[[caption-width-right:250: Thought ''all'' movies were squeaky clean and decent in the olden days? [[OlderThanTheyThink Think again!]] [[note]]'''Pictured:''' Creator/GretaGarbo and Creator/ClarkGable in ''Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise''.[[/note]]]]

-> ''"In 1934 they passed a censorship code, a production code in America and all sorts of things were not allowed on screen after that. You could not criticize the government, you could not criticize corporations, there was a very strict sexual morality. If you look at Hollywood in 1933 itís amazing how different the films are because so many of them are about normal life and working class people and people having problems with the church or problems with the police, corruption...In 1935 you couldnít make that type of film anymore."''
-->-- '''[[http://revistacinetica.com.br/english/a-conversation-with-tag-gallagher/ Tag Gallagher]]'''

The Pre-Code Era is ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin. The period before the active, total enforcement of UsefulNotes/TheHaysCode. This period stretched from 1928 to 1933, though stragglers continued into 1934 and 1935. This brief, short period is unlike any later period in film history. Imagine seeing old classic films with actors like Creator/ClarkGable or Creator/ClaudetteColbert and feeling that the roles they are playing are too conventional and too cute. You wish they played different roles, you wish that the films weren't so bound by censorship that almost all the roles and the entire plot register as a DullSurprise to the viewer since the conventions are so painfully enforced. Basically, you wish to see old-time actors operate with the same freedom as the UsefulNotes/NewHollywood. The good news is that you can, by seeing films from The Pre-Code Era.

Oh sure, the language is still ([[PrecisionFStrike mostly]]) [[GoshDarnItToHeck squeaky clean]], and there is very little full nudity even if [[MsFanservice there is more skin]]. But everything is different. In these films, there's no coyness or euphemisms, visual or otherwise; characters, if they like each other, will get physical. Gangsters and bad guys tend to be more AffablyEvil without the CharacterDerailment in later films that make them obvious bad guys as an AuthorsSavingThrow. There are more KarmaHoudini villains and a DownerEnding is not rare, though the films are fairly light on the whole.

This period coincided with the end of TheRoaringTwenties and the early years of TheGreatDepression and are incredible portrayals of the time. It shows the level of unrest and uncertainty brought out by mass unemployment, urban violence and the worker's movements and strikes in the same period. Male characters tended to be {{Working Class Hero}}es more often than not. Women are also shown at work, living alone and dating as per their wishes. Crime movies tend to have prostitutes not as cautionary tales but as genuinely conflicted, morally complex characters. There's more GrayAndGrayMorality here and RealityEnsues more often than not. Seen today, the contrast between the films made before the censorship and the period after goes a great deal to showing the impact censorship made on American cinema and the kind of films that [[WhatCouldHaveBeen could have been made]] had censorship not been active for the thirty years after the end of the era, dispelling the myth that American cinema were prudish by instinct rather than external factors, showing that they were in fact stifled by an obsolete system that they themselves never set store by.

Some directors who were especially frank and provocative suffered when censorship was enforced. A director like Josef von Sternberg, a favorite of Creator/JorgeLuisBorges and an influence on Creator/AlfredHitchcock and many others, made provocative works about sex and power in his films with Creator/MarleneDietrich. Censorship inevitably prevented him from dealing with the same kind of content, and Dietrich herself declined in stardom after the period, never truly playing roles of the same caliber. Creator/FrankBorzage, who was LighterAndSofter, but thought nothing of making films about couples who were openly sexual and who tended not to be married and whose films had a real anarchic working class spirit, never recovered fully either. It was also a prolific period of creative outpouring with a director like William A. Wellman making 20 films in a three-year period for Warner Bros, a rate of productivity that he didn't repeat afterwards, even if he continued making good films. Several of the films made in this era disappeared from public view because UsefulNotes/TheHaysCode required older titles to be resubmitted for evaluation for general release in repertory theaters and later on television. Most of them, needless to say, didn't pass muster. They became prized objects for [[KeepCirculatingTheTapes private collectors]], and archivists around the world. These films were often more widely seen abroad than in America in the same period, especially at the Cinematheque in Paris, whose audiences became the UsefulNotes/FrenchNewWave.

