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

(Illustrated)

1930-1931



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

Animal Crackers (1930)

In the second Marx Brothers effort Animal Crackers (1930), one of the original lines of Groucho's classic "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" song was censored and abruptly cut because of its sexual suggestiveness for the film's 1936 re-release, and is now only rarely heard:

"I think I'll try and make her."

The excised line came after Mrs. Rittenhouse's (Margaret Dumont) line: "You are the only white man to cover every acre."

Groucho also uttered the following veiled comment about the nudity of native girls:

"We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed, but we're going back again in a couple of weeks."


Groucho with
Mrs. Rittenhouse
(Margaret Dumont)

Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie (1930) was the MGM film in which cinema's greatest silent star - an asexual, supercool, 24 year-old Nordic beauty named Greta Garbo - first talked, as the film's title character.

She coarsely delivered her line - to a bartender:

"Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby!"

In Garbo's transitional role to the talkies, she played the role of a former prostitute (with a veiled reference to being "in the house") whose sordid past could possibly ruin her chances for happiness.


Anna (Greta Garbo):
"Give me a whiskey..."

The Blue Angel (1930, Ger.) (aka Der Blaue Engel)

This unstrained first film by director Josef von Sternberg featured the legendary Marlene Dietrich in a star-making role - with a plot that would often be repeated in their collaborations.

The film told about a meek and repressed teacher Professor Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) who was tempted, seduced and destroyed by a sensual, carefree, and carnal top-hatted entertainer named Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich) at the Blue Angel nightclub as he watched her.

There, she sang a throaty rendition of "Falling in Love Again" astride a barrel on stage. She tilted her head to the side, leaned backwards, and grasped one gartered-stockinged leg on bare thighs with her arms.

In her dressing room, the Professor knelt before her and was commanded to slip black stockings over her legs.



Lola Lola
(Marlene Dietrich)


Prof. Rath
(Emil Jannings)

The Divorcee (1930)

This pivotal Pre-Code film about divorce and infidelity, by director Robert Z. Leonard, was banned by the Production Code Administration as being too brash, racy and forward because it didn't condemn its sinful heroine. This film's original title was Ex-Wife (the title of the original and controversial 1929 novel by Ursula Parrott). The film was controversial at the time for its reversal of the hypocritical 'double standard,' although it was considerably cleaned up. The husband's affair became a romance, and the wife's own romances were considered dates.

Norma Shearer won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as a Manhattan ad writer with a man's name (Jerry) and a "man's point of view" who soon became a wayward, 'loose woman.'

At the start of the film, she agreed to get married only if she and her husband were equals, joking: "That's why we're gonna make a go of it - everything equal...75/25." Although happily married, she caught her unfaithful husband-newspaperman Ted Martin (Chester Morris) engaged in philandering and infidelity with an ex-girlfriend (the recently-divorced brunette Janice (Mary Doran)). Janice embraced Ted in their kitchen on their own third wedding anniversary. Jerry was devastated and disillusioned when Ted downplayed the incident:

"There's no sense in overplaying it. There's nothing to it...It isn't the end of the world, darling...Please believe me, darling, it doesn't mean a thing, not a thing. It doesn't make the slightest difference. Come on, snap out of it."

On that same evening after he left for a week-long work engagement in Chicago, she matched Ted's unfaithfulness with her own sexually-adventurous, one-night stand tryst with their consoling, wealthy best friend Don (Robert Montgomery) after an evening of partying (the sex scene was off-screen, signaled by the closing of curtains to darken the bedroom). When her husband returned and repented, she wasn't ready to let the incident be covered up and forgotten so quickly:

"You're like a little boy that's stolen some jam, been spanked and kissed and happy again."

When she admitted her own affair (with an unknown male) to her astonished husband to match the score: "I balanced our accounts, that's all...I didn't really intend to, but that's how it is," he wasn't as quick to understand ("It can't be true. Why, I always thought you were the most decent thing in the world. It can't be true").

