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

(Illustrated)

1933



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

Baby Face (1933)

This lurid, potent "fallen woman" pre-Code melodramatic Warner Bros. film was about a female who used sex to advance herself. It was the subject of intense scrutiny and Code-related censorship. The film's trailer left nothing to the imagination: "She played the LOVE GAME with everything SHE had for everything THEY had and made "IT" pay!" It also stated, "A woman without a conscience, she used her power over men to get what life denied her. It was fatal to offer her LOVE."

The "pre-release" version of the film, considered amoral, faced Production Code censorship challenges almost immediately that demanded four minutes of cuts. Warner Brothers had to make numerous changes for the theatrical version by reshooting several scenes and adding new ones, and re-dubbing or changing dialogue. In any case, the film still retained its sensational nature and offended some critics and conservative audiences.

A saloon/speakeasy bar-maid in a steel mill factory town (Erie, PA), Lily "Baby Face" Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) suffered a brutal upbringing as "the sweetheart of the nightshift." During one startling scene, Lily's breasts were groped from behind by sleazy and corrupt local politician Ed Sipple (Arthur Hohl). She retaliated by smashing a beer bottle over his head. This was just one example of how her abusive bootlegging father (Robert Barrat) was prostituting her to perform sexual favors, and allowed her to be pawed by drunks.

One of the film's censored lines (in italics) delivered to her angered father was explicit:

"Yeah! I'm the tramp and who's to blame? My father! A swell start you gave me! Ever since I was 14, what's it been?! Nothing but men! Dirty rotten men, and you're lower than any of 'em. I'll hate you as long as I live."

After her father's death, she vengefully used the principles of Nietzche's Will to Power, quoted to her by cranky local cobbler Cragg (Alphonse Ethier).

[In the scene with the cobbler, he stated: "Exploit yourself. Be strong, defiant. Use men to get the things you want." It was changed to: "A woman, young beautiful like you are, could get anything she wants in the world, but there is a right and a wrong way. Remember the price of the wrong way is too great."]

To move to New York, she had sweet-talked a railyard brakeman (James Murray) and offered him sex to acquire free train fare - with this come-on (after a sly and seductive grin at him):

"Now why don't we sit down and talk this thing over."

The workman's gloves came off before he dimmed his lantern in the boxcar. In the city, she continued to use her provocative charms and feminine allure to land a job:

Chubby Personnel officer Mr. Pratt (Maynard Holmes): "Have you had any experience?"
Lily (rolling her eyes): "Plenty."

She used the same line with him: "Well, why don't we go in and talk this over?"

She became a carnal, calculating gold-digger, and literally seduced - and then discarded many male victims as she slept her way to the top (literally) of a banking corporation, the Gotham Trust Company. She ascended from floor to floor - the camera panned up the side of the building to illustrate her ascent from the Personnel Office, then to the Filing Dept., and to the Mortgage Dept. [One censored line about seduction was whispered by Mortgage Dept. boss Brody (Douglas Dumbrille) to Lily: "Stick around after 5." Watching him from afar, two other secretaries gossiped together about their implied adultery: "Look at that, will you? It's sickening the way those two carry on. You'd never think he had a wife and three kids." At quitting time, Lily slipped through a door marked "Ladies Rest Room" for a squalid encounter with Brody, who followed after her.]

One of her rejected suitors, who invited her out but was soundly rejected, was lowly office worker Jimmy McCoy Jr. (John Wayne). Another secretary reminded him: "You don't know you're out 'til they stop counting. Wake up, kid. Baby Face is movin' out of your class." Lily eventually married the bank president Courtland Trenholm (George Brent), situated on the top penthouse level.

An earlier version of the film had an ambiguous ending regarding the outcome of a character's suicide attempt, but the theatrical ending (tacked-on, preachy and phony) included punishment of the protagonists and a conclusion in which the main female character justly learned her lesson.



Lily 'Baby Face'
(Barbara Stanwyck)




Seductive 'Baby Face'

With Brody
(Douglas Dumbrille)

The Barbarian (1933)

This Sam Wood-directed MGM film was a racy, pre-Code, inter-racial romantic adventure (with a script by liberated screenwriter Anita Loos). It told about an inter-racial, love-hate romance, involving deception, kidnapping, abuse (whipping), rape?, and forbidden desire. [It was based on one of Mexican star Ramon Novarro's silent films, The Arab (1924) with Alice Terry.]