A good example is Creator/HowardHawks' original ''Film/{{Scarface|1932}}''. Despite being the TropeMaker for gangster films and a phenomenal influence on American cinema at the time to the point of PopCulturalOsmosis it was unseen in America till the late 70s where it once again attracted notice and attention, which in turn led to the well-known [[Film/{{Scarface 1983}} remake]] with Creator/AlPacino. Other titles were ''Film/TroubleInParadise'' by Ernst Lubitsch, as well as his ''Film/DesignForLiving,'' an incredible OlderThanTheyThink portrayal of a OneTrueThreesome which anticipates the Free Love climate of TheSixties. The films were steadily rediscovered since then with Creator/{{TCM}} channel being a major supporter of these works. Several of them are released on DVD labels like ''Forbidden Hollywood'' with the hook being its OlderThanTheyThink value.

Films from this period also treated sexuality much more frankly. In ''Film/BabyFace'', Creator/BarbaraStanwyck sleeps her way to riches. In ''Film/{{Topaze}}'', Creator/MyrnaLoy's character matter-of-factly admits that she is TheMistress of a CorruptCorporateExecutive. Brief nudity was occasionally seen, dating back to the silent film era, as well as scenes with women in states of undress, like Fay Wray in ''Film/KingKong1933'' after Kong peels off her clothing.

This period provided us the Gangster Film, TheMusical and the ScrewballComedy, in addition to some war films like ''Film/AllQuietOnTheWesternFront''. It was also the period of Franchise/UniversalHorror films, titles like James Whale's ''Film/{{Frankenstein|1931}}'' with Creator/BorisKarloff and its sequel ''Film/BrideOfFrankenstein'', Tod Browning's ''Film/{{Dracula|1931}}'', ''Film/TheBlackCat'' as well as MGM's one attempt to cash in on the trend, Tod Browning's ''Film/{{Freaks}}'' which could not be made in any other period but this one. It was also a time of important innovations in special effects, with ''[[Film/KingKong1933 King Kong]]'' released in 1933. All in all, this period of six years, which marked the end of silent cinema and the beginning of sound was a climate of freedom which was [[ShortLivedBigImpact all too brief]] but whose impact reverberated for years to come.

Actors who were major figures in this era include Creator/JamesCagney, Creator/MarleneDietrich, Creator/BarbaraStanwyck, Creator/SpencerTracy, Creator/NormaShearer, Creator/GaryCooper, Creator/CaroleLombard, Creator/MiriamHopkins, Creator/KayFrancis, Margaret Sullavan, George Raft, Creator/WilliamPowell, Creator/WallaceBeery, Creator/GingerRogers, Creator/EdwardGRobinson, Creator/RobertMontgomery, Creator/ClaudetteColbert, Creator/ConstanceBennett, Creator/MyrnaLoy, Paul Muni, Creator/FredricMarch, Creator/MauriceChevalier, Creator/ClarkGable, Creator/JeanHarlow and [[UsefulNotes/NotablePreHaysCodeActors many others]]. In addition, actors like Creator/JoanCrawford, Creator/HumphreyBogart, Creator/CaryGrant and Creator/JohnWayne made [[RetroactiveRecognition early-bird appearances]] in films in this era.

