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Previewing the Pre-Codes Playing at the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival

April 11, 2024

Welcome to my 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival pre-Code preview! (If you missed it, my full fest preview is here.)

 

There are a total of nine pre-Codes—yes, NINE—programmed this year. That’s 11% of the 2024 slate, a higher number than normal. Sadly, most of the pre-Codes are relegated to Theatre 4, the smallest of the fest. That may partly be due to the fact that some of these are screening on 35mm, and that theater is one of the few fest venues capable of projecting film. I personally would like to see more pre-Codes in large theaters like the Egyptian. Pre-Code screenings usually sell out, and they need more space so more people can enjoy them!

 

OK, rant over. Let’s get to it.

Only Yesterday German poster-min.jpg

A German poster for Only Yesterday.

Only Yesterday (1933)

One of the first films of the fest, and it’s a pre-Code I haven’t seen! I’m making my way to the line already…

 

This WWI era romance stars Margaret Sullavan and John Boles as two young people who share a brief relationship that results in a pregnancy, unbeknownst to him. Years later when they meet again, he doesn’t remember her. I haven’t seen Sullavan in a pre-Code (this was actually her film debut), so I’m excited to witness an early performance of hers, and based on the description, I feel like this dramatic role is right up her alley. While I’m not a big fan of Boles, hopefully co-stars Edna May Oliver and Billie Burke will make up for that!

 

 

Grand Hotel (1932)

This epic Best Picture-winning ensemble piece starring Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, and more recently screened at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. I was actually going to attend that screening… and then I didn’t, because I was tired from a recent work trip.

 

While I’ve watched Grand Hotel before, I’ve never experienced it on the big screen. Considering this is the height of MGM glitz and glamour, I’m assuming it would be a sight to behold. (Not to mention, that cast!) Unfortunately, it’s playing opposite a film I’ve never heard of before, and that might just win out. Yes, even over pre-Code Garbo and Crawford!

The Big House poster-min.jpeg

The Big House (1930)

This prison drama starring Robert Montgomery, Chester Morris, and Wallace Beery fits perfectly with the festival theme of "Most Wanted: Crime and Justice in Film." Writer Frances Marion, who won an Oscar for her script, helped set the template for prison pictures with her unflinching look at a brutal system that punishes its inmates in more ways than one. I’ve actually seen The Big House recently, though I’ve never seen it in a theater. That said, because the TCMFF schedule is so stacked this year, it’s playing opposite a rare program, so I might evade a trip to The Big House this year.

 

It Happened One Night (1934)

Like Grand Hotel, fellow Best Picture Oscar winner It Happened One Night actually screened in LA about two months ago at the New Beverly… and I skipped it to see the second movie on the bill, The Awful Truth (1937). The reason: I’ve watched It Happened One Night in a theater recently, and I needed to eat dinner! While I’d normally prioritize new discoveries over this classic screwball comedy starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, I may actually attend this screening because 1. Nothing else is catching my eye in this time slot, and 2. I may attempt to stay up for the midnight pre-Code, and this screening gets out closest to that start time. If I go the It Happened One Night route, I’ll either be alert or asleep at the end, so we shall see!   

The Road to Ruin postr-min.jpg

The Road to Ruin (1934)

Speaking of that midnight pre-Code, this is it! While midnight movies at TCMFF have a fun vibe, and I’d love to check one out, the midnight part of it always puts me off. Put simply, I’m not a night owl, and I want to catch the first movie the next day.

 

That said, I’ve never seen this ‘exploitation’ flick co-directed by Dorothy Davenport about a young girl who visits a speakeasy and, well, it all goes downhill from there. The list of pre-Code plot elements in this 62-minute feature is rather incredible: marijuana, addiction, pregnancy, abortion, and then some. Silent star Davenport turned to producing, writing, and directing after the drug-related death of her husband, Wallace Reid. Most of her pictures, this one included, were cautionary tales about issues not widely discussed in public, like addiction. I actually don't believe I've ever seen one of Davenport's movies. That's a wrong I hope to make right at TCMFF. (But midnight, man...)

 

 

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

I’ve seen this classic Mae West comedy before, in which she plays a Gay Nineties nightclub singer juggling multiple suitors, but you know what? I’ve actually never seen a West film on the big screen! Experiencing her brand of bawdy wit in a pre-Code will be a treat. (Not to mention, all the classic one-liners and Cary Grant!) She Done Him Wrong will be a riot with the TCMFF crowd, and I can’t wait.  

International House costumes-min.jpeg

Yes, these are costumes found in International House.

International House (1933)

This is a tough one. I was lucky enough to see International House, a looney comedy featuring a variety of zany characters coming together to bid on a new invention—television (!)—on the big screen several years ago at the UCLA Film and Television Archive with co-star Rose Marie in attendance. (I didn’t have my blog at the time, so I didn’t record the conversation. I wish I had the foresight to do so, because she was hilarious.)  That said, watching this outrageous comedy parade with the likes of W.C. Fields, Burns and Allen, Rose Marie, Cab Calloway, Rudy Vallee, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, and more would be a laugh fest with a TCMFF audience. Sadly, it’s up against one of the festival tributes I want to attend. Sigh.

 

Law and Order (1932)

Law and Order fits beautifully with the festival theme, based purely on its title. This is one of three pre-Codes playing TCMFF this year that I haven’t seen before, so that automatically makes it a priority for me. To be honest, I’d actually never heard of this Walter Huston-starring, John Huston-written Western in which a lawman attempts to clean up a Wild West town! Everyone I've mentioned this film to said it’s great, and I’ve also read that the movie includes some dark humor, so I’m quite excited for this screening.

 

That said, Law and Order plays in the block before my most anticipated pre-Code screening. With that, I may have to scoot out early to hop in line for the notorious Theatre 4 and then start hoping I make it into the last pre-Code film of the fest.

The Sin of Nora Moran poster-min.jpeg

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

Leaving the best for last! Well, not necessarily, but this pre-Code was on the schedule for the cancelled 2020 festival, and I’m super excited TCM brought it back for this year’s event. Not only that, but Cora Sue Collins, probably the last star to appear in a pre-Code film, will be introducing the picture. I’ve heard her speak on a few occasions but never about this film, which was a super low budget production, and I’m really interested in hearing her recollections and stories. This is why I need to leave Law and Order early!

 

If you haven’t heard of The Sin of Nora Moran, it’s one of the most unique pre-Code movies, in my opinion. The film boasts a very unique structure; it jumps back and forward in time, indulges in dream sequences, and even ponders the afterlife. The plot runs the gamut of risqué topics, too, ranging from adultery and murder to rape and execution. It’s a Poverty Row picture not often discussed or screened, so I’m ecstatic it’s getting the spotlight at TCMFF.

 

 

Are you attending any of these pre-Code screenings at TCMFF? If so, let me know!

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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