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TCMFF 2022: A Peep at the Pre-Codes

April 18, 2022

My love of pre-Code Hollywood is no secret on this site. I make it a point to see all the pre-Code screenings I can in the LA area, and the TCM Classic Film Festival is no exception.


For this year’s upcoming fest, I counted eight pre-Codes (plus one that’s on the line) on the schedule. I won’t be able to watch them all due to scheduling conflicts – some work related, some fest related – but I thought I’d preview the pre-Codes for fans out there hoping to catch some of them.

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Please enjoy Jewel Robbery for me.


Jewel Robbery (1932)

TCMFF kicks off the pre-Code party with the delightful comedy Jewel Robbery on opening night. Of all the pre-Codes screening at the fest, this is the title I’ve seen the most anticipation for online. With that, I predict a sell-out, especially since Jewel Robbery is slotted for the notoriously tiny theater 4.


The stylish, provocative farce, which showcases the Robber (William Powell) handing out marijuana cigarettes like candy while he hits various Vienna jewelry stores, is bound to be a crowd pleaser. Powell and one of his victims, Baroness Teri (Kay Francis), share an amorous chemistry that elevates the material and makes Jewel Robbery a charming theft of 68 minutes.


While I’d love to see this with an enthusiastic audience, I think I have a very small chance of  getting in through the standby line. So friends at the fest, enjoy the film and Cari Beauchamp’s intro for me, please!

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Dinner at Eight (1933)

TCM cordially invites you to breakfast with Dinner at Eight, Friday at 9am. In the vein of Grand Hotel the year before, MGM’s Dinner at Eight features an incredible ensemble cast of early '30s stars – we’re talking Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Billie Burke, Lee Tracy and so forth, all directed by George Cukor. Ah, rich people and their problems, dressed up in MGM glitz and glamour. What’s not to love?


I actually re-watched this film right before the fest schedule came out, which is good, because I’ll be at work when this one is on the big screen.

Cocktail Hour (1933)

Personally, Cocktail Hour is the pre-Code I’m most looking forward to this year. I’ve never heard of it, and I feel the same is true for many fans. There’s really nothing I love more than discovering a new pre-Code!


Bebe Daniels “plays an artist who refuses to give up her career to marry her boss (Randolph Scott),” resisting the predetermined marriage and motherhood path set for women in the 1930s. So what’s a girl to do? Take off on an Atlantic cruise, naturally. Anything can happen on cruises, especially in the pre-Code era – see: 1933’s Pleasure Cruise, which screened at TCMFF in the past, and 1933’s Terror Aboard for two totally different potential scenarios – and you know men are part of the onboard antics. This time around, it’s a prince and a philanderer. Sounds like a lot of action for 73 minutes, and I’m here for all of it.


Well, hopefully. Cocktail Hour screens in theater 6, which, while not as tiny as theater 4, will still be difficult for me to get into, given there’s only about 40 more seats. I plan on arriving early and crossing my fingers. If I don’t get in, here’s hoping this gets a TBA spot, because aside from seeing it, I’m curious as to what Cari Beauchamp and Suzanne Lloyd have to say.

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SATURDAY 4/23, aka pre-Codes all day, all the time

Too Busy to Work (1932)

A busy pre-Code day starts with the Will Rogers vehicle Too Busy to Work, which is one of three pre-Codes screening at the fest that I had never heard of before. That always makes it an automatic must see for me.


I know little of Rogers’ movies and even less of his dramatic work. This film is a remake of one of his silent pictures, in which he plays a tramp who heads west to California to confront the man who stole his wife – and help him solve his domestic problems. I’m thoroughly intrigued by all of these elements and film distributor extraordinaire Michael Schlesinger’s scheduled intro.


Too Busy to Work screens in – you guessed it! – theater 4, so it’s a toss-up as to whether I’ll make it in or not. (I recently picked up the DVD at Amoeba Hollywood, just in case.)