Important Directors from this period are,

* Creator/WilliamAWellman: ''Film/ThePublicEnemy'' (which made James Cagney a star), ''Film/WildBoysOfTheRoad'', ''Film/HeroesForSale'', ''Film/ThePurchasePrice'', ''Film/MidnightMary'', The Conquerors, Other Men's Women''. He made 20 films in a four-year period! He later noted that this was partly because he and the writers had the freedom to pretty much do they as they pleased so long as a film was in a certain genre, had a standard runtime, and was made fast and cheaply. After the Code came, screenplays were subject to stricter scrutiny, which delayed the process greatly and as such created more inconveniences and annoyances to deal with.
* Creator/JosefVonSternberg: ''Film/TheBlueAngel, Film/{{Morocco}}, Film/BlondeVenus, Film/ShanghaiExpress, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil is a Woman'' (all with Creator/MarleneDietrich), in the same period he also made the first adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's AnAmericanTragedy which resulted in ExecutiveMeddling. These films were resonantly adult in tone, dealing with sexual relations and MasochismTango between couples. After the Code, Sternberg couldn't deal with his preferred subject and Dietrich whose stardom was so much a part of that freedom of content never really had a role of the same caliber afterwards.
* Creator/FrankBorzage: Incredibly prolific in this period. A major silent film director, he took to sound really quickly and made several films which were innovative in camera movement and bold content. ''Man's Castle'' with Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young is set in a Hooverville in New York is perhaps the boldest portrayal of the Depression from this period. His adaptation of ''A Farewell to Arms'' with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes was disliked by Creator/ErnestHemingway but later audiences adored its swooning romanticism and frank eroticism.
* Creator/ErnstLubitsch: A major director before and after the code. He made some incredible musicals (which were closer to operetta) starring Creator/MauriceChevalier and then switched to making sophisticated comedies like ''Film/TroubleInParadise'' and ''Film/DesignForLiving,'' and he still found time to make a UsefulNotes/WW1 drama like ''Broken Lullaby'' which was one of his favorites. He survived the end of the period better than other directors.
* Creator/KingVidor: A major pioneer in the silent era. When sound came in, he made the FairForItsDay all-black musical ''Film/{{Hallelujah}}'' which recorded sound on location in 1929! He made ''Film/TheChamp'', ''Theatre/StreetScene'', ''The Stranger's Return'', ''Bird of Paradise'' and the 30s equivalent of the independent film with ''Film/OurDailyBread'' which dealt with the Depression and was cited by Creator/OrsonWelles as one of his ten favorite films.
* Creator/BusbyBerkeley : Pioneer of the Creator/BusbyBerkeleyNumber, directed musical numbers with gorgeous ladies in kaleidoscopic formations in such films as ''Film/FortySecondStreet'', ''Film/FootlightParade'', ''Film/GoldDiggersOf1933'', ''Film/{{Dames}}'' and others. He was himself a returning war veteran and used his knowledge of military drills to form his numbers and this inspired such bold numbers as ''[[ShellShockedVeteran Remember My Forgotten Man]]'' [[RippedFromTheHeadlines inspired by]] the 1932 Veterans March to Washington.
* Creator/HowardHawks: The director of the original ''Scarface'' and progenitor of the screwball comedy.
* Rouben Mamoulian: Director of ''Film/DrJekyllAndMrHyde1931'' with Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins, foregrounding the sexual subtext of the original and innovative for its special effects. He directed the musical ''Film/LoveMeTonight'', famous for the number, "Isn't It Romantic?", and provided Creator/GretaGarbo with a signature role in ''Film/QueenChristina''.

!!Notable films from the Pre-Code Era:
%%Please keep examples in chronological order, and alphabetical within each year.

