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pre-code

[7] Ruth Chatterton is our title character, a bootlegging madam in 1906 San Francisco. The big earthquake claims the lives of her father and fiancĂ©e, and she ends up giving birth in a Chinatown basement. When poverty gives her no option, she gives up her baby for adoption. She straightens up and returns years later to reclaim him, only to find he no longer remembers …

[8] Barbara Stanwyck stars in this pre-code drama about a scrappy young nurse trying to save two sick children from an evil chauffeur (Clark Gable) whose poisoning them so he can marry their drunk mother (Charlotte Merriam) and steal their trust fund. Night Nurse is a great vehicle for Stanwyck, who spends the first half of the film befriending wise-cracking Joan Blondell and falling in …

[8] Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lily Powers, the poor daughter of a speakeasy owner, who takes an old philosopher’s advice to start using her feminine wiles (or ‘lily power’) to get ahead in life. After her nasty father dies in a distillery fire, Lily moves to New York City and literally sleeps her way, floor by floor, to the top of a banking company. She …

[8] Behold the glory of Barbara Stanwyck. One of classic Hollywood’s sassiest broads makes a big splash in this early talkie that’s leagues ahead of other early 30s flicks in terms of story, craftsmanship, and performance. Babs plays a “party girl” (we know them as escorts now) who serendipitously winds up hitching a ride in the middle of the night with a fuddy-duddy artist. Both …

[6] Norma Shearer, ‘the First Lady of MGM,’ won her Academy Award for The Divorcee. Shearer plays against Chester Morris, happily married until she discovers Morris had a fling with a floozy a few months in the past. While he’s away on a work trip, her despair sees her into the arms of another man. When the couple try to reconcile their indiscretions with each …

[6] Director William Wellman (Wings, Battleground) opens Safe in Hell with the title in flames, and I interpret that to mean, “Buckle up for melodrama.” Dorothy Mackaill stars as a woman who hits hard times in New Orleans while her husband is at war. She turns to prostitution to make ends meet, but early in the film a john gets rough with her and she’s …

[7] Nancy Carroll stars as a young bank worker who loses her job and becomes the subject of gossip after she spends a night with a rich womanizer, played by Cary Grant. Even though Carroll never did anything improper, the town saw her arrive at a big party with one man (Edward Woods), and leave with another. Yet a third man (Randolph Scott) visits town …

[7] Marlene Dietrich re-teams with director Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel) to play a woman-on-the-run in Blonde Venus. After her husband falls ill from radium poisoning, Dietrich performs in a nightclub to make money for his treatment. But when Cary Grant shows up at the club offering a way to make more money faster, Dietrich takes him up on his offer. (Who wouldn’t prostitute …

[5] Pre-Code bad girl Barbara Stanwyck stars in this hybrid of a love story and a prison movie. Stanwyck plays Nan, a woman who works with a team of mobsters who rob banks. She goes in and distracts the security guards while the men rush in with guns and grab the cash. But Nan is eventually captured and sentenced to prison. But then an evangelical …

[5] Jean Harlow plays such a nasty little character in Red-Headed Woman, sleeping her way to the top of the workforce while ending marriages left and right. She’s so cold and calculating, I almost wish the movie would have been like most others of its kind and punished the slut for her wicked ways. But this time, the slut gets away with it all. I …

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