She begged with him to forgive and try again ("I'll forgive you anything, dear. Can't you please forgive me?"), but Ted stubbornly packed up and explained how his vanity and honor were ruined. Then she fatefully vowed to him as she lost her temper that she would become a sexually wanton 'bad girl':

"I'm glad I discovered there's more than one man in the world while I'm young and they want me. Believe me, I'm not missing anything from now on...Loose women are great, but not in the home, eh, Ted?...The looser they are, the more they get. The best in the world! No responsibility! Well, my dear, I'm gonna find out how they do it. So look for me in the future where the primroses grow, and pack your man's pride with the rest. From now on, you're the only man in the world that my door is closed to."

After their divorce, she experienced a series of sexual escapades (shown in a montage of close-ups of men's hands, rings, and off-screen dialogue), and two weeks on a yacht in the summer with married former beau Paul (Conrad Nagel). He was estranged from his wife Dorothy (Helen Johnson) (who had a disfigured face from a car accident). Jerry decided not to join Paul as his new wife to live in Japan - when Dorothy made a plea to have her husband back.

In a conventional happy ending after Jerry was job-transferred to London, she selflessly returned and was reconciled to her husband where he was working in Paris. They decided to take a second chance on marriage at midnight, during a New Year's Eve celebration at a nightclub:

Jerry: "You're the only husband I ever had - and ever want. A new year in a minute, Ted. All the world gets a new chance."
Ted: "I'd give my right arm for another chance."
Jerry: "I like that right arm. How about putting it around me?"

They clinched as the film ended.


Jerry (Norma Shearer) with Ted (Chester Morris)


Ted's Indiscretion

Jerry's Retribution

Rejection

Jerry With Paul
(Conrad Nagel)



Jerry Reunited with Ted

Hell's Angels (1930)

In Howard Hughes' WWI film Hell's Angels (1930) - (reportedly the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release), 18-year old platinum blonde Jean Harlow shocked audiences. Harlow became screendom's first official 'bombshell' -- meaning hot and explosive.

She starred as sexy floozy Helen - with generous glimpses of flesh available through her slinky dresses.

She delivered a famous line of dialogue to an awaiting uniformed soldier Monte Rutledge (Ben Lyon) in her apartment after inviting him in:

Helen: "Want to come up for a cigarette and a drink?...Come see my room. I've only had a place of my own for a week...(After serving him a drink) Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?"
Monte: "I'll try to survive."

She seductively entered her bedroom letting her wrap fall to reveal her backless dress, and a side view of her remarkable figure before disappearing. A few moments later, she returned wearing a white-trimmed dark robe - provocatively open to her waist and bare underneath. After some small talk, she explained her philosophy of life and her desire not to be tied down with marriage and family:

"I want to be free. I want to be gay and have fun. Life's short and I want to live while I'm alive."

As he was about to leave, she stretched out her arms and he pulled her up into his arms. They were frozen, inches away from each other's lips - and then they kissed. She surrendered herself to him and they lowered themselves back to the couch and embraced further - as the scene faded to black.



Helen
(Jean Harlow)

Madam Satan (1930)

Director Cecil B. De Mille's bizarre battle-of-the-sexes film, a major box-office flop, challenged the production code of the day. It was the famed director's second talkie (as well as his second film for MGM after Dynamite (1929)), and also his first-and last musical.

The story told about 'caged bird' wife Angela Brooks (Kay Johnson) who learned about the infidelity of her cheating husband Bob (Reginald Denny) with a leggy seductress named Trixie (Lillian Roth), a singing/dancing member of a traveling show business trio.

Angela decided to teach him a lesson. She flirted with him at the masked ball - a racy, gaudy, and over-the-top masquerade costume party sequence aboard a giant zeppelin. She wore a peek-a-boo, nude-looking gown and half-mask) as a femme fatale to lure him away from pheasant-costumed Trixie. Their encounter occurred just before lightning struck the mooring mast of the dirigible (a foreshadowing of the real Hindenburg crash years later), when partygoers were forced to either parachute or jump.





The Masked Ball
in the Zeppelin

Morocco (1930)

In her Hollywood debut film (with Paramount and director Josef von Sternberg), Marlene Dietrich targeted her sexuality toward both men and women.

As Amy Jolly, she scandalously wore a sexually-ambiguous men's tuxedo and top hat as a performer in a North African cabaret club.

Early on, she sang "Quand L'amour Est Mort" with smoky eroticism, took a flower from the hair of a young lady in the audience (asking: "May I have this?"), inhaled it suggestively, and then kissed the embarrassed woman full on the mouth. It was one of the earliest (if not the first) female-to-female kisses by a leading actress, in order to get the woman's attention and another man's attention.