* ''{{Film/Underworld|1927}}'' (1927), the first-ever gangster movie.
* ''Film/TheDocksofNewYork'' (1928) by Creator/JosefVonSternberg, a dark and cynical love story with a surprisingly happy ending.
* ''Film/LightsOfNewYork'' (1928) by Brian Foy, aka "Keeper of the B's," a bad film notable for being the first full-length all-talking movie.
* ''Film/TheLoveParade'' (1929): Creator/JeanetteMacDonald [[MsFanservice takes a bath onscreen]], and Creator/MauriceChevalier sings a song about how he's not getting any (and thus, nobody is enjoying his skills as TheCasanova).
* ''Film/TheDivorcee'' (1930): Jerry, embittered after her husband Ted cheats on her, divorces him, but not before telling him that "you're the only man in the world that my door is closed to." The latter portion of the movie shows Jerry going through a rotating parade of boyfriends.
* ''Film/MadamSatan'' (1930): A society wife realizes that she needs to BeAWhoreToGetYourMan when she finds out her husband is having an affair.
* ''Film/{{Monte Carlo|1930}}'' (1930): The heroine [[MsFanservice (Jeanette [=MacDonald=] again)]] spends about a quarter of the film in her underwear or a negligee. Also, her moans of pleasure at getting a scalp massage sound suspiciously orgasmic.
* ''Film/{{Morocco}}'' (1930) by Creator/JosefVonSternberg features the first lesbian kiss in Sound Cinema and a dark romantic story with Creator/MarleneDietrich and Creator/GaryCooper in a MasochismTango.
* ''Film/SinTakesAHoliday'' (1930) The title alone gives pre-code vibes. Constance Bennett marries her boss, treats the marriage lightly, and flirts around Paris with Creator/BasilRathbone.
* ''Film/BlondeCrazy'' (1931): A raunchy little tale about [[ConMan con men]] Creator/JamesCagney and Creator/JoanBlondell.
* ''Film/LittleCaesar'' (1931): Flying bullets, "crime pays," and so much HomoeroticSubtext that the author of the novel on which the film was based wrote to the studio to complain.
* ''Film/{{The Maltese Falcon|1931}}'' (1931): Much more overt about the {{Gayngster}} subtext than the better-known 1941 film.
* ''Film/{{Millie}}'' (1931): Creator/JoanBlondell and another woman in bed together, wearing lingerie. And a DirtyOldMan attempting to seduce a 16-year-old girl, and nearly succeeding.
* ''Film/TheMiracleWoman'' (1931): An early Creator/FrankCapra film, starring Creator/BarbaraStanwyck, telling the story about a corrupt evangelical church. Oh, and someone flips the bird.
* ''Film/NightNurse'' (1931): A lot of undressing for Creator/BarbaraStanwyck and Creator/JoanBlondell in a nurse drama where Creator/ClarkGable is the BigBad.
* ''Film/ThePublicEnemy'' (1931): Creator/JamesCagney plays a young man living in Chicago during Prohibition whose crimes progress from small-time theft to bootlegging and murder.
* ''Quick Millions'' (1931) by Rowland Brown. Cited as an influence for ''Series/BoardwalkEmpire'' and it shows. It's pretty brutal in examining the links between politics, labour and crime and features Creator/SpencerTracy in a completely unsentimental role.
* ''Film/TheSmilingLieutenant'' (1931) -- opens with Creator/MauriceChevalier singing a song about how officers in the army like to get laid. Lots of DoubleEntendre, and a BeAWhoreToGetYourMan ending.
* ''Film/WaterlooBridge'' (1931) -- Creator/MaeClarke is prostitute in London during UsefulNotes/WorldWarOne who falls in love with a private.
* ''Film/{{M}}'' (1931)- Creator/FritzLang's masterpiece with Creator/PeterLorre as a serial child murderer.
* ''Film/TheAnimalKingdom'' (1932) -- Creator/LeslieHoward must choose between his [[FriendsWithBenefits friend with benefits]], Ann Harding, or his wife, Creator/MyrnaLoy.
* ''Film/BlondeVenus,'' (1932) also from von Sternberg and Dietrich, tells the story of an adulteress from a sympathetic standpoint.
* ''Film/CallHerSavage'' (1932) -- adultery, MaritalRapeLicense, a CatFight, Creator/ClaraBow [[SingleMomStripper turning to prostitution]] to get money for her baby...
* ''Film/TheDarkHorse'' (1932) -- deeply cynical political satire that also has, believe it or not, a StripPoker scene.
