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"Pre-Code" is commonly understood to mean "loose women", but that's just one aspect of this unique period in American moviemaking. Sexual power was just one kind of power female characters wielded in Pre-Code movies like Man Wanted (1932), where powerful magazine editor Lois Ames (Kay Francis) revels in the phone calls and high stakes decisions at the top: "It's all part of the game. And I love it." But when she hires an open-minded young man (unsung dreamboat David Manners) to be her secretary, suddenly all her options expand, in unanticipated ways. The movie's adulterous themes wouldn't have survived into the post-Hays code era, but imagine how thrilled Depression-era women must have felt watching Francis "have it all", in ways they couldn't even imagine. Watch also for an early role from horse opera reliable Andy Devine (best known for Stagecoach (1939)), whose inimitable quavering voice is immediately recognizable even out of his spurs.
By Violet LeVoit