Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ten Favorite Pre-Code Love Scenes

Well it's the end of a decade folks so all the movie blogs are bound to have a lot of lists. Since I have barely watched ten movies from this decade (if I didn't exaggerate, I would die) I will focus on stuff I'm actually watching. You know: old movies. So here's my Ten Favorite Pre-Code Love Scenes to keep you heated up on this cold winter's day.


10)Gary Cooper and Cary Grant in Uniform. And if that's not enough...submarines! Gary Cooper has many great pre-code love scenes: The scene at the end of One Sunday Afternoon where he in a matter of a few minutes saves his marriage and wins the audience's grudging affection. Not to mention scenes in Farewell to Arms where he makes you forget momentarily that the script has left Hemingway behind pages ago. But none of these scenes are really all that different from Gary Cooper love scenes after the code. A big exception is to be found in the oddball melodrama Devil and the Deep co-starring Tellulah Bankhead, Charles Laughton and a little known (at the time) actor named Cary Grant. Cooper picks Bankhead up, literally, he saves her from keeling over in the midst of a festival, and spends the night with her in an oasis. The scene lasts ten or eleven minutes following the couple as they move through crowded streets, back-alley bazaars and eventually the moonlit dessert. At one point she's trying to get rid of him and she shakes his hand to say goodbye, he keeps it and continues talking to her in a low monotone of hypnotic seduction while stroking the inside of her wrist with his forefinger. It's a completely cheeky thing which would get a mere mortal slapped, if he didn't look like Gary Cooper. Bankhead plays into it beautifully, protesting half-heartedly until it's too late. The rest of the film is campy good fun that ends in a submarine crash in which everyone gets wet (except Cary Grant, who sadly left the movie before this point, D'oh!)

9) Cheap and Vulgar. Warren William and Joan Blondell in The Goldiggers of 1933. Joan Blondell calls herself "Cheap and vulgar Carol" and Warren William replies "I love you, whatever your name is." It's really pretty awesome. See it here. More on Golddigers here.





8)Put em round me. Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in a Free Soul. This whole scene is the essence of pre-code from the costumes (Norma Shearer's loose, low cut dressing gown worn without underwear would never be permitted a few years later) to the context (the scene takes place as the couple are spending the night in Ace's hideaway.) Gable and Shearer argue. He wants to marry and she doesn't. She ends the dialog and the argument with a direct command for some lovin. "Come on. Put 'em round me." A contemporary review of the film found this couple preposterous, but now they are almost cliche--the gangster bad boy and the wild, society girl. The whole scene is linked here, and starts at about the three minute mark. More on A Free Soul can be found here.



7)The pussyfooting. Barbara Stanwyck and James Rennie discuss the ups and downs of shacking up together in Illicit. "I can't stand all this pussy-footing around," he declares to which she replies, "Don't say you don't like the pussy-footing." Stanwyck is adorable and hilarious and Rennie has stuck with me, even though this is the only movie I've ever seen him in. The combination of romance, comedy and a head-strong heroine mixed in this scene would be repeated frequently in Stanwyck's best pictures. Highlights are linked here and begins around the 55 second mark. More about Illicit can be found here.




6) Jungle love. Four Frightened People. Herbert Marshall and Claudette Colbert lose their clothes and, eventually, their inhibitions as they lose their way in the jungle. After epic quantities of flirtation, he touches her shoulder. She tells him that it feels so good when he touches her and he replies "everything I've touched for weeks now has seemed to be you." Squeeeeee! Later in the film the lovers, exchange wedding vows while tied back to back to a piece of bamboo. Marshall's character has a wife back home which adds an extra level of pre-code angst to the proceedings. More about Four Frightened People here.