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Three on a Match (1932)

It’s Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis vs. drugs, gangsters, kidnappers, and much more. (To be honest, mostly it’s Dvorak vs. all that.)


Three on a Match parades some of the most salacious elements of the time and packs it all into a tight 63 minutes. It’s chaotic, it’s crazy, it’s a lot. Interestingly, the kidnapping plot point, which only takes up about 10 minutes of screen time, was by far the biggest potential censorship worry before release, because the film came out the same year as the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping.


While I would absolutely love to see this in a theater, it screens opposite a movie with a special presentation and a cast member in attendance, which I can’t pass up. Luckily, I own Three on a Match on DVD and can strike it up anytime.



Baby Face (1933)

If you follow me online, you’ve seen me post about Baby Face, the Barbara Stanwyck picture where she bed hops her way to the top of the corporate ladder. It’s the pre-Code I’ve seen the most – in theaters and in general – and it’s the one I’ve written about the most, too. In fact, my senior thesis in college centered around this film, so I know its censorship files like the back of my hand.


Do I need to see it again? No. Will I? Of course, and I'll be wearing my Baby Face shirt proudly. (It's made by Kate Gabrielle; check it out here.) Baby Face is a hoot to watch in a theater, and I’m so very excited to see how the wonderful Bruce Goldstein presents the movie’s rocky censorship history for fans.

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Counsellor at Law (1933)

I’ve long heard of this William Wyler-directed drama, but I never made the time to see it. Well, when Leonard Maltin chooses it to screen at his own award ceremony – he’s getting the Robert Osborne Award this year – you know you’ve found the perfect setting for a first-time watch. (Plus, it’s playing in the recently renovated, spacious Hollywood Legion Theater.)


I’m looking forward to John Barrymore’s turn as a star lawyer who rises from poverty and is forced to grapple with a re-surfacing past scandal and an unfaithful wife. Besides Barrymore, the cast includes Bebe Daniels (co-star of Friday’s Cocktail Hour), Melvyn Douglas, and Thelma Todd.


With this presentation taking place in the Legion, I assume I’ll have no problem making it in. But since it also doubles as Maltin’s award ceremony, one can’t be too sure. I have high hopes of getting in, though, and I look forward to hearing why Maltin chose this movie for his ceremony!

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Evenings for Sale (1932)

Yes, the announcement of the TBAs may throw a wrench in my plans, but I am trying hard to make time for Evenings for Sale, a pre-Code title if I ever heard one. (Fun fact: I actually had never heard of this title before the fest!)


I’m intrigued by this film for several reasons:

  1. As I just mentioned, this is a new-to-me pre-Code, which naturally makes me curious.

  2. It stars Herbert Marshall in what TCM calls his brief romantic leading man era.

  3. Marshall’s penniless count falls for a businessman’s daughter, Sari Maritza, an actress whose name I don’t ever recall coming across. (Maritza, a European actress, made only a handful of films in Hollywood, all during the pre-Code period.)

  4. Marshall’s count becomes a gigolo, where he crosses paths with the wealthy Mary Boland, which is a sight I need to see.

  5. This line from the TCMFF entry: “Adding to the film’s luster is a new pinkish film stock cinematographer Harry Fischbeck used for the first time to make the film’s whites clearer than in previous films.” What??

  6. The runtime is 61 minutes, which is absolutely perfect.


All that to say I really hope I make it into this theater 4 screening!



Honorable Mention

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

Some may be asking why The Gay Divorcee wasn’t included on Friday's schedule. That’s because it was released in October 1934 and shot almost entirely post-Code enforcement (July 1934), so I don’t categorize it as a pre-Code picture. That said, the Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire musical throws the audience a few pre-Code bones in the form of quotes like “I’ve never tried breakfast with two gentleman before!” So, there’s certainly something there.

Do you plan on catching any of the pre-Codes at TCMFF? If so, let me know which ones!

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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