It starred Myrna Loy as American Diana 'Di' Standing who was vacationing in Egypt with her aunt and uncle, and there to meet her pompous British fiancee Gerald Hume (Reginald Denny). She attracted the attentions of young Egyptian hotel tourist guide/driver Jamil El Shehab (Ramon Novarro) - resembling Rudolph Valentino. He was known for taking advantage of female tourists by disguising his true identity - as part of a tribal coming-of-age ritual. The scheming, deceitful, persistent and opportunistic Jamil, after wooing Diana with love songs and flattery, soon confessed that he was really an Arab sheik-prince that wanted her hand in marriage.

After many forced advances upon her, she finally accepted his proposal, but then humiliated him during their wedding ceremony, and fled to Cairo to be married to Gerald. Again, she fell under Jamil's spell when he reappeared (he was now wanted for the capital offense of piracy), sang her a love song, and professed that he would rather die than leave her. Dressed as a bride, Diana realized her true love for him and voluntarily abandoned her wedding to Gerald. She floated down the Nile with Jamil, to fulfill her romantic fantasies.

It was noted as scandalous for Diana's nude lounge-in-the-bathtub scene at an oasis, although the actress later admitted in her autobiography that she was wearing a flesh-tinted body suit.



Diana Standing
(Myrna Loy)

Bosko's Picture Show (1933)

This short, 7-minute Looney Tunes Bosko cartoon was the last one produced by Hugh Harman/Rudolf Ising for Warner Bros/Leon Schlesinger Productions. Even animated shorts would often need to be censored.

Bosko was hosting a theatrical stage show and sing-a-long while playing a "mighty Furtilizer organ." In the conclusion, Bosko stood up on his bench and shouted out angrily:

"The dirty f--k!"

He was angrily responding to darkly-dressed, mustached, stereotypical villain Dirty Dalton who was riding his bicycle to capture Bosko's girlfriend Honey, seen in a projected burlesque melodrama.

Bosko proposed to save her from the dastardly 'cur.' The offending phrase was changed to "The dirty cur!" It was dubbed as "Stop, you cur!", and in some video versions captioned as "The dirty fox!"



Bosco Swearing

Convention City (1933)

This First National/Warner Bros. pre-Code comedy film by director Archie Mayo was censored for its objectionable, sleazy story and lewdness. It displayed rampant drunkenness and adultery, implied bestiality (with Elmer, a goat), lechery, and statutory rape. It was one of the casualties of the era - unfortunately, a destroyed or lost film.

One of its ads touted:

"Farmers Daughters BEWARE! The world's smoothest salesmen are in town today for the most convulsing convention in history! They'll have the Freedom of the City - and will they take liberties! See them making hey-hey...See the convention sweeties do their stuff! Meet them all at your peril in the most hilarious hit in years - ."

It told about unhappily-married, out-of-town conventioneers - the sales force of the Honeywell Rubber Company - pursuing extra-marital affairs and inebriation during their stay in Atlantic City, NJ.

The characters in the film included two competing salesmen for the manager job: elderly small-town salesman George Ellerbe (Guy Kibbee) with an ill-fitting toupee, and T.R. "Ted" Kent (Adolphe Menjou); also in attendance were saleswoman Arlene Dale (Mary Astor), good-time "hostess" Nancy Lorraine (bosomy Joan Blondell), young salesman Jerry Ford (Dick Powell).

Kent attempted to seduce boss J.B. Honeywell's (Grant Mitchell) underaged teenaged daughter, Claire (Patricia Ellis) as a way to acquire the managerial position. He would ruin the girl in a scandal, force marriage, and then become the boss' son-in-law - and shoo-in for the job. However, he had second thoughts about her age: "She's old enough ... ALMOST, anyhow."


Ted Kent with
Claire (Patricia Ellis)


George Ellerbe (Guy Kibbee) with Nancy (Joan Blondell)

Design for Living (1933)

Director Ernst Lubitsch's suggestive romantic sex comedy was based on Noel Coward's intelligent play. This film was released only six months before the Production Code began to be enforced. Because of its risky and unacceptable subject matter and sexual interplay for its time (although completely toned down and handled with Lubitsch's brand of innuendo, sophistication and subtlety), it was forbidden for re-release or re-make for its 'gross travesty of marriage' in the film's second half.

The plot was about a sexy menage a trois, an unorthodox love relationship between two Americans and one female, who were sharing a Bohemian apartment in Paris:

  • young, ravishing, free-spirited 'modern woman' blonde playgirl and designer Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins)
  • struggling playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March)
  • undiscovered painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper)



(l to r): Gilda (Miriam Hopkins), George (Gary Cooper), Thomas (Fredric March)

Ecstasy (1933, Czech) (aka Ekstase or Extase)

This Czechoslovakian romantic drama by Czech filmmaker Gustav Machaty was once notorious, earth-shattering and scandalous. The film was confiscated by the Treasury Department (US Customs) when it was imported into the US - the first film to be blocked for censorship purposes, although it eventually played (without a Hays Code seal) at some independent theatres. Either it was completely banned, partially censored (with various cuts), or played with restrictions.

It was the first theatrically-released film (non-pornographic) in which the sex act was depicted (although off-screen). It was unusual at its time for depicting obvious female sexual pleasure (ecstasy) during orgasm (simulated) from the effects of oral sex.

Sexually-frustrated child-bride Eva Hermann (19 year old Hedwig Kiesler, or later known as Hollywood glamour queen Hedy Lamarr) was a newly-wed bride, married to elderly, impotent, uncaring husband Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz). They did not consummate their love with sexual relations.

Eva's (Hedwig Kiesler/Hedy Lamarr) Scandalous Nude Scenes
Skinny-Dipping
With Her Horse
In the Forest

The film was censored for a number of scenes of Eva in the nude:

  • a skinny-dipping bathing swim
  • a naked forest romp through the trees to pursue her horse Loni (which had run off with her clothes), retrieved by virile engineer Adam (Aribert Mog); she hid in the bushes and begged for her clothes back
  • a love-making scene (nudity implied)

The film was, arguably, the first to depict female orgasm on-screen, in an adulterous scene with Adam. The orgasmic expressions were evident on Eva's face - caused by the director poking her with a safety pin.



Eva's (Hedy Lamarr)
Orgasm Scene

Employees' Entrance (1933)

Advertising copy for this audacious, pre-Code Roy Del Ruth-directed Warner Bros' film about sexual harrassment proclaimed:

"See what happens in department store aisles and offices after closing hours! Girls who couldn't have been touched with a 100-ft yacht -- ready to do anything to get a job!"

Kurt Anderson (Warren Williams), a ruthless, amoral, cut-throat scoundrel and the workaholic fanatical head of the Depression-Era Franklin Monroe & Co., the world's largest department store, pronounced his own credo: "Smash or be smashed."

He was known to seduce and exploit much-younger, naive employees who needed work. In one case, the despicable man was greeted by perky blonde employee Polly Dale (Alice White). He didn't recognize her right away and then remarked:

"Oh, it's you. I didn't know you with all your clothes on."

He used her to pimp for him with board members and to do his bidding.

He also took advantage of homeless Madeleine West (Loretta Young) whom he hired as a sales girl/model - after she slept with him to assure her "career move." He had sex with her in his apartment after dinner when he pressured her to stay, and then later in a hotel room during a company office party, when he ravished her while she was compliantly drunk.

Later, he set out to destroy her relationship - and secret marriage - to top salesman and aspiring subordinate Martin West (Wallace Ford).


Polly Dale
(Alice White)




Kurt (Warren Williams) with Madeleine (Loretta Young)

Female (1933)

This daring, salacious pre-Code film from First National Pictures and director Michael Curtiz was released just before the enforcement of the Code. Once the Code went into effect in mid-1934, Joseph Breen placed this film on his "no re-release" list, and the film was unseen until the 1950s. It explored a major role reversal of typical stereotypes, and the dilemma professional women still face - the choice between career and marriage.

A Drake Motor Car Company plant executive Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton), a powerful, sexually-liberated and unrestrained, man-hungry female (portrayed without apology, uncharacteristic for its time), had no time for romance or love. She had adopted a "hard and cynical" gender-role reversal for her own life:

"It takes too much time and energy. To me, a woman in love is a pathetic spectacle. She's either so miserable she wants to die or she's so happy you want to die...You know a long time ago, I decided to travel the same open road that men travel, so I treat men exactly the way they've always treated women."

She admitted to married visiting friend Harriet Brown (Lois Wilson): "Oh, I see lots of men, but I've never found a real one." She often used her handsome young male secretaries for leisurely one-night stand pleasures and seduction at her lavish house (with servants serving vodka "to fortify their courage" and having them serenaded by organ music).

During one seduction of new male employee George Cooper (Johnny Mack Brown), she asked him: "Are you naturally enthusiastic?" as she suggestively flung a pillow onto a couch and told him that she didn't want to be "entirely mental all the time." She leaned back on the floor and asked: "You're not scared of me now, are you?" In the mornings, she would work before breakfast at her home in a modified desk-bed.

She regularly discarded male secretaries who began to show romantic feelings for her - for example, she told Mr. Briggs (Gavin Gordon) after he vowed that he loved her:

"I'm a busy woman. I can't be annoyed with jealous or moody men about me."

She transferred "sentimental" rejects like him to the Montreal office, with their transportation arranged by her older fatherly-male assistant Pettigrew (Ferdinand Gottschalk). Frustrated by her many male secretaries, the no-nonsense Alison vowed semi-seriously: "From now on, I'll have nothing but women secretaries," although men she liked received a bonus added to their salaries.

She was known to her employees as "Miss D," and by Pettigrew as a "superwoman," who thought:

"She's the only honest woman I've ever met. There's nothing of the hypocrite about Miss D...Why, she's never met a man yet that's worthy of her. And she never will!"

She was ruthless in her business practices, and other married women feared her, cautioning at a party she hosted: "Better watch your husband." When she met "irresistible" pipe-smoking engineer Jim Thorne (George Brent) at a night-time shooting gallery and enjoyed hamburgers with him, she was surprised when he bluntly told her: "I don't take pickups home with me" - and then was further shocked that he was working at her factory the next day with a two year contract.

After inviting him to her house for dinner, he wanted to talk about his designs, although she was "thinking about something else" - presumably sex with him. Unlike her other secretaries, he was unaffected by the vodka and avoided her predatory traps, exasperating her: "Must you talk about automobiles?" He straight-out told her when she flung a pillow onto the floor and invited him to sit by her:

"I was engaged as an engineer, not as a gigolo, and I'm not holding my job by humoring any little whims of yours."

In order to win him over, Miss D. started to see Thorne as a strong and "dominant male" who preferred "gentle and feminine" women who would look up to him, so she decided to "strive to please" by becoming more submissive, gentle, and loving with him. Her strategy worked -- he kissed her at a picnic, and the scene ended with a fade-to-black, signifying they had sex together.

The day after when he proposed marriage in order to be "decent," she accused him of being "old-fashioned." He argued back as he tore up the marriage license that he had brought with him:

"Is it old-fashioned to want to be decent?...I suppose you think you're too superior for marriage and love and children, the things that women were born for. Say, who do you think you are? Are you so drunk with your own importance that you can make your own rules? Well, you're a fake! You've been playing this part so long you've begun to believe it. The great superwoman...You and your new freedom. Why, if you weren't so pathetic, you'd be funny."

Remarkably in a drastic reversal, she soon capitulated to Thorne's assertion that women were born for "marriage and love and children" - as one of her executives had earlier predicted: "One of these days, she'll meet a man that will knock her right on her rear." Emotionally distraught, she broke down in a board of directors meeting, telling them that the job was too much for her:

"This is no place for a woman. I know, I've always thought I was different. I've always tried to beat life the way men beat it, but I can't. I can't..."

She pursued Thorne on the road, finding him at an outdoor carnival's shooting gallery. There, she confessed:

"I can't go on without you. I'm not playing a part. I'm not a superwoman...Take me wherever you're going. I'll marry you, if you still want me to."

As the film ended, he was accompanying her to obtain loans from bankers in New York to save the business, and she gave up the leadership of the automotive factory to him, while expressing her hopes of raising nine children.





Alison Drake
(Ruth Chatterton)





Miss D. with Jim Thorne
(George Brent)

Flying Down to Rio (1933)

This south of the border musical-dance film was pre-Code, therefore uncensored. It featured lots of see-through dresses, skirts and blouses in a number of production numbers or dance sequences. It also marked the first pairing between Fred Astaire (as Fred Ayres) and Ginger Rogers (as Honey Hale) - as two supporting performers.

During the large-scale and racy Carioca dance sequences, and in the memorable Flying Down to Rio number atop bi-plane wings, skimpily-attired chorus girls performed wing-dancing and other stunts (the sequence was filmed in an airplane hangar with wind machines and a few planes hanging from the ceiling - enhanced with backdrops of Rio and Malibu Beach).