After tipping her hat and listening to wild applause, the bisexual (or androgynous) chanteuse tossed the flower to admiring foreign legionnaire Tom Brown (a young Gary Cooper) in the audience.

In a slightly later scene, the seductive Dietrich, in a skimpy black dress and with a feathery boa draped over her shoulders, also performed: "What Am I Bid for My Apple?" After doing brisk business throughout the entire crowd, she sold one to Tom, who bit into it lustily (filmed in close-up during his third bite), and then asked her to sit in his lap.

Then, she discreetly gave him her room key for a late-night "hot" rendezvous - where she demurely told him: "You'd better go now, I'm beginning to like you" - to which he responded: "I wish I'd met you ten years ago."


Amy Jolly
(Marlene Dietrich)


Lesbian Kiss

"What Am I Bid For My Apple?"

Amy with Tom
(Gary Cooper)

The Common Law (1931)

The themes of this romantic drama included nude modeling and art, free love, and issues of pre-marital sex and the sexual double standard for women. The film specifically challenged one of the production code's tenets about the portrayal of nudity, and the requisite punishment that a woman should receive for her 'sinful' sleeping around.

It told about a wealthy young painter named John Neville, Jr. (Joel McCrea) who created nude portraits in Paris. His blonde subject-turned-lover was Valerie West (Constance Bennett). As a career model, she posed nude for him (portrayed discreetly and only seen in long-shot).

He bluntly told her during one undraped session: "You know, you should never wear clothes. "

In the story, when John discovered that Valerie was not a virgin and was previously the 'kept woman' mistress of rich American Dick Cardemon (Lew Cody), he dumped her. Later, however, he reconsidered and they scandously began living together - without marrying at first because of her reticence.



Valerie
(Constance Bennett)

Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)

The Production Code had difficulties with director Harry Beaumont's gangster film. It was the first of eight films pairing Crawford with Clark Gable - the actress began an affair with her co-star during the making of this film.

New rising talkies star Joan Crawford appeared as liberated socialite and working girl Bonnie Jordan (with curly brunette hair and long lashes). She was a newspaper cub reporter following the Stock Market crash. Crawford linked her previous hedonistic dancing film roles with this one. In the film's opening scene, she dove and swam in her silky underwear off a yacht in the moonlight.

In another risque scene, she proposed a trial ('on probation') period of love and extra-marital sexuality (including test kisses) with her wealthy boyfriend Bob Townsend (Lester Vail).

As an undercover ploy (proposed by her newspaper boss: "Use any weapon you've got"), she posed as dancer Mary Smith in the nightclub of gangster/bootlegger Jake Luva (sixth-billed Clark Gable). Her goal was to discover the identity of a killer (revealed ultimately to be her own bootlegging brother Rodney (William Bakewell)) who had murdered Bonnie's fellow reporter friend Bert Scranton (Cliff Edwards) in a contract hit.

One of the film's highlights was her high-kick-and-tap dance performed in a shiny sequined short dress - shocking to her friends ("Oh, so that's what's become of Bonnie").



Bonnie Jordan
(Joan Crawford)

Dracula (1931)

The classic Universal horror film Dracula (1931) from director Tod Browning featured the character of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi). He would rise from his grave each night to seek victims to suck their blood and add to his bevy of undead brides.

The Production Code had pushed earthy sexuality and eroticism deeper into new levels of suggestiveness, deviation, and displacement. Dracula's blood-sucking desire for new young female blood was portrayed as a substitute for sexual activity.


Count Dracula
(Bela Lugosi)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Director Rouben Mamoulian's horror rendition (from Paramount Pictures) of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale starred Oscar-winning Fredric March as the doctor/monster - Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. [Note: The film was also remade by MGM as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), starring Spencer Tracy opposite Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner.] In long dissolves, Jekyll would be transformed into his alter-ego personality.

The heavily-censored film features themes of sexual abuse, man's dual nature, and repression. Subsequent reissues of the film in 1938 were heavily censored and cut, and the most controversial scenes were shot with different versions (some longer and in different states of undress).

