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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Precode Perils Of Free Love



Two Live Happier Than One in Ex-Lady (1933)

Another early Bette Davis that she would disparage. BD told Whitney Stine in the 70's that "It was a disaster," but this was when seeing Ex-Lady was challenge of its own, TV having shunned it, with revival housing not to be bothered. Precode as precious metal thanks to TCM and Warner Archive puts Ex-Lady before us for worthy thing it is, a better-than-many programmer you can't blame old-age Davis for overlooking. WB designed Ex-Lady to sizzle, ads warning it was not for children, a tag you could hang on much of movies that came out in 1933. Whole of 67 minute's burning issue is whether BD and paramour Gene Raymond should marry or simply live together, Ex-Lady proposing for at least most of run time that latter card may be the better one to play. This flew full in face of prevailing morality as guarded by opinion-makers and local censorship that could and did freeze Ex-Lady out of theatres. There was calculated risk in precode, loss from small-town bans made up by increased attendance lured by hot sauce of urban marketing. Warners could almost cover the negative cost of Ex-Lady and cheapies like it with a Strand (their NY flagship) run. A thumbed nose to blue noses was well and OK so long as these were hicks in obscure markets, but when an outraged Catholic Church took up cudgels --- well, there was lights out for license WB had enjoyed.






The Bette Davis of Ex-Lady is more appealing than what we got after she became Bette Davis. If there was concerted effort to sex-her-up, here was it, Ex-Lady taking a Davis flyer on standard equipment as sold by Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Glenda Farrell, others of Warner sisterhood. BD couldn't, wouldn't, compete on that basis, and had sense to know there was no winning if she did. This was one actress we would always prefer clothed, which is why, despite many precodes Davis did, it's not an epoch fans associate her with. I don't wonder that she was embarrassed by most of them. Still and all, Ex-Lady can serve as tutorial for those new to precode and wanting to know what fuss is about. Davis makes the case for Woman as Free Agent, not bound to a man thanks to career of her own (commercial artist) and a comfortable crib that live-in Raymond will have to leave should the two of them quarrel. This was heady stuff of fantasy for Depression watchers who could barely, if that, afford digs they had to share with otherwise estranged spouses or family members. Unspoke, or at least less emphasized, aspect of precode was its membership generally able to afford non-conventional ways they lived and loved.

3 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The Code did a lot to kill attendance at the movies. From the moment it was imposed we see a steady decline in attendance. Not only that the Code forced the movies to present an unreal, idealized world void of any sense of real life as we live it.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Jan Willis said...

It's also an example of how Warner Bros. was fast to capitalize on their properties, EX-LADY being one very quick remake of 1931's ILLICIT with Stanwyck (just her 5th film) - - plus Ricardo Cortez and Joan Blondell (the first Stanwyck-Blondell teaming).

She's learning her craft here, but boy is she irresistible.


Trailer -
http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/32116/Illicit-Original-Trailer-.html


Nice clip below -
http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1416136/Illicit-Movie-Clip-I-Believe-I-Was-His-Inspiration.html

1:52 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

I like "blonde pre-code Bette"....she's fascinating to watch, because her style is so original and an interesting clash with a lot of the early-talkie-style acting still going on around her. The way she busts into movies like "The Rich Are Always With Us" and sweeps the floor with everyone else...she is like the female James Cagney.

2:28 PM  

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