A lot of people do not like to watch movies from the 1930s because they are turned off by the fact that the movies are shown in black and white. They are missing out on a lot, though.
One of the most interesting things about 1930s films is that there are two types of films made during that decade, in the United States. Before 1934, the era is known as Pre-Code. That refers to the Hays Code, when censorship was introduced into American films. Censorship meant that if a woman were a prostitute, for example, or cheated on her husband with another men, at the end of the film, she had to pay for her sins. But that was after 1934. Before that, films were much sexier.
Have you ever heard of Mae West? She wrote a play called simply “Sex.” She was Madonna before Madonna was Madonna. Because of West’s double entendres (where what you say has 2 meanings, one clean and one not so clean), men such as Congressman Hays, wanted the movies to be cleaned up. One of West’s classic lines was, “When women go wrong, men go right after them.” She used language very cleverly to make important points about sex. She was never cheap like today’s stars are. Although she was naughty, it was not dumb naughtiness. It had a purpose. She was making points about women in contemporary society, for example.
After 1934, if a woman cheated on her husband like Greta Garbo did in 1935’s “Anna Karenina,” based on the story by Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, then she had to pay for her ‘crime.’ In this case, Anna committed suicide. No woman could commit adultery and escape punishment. However, in the same film, the husband of Anna’s friend routinely commits adultery and Anna specifically warns her friend to look the other way because he does not mean any harm. So there was definitely a double standard in American films after 1934, one that did not exist before the Code came to be.
Why are 1930s movies so great? Other than the interesting issue discussed above, there are some other factors, too, such as the sheer glamour of the period. Old movies show big houses, women and men both dressed up, where they attend fancy parties, etc. They are often about the rich and how they misbehave. There is no sex, no violence, (at least after 1934); the whole family can watch these movies.
There are no special effects. The actors had a lot more charisma (they were a lot more interesting) than today’s actors. The movies might be black and white, but if you have never watched an old movie, then you should try one. Here are some suggestions:
The Divorcee (Norma Shearer; she won an Academy Award as best actress for it)
Anna Karenina (the above mentioned film with Garbo, who was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world at the time)
Dark Victory (Bette Davis’s character is dying—Ronald Reagan is in this film too!)
Alice Adams (starring the great Katharine Hepburn)
Rain (starring the great Joan Crawford, the woman who was later accused of beating her children)
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