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.
… 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.
(the bathtub still is shot from a much more revealing angle than the scene, itself).
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.
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.
and – this is the high point of the year – Russian actress Illa Meery appeared topless
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)
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…