The moral of the story is, lose your morals.

The fish business was rained out today, sort of. It was drizzling when I woke up, the skies were completely clouded over, and the forecast was rain, so I called in dry, so to speak.

Instead of BARTing to Berkeley, I walked through the rain to the Roxie, where they're doing another series of movies from before the Hays code. Don't tell Jay, but I'd actually been rooting for rain, because I wanted to see today's triple feature.

The Hays Code? Yeah, that's something maybe most folks don't know about, so I'll briefly 'splain: When movies were still a relatively new thing, a group of prudes and politicians were demanding more purity and morality on the screen, and under threat of regulation by Congress, the film industry promised it would be prim and proper. Toward that stupid goal, they created the Hays Code, named for Will Hays, then-President of the MPAA (the job an equal schmuck, Jack Valenti, holds today).

The Code was enacted in 1933, promising that movie bad guys would always be caught, that depictions of any woman who enjoys sex would always include her comeuppance by the story's end, etc. As a result, American films until the late 1960s were effectively sanitized, Disneyfied, reflecting a wholesome, idealized view of the world.

When movies are billed as "pre-Code," they might have something darker, sexier, and less chaste going on than films from a few years later. I was hoping for less chaste.

Waterloo Bridge (1931) is about a chorus girl who's out of work once the show she's in closes, so she becomes a prostitute. She's haunted by a melodramatic script, in which she meets a soldier boy who's way, way too quick to say "I love you."

It's all cornball, and though it accumulates power and pull toward the end, it's only OK. Best I can say about it is that it's better than the Code-era remake with Vivian Leigh.

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1931) is scary and thoughtful, easily the best version of this oft-told tale of yet another mad scientist tinkering with things best left alone. Fredric March plays both halves of the title role, and he's excellent, but the experiment he's conducting goes tragically, horribly, predictably wrong (you do know the story, right?). His transformations from Jekyll to Hyde are genuinely frightful.

From pretending to have read the novel in high school, I thought his transformations were really about alcoholism. That's what I wrote in my book report, and the teacher didn't tell me I was wrong. 

This film, though, has a different subtext. Doc's fiancée won't sleep with him, and her father won't let them marry for another ten months, so he's driven mad by sexual repression.

So it's a pre-Code movie where the plot is powered by a woman's refusal to put out. Jekyll can't get any from his fiancée, so he becomes Hyde, and Hyde finds a floozy. If there's a moral to the story, it's lose your morals, ladies. And I like that.

That was my takeaway, at least, but perhaps my interpretation was influenced by being two rows away from a couple of pretty lesbians who were handsy with each other during the show.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) is in sharp two-strip Technicolor, and features fearless Fay Wray as a fast-talking gum-chewing wisecracking reporter. She's quaintly amusing, but the movie is a workable diversion, nothing more. Or maybe my heart wasn't in it. After Jekyll & Hyde and the lesbians (who left after the second show), almost anything would be a disappointment.

Walking home, it was cloudy but the streets were dry, so it hadn't been raining. Was it a mistake to have stayed away from a day's wages? Yeah, probably, but it wouldn't have been such a big mistake if the movies would've been better.

I still recommend just about anything pre-Code, but I've seen a hundred of them, and apparently there isn't an endless supply of truly terrific pre-Code movies.

From Pathetic Life #24
Saturday, May 18, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. Captain HampocketsMay 20, 2023 at 12:41 PM

    Not related to your post, but I just found out some news.

    I have a trans male friend. More of an acquaintance. Just found out that he's marrying his fiance, who I didn't know existed - a gay cis male DC cop. I'm kinda floored by the miasma of fuckery that could arise from this. He (the cop) is allegedly a "gOoD cOp," but man, i just don't know.

    1. I of course know neither the party of the first part nor the party of the second part, but it sounds like a shitty party and I agree, it's going to end ugly.

      Sounds like an interracial marriage where the white guy is in the Klan.


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