It was mostly criticized for Dr. Jekyll's sexy scenes with Cockney slut "Champagne Ivy" Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), where he exhibited sordid, vicious, sexually-decadent and sadistic behavior. His counterpart, the simian-like Hyde, terrorized streetwalker lover Ivy and eventually murdered her.

Earlier in the film, after rescuing Ivy from one of her brutal 'callers', Dr. Jekyll took her up to her room and insisted on a medical inspection of her bruised leg. He told her suggestively:

"By the way, you musn’t wear such tight a garter. It's bad for you. It impedes the circulation."

The tempting prostitute then insisted that he check out her hurt ribs, and prepared to undress to rest in her bed, asking him flirtatiously to "turn your eyes away now." Facing the camera, she hiked up her dress, removed her stockings and garters from each leg, flung the garters at his feet and giggled. She then reclined on her bed totally nude, covering herself with her bedspread and bedsheets.

When he came over to her and asked: "How is the pain now?", she quickly embraced and kissed him, but they were interrupted by the appearance of Jekyll's upright colleague Dr. John Lanyon (Holmes Herbert) at the door who was appalled at his behavior.

Jekyll told Ivy as he was leaving: "I'm a doctor, you know, and I'll call that kiss your fee." As he exited, Ivy seductively and rhythmically swung her leg back and forth next to the bed (with her garter and bare leg seen in closeup) -- to further entice Dr. Jekyll, as she entreated and invited him to return quickly:

"Come back soon, won't you?....Soon...Come back."

As he left, a superimposed overlay of her swinging leg (with her whispered words) was seen over his descent of the stairs. Although he was reminded by Lanyon that he was engaged to virtuous Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart), he explained how he was only expressing his impulses - and how sex-starved he was:

"Can a man dying of thirst forget water? Do you know what would happen to that thirst if it were denied water?"








Dr. Jekyll with Ivy Pearson
(Miriam Hopkins)

The Easiest Way (1931)

Director Jack Conway's romantic drama (modified and heavily watered down before release due to its spicy nature) was based on Eugene Walter's scandalous play about being tempted to a life of luxury - and becoming a call-girl or 'kept woman.'

Constance Bennett starred as Laura "Lolly" Murdock, a poor, working-class slum girl who turned to advertising agency modeling. She experienced the good life by becoming the high-priced mistress ("sugar-daddy") of wealthy advertising executive William Brockton (Adolphe Menjou). She was given a fancy apartment, jewels and furs, and she helped her family, although they disapproved of her lifestyle.

She experienced complications after truly falling in love with newspaperman Jack "Johnny" Madison (Robert Montgomery). Could she give up her lavish lifestyle?

In keeping with the Hays Code edicts, Laura suffered and was endlessly punished for being a "fallen woman." The consequences of her choices were understandable in the short term, but led to greater difficulties.

 

A Free Soul (1931)

After The Divorcee (1930), this was Norma Shearer's next taboo-breaking, racy pre-Code film that challenged the morals and manners of the times. The film was remade as The Girl Who Had Everything (1953) with Elizabeth Taylor.

The Oscar-nominated actress was cast as a free-spirited San Francisco socialite - a non-conformist, rebellious, liberated diva named Jan Ashe. She was the daughter of prominent lawyer Stephen Ashe (Best Actor-winning Lionel Barrymore), an alcoholic criminal defense attorney. The independent, headstrong woman liked to smoke, drink, experience pre-marital sex, and have fun.

In the film's opening, she was engaged to a devoted and distinguished polo player Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard), but broke it off (by stating: "I don't want life to settle down around me like a pan of sourdough"). Her change of heart came after meeting underworld speakeasy/pool hall manager/gangster Ace Wilfong (a virile Clark Gable in his first breakthrough, star-making role with MGM), a hunky client acquitted of murder by her father.

Jan drove off with Ace in his fast-driving open roadster after being snubbed at a stuffy family birthday party, and proclaimed to him: "You're the first really exciting man I've ever met," just before their windshield was sprayed with machine-gun fire by rivals.

At his penthouse apartment, she wore a very thin, seductive, bra-less, white silky dress [Note: off-screen, Gable commented about Shearer's slinky, form-fitting apparel -- "the dame doesn't wear any underwear in her scenes"] - she told him she loved his lifestyle and wasn't frightened at all:

"I love it...it's just a new kind of man in a new kind of world...with a very unusual man."

When Ace asked Jan's father for her hand in marriage, Stephen told off the low-life gangster: "The only time I hate democracy is when one of you mongrels forget where you belong. A few illegal dollars and a clean shirt, and you move across the railroad tracks." But Jan continued to secretly pursue sexual ravishment and rough love-play with 'bad-boy' Ace, staying over at his place for several months.

She told him she was madly in love with him and wanted him to show his love rather than talk:

"Men of action are better in action. They don't talk well...Why, I take it on the run right into your arms, don't I, darling?...Ace, darling, I'm head over heels mad about you, but what's in the future I don't know..."

She refused to marry him, realizing the possible consequences for her life, but with the film's most famous line (that was threatened by censorship), she invited him to embrace her as she sensuously stretched back and aggressively entreated him:

"Come on, put 'em around me."

He obliged. Her father continued to vehemently disapprove of her "backstairs affair with a rat," calling her "cheap, common, contemptible." He dragged her away. When she returned to Ace after a three-month camping trip with her father, the insensitive gambler attempted to boss her around, brutalize her and force her to marry him, while suggesting that she forget her father:

"You left me flat, explained nothing. And you got a drunken, washed-out tramp who said I wasn't good enough for ya...(he shoved her back onto the couch) Aw, sit down, and take it and like it!...You make no more bargains, sweetheart, with anybody but me. We get married in the morning...You can't live without me. That's why you came back here. You had to. And that's all marriage is, just two people that want to live together. You can call the rest just nothing. You're through. You're mine and I want ya...From now on, you listen to me. We get married in the morning."

Fearing his beastly villainy (and sensing the "filthy mark" he left on her soul), Jan abruptly left him and housed herself temporarily at the St. Francis Hotel in the city, where Ace found her the next day. He threatened both Jan and Dwight's possible romantic reconciliation by disclosing her spoiled womanhood and threatening to ruin her high-society reputation:

"When I get through, you won't have the guts to marry her. Now, let me lay it on the line for ya. She tossed all her ritz overboard months ago. She came to my place and she stayed there. You get that? She's mine. She belongs to me...Well, I'll spread the news to high, wide, and handsome you don't dare marry her. (To Jan) And you'll come crawling back like you did last night. Maybe I'll step out of my class and give ya a break. (To Dwight) Listen, buddy. Take a tip. Back out, right now. If you don't, you won't live long enough to start the honeymoon. And I'm not kidding."

To preserve Jan's honor, Dwight shot Ace dead in his gambling office and was placed on trial for murder. Dwight claimed non-payment of a gambling debt as the reason for the killing. He was defended by Jan's father on the grounds of temporary insanity (due to Ace's lethal threats), and acquitted of the murder. At the end of his eloquent appeal, Stephen collapsed of a heart-attack, and Jan and Dwight were destined to be together as the film concluded.





Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer) with Ace (Clark Gable)

Jan Ashe:
"Come on, Put 'Em
Around Me"

Illicit (1931)

This Pre-Code film by director Archie Mayo was released by Warner Bros. in the wake of MGM's success with its daring films in 1931. Its tagline: "She dared!" It was a shocking story (for its time) about extra-marital sex and an unconventional test marriage. The film was remade as Ex-Lady (1933) with Bette Davis and Gene Raymond.

It told about a couple who cohabitated ('living in sin') together - out of wedlock - on the weekends in Connecticut:

  • 'advanced' and sexually-liberated Anne Vincent (rising actress Barbara Stanwyck in her first lead role)
  • affluent businessman boyfriend Richard "Dick" Ives (James Rennie)

Her theories of happiness ran counter to the marriage laws:

"Nearly every girl I know, Mr. Ives, is either unhappily married or unhappily divorced, and I've simply come to the conclusion that marriage is disastrous to love."

In an early scene, she told him: "Go on, Don Juan, tell me about yourself," and after he replied: "Well, there have been women who wanted to park their heads on this manly bosom," she brazenly told him: "And how much an hour?" She also joked: "We're both a riot in our underwear."

She feared that marriage would ruin their relationship, although her beau kept worrying about "all the lying and pussy-footing." She exclaimed back, in a risque way:

"Don't say you don't like the pussy-footing. I love it!"

