Exotic terrors and fast women abound in the Roxie's latest 'pre-Code' series
Most of the current program's titles are variably obscure ones with glittering Golden Age stars in scenarios that further tarnish legally challenged ladies before romance buffs them shiny again — most in "four hanky" soap operas targeted toward a working-class female audience later represented by Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Paramount's glossy 1933 Torch Song has the next year's Best Actress Oscar winner (for It Happened One Night), Claudette Colbert, as a nice girl turned dirty-blues chanteuse. Further down the totem pole, there's pre-screwball Carole Lombard as the heroine of Virtue (1932), introduced while being escorted out of New York by the vice squad. Her past won't quit her when she redeems herself via marriage to cynical cabbie Pat O'Brien. It's an archetypal pre-Code rediscovery, no doubt thrown together at the time yet wonderfully snappy, saucy, and even poignant now.
Its themes are taken even further by films set in the era's reliably lawless "tropical" locales, fictive or otherwise. Nothing's quite so filthy by implication as brief near-star ("The Girl with the Naughty Twinkle in Her Eye!") Dorothy Mackaill's 1931 William Wellman-directed Safe in Hell, wherein she's the runaway goodtime-girl "only white woman on the island." Save perhaps 1934's pre-Code last huzzah Black Moon, a voodoo potboiler that puts King Kong's girlfriend Fay Wray in yea worse peril.
Other notable highlights include Waterloo Bridge, the rarely-revived 1931 first version of Robert Sherwood's play by Frankenstein director James Whale; quasi-Sapphic, proto-Petrified Forest melodrama Heat Lightning (1934); and a tribute to staple Hollywood character actor Lyle Talbot, whose author daughter Margaret will appear before screenings March 7.
"Hollywood Before the Code: Deeper, Darkier, Nastier!"
March 1-7, $11 (double and triple features)
3117 16th St, SF
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