Our Rating: ★★★½☆
L Factor: Minor lesbian content
Short Take: Sex in cinema before the Production Code.
Alternate Titles:
Year: 2007
Duration: 70 min
Language: USA/English
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Elaina Archer
Writer: Elaina Archer, Scott Eyman
Starring: Diane Lane
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Why Be Good Sexuality and Censorship in Early CinemaBefore 1934, Hollywood and the film industry were regulated in terms of the sex and violence that could appear on screen, but there were no real external penalties for crossing the line. Why Be Good? looks at the history of sexuality in cinema before the Production Code changed things, a tight morality enforcement system that was in place from 1934 until 1968.

From the beginning, many of the actors who became famous led sexually rebellious lives, and the studios had to work hard to keep the details under raps. Some of that rebellion made its way on screen, especially in the 1920s with the flappers. Gloria Swanson’s 1916 film The Danger Girl is seen in clips here. The films and lives of Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Rudolf Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and more stars are covered.

Louise Brooks, the star of Pandora’s Box in 1929, was considered a rebel. Many years later, she notes in an interview included here that Director Georg Pabst was afraid that she would “go to all those lesbian joints” in Berlin during the filming.

Marlene Dietrich was brought in by Paramount as a rival to Greta Garbo at MGM. She lived her life outside the studio as she pleased, according to her own rules. Her daughter mentions in an interview that she grew up with many of her mother’s lovers, both men and women. Mae West was also very much a rebel who fought against censorship on screen for her sexual frankness.

The filmmakers and actors struggled with censorship, one of the key issues that brought many of them to form United Artists, a studio formed by actors (versus businessmen). But for the first time, buckling to demands of angry Catholics, the studio restrictions came with the teeth of enforcement. Hollywood’s directors and actors could no longer get around the sexual rules. In particular, the new code administration put the reins on the freedom of actresses on and off screen.

Surprisingly, this film was produced by Hugh Hefner from Playboy. The only traces of this are a modern flapper in the beginning and end credits who just doesn’t seem to belong to the rest of the film. (AB)