From Library Journal
Between 1929 and 1934, Hollywood was governed by a voluntary code of decency. During this period, women characters were often tough-talking, sexually aggressive, and independent. Under pressure from church and state decency groups, a code with enforcement powers was implemented in 1934. The effect of the 1934 code (which remained in effect until the late 1960s) has been hotly debated recently. LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, makes it clear what he thinks, blasting the code as a measure "to prevent women from having fun. It was designed to put the genie back in the bottleDand the wife back in the kitchen." He calls the code, as enforced by Joseph Breen, "anti-art," antiwoman, and anti-Semitic. However, LaSalle's main purpose is to celebrate the short-lived era of "complicated women," as personified by the early films of Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, and others. In particular, this book is an unabashed valentine to Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. It features insights on significant scenes from precode films and evaluates some modern counterparts to the great ladies of the early 1930s. This book is more narrowly focused than other recent books on the subjectDsuch as Thomas Doherty's Pre-Code Hollywood (LJ 7/99) and Mark A. Viera's Sin in Soft Focus (LJ 11/1/99)Dand some may disagree with the author's conclusions, but it is recommended for large film and women's studies collections.DStephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
LaSalle mines the brief, rich period of Hollywood history between the talkies' advent and that of the industry's production code, under which not only didn't crime pay but adultery, divorce, extramarital sex, and even women working outside the home were punishable when not verboten. Typically, the schemes of an offending woman in an American movie led to a crushing denouement. LaSalle concentrates on Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo as representative stars of the period. Subsequently less celebrated. Shearer was a transcendent celebrity in the early '30s, who greatly impressed, among others, Clark Gable: "Damn, the dame doesn't wear any underwear. . . . Is she doing that in the interests of realism or what?" She and Garbo portrayed women as independent beings possessing thoughts, urges, and desires. Those last two the code sought to suppress. Excellent on Hollywood as it entered the era of studio dominance, the book may also reawaken interest in Shearer. Meanwhile, limned less lengthily in an epilogue are Bankhead, Loy, Harlow, Lombard, and others. Mike TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved