May 10, 2019

Book Review--Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1934), When Sin Ruled the Movies

My introduction to the concept of pre-Code as a film category probably began with the Forbidden Hollywood VHS series hosted by Leonard Maltin and featuring Warner Bros films. Having delighted in those saucy flicks, I would eventually devour Thomas Doherty and Mick LaSalle’s books on the era, learning as much as I could and writing long lists of films I wanted to see.

As helpful as all of those resources were, the pre-Code book that had the most profound effect on me was Mark Vieira’s Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood. It was an impulse buy at a used book store, which turned into an obsession. Something about the way he combined glowing photographs with a deep dive into the films got me hooked. I got a taste of the period and just enough information to make me want to learn more.

For this reason, I was thrilled to learn Vieira would be returning to the subject with Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934). In the twenty years since Sin in Soft Focus was published, pre-Codes have increased exponentially in popularity among classic film fans, perhaps even equaling film noir as a beloved film category. That TCM has partnered with Running Press to publish the book is especially amusing, as pre-Code screenings at the TCM Classic Film Festival are notorious for filling up quickly and leaving long lines of fans in the lobby of the multiplex.

The beauty of Vieira writing this book is that he knows the topic so well that he’s able to write about it efficiently, relating vital facts and revealing the essential character of the period. Using various films from the era as starting points, he explores different genres, controversies, and production stories, while steadily moving through the overall history of the birth of the Code and its eventual enforcement.

Forbidden Hollywood looks good, with lots of the gorgeous photos for which Vieira’s books are best known, but there’s also a lot of solid research here, related in an engaging way. This is an entertaining, informative read that deserves to endure as a classic reference book.

Many thanks to TCM for providing a copy of the book for review.

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