After being pressured into committing and tying the knot, her fears were realized and they separated for a time, only to reunite in the weepy melodrama.

 




Anne Vincent (Barbara Stanwyck) in Illicit (1931)

Bette Davis in
Ex-Lady (1933)

Mädchen in Uniform (Germany, 1931), aka Girls in Uniform

This landmark lesbian film from Germany (director Leontine Sagan) with an all-female cast was the first movie to portray forbidden lesbian love. It was based on the play by Christa Winsloe about an adolescent lesbian relationship in a Prussian girls boarding school. The film was remade in 1958 as a W.German/French co-production with Romy Schneider as Manuela and Lilli Palmer as the Fraulein.

US censors banned the film for its depiction of lesbian desire between:

  • 14 year-old student Manuela Von Meinhardie (Hertha Thiele)
  • teacher Fraulein Elizabeth von Bernbourg (Dorothea Wieck)

During a bedtime ritual in the dormitory in which all the schoolgirls were kneeling at the end of their beds and anticipating a goodnight kiss, the teacher kissed all the girls on the forehead, except for Manuela who received an intimate lip-kiss.

Late in the film, after Manuela boldly declared her love for her teacher, the love-struck student was rejected by the school's headmistress. Distraught, Manuela prepared to end her life by jumping from a stairwell.

In most prints of the film, Manuela lept to her death.

[Note: An edited version left the plot's sexuality vague, and Manuela was saved by classmates.]




Lesbian Kiss Between Student and Teacher

Mata Hari (1931)

This early talkie film was a fictionalized historical melodrama. In the film's trailer, the infamous woman of the title was called "the Most Notorious Temptress of the Twentieth Century!"

Greta Garbo was showcased as the dangerous and seductively-exotic and sexually-alluring courtesan and femme fatale spy Mata Hari. She was a German secret agent (aka Margarite Gertrude Zelle) working in Paris.

In one of the film's earlier scenes, she performed a sensual dance for the god Shiva at a high society party.




Mata Hari
(Greta Garbo)

Monkey Business (1931)

As in earlier films, some of the sexual innuendos of the pun-filled dialogue of Groucho Marx in the Marx Brothers' films were either eliminated or edited from the script.

After Lucille Briggs (foil Thelma Todd) asked: "I didn't know you were a lawyer, you're awfully shy for a lawyer," the line was followed by Groucho's reply:

"You bet I'm shy. I'm a shyster lawyer. And who are you, he countered roguishly, his beautiful white body aching to be held."

The second part of Groucho's line (in italics) was cut from the script.

Also, a section of this line (in italics below) delivered to Lucille in her stateroom was also truncated:

"Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, polish your frame and oil your joints, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night."



Lucille Briggs
(Thelma Todd)

Night Nurse (1931)

This notorious Warner Bros. pre-Code film from director William Wellman emphasized themes of drug usage and alcoholism, neglectful mothering and child abuse, medical establishment malpractice and corruption, and violence against women.

The melodrama was considered salacious and too sexually adventurous in the way that it used every imaginable excuse to have its two actress-stars frequently and liberally undressing to their silky, lacy underwear.

The film followed the exploits of two trainee nurses/roommates:

  • Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck)
  • B. Maloney (Joan Blondell), blonde

Almost immediately, Lora was down to her bra and slip when trying on her nursing uniform. She was spied upon by a horny male intern who told her: "Oh, don't be embarrassed, you can't show me a thing. I just came from the delivery room." They also stripped when sneaking into their dorm room late at night, and then a third time when working.

Lora courageously risked her career as a "night nurse" to save two abused and deliberately-starved children Desney and Nanny (Betty Jane Graham and Marcia Mae Jones) who had an unfit, widowed, alcoholic mother Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam).

Lora discovered a dastardly plot to kill them in order to acquire their trust fund inheritance, orchestrated by the mean and evil family chauffeur Nick (Clark Gable):

"You want those kids to die...because you want what their father left 'em. That's why you keep the mother all hopped up and full of booze all the time. One of these days, you'll take her out and marry her and grab the children's trust fund. That's what you're after, but you're not going to get away with it!"

