History of Sex in Cinema:
The Greatest and Most Influential
Sexual Films and Scenes



The History of Sex in Cinema
Movie Title/Year and Film/Scene Description

Hula (1927)

The star of this film was flapper icon Clara Bow, dubbed the "It" girl during the 20s, who was one of the earliest sex symbols. This romantic adventure was a forerunner of Red Dust (1932), starring Jean Harlow and Clark Gable.

Bow appeared in this Victor Fleming-directed film as Hula Calhoun, a flapper girl raised on a ranch near Hana (Maui) in Hawaii. She was the daughter of a Hawaiian planter, who became infatuated with a married man - Anthony Haldane (Clive Brook), a young English engineer who was supervising the construction of a dam on the rural estate.

She was featured langoriously nude (implied) in a lagoon bathing scene in an early scene, and performed a provocatively sexy hula dance (more like the Charleston) to entice Haldane. She connived to have Haldane's wife Margaret (Maude Truax) agree to a divorce so that they could marry.

Hula Calhoun
(Clara Bow)

It (1927)

This was appealing sex symbol Clara Bow's most famous, star-making, signature film as the self-proclaimed "It" Girl, her first film for Paramount.

She took the role of a devil-may-care, quintessential flapper type, portraying Betty Lou Spence - a vivacious department store lingerie salesgirl who represented female independence, sexual freedom, Jazz modernity and the modern lifestyle in the Roaring 20s Jazz Age. [In reality, Clara Bow was allegedly as free off-screen as she was on-screen.]

When she first saw her handsome mustached boss Mr. Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno), she declared: "Sweet Santa Claus, give me him!" Later, in the romantic/melodramatic scene pictured, after receiving her salary check, she closed her boss' PRIVATE office door, sat on his desk, and asked: "Are you mad at me because I slapped you?", then stretched across his entire desk, and sweetly apologized:

"I'm sorry but a girl has to do that. You know how those things are! Let's forget it. We've got each other straight now, haven't we?"

She then had him profess: "I'm crazy about you" and confessed back: "I love you, too." Furthermore, he promised: "I'll buy you diamonds - clothes - everything you want - " but then she realized he was buying her off:

"What are you trying to do? Offer me one of those left-handed arrangements?"

As she left his office, she reminded him that being 'crazy' about her wasn't enough: "I suppose that's what you men call love!"

Flapper Betty
(Clara Bow)

Metropolis (1927, Ger.)

In Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis (1927) in the early Eternal Gardens sequence, Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the aristocrat capitalist's son, frolicked with young ladies (wearing sheer and braless blouses) in a grotto. He chased one young lady with a backless tight black top around a circular fountain - when he caught her, he bent her backwards, and pressed towards her for a kiss.

Later in the film, the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) created a female robot - a double of ethereal nurse Maria (Brigitte Helm).

The Evil Robot's (Brigitte Helm) Lascivious Dance

As the evil robotic Maria (Helm also), she performed an erotic, Salome-style, hip-swiveling semi-nude dance ("the dance of the whore of Babylon") at Yoshiwara's depraved night-club, arousing the lecherous, wide-eyed male audience into a frenzy.

In the Eternal Gardens

Pitfalls of Passion (1927)
Is Your Daughter Safe? (1927) (retitled The Octopus)

Two openly defiant, tawdry exploitation films about brothels, teenage pregnancy, birth control, white slavery, and venereal disease-syphilis (all forbidden topics according to the Hays Office), were circulated as road shows by independent producer and entrepreneur Sam .S. "Steamship" Millard.

Pitfalls of Passion (1927) featured the tagline: "Is Sex Knowledge a Sin? See the Birth of Life Unfolded."


Sunrise (1927)

F.W. Murnau's exquisite film Sunrise (1927) told the story of the corruptibility of a married country Man (George O'Brien). He fell prey to the seductive wiles of a city vamp and tempting mistress (Margaret Livingston) in an illicit affair. He met her at night on the edge of the misty, moonlit marshes.

The supernatural spell and erotic charm of the city woman seduced him and he pulled her into his arms for a passionate, fervent kiss. She stole his sanity and soul as she literally pulled him down into the swamp.

