Seedy delights from the 1930s sleaze up the Roxie in "Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films for a Nasty-Ass World"
Yet there's no evidence of any similar backlash to the infinitely scuzzier Kongo, unleashed by Metro a few months later. A remake of Browning's 1928 Lon Chaney vehicle West of Zanzibar, it stars Walter Huston as wheelchair-bound "Deadlegs" Flint. He's used cheap magic tricks to appoint himself fearsome white-man "god" amongst spear-carrying tribesmen in a "dunghill" African outpost, all part of an elaborate, insidious plan to wreak vengeance on the rival who stole his wife and health long ago.
What this revenge eventually encompasses reads like a list of nearly everything the Production Code would soon bar from the screen: depicted or suggested drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, rape, sadism, and a convent-bred ingénue (Virginia Bruce) recalling "hot hairy hands pawing and mauling" her unwilling virginal body. Not to mention human sacrifice and a unique substance abuse "cure" using leeches.
One can almost hear the censuring voice of Will Hays, the Code's original enforcer, when one character tells Deadlegs "The swamp's wholesome compared to you!" It would arguably be 40 years before MGM distributed another movie so flagrantly perverse — and even then the studio was so ashamed they put it (Paul Bartel's 1972 Private Parts) out under a fake subsidiary's auspices.
HOLLYWOOD BEFORE THE CODE: NASTY-ASS FILMS FOR A NASTY-ASS WORLD!
March 2-8, $11
3117 16th St., SF
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