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Forbidden Hollywood
Remind Me
The Divorcée

Forbidden Hollywood Introduction

It was not the roaring '20s, as is generally believed, but the four years between 1929 and 1934 that was the real era of wide-open sexuality in films. Before Hollywood began enforcing a self-imposed Production Code, many films allowed for extraordinary frankness, including nudity, adultery, premarital sex and prostitution.

Film industry censorship began in 1922, following a trio of scandals that rocked Hollywood: the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle rape/murder trial, the never-solved murder of director William Desmond Taylor and the drug-related death of matinee idol Wallace Reid. In 1930, a new version of the Production Code was drafted to standardize the censorship requirements of various states, since the inception of talking films made it difficult to arbitrarily cut offending scenes.

However, the studios merely paid lip-service to the Code since they were more interested in finding ways to lure dwindling Depression era audiences into theatres.

The Pre-Code era "officially" kicked off with the 1929 release of The Divorcee, starring Norma Shearer, with a startling story of a woman who discovers her husband has had an affair and sets out to "balance the account." The phenomenal critical and financial success of this picture led other studios to attempt to top it and soon almost every actress in Hollywood was required to sin and repent. The sensational series of films that emerged helped Hollywood survive its economic crisis and moviegoers enjoy the vicarious thrills the films provided.

The era came to an abrupt close beginning July 1, 1934, when Catholic watchdog groups threatened boycotts of all films and the Church established the Legion of Decency to monitor movies. Studio heads bowed to the pressure and the era of censorship began, lasting until the establishment of the industry's rating system in 1968.

TCM revisits this racy and uninhibited period in the American cinema on March 3rd with a program of five sassy and taboo films as well as a new documentary on Hollywood's Pre-Production Code era - Thou Shalt Not Sin (2008). The five features include Norma Shearer in her Best Actress Oscar®-winning role as The Divorcee; William Wellman's powerful drama Night Nurse (1931), which stars Barbara Stanwyck with a very young Clark Gable; Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak in Three on a Match (1932); Ruth Chatterton as a no-nonsense CEO in the Michael Curtiz-directed comedy Female (1933); and A Free Soul (1931), in which Lionel Barrymore captured an Oscar® for his portrayal of a brilliant alcoholic lawyer. When he successfully defends dashing gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) on a murder charge, he doesn't foresee that his headstrong daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer), will fall passionately in love with his client.

In conjunction with our "Forbidden Hollywood" program, Warner Video will be releasing on DVD on March 4th, the second volume of TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection. This new set contains all five of the Pre-Code movies being shown on TCM along with the documentary Thou Shalt Not Sin. For more information or to buy the set, click on the "Buy Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2" button on the left navigation.