While being kissed as they sprawled on the grass and tempting him with a seductive dance, she visualized for him how he should sell his farm, murder his wife, and come to the decadent City.

In a later scene after being reconciled with his wife (Janet Gaynor), the couple magically appeared in a flower-blooming country field - and then they suddenly reappeared back within the congested City - and found themselves in the midst of honking city traffic (another rear-projected image) - while still kissing and stopping traffic!

Adultery with Vamp
(Margaret Livingston)

Reconciliation With Wife

Wanderer of the West (1927)

This late 20s silent western was one in a series of six Maynard oaters released by Rayart. It starred First National star Ken Maynard's brother Kermit (billed as Tex Maynard).

It delivered an early (and common) portrayal of homosexuality - a stereotyped sissy foil to provide contrast with the other more masculine men.

One of its title cards read: "Clarence, the clerk - - one of Nature's mistakes in a country where men were men."

Wings (1927)

This first Best Picture winner (a silent film) was noted as portraying the first on-screen male-male kiss on the lips during a death scene.

Handsome young soldier John "Jack" Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) placed a lingering fraternal kiss on the mouth of his dying friend David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), with the title card reading:

"You - you know there is nothing in the world that means so much to me as your friendship" followed by: "I knew it - - all the time - - "

In addition, Wings was one of the first mainstream, widely-released films to portray nudity -- in this case, it was a scandalous, quick glimpse of the breasts of "It" girl star Clara Bow (as "girl next door" and ambulance driver Mary Preston).

On leave in Paris during the war with the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces), she was interrupted by two Army military police officers while she undressed (changing from a borrowed dress back into her military uniform, in front of a mirror behind a divider) in a hotel room.

Since she was in the same room with drunken, passed out Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) on a nearby bed, they thought she had just had sex with him. They forced her to resign and return to America.

The caption card read:

"Put your clothes on! You can't get away with this sort of thing in the A.E.F. It's back home for you, sister."

Gay Kiss

(Clara Bow)

The Mysterious Lady (1928)

The beautiful and bewitching Greta Garbo provided great sex appeal and numerous love scenes in this MGM, Fred Niblo-directed film.

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

MGM brought out a loosely-constructed three-part set of racy, pre-Code films in the late 1920s. All of the films featured premarital love-making and sex, hip flasks and wild parties, hedonistic lifestyles, slang of the day, the latest expensive fashions, and hot Charleston-dancing scenes. The series was composed of:

  • Our Dancing Daughters (1928) - with a breakthrough, star-making role for Joan Crawford
  • Our Modern Maidens (1929) - Crawford's last silent film, and the only film with Crawford and then husband Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
  • Our Blushing Brides (1930)

The films starred three young, amoral ('modern') Jazz Age flappers - free and easy single women of the time who vied for various marital partners. The characters in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), released with synchronized musical numbers and sound effects (background noise), were:

  • Joan Crawford (as Diana Medford, known as 'Di'), a privileged 'wild' girl, although pure in heart and triumphant in the end
  • Anita Page (as Ann, known as 'Annikins'), Diana's conniving, gold-digging, deceitful rival - she pretended to be sweet and innocent to hook Ben Blaine (Johnny Mack Brown)
  • Dorothy Sebastian (as Beatrice, known as 'Bea'), with a 'wanton past,' yet she found happiness in marriage with forgiving husband Norman (Nils Asther)
Three Dancing Daughters
(Joan Crawford)
(Dorothy Sebastian)
(Anita Page)

The film opened with a shot first from the knees down, of Diana simultaneously dancing while pulling on her lacy underwear in her fancy bedroom. It then opened to a full view of her before a multi-sectioned mirror. Her most memorable scenes were while dancing the Charleston.

(Joan Crawford)

The Wedding March (1928)

Director Erich Von Stroheim's examination of corrupt pre WWI Vienna included a doomed romance between:

  • poor musician's daughter Mitzi (Fay Wray)
  • young dissolute aristocrat Prince Nicki von Wildeliebe-Rauffenburg (director Erich von Stroheim)

The two first met in an extended sequence before a horse procession. The film was most noted for their romantic scene under an apple-blossom tree that dropped its petals.

Eventually, Nicki must marry crippled rich heiress Cecelia Schweisser (Zasu Pitts) for money instead.

