoral and casual attitude toward sex. And that can’t be that controversial, since it’s a biopic, and that’s how those people really behaved!

It is a chapter in the life of the notoriously frank author Henry Miller, in the period when he wrote “Tropic of Cancer” in Paris, between the wars. Miller left his family behind and migrated to Paris for the sole purpose of becoming a great writer, because that’s what people did in his generation. So he rented a loft, lived in squalor, slept with multiple prostitutes, hung around cafes, smoked a zillion cigarettes, chatted with French intellectuals, and tried to live a life worth writing about.

During this time, Miller was married, but he was usually separated from his American wife by thousands of miles, and he became involved with the diarist Anais Nin, helping her to grow in many ways, especially sexually. Nin was also married, so the affair was carried out with circumspection, and required much dodging of both spouses. To make matters even spicier, Nin also fell in love with Miller’s wife when she visited Paris. (Their relationship is pictured in the linked scene.)

For a while there, director Philip Kaufman was one of my favorites. He fired The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Henry & June at us consecutively, three completely different movies, all great fun to watch for various reasons, all beautifully and imaginatively filmed, each intelligent, each with a consistent visual style distinct from the others. Variety was Kaufman’s thing. His defining characteristic is that all of his projects are so different from one another. When he wasn’t making arty films, he also wrote the screenplay for one of the best mainstream Westerns ever made, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” and he wrote the original story for one of the most popular films of all time, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” If you didn’t know, you probably wouldn’t guess that all those projects were accomplished by the same guy.

In his spare time he also managed to graduate from Harvard Law School.

He’s one of the true American treasures.

He’s retired now, but he emerged from retirement a few years ago, at age 76, to direct Hemingway and Bellhorn, a TV movie. Like Henry & June, that is a story about the romantic and sexual involvements of a famed “lost generation” author. I guess that’s the one theme Kaufman was willing to return to!

The other years, 1929-1934

All commentary, captures and collages are by Brainscan. He also created all the many accompanying film clips in the members’ area. Part 1 of the series, dedicated to 1932, can be found here.


In the years immediately before and after the seminal year of 1932, Hollywood and European movie studios did what they could to skirt the rules laid down by the Hays Code.

1933, in particular, was another great year.  Perhaps the most famous of all early scenes, by Hedy Lamar in Ecstasy, still gets a lot of attention.

The same is true for Myrna Loy’s scene in The Barbarian …


(actual scenes from the film)

… and Fay Wray’s in the original King Kong

– both followed the strategy of getting an unclothed or barely clothed actress into some body of water.

Also in 1933, Barbara Stanwyck played a gal willing to screw her way to the top in Baby Face and she does spend some time a flimsy dressing gown.

But it was in 1931, in Night Nurse, that she reveals the most she ever would – which is to say, not much – when she strips down twice to some under garments.

What Night Nurse also has is Joan Blondell,

 who also spiced up the screen in 1934’s Blonde Crazy
(the bathtub still is shot from a much more revealing angle than the scene, itself).
Back to 1933, Joan Blondell is also in Footlight Parade.
That movie, another ’33 movie called Meet the Baron

and a 1934 film titled Murder at the Vanities nicely illustrate another tactic used by Hollywood producers to introduce some skin. Those three are essentially stage musicals with the barest of plots, but with chorus gals wearing as little as possible.

In Footlight Parade, the dormitory scene

and the waterfall scene

are about as revealing as these things got.

Other excuses for skimpy chorus attire in Footlight Parade were

the Shanghai Lil scene,

the bus scene

and the Honeymoon Hotel scene.

While Murder at the Vanities gives us more chorus action,

plus Kitty Carlisle

and Toby Wing looking about as alluring as they can.

1934 gave us more than just Murder.

Josephine McKim stood in for Maureen O’Sullivan and swam naked with Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and His Mate.

Jeanette Loff stripped down to her skivvies in Flirtation

and – this is the high point of the year – Russian actress Illa Meery appeared topless

in both Zouzou

and Ladies Lake.

You just have to see that scene from Ladies Lake, because it starts out as typical Pre-Code tease, with Illa in a gossamer thin gown, but boy, does it evolve into something else. This was not the first time Ms. Meery had appeared topless, however.  For that you need to go back to 1929 in Cagliostro.

More typical of 1929 was the sort of clothes worn by Gilda Gray in Piccadilly,

but the point of Illa Meery’s scenes during these years is the rise of European cinema for Funhouse-worthy material.  That’s the way it would be for a long time.

Last things to consider with Pre-Code movies came out in 1931.  In addition to Blonde Crazy  and Night Nurse, there was Greta Granstedt in Street Scene (the stills show you what you need to know about her performance, or at least her wardrobe, in that movie)

and Mae Clark in Waterloo Bridge.

Better than any other scene I watched, the one with Ms. Clark as a chorus gal in a dressing room shows how dearly producers wanted to reveal as much as possible  without going too far.

But my favorite movie of 1934 with my favorite actress of that era was Norma Shearer in Free Soul.  She was luminous and the director put her in a satin gown with nothing else and, my oh my, did she get close to showing off more than just her wonderful face and terrific acting talent.  So close…