* ''Film/{{Freaks}}'' (1932) -- way too upsetting to have gotten made after 1934.
* ''Film/FriscoJenny'' (1932) -- Directed by WilliamAWellman, Ruth Chatteron has a baby out of wedlock and is a [[MissKitty madame]] for several brothels.
* ''Film/IAmAFugitiveFromAChainGang'' (1932) -- tense drama of an innocent man taking the fall for a robbery and having to serve on a brutal prison chain gang. He escapes, and rebuilds his life... only to get railroaded by the justice system once again.
* ''Film/JewelRobbery'' (1932) -- Creator/WilliamPowell and Creator/KayFrancis say more sex jokes than you can shake a stick at.
* ''Film/{{Kongo}}'' (1932) -- thoroughly nasty piece of work about an ivory trader in Africa that features fun stuff like prostitution, sex slavery, drug addiction, murder, a RapeDiscretionShot...
* ''Film/LoveMeTonight'' (1932) [[RunningGag Jeanette MacDonald spending large amounts of screentime in her underwear again]], and the doctor giving her a prescription that boils down to YouNeedToGetLaid.
* ''Film/TheMaskOfFuManchu'' (1932): A Literature/FuManchu story featuring some pretty rare male {{Fanservice}}. It caused a minor scandal for the scene where Charles Starrett has his shirt ripped off and gets whipped, while Myrna Loy orgasmically calls for more. A later scene heavily implies that she wants to rape him, and usually does so with her captives.
* ''Film/OneHourWithYou'' (1932): Includes a song where the main characters frolic on their double bed while singing about how it's great to be married because they can have all the sex they want. DoubleEntendre abounds, and infidelity is EasilyForgiven in the end.
* ''Film/RedDust'' (1932) -- an adulterous LoveTriangle with Creator/ClarkGable having a BettyAndVeronica dilemma between married Betty (Creator/MaryAstor) and Veronica (Creator/JeanHarlow) the HookerWithAHeartOfGold.
* ''Film/RedHeadedWoman'' (1932) -- notable not only for the overt sexual content, as well as a brief shot of Creator/JeanHarlow topless, but also for the fact that her character is a KarmaHoudini who doesn't pay for her home-wrecking ways.
* ''Film/{{Scarface|1932}}'' (1932) by Creator/HowardHawks, is the TropeCodifier for the Depression gangster film, the first film to raise issues about "glorifying violence" and gangsters. It was in its day as shocking as the more famous 1983 remake. It was also [[NiceJobBreakingItHero probably responsible for calls for stricter censorship]].
* ''Film/ThreeWiseGirls'' (1932) -- another Creator/JeanHarlow vehicle (Harlow was pretty much made for the pre-Code era), which features tons of Fanservice from Harlow and other scantily clad actresses, ToplessnessFromTheBack from Harlow, and an example of SympatheticAdulterer that would become almost impossible to do after the Hays Code.
* ''Film/TroubleInParadise'' (1932): A [[OutlawCouple pair of stylish thieves]] live in sin and rob their way around Europe; the "trouble" happens when one of them falls in love with a mark. They [[KarmaHoudini get away with a nice haul]] in the end. Plus, the sexual innuendo abounds throughout.
* ''Film/WhatPriceHollywood'' (1932)-- Constance Bennett becomes a big star--at a price.
* ''Film/BabyFace'' (1933) -- Creator/BarbaraStanwyck, tired of being pimped out by her father, literally sleeps her way to the top of a company.
* ''Film/TheBitterTeaOfGeneralYen'' (1933) -- Creator/BarbaraStanwyck plays a naive missionary in China during the Useful/ChineseCivilWar who falls for General Yen, an amoral general. Also an early Creator/FrankCapra effort.
* ''Film/BlondieJohnson'' (1933) -- Creator/JoanBlondell becomes the real deal--a gangster. The only film from the Depression's infatuation with gangsters to have a female one go to the top. Hell, probably the only film ''ever''.
* ''Film/DesignForLiving'' (1933) -- in which Miriam Hopkins, faced with a choice between Frederic March and Creator/GaryCooper, picks [[{{Polyamory}} both of them]].
