The “pre-code” era, part 2, from Brainscan

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…

6 thoughts on “The “pre-code” era, part 2, from Brainscan

  1. Oh, also, if you like Myrna Loy, you need to see the last scene of “The Thin Man”, set on board a train, preferably on a big-screen TV. She is VERY poky.

  2. There’s also Lucille Ball and other Goldwyn Girls wearing nothing but a long wig in Roman Sandals. There’s also the infamous shot of Greta Garbo wearing a see thru nightgown in Mata Hari. But the version available now is the censored re-release after the enforcement of the Hays code. There’s still some nudity from Garbo though. At the end of her dance you see her butt in the foreground.

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