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Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man Hardcover – November 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (November 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312283113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312283117
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One would be remiss, San Francisco Chronicle film critic LaSalle points out, in taking the sappy naivete of many of the Hollywood films of the 1930s, 40s and 50s as a faithful barometer of a more innocent time. Instead, this world of simple black and whites (both visual and moral) was forced upon the motion picture industry by a restrictive Production Code that reigned in Hollywood from 1934 to 1968, censoring "dangerous" ideas and characterizations from the final edits. Before the Code was imposed, "Hollywood would specialize in heroes who were shady, crooked or outright criminal"; after it, films were stripped of the messy humanity that gave the "pre-Codes" their life and boiled down to unsophisticated good guy vs. bad guy plot lines. LaSalle (Complicated Women) outlines the heyday of the pre-Code era, which lasted from the advent of talkies in 1929 until mid-1934, when actors such as Jimmy Cagney, Lon Chaney and Clark Gable made their mark playing flawed, tough, yet respectable characters. These earlier movies featured "men who reveal the truth about the difficulty of manhood in the modern age" and, as such, helped define American masculinity for the rest of the 20th century. 16 pages b&w photos
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

LaSalle, a film critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, believes that the leading men of Hollywood's pre-Code era represent a distinct break from their wimpy or exaggeratedly heroic predecessors in the silent era. They could truly be called "dangerous," both to others and to themselves, because they lived (and frequently died) by their own rules. Whether good guys or villains-they were sometimes an intriguing combination of both-they reflected the social chaos going on around them, caused largely by the Depression and Prohibition. Even the slimiest of gangsters, often played by Warner Bros. stalwarts Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, could be admired because they were their own men. Besides those obvious choices, LaSalle includes some actors who would not seem to fall into the same category, including Richard Barthelmess and the suave Warren William. Although the author's admiration for this era's films is unmistakable, his insights often seem shallow and derivative, and his style can be somewhat pedestrian. If Complicated Women, LaSalle's earlier study of women in pre-Code Hollywood, was popular in your library, you can safely purchase; otherwise, you can pass.
Roy Liebman, California State Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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If you like pre-code movies, you must have this book.
nennycakes
It's a toss-up as to which of Mick LaSalle's great pre-Code books (his previous is COMPLICATED WOMEN) is superior.
Marcia Holden
3 cheers for Mick LaSalle and I look forward to reading his next book!
Joanne Agate

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Marcia Holden on August 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It's a toss-up as to which of Mick LaSalle's great pre-Code books (his previous is COMPLICATED WOMEN) is superior. COMPLICATED WOMEN is a work of advocacy, in a sense -- he wants to rescue the women of pre-Code from obscurity and critical neglect, and he does so ably. This book is more cool-headed amd critical. It's also funnier. It feels more grounded in the real politics and culture of the early 1930s. The research goes deeper. The book is longer. I think they're both essential reading, demonstrating a passion for film and an understanding of history that's impressive, rare and indispensable.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Wong on December 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I find myself in some awe at the achievement that is this book and the richness of its subject. Its subject is, specifically, men who made films during a period of relaxed censorship in America. On one level, the book is enormously useful just as a critical guide -- the end of the book has an extensive appendix that tells where most of the movies can be seen, and the book itself goes far to point out just which films must be seen.
But to see "Dangerous Men'' as having utility only as a work of criticism at its most basic -- giving good advice for future viewing pleasure -- is to miss what I believe to be the larger picture. This is an enormously important and very serious (though never, ever somber) book about men in America, about their journey in the 20th century. It's actually a rather profound book about sex roles and self-image, the mores of business, emerging ethics, the American idea of crime and punishment, war and its consequences and what really constitutes heroism. It's even, in a way, about how people's behaviors adapt to economic exigencies.
It's a brilliant work, every bit the equal of the author's "Complicated Women,'' and yet it's also a work of charm and wit that never flags or fails. It's never work to get through. It's always a pleasure.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The Golden Age of movies is sometimes taken as the glorious silent era. However, it can be argued that the films made right after the advent of sound provided more realism and more to think about than movies before or since. In a vital and entertaining study, _Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man_ (Thomas Dunne), Mick LaSalle lovingly analyzes the films and movie heroes from around 1929 until 1934 when censorship took over. Those interested in the history of film, and in learning more about giants like Cagney and Gable, as well as about important but forgotten former stars like Richard Barthelmess and Warren William, will find this book irresistible. After 1934, it was a long while before American films were made without a censor able to clip scenes, and LaSalle demonstrates that the pre-censorship (or "pre-Code") era was a time for realism as well as idealism in the movies.
LaSalle demonstrates that silent films were really productions of the Victorian era; men were expected to have sobriety and character. World War I, Prohibition, and the Great Depression changed all that. There was a deluge of pre-Code gangster movies, and every major actor played a gangster, even Spencer Tracy and Boris Karloff. The gangster movies, and the war movies, provided a new look at how a person might live in the world and live with himself; there was a good deal of introspection within the characters displayed on screen that would vanish when the Code came into force. Along with serious evaluation of such moral matters, pre-Code movies were full of pacifism. Repeatedly the young idealistic heroes go into battle only to be shocked at the destruction they themselves have wrought.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "leeza76" on January 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I guess it's too early to have a favorite book of the year, but I can say with certainty that, had I completed it in 2002, Dangerous Men would qualify as one of my top two or three -- and probably the best non-fiction book I've read: So smart, so authoritative and, as some other readers have pointed out, so funny -- funny, even as you're learning something fascinating on every page.
It is hardly the usual sort of film book. Rather it's a brilliant investigation into the nature of manhood in the twentieth century, using these films as markers along the way. At the same time, it is a movie book in the sense that you come away dying to see the movies. I'm going to be using the list that the book provides to help make my video choices in the coming months.
What a wonderful Christmas gift. I already ordered Complicated Women, because now I can't get enough of the subject. You'll probably feel the same way, too. By all means, this is a book to get.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Corin Scott on December 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The cover -- well, that just stopped me. Clark Gable and too dangerous even for his mustache! I had to have the book -- had to -- and then I read it, and I love it. I'm re-reading it now. How did men happen? How did we get here? Where are we going? And what wonderful movies! And what wonderful pictures! I loved Complicated Women, by the same author. I don't know which book I like more. The first book was sex. This one is politics and sex and business and corruption and the whole big mess, all of it fascinating. Christmas is over. Get it for somebody's birthday. Get it for everybody's birthday. Most of all, get it for yourself.
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