At one point, Nick even socked Lora in the chin and sent her unconscious to the floor. The plot was foiled when kindly Dr. Arthur Bell (Charles Winninger) provided Nanny with a blood transfusion, and Lora's "My Pal" Mortie (Ben Lyon), a befriended bootlegger, sent Nick to the morgue in the final scene (My Pal: "I happened to mention I didn't like Nick so good" - so he was "taken for a ride"). In the film's unusual ending, Lora happily accompanied criminal "My Pal" in his convertible.





Lora Hart
(Barbara Stanwyck)

Possessed (1931)

Director Clarence Brown's and MGM's film-noirish drama demonstrated the unfairness of the double standard for a single woman engaged in a years-long affair without marital vows.

Joan Crawford starred as lowly paper-box factory worker Marian Martin in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was defiantly independent, telling her hometown suitor and fellow worker Al Manning (Wallace Ford): "You don't own me...Nobody does. My life belongs to me." She also told her mother (Clara Blandick):

"If I were a man, it wouldn't frighten you. You'd think it was right for me to go out and get anything I could out of life, and use anything I had to get it. Why should men be so different? All they've got are their brains and they're not afraid to use them. Well, neither am I!"

She ascended out of poverty by associating with wealthy attorney Mark Whitney (Clark Gable), now separated from his wife. Marian became his self-sacrificing mistress outside of marriage, living in a Park Avenue apartment ("A woman can do anything and get anywhere as long as she doesn't fall in love"), but he refused to marry due to his scandalous first marriage.

In the film's most notable scene, the two beautifully-attired stars kissed as Marian's white fur shoulder drape dropped to the ground - causing them to arrive late at a party.

When he ran for governor, she had to change her name to Mrs. Moreland and pose as a rich divorcee for respectability's sake ("Well, it's a harmless way to make your position a little more pleasant"), while Mark was advised to drop her.

As an "honest woman" expressing her love and noble sentiment for Mark so that his political career wouldn't be jeopardized, she told him that she had used him, and was going to marry Al. She expressed how her low-status ("common, smelling of sweat and glue") was a hindrance, and that she would return to the "level that I came from."

By film's end, Mark realized Marian's devotion to him (and vowed to be with her forever) after she publically confessed (at his election rally) in an impassioned speech that her love for him was real, but that she had walked out of his life so that he could effectively serve the people.



Marian Martin
(Joan Crawford) with Mark Whitney (Clark Gable)

Public Enemy (1931)

Released before the Code was strictly enforced, this seminal gangster film Public Enemy (1931) portrayed the lead anti-hero character Tom Powers (James Cagney) as a sexually magnetic, cocky, completely amoral, emotionally brutal, ruthless, and terribly lethal individual - a two-fisted bootlegger. He was successful in materialistic ways, acquiring notoriety, power, wealth, and dames. However, the studio added this cautionary, yet ineffective, postscript to punish the anti-hero's transgressions by film's end: "The end of Tom Powers is the end of every hoodlum...."

One of his flashy and glamorous acquisitions was mysteriously cool blonde Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow).

Wearing expensive clothes in her apartment at The Congress Hotel, she told him in a steamy and seductive love scene, to the tune of I Surrender Dear on the radio, why she was attracted to him, as she cradled his head to her breasts:

"Oh, my bashful boy. You are different, Tommy, very different. And I've discovered it isn't only a difference in manner and outward appearances, it's a difference in basic character. The men I know, and I've known dozens of them, oh, they're so nice, so polished, so considerate. Most women like that type. I guess they're afraid of the other kind. I thought I was, too. But you're so strong. You don't give. You take. Oh, Tommy, I could love you to death."

The film's most famous scene, however, was the startling misogynistic grapefruit-in-the-face scene earlier with Tom's girlfriend Kitty (Mae Clarke) - crudely transforming all previous norms. When he came to the breakfast table in a grouchy and irritable mood, he asked his moll: "Ain't you got a drink in the house?" and when rebuffed with her reply: "Well, not before breakfast, dear", he felt insulted: "I didn't ask you for any lip. I asked you if you had a drink."

Then after she told him: "I know, Tom, but I-I wish that...," he became even more grouchy:

"There you go with that wishin' stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well, so that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya."

She provoked him with: "Maybe you've found someone you like better," causing him to impulsively pick up a grapefruit half from his plate and contemptuously push it into her face to end their relationship.



Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow)
with Tom Powers
(James Cagney)


Tom Powers with
Kitty (Mae Clarke)

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

This early, pre-Code Ernst Lubitsch musical set in Vienna told about a love triangle and changing sexual mores. The main three characters in the Best Picture-nominated light musical were:

  • Lieutenant Niki von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier), a charming officer in the Royal Guard
  • Franzi (Claudette Colbert), a cute beer garden violinist and conductor of an all-female orchestra
  • Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins), sexually-repressed princess of Flausenthurm

In an apres-sex breakfast scene on an outdoor terrace between Niki and Franzi, they sang "Breakfast Table Love." The morning meal was preceded by a scene of their amorous intentions the night before. The couple had hungrily exchanged double entendres, ending when the scene faded to black (for an off-screen night of love-making). He had successfully convinced Franzi to stay for the night through to breakfast:

Niki: "Don't make me wait 24 hours. I'm so hungry...Why not breakfast tomorrow morning?"
Franzi (ineffectually): "First tea, and then dinner, and then we'll see, maybe breakfast."

During a royal parade, Niki's flirtatious wink for Franzi was intercepted by the spinsterish Princess. By the film's final scene, the Lieutenant was forced to marry the sexually-repressed Princess Anna. However, Niki refused to romance the princess, while he continued to have a 'stepping out' affair with Franzi, until Anna discovered their indiscretions.

The sexually-liberated Franzi was called to the palace where she gave the Princess a lesson on sexiness by wearing modern lingerie and fashions. She also advised her on her unconsummated marriage:

"You listen to me, you foolish little thing. If you don't watch out, some day a girl will come along and take him away from you..."

The worldly-wise Franzi then played on the piano instructions to the musical number: "Jazz up your lingerie!" before they burned her old-fashioned underwear and clothing.

As a result of Franzi's self-sacrifice, the randy Lieutenant sang suggestively toward the film audience before he closed his bedroom door. He signified his saved marriage and renewed love-making interest for the Princess (singing "I must report for duty right away") after he tossed their checkboard onto the bed. He signaled that he would rather be in bed with her than just playing a board game (a substitute for marital sex).




Lieut. Niki
(Maurice Chevalier) with Franzi (Claudette Colbert)



Lieut. Niki with Princess Anna
(Miriam Hopkins)

Strangers May Kiss (1931)

In this pre-Code MGM melodrama, the film was changed from the plot of the original Ursula Parrot novel upon which it was adapted by John Meehan. The film ended happily (unbelievably), although in the book, the main female character committed suicide after years of waiting in vain.

Free-spirited modern woman Lisbeth Corbin (Norma Shearer) was jilted by her lover, foreign correspondent Alan Harlow (Neil Hamilton) who had disclosed he had a wife in Paris while in Mexico with her.

When he left for China on a job assignment and they broke up, she engaged in short-term, promiscuous love affairs with men all over Europe. Lisbeth confessed to her good-natured, platonic friend Steve (Robert Montgomery):

"I'm no longer the good woman in your life, Steve... I'm in an orgy, wallowing, and I love it."

In Spain, he had heard rumors of her loose and immoral ways in Paris, to which she replied:

Lisbeth: "And, of course, like a true knight, you refused to believe it?"
Steve: "Well, the first six or seven hundred times I did."

She endangered her prospects of engagement/marriage to Alan, her true love, when he returned after divorcing his wife. But then he learned of her promiscuous indiscretions. It was rumored that "she changes her men with her lingerie, that girl."


Lisbeth Corbin
(Norma Shearer)

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

F.W. Murnau's lush tale (documentary-style drama) told of native South Seas love and island life. It was a tale of ill-fated romance (a star-crossed love a la Romeo and Juliet style) and the breaking of a sacred tabu.

Its main attractions for many viewers were sequences of girls swimming partly naked, and of flower-garlanded, bare-breasted native dancers.

Many other films followed in the wake of Murnau's Tabu in this popular and lucrative 'bare native' film sub-genre. There were a number of exotic Bali pictures released as exploitation films in the early-to-mid-30s:

  • Balinese Love (1931)
  • Goona Goona (1932) (aka Kriss)
  • Isle of Paradise (1932)
  • Virgins of Bali (Land of Love and Romance) (1932)
  • Wajan (1933)
  • Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935)



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

Index to All Decades, Years and Features


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