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The Code offers this reason for the taboo material: "The effect of nudity or semi-nudity upon the normal young man or woman, and much more upon the young and upon immature persons, has been honestly recognized by all lawmakers and moralists."
Those words could easily have been written by almost any of the older townspeople in Paramount's Hot Saturday (1932), a wonderfully entertaining little film that has just been exhumed from obscurity by Universal Home Entertainment in its new Pre-Code Hollywood Collection of DVDs. Not only does Hot Saturday violate all the above rules, it is actually about repression and the terrible effects it can have on individuals and communities. The picture, directed by William Seiter, doesn't only titillate for the sake of being outrageous (though it does so on occasion!) -- it uses the frank sexual material in the service of a surprisingly poignant theme (jumping to conclusions and unfairly judging others) which ultimately feels modern and timeless. It's also terrifically acted by a very young Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and appealing early talkie star Nancy Carroll.
The story centers on the young adults of a small American town who work at a bank and other normal jobs, and who spend their off-hours drinking bootleg liquor, dancing, kissing, and carousing. Basically, sex is on everyone's mind. The young people want it and try to get it, and the old people judge it and try to stop it (meaning they think about it just as much). Young bank employee Nancy Carroll is caught between the affections of co-worker Edward Woods and rich playboy Cary Grant, who has a fabulous car and a stunning summer house on a nearby lake complete with Chris-Craft boat. Woods is charmless and crude, and Grant is a sophisticated rake "considered too dangerous for local consumption." After unsuccessfully hitting on Carroll (while another woman sits fuming in his car outside) Grant invites everyone to a Saturday party at his lake house as a way of getting near Carroll again. Carroll attends with Woods; Grant steals her away and charms her; then everyone except Grant goes to a nearby dancehall at night.
When Woods tries to date-rape her, Carroll fends him off and makes her way back to Grant's house. She spends a few innocent hours there before Grant sends her home in his chauffer-driven car. She is seen arriving in said car, and before we know it, the false gossip that she slept with Grant has spread to all corners, with the town trying, judging and sentencing her in the blink of an eye. She loses her job. She loses her social standing. The effect is vicious. Randolph Scott pops up as her childhood sweetheart, all virtue and good manners, but eventually even he turns on her.
It's here that Hot Saturday becomes truly poignant; the scenes of Carroll searching for someone, anyone, who will believe the truth are genuinely touching and impressive. (Needless to say, the only one she can turn to is Grant himself; the gossip turns her back toward the very man she "should" keep away from.) Carroll had been a top Paramount star, but her career was now on the wane. Even so, she's terrific here, and it's easy to see why she connected with audiences. She has a quality that really lets an audience in.
But it's 28-year-old Cary Grant who gets top billing for the first time in his career, and it's equally easy to see why Paramount thought they had a star in the making. This was Grant's sixth credited picture, and he is absolutely winning and dapper, with obvious star quality even if he still seems a little unsure about how best to physically interact with the camera. Grant does well in the role though his character is not given a chance to change much.
What's most striking about Hot Saturday is that even though it's a film of its era, with the clothes, cars, music and slang of the time, the characters are quite timeless in their actions, desires and thoughts. These are not the types of characters one "only sees in the movies," enacting ridiculous or melodramatic plot points; these are people who act and react in ways that are more believable and relatable even today. Jealousy provokes gossip, which combined with repression results in social punishment. It all still happens, just with different surface details.
Above all, Hot Saturday is genuinely funny and fast-moving. While it's filled with sexual innuendo, it has two especially eyebrow-raising moments. One is the jaw-dropping sequence where Nancy Carroll finds her sister wearing Carroll's underwear and then proceeds to wrestle the underwear off of her, and the other is a scene late in the film where it becomes obvious (to us and to Carroll) that Randolph Scott has taken off literally all her clothes and wrapped her in a blanket to help her recover from near-hypothermia. A similar scene in Vertigo doesn't show Kim Novak's underwear hanging by a fire, as this film does -- which is probably why Hitchcock got away with it in Code-enforced 1958.
In the supporting cast are Lillian Bond (very sexy as a gossip-spreading friend), Jane Darwell (a hoot as Carroll's mean mother), and William Collier, Sr. (a delight as Carroll's kind father). Grant and Carroll appeared together in one more film, The Woman Accused (1933), and it was during the making of Hot Saturday that Grant and Randolph Scott became good friends and eventually roommates. They appeared together in one further film: My Favorite Wife (1940).
Hot Saturday was remade as Nice Girl? (1941), starring Deanna Durbin. In a sign of the Code at work, Durbin ends up with the good boy, which is not the case in this film!
Universal Home Entertainment has packaged the film in a box set of six pre-Code Paramount movies, all of which are worth seeing. There are no extras save for a brief featurette about the Production Code and a welcome copy of the document itself. Picture and sound quality are very good. The set is quite simply a must for any movie fan.
To order Hot Saturday (which is only available as part of the Pre-Code Hollywood Collection), click here. Explore more titles from the TCM Vault Collection here.
by Jeremy Arnold