5) I'm gonna let you watch me shave. In Bed of Roses (1933), Joel McCrea plays a gritty ship's captain who falls for a prostitute (Constance Bennet). The whole thing is a bit of Red Dust rip off in that respect, but it's a fun movie, with well-written dialogue and enormous chemistry between the leads in their third pairing on film. In one scene McCrea's character shaves in front of Bennett and things get pretty steamy. I happened upon this movie in the last five minutes and I was completely mesmerized by McCrea and Bennett, so much so that I made a point to seek out the whole film and others with these two actors. McCrea is ridiculously handsome in this movie. I'd been used to seeing his films from the early Forties, where he was pretty, but wow. OK, just... wow. Fan of Palm Beach Story? Watch one of his pre-code comedies with Bennett and prepare to have your mind blown.

4) They are still talking about typewriters, right? Leave it to Lubitsch to make even an old typewriter sexy. In Design for Living Frederich March and Glinda admit there feelings for one another and then move on to more important matters--talking about Tommy's old typewriter. Him: "Ya didn't keep it oiled! The keys are rusty." Her, "It still rings." He moves really close to her and she whispers, "it still rings." See the whole scene here starting at around minute 54.

3)Garbo and the furniture In Queen Christina Garbo and her real-life lover John Gilbert act out the doomed love affair between a queen dressed as a man and her Spanish lover, Antononio. They spend three days together snow bound in an inn. In one memorable scene Garbo moves around the room touching the furniture and draperies with a sensual delight. She explains to Anotonio "in the future in my memory I shall live a great deal in this room." See the whole scene here.


2) What about breakfast? In The Smiling Lieutenant, Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier discuss when they will next see each other. She suggests dinner, but he says no that's too long to wait he is hungry now. Then she suggests tea and he says, knowingly, what about breakfast? As she's leaving, they kiss and the screen fades to black. In the next scene she is happily cooking him breakfast. And that, ladies and gentleman is why they call it the Lubitsch touch! See the whole thing here, from the five minute mark.

1)UNF. If you don't know what UNF is try looking it up and you might just find a scene from Red Dust there as an explanation. The rather crude acronym has come to mean"paradigm of sexiness" and that about says it all really. It's hard to pick just one scene from Red Dust. One might do a list of at least five just from that film. My favorite is the first meeting of the couple in which they mostly debate the merits of different kinds of cheese. It's almost as if the writers were trying to come up with the least sexy dialog possible, but Gable and Harlow somehow set it on fire anyway. See it here.

11 comments:

Kate Gabrielle said...

This is probably my favorite end-of-year list :D It's fantastic!

The only one I haven't seen yet is the first, and now I'm absolutely dying to! I can't believe I didn't even know the movie existed (GARY COOPER & TALLULAH?!?!)

One of my favorite pre-code scenes is between Loretta Young (before she got very moral in the 40's obviously) and Ricardo Cortez in Midnight Mary -- The scene is here at about 8:00. Wowzers! :D

Anne said...

Bah! Don't you know I have studying to do? You and your luscious links... hey wait! Given your incisive analysis of Joel McCrea's hottitude, where's my link to that? Is it just that my poor Compy 2000 laptop would implode from the bliss, so you've spared us?

SteveQ said...

Post-code love scene in real life involving Tallulah meeting Chico Marx for the first time:
Chico Marx: Miss Bankhead, I'd really like to f--- you.
Tallulah Bankhead: And so you shall, dear boy, so you shall.

Classy. Guess romance is best left on screen.

Jennythenipper said...

Thanks for the link Kate. I haven't seen Midnight Mary yet. I'll have to check it out.

Anne, unfortunately there's very little young Joel McCrea on the YouTubes. TCM was showing a bunch of his early films recently which is how I happened to catch it.

Here's the link to my Joel McCrea playlist, which is tiny. It does have richest Girl in the World though which is still Pre-code, but not quite up to the Bed of Roses level of hotness.

http://www.youtube.com/my_playlists?pi=0&ps=20&sf=&sa=0&dm=0&p=920E76BA8239D85A

Jennythenipper said...

Steve, there are so many great Tallulah Bankhead stories. Supposedly Bette Davis based her mannerism in All About Eve on Tallulah (though I think Davis didn't have to look much farther than herself for most of it!) And then there was the whole not wearing underwear thing on the Lifeboat set.

SteveQ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveQ said...

Ooh! Mae West and Cary Grant in "I'm No Angel." That's my fave.

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