Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood
by Mark A. Vieira
Vieira's newly published book rediscovers pre-Production Code movies from three standpoints: (1) the films are presented as a complete body of work, in chronological order, giving a sense of how they look and sound; (2) the history of the Code is recounted, how it made these films and, in many cases, unmade them; and (3) the first reference material on this increasingly popular genre is compiled. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., $39.95)
An exhibition of sumptuous stills from pre-Code films featured in Sin in Soft Focus will be displayed November 5-30, 2:30-8 pm, in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater. Admission to the Gallery exhibit is free.
Special Screenings (films are double-featured):
Howard Hawks, 1932; 90m
Howard Hawks' favorite film, SCARFACE is the saga of Tony Camonte (Paul Muni), a 30s gangster with the simian looks of unevolved Homo sapiens and the hubris of a hero in a Greek tragedy. (Ben Hecht thought it would be fun to write a movie about "the Borgias living in Chicago today...our Borgia is Al Capone....") From its very first sequence, SCARFACE pulls you into rich, mesmerizing cinema/opera full of potent symbolism and expressionist darkness and light. Following the rise and fall of an amoral creature who's practically pure, unconscious energy, we discover that Camonte's fatal flaw is his obsessive/possessive love for his sister (sensual Ann Dvorak, sister in spirit of Louise Brooks' Lulu in Pandora's Box).
In response to censors' outcries, gestures were made toward detoxifying SCARFACE by adding a subtitle--"The Shame of a Nation"--a couple of preachy scenes denouncing gangland violence, and a law-and-order ending in which Tony Camonte, instead of perishing in a blaze of gunfire, is tried, convicted, and executed by hanging. The trial and execution scenes are shot in an abstract, symbolic style, and since Camonte is seen only as a hooded figure, the presence of Mr. Paul Muni was presumably not required.(With Boris Karloff and George Raft.)
Mon Nov 8: 4:15 and 8:30
Jack Conway, 1934; 115m
A subversive biopic about Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, with rowdy, grufty Wallace Beery in the title role; lovely Fay Wray, dark-haired for this movie, as an aristocarat who falls for the rough rebel; and Lee Tracy as the journalist who records Villa's legend. Howard Hawks reunited with SCARFACE writer Ben Hecht for this project, but due to a variety of problems--Tracy's arrest for insulting Mexico, a ballooning budget--the director was either fired or quit halfway through the shoot. "I tried to make a strange man, humorous but vicious, out of Villa, as he was in real life...," said Hawks; for Hawksian aficionados, there's plenty to show the director's hand at work in a film that features one of Beery's best performances.
Mon Nov 8: 2 and 6:15