* ''Film/DoubleHarness'' (1933) -- Creator/AnnHarding seduces the playboy Creator/WilliamPowell and tricks him into marriage.
* ''Film/FortySecondStreet'', ''Film/GoldDiggersOf1933'', and ''Film/FootlightParade'' (1933) -- Creator/BusbyBerkeley musicals that feature lots of {{Fanservice}}, scantily clad chorus girls, and winking sex jokes.
* ''Film/{{Female}}'' (1933) -- in which Ruth Chatterton is a ruthless corporate shark who spends her evenings bonking various handsome men from her office.
* ''Film/HeroesForSale'' (1933)-- by Creator/WilliamAWellman which shows what really happens to a WorkingClassHero War Veteran, he comes back home with serious shellshock, has no work and ends up becoming a morphine addict searching for a fix.
* ''Film/LadiesTheyTalkAbout'' (1933) -- Creator/BarbaraStanwyck goes to jail with coded lesbians and wants to kill an evangelical man who betrayed her.
* ''Film/MidnightMary'' (1933) -- A Loretta Young vehicle directed by Creator/WilliamAWellman. Young stars as Mary Martin, a girl born on the wrong side of the tracks who dabbles in prostitution and is a gangster's moll.
* ''Film/SheDoneHimWrong'' (1933) -- Creator/MaeWest in skin-tight dresses engaging in endless sex jokes with Creator/CaryGrant and all her other admirers.
* ''Film/MansCastle'' (1933) by Creator/FrankBorzage, starring Creator/SpencerTracy and Loretta Young. A love story among two slum-dwellers living in a hooverville, it shows the Depression with a candor few films of the time dared. It also features a scene of the two lovers skinny-dipping, incredibly realistic and deliriously romantic at the same time.
* ''Film/WhenLadiesMeet'' (1933) Adultery is discussed with a frankness that only the Pre-Code Era would allow.
* ''Film/WildBoysOfTheRoad'' (1933), which features Frankie Darro as the leader of teenage runaways. During the Depression, several young teenagers, boys and girls, had to go on the run to find work since their parents could no longer support them. What happens to these kids? They become deliquents and criminals, get chased out of town, and are subject to police brutality and rape.
* ''Film/HeatLightning'' (1934) A WrenchWench has been around the block several times and tries to fight off an ex-boyfriend who's on the lam. The [[BelligerentSexualTension sexual tension just oozes]] through every frame.
* ''Film/TheHouseOfRothschild'' (1934): Notable not for any pre-Code sexuality, but for pre-Code ''political'' content. Namely, antisemitism, and how the Rothschilds struggled against it in 19th century Europe. Also a very thinly veiled attack against the Nazis, busy persecuting Jews at the time the movie was released.
* ''Film/TheScarletEmpress'' (1934), the second to last Sternberg-Dietrich film and perhaps the boldest. A biopic of UsefulNotes/CatherineTheGreat that totally embraces [[DracoInLeatherPants the ruthlessness and sexual daring of the Queen]] while boldly admitting that EvilIsCool and EvilIsSexy. None of [[TastesLikeDiabetes the preachy moralizing]] from the Hays period is here.
* ''Film/{{Smarty}}'' (1934) -- a film in which Creator/JoanBlondell [[HitMeDammit gets off on being slapped]]. Really.
* ''Film/TarzanAndHisMate'' (1934): This film went a step further than any other movie of the era, having Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane go for a nude swim with Tarzan, with an underwater camera to make sure the audience didn't miss anything. This was really pushing it even for Pre-Code cinema so MGM filmed three versions of the scene, with Jane wearing some more clothing for her swim in each of the other two. After the Hays Code came down just a couple of months after this film was released the version with a nude Jane was hidden away and not shown for another sixty years.
* ''Film/TwentiethCentury'' (1934): The main characters live together without being married, and there's even a casual reference to them sleeping in the same bed. Creator/CaroleLombard briefly stalks around in just her bra and panties. A religious nut is lampooned, and religion is used as a con in getting him to finance a play.