The film was also noted for a decadent risque scene of a drunken celebration and orgy in a brothel.

Orgy Scene

The Wind (1928)

Swedish director Victor Sjöström's last surviving silent film was filled with sexual metaphors, including semi-incestuous desire, jealousy, seduction, attempted rape by a brutal male attacker, frigidity, virginity, insanity and sexual aversion - a predecessor to Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965).

It told about a lost and delicate young woman named Letty (Lillian Gish, in her final silent movie) who moved to wind-swept frontier life in Texas where she became isolated in a desert cabin struck by sandstorms.

Un Chien Andalou (1929, Fr.)

This shocking, and provocative surrealistic film, only 17 minutes long, by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, was banned in various countries.

Its most infamous scene was an eyeball razor-slashing.

Other images were of sexual assault images (pictured) of a man's (Pierre Batcheff) hands lustfully fondling or cupping the breasts of a clothed and then naked woman (Simone Mareuil). In the next image, the breasts disappeared and were transformed into buttocks - which the man continued to palpate.

Glorifying the American Girl (1929)

Paramount Studios and producer Florenz Ziegfeld created this pre-Hays Code partly-Technicolored musical comedy. This was the first feature-length film to contain virtual nudity and revealing costumes in color! A censored, black and white version of the film was nine minutes shorter.

In one non-speaking scene during the colorful revue sequence in the film's final third, a segment titled Loveland, future Tarzan's Johnny Weissmuller appeared as Adonis wearing a fig leaf. He was standing next to an unidentified semi-nude chorine.

Pandora's Box (1929, Ger.) (aka Lulu or Die Büchse der Pandora)

Georg Wilhelm Pabst's early erotic and hypnotic silent film melodrama produced hateful critical reviews for its overt sexuality, and was heavily edited/censored. This was the first film to present a well-developed lesbian character - the aristocratic countess.

Throughout the film, Louise Brooks portrayed a tempting goddess named Lulu wearing silky dresses and billowy gowns, even though she sported a pageboy haircut (or black bob). In an early scene, the insatiable, free-spirited yet innocent 18 year-old cabaret chorus girl and femme fatale Lulu (Louise Brooks) was caught backstage scandalously kissing obsessed and spell-bound wealthy newspaper owner Dr. Schon (Fritz Kortner) by his more socially-acceptable fiancee Charlotte Marie Adelaide (Daisy d'Ora).

Femme Fatale Lulu (Louise Brooks)

At the subsequent wedding party celebrating her marriage to Schon, virginally white-dressed (inappropriately), bi-sexual and amoral Lulu engaged in an intimate, flirtatious tango (or waltz) with black silken-dressed, chic lesbian aristocrat Countess Anna Geschwitz (Alice Roberts). She also flirted with Schon's son Alwa (Franz Lederer), causing her bridegroom to become insanely enraged and jealous.

Punished for unleashing Pandora's box of evil, she ended up dying at the hands of 'Jack the Ripper' (Gustav Diessl) in London's Soho on Christmas Eve with a gleaming knifeblade stuck into her stomach (off-screen) during an erotic embrace and kiss (her hand went limp to indicate her death).

Lesbian Tango

(Louise Brooks)

Jack the Ripper
(Gustav Diessl)

Sex in Cinematic History
History Overview | Reference Intro | Pre-1920s | 1920-26 | 1927-29 | 1930-1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934-37 | 1938-39
1940-44 | 1945-49 | 1950-54 | 1955-56 | 1957-59 | 1960-61 | 1962-63 | 1964 | 1965-66 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969

1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989
1990 | 1991 | 1992-1 | 1992-2 | 1993 | 1994-1 | 1994-2 | 1995-1 | 1995-2 | 1996-1 | 1996-2 | 1997-1 | 1997-2 | 1998-1 | 1998-2 | 1999-1 | 1999-2
2000-1 | 2000-2 | 2001-1 | 2001-2 | 2002-1 | 2002-2 | 2003-1 | 2003-2 | 2004-1 | 2004-2 | 2005-1 | 2005-2 | 2006-1 | 2006-2
2007-1 | 2007-2 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

Index to All Decades, Years and Features

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