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Hollywood Babylon: A guide to pre-Code cinema

An introduction to the Hollywood movies made between 1930 and 1934 – a time when film profanity, sex and brutality slipped past the censors of William Hays’ Motion Picture Production Code. Including clips from Night Nurse (1931), Baby Face (1933) and Frisco Jenny (1932), among many others.



In 1930, talkies were still in their infancy.

Anticipating government legislation, the Hollywood studios opt for demonstrable self-regulation.

They instruct Postmaster General Will Hays to create a list of guidelines to protect moral standards.

It would be four years before the code would actually be enforced.

Four years of the darkest, sleaziest, sexiest, smartest, grittiest and most progressive films in cinema history.


Production Code Administration

The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930


These shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law or justice.

The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust.


The use of liquor should never be excessively presented.

Man 1

Just one more, darling, and then you'll have to dress.



Because of its evil consequences, the drug traffic should not be presented in any form.

Man 2

You'll wake in the morning fresh and happy with a marvelous appetite.



Pointed profanity, or every other profane or vulgar expression however used, is forbidden.

Woman 1

You know something?

Man 3


Woman 1

You're being awfully silly.

Man 3

Oh, well, let's be silly, then.

Woman 1

I didn't say silly. I didn't say silly.



The use of the Flag shall be consistently respectful.

Man 4

I believe in democracy as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln believed in democracy.  And if what I plan to do in the name of the people makes me a dictator, then it is a dictatorship based on Jefferson's definition of democracy and government for the greatest good of the greatest number.



Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.



Undressing scenes should be avoided and never used save where essential to the plot.



Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.

The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.

Woman 2

So look for me in the future where the primroses grow and pack your man's pride with the rest. From now on, you're the only man in the world that my door is closed to.



Brutality and possible gruesomeness must be treated within the careful limits of good taste.


Film clips from:

Red-Headed Woman (1932)
Dir: Jack Conway

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
Dir: Michael Curtiz

Frisco Jenny (1932)
Dir: William A. Wellman

Other Men's Women (1931)
Dir: William A. Wellman

Three On A Match (1932)
Dir: Mervyn LeRoy

Jewel Robbery (1932)
Dir: William Dieterie

Skyscraper Souls (1932)
Dir: Edgar Selwyn

Gabriel Over The White House (1933)
Dir: Gregory La Cava

Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)
Dir: Mervyn LeRoy

Night Nurse (1931)
Dir: William A. Wellman

Baby Face (1933)
Dir: Alfred E. Green

The Divorcee (1930)
Dir: Robert Z. Leonard

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