Friday, June 21, 2024

Queer women dominate pre-code Hollywood retrospective

Before the Hollywood Production Code, sex, sin, and sleaze were splashed across the silver screen with abandon, and Paramount Pictures stood out for the sophisticated amorality and continental flair. In March, the Criterion Channel is offering a slate of 13 films many of which have queer themes, or LGBTQ aspects to the cast, crew, or narrative subtext.

Among the uncensored wonders that emanated from the studio’s back lots during the early years of talkies: the worldly wit of Ernst Lubitsch (Trouble in Paradise), the luxuriant “exoticism” of queer actresses Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express), the jaw-dropping double entendres of Mae West (She Done Him Wrong), and two films from the subversive feminist sensibility of trailblazing lesbian director Dorothy Arzner (Honor Among Lovers, Merrily We Go to Hell).

Dorothy Arzner, director

This collection of pre-Code classics and rarities spotlights the delightfully risqué side of a studio that knew how to be naughty while (almost) always keeping it classy. Here are the films:

Honor Among Lovers, Dorothy Arzner, 1931

The Smiling Lieutenant, Ernst Lubitsch, 1931

Broken Lullaby, Ernst Lubitsch, 1932

If I Had a Million, Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Taurog, Norman Z. McLeod, H. Bruce Humberstone, James Cruze, Stephen Roberts, and William A. Seiter, 1932

Love Me Tonight, Rouben Mamoulian, 1932

Merrily We Go to Hell, Dorothy Arzner, 1932

Night After Night, Archie Mayo, 1932

One Hour with You, Ernst Lubitsch, 1932

Shanghai Express, Josef von Sternberg, 1932

Trouble in Paradise, Ernst Lubitsch, 1932

Design for Living, Ernst Lubitsch, 1933

She Done Him Wrong, Lowell Sherman, 1933

Cleopatra, Cecil B. DeMille, 1934

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