Even Ginger Rogers, as Honey Hale, wore a fairly-transparent dress while singing "Music Makes Me."

The film also featured risque dialogue - early on in the film, one of the blonde chorus girls who was jealous of flirtatiously-successful Brazilian Dolores Del Rio (as Belinha DeRezende), asked:

"What have these South Americans got below the equator that we haven't?"

In addition, the hotel manager character Hammerstein (Franklin Pangborn) was decidedly gay and played up the "sissy" elements of his role.

The film was also historically notable -- Dolores Del Rio was the first major star to wear a two-piece women's bathing suit onscreen.

[Note: A year earlier, a brief scene showed a two-piece bathing "sun-suit" being modeled on a beach in Three on a Match (1932).]

Flying Down to Rio (1933)
Three On A Match (1932)

Honey Hale
(Ginger Rogers)




Title Number with
Wing-Dancing

Footlight Parade (1933)

For the five years before the Hays Production Code of 1934 went into effect, Busby Berkeley featured barely-clad bathing beauty starlets (clothed to appear naked) in his extravagant productions. Teasing, gold-digging, scantily-clad smiling chorus girls and views of dressing rooms were featured in Warner Bros.' and Busby Berkeley musicals of the same time period, including Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) (see below), 42nd Street (1933) and Dames (1934).

Especially in this film, he was able to display the female form through kaleidoscopic abstract designs, many with legs wide open or body parts seen in close-up.

This film had the racy and naughty "By A Waterfall" sequence with dozens of legs of floating swimmers being unzipped and zipped.

During the "Honeymoon Hotel" sequence, married (?) couples (all named Smith), along with honeymooners Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, had to put up with a lecherous baby (Billy Barty) who almost shared their wedding night - a segment that was heavily edited by censors.





Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

As in Footlight Parade (1933), Busby Berkeley featured opulent production numbers with barely-costumed chorines, in numbers such as "We're In the Money."

In the naughty pre-Code "Petting in the Park" number, straw-hatted men romanced chorines on a lawn - with the camera leering at their crossed legs and petticoats. After a drenching rainstorm, the chorines were forced to provocatively strip in silhouette behind a transparent screen. A lascivious, leering young boy (midget Billy Barty) pulled up the screen to peer at them.


"We're In the Money"


"Petting in the Park"

I'm No Angel (1933)

I'm No Angel (1933) was bawdy Mae West's next scandalous film after She Done Him Wrong (1933). Predictably, it featured more of the same - smart, sexy and snappy dialogue, one-liners, and double entendres. West's films single-handedly saved Paramount Studios from financial ruin, although they brought intense criticism from the Catholic League of Decency.

In the film's opening on the midway on a raised catwalk, floozy lady lion tamer and carnival queen Tira (Mae West) paraded past a crowd of leering men in a sexy gown and purred to the spectators:

"A penny for your thoughts. Got the idea boys. You follow me?"

She also said in the course of the film: "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better" - and "Well, It's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men."

She had made it big on Broadway and was hustling men out of their money. While on the phone with millionaire leading man Jack Clayton (Cary Grant, reuniting with West in their second film together), she advised him, coyly (in one of the film's oft-misquoted lines):

"Hey, you'd better come up and see me."



Tira
(Mae West)

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933) was the ultimate Beauty and the Beast monster film, extensively censored for its violence. The film's subtext was the introduction of the feminine into a man's world and into uncharted territory, and the release of the primal male beast upon the civilized world (NYC). The film was considered slightly scandalous for its inter-racial 'love story' of a giant black ape with a white blonde woman. Their forbidden love resulted in Kong's subsequent punishment - death.

Sexy screamer Fay Wray (as Ann Darrow) was featured as the object of male affection and of the desires of the giant hairy Beast. The Empire State Building was the ultimate phallic symbol from which the beast was toppled.

The white blonde woman was regarded as a more valuable virginal substitute for Kong by the natives of Skull Island, They had regularly sacrificed half-naked, garlanded black virgins (white woman Ann was worth the equivalent of six native women, acc. to the tribal chief).

The film even contained sexual double entendres, as in the scene when film-maker Denham (Robert Armstrong) told First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) that he feared his crewmember had been emasculated and gone "soft" (or impotent) and "sappy" over Ann's Beauty, as the Beast would do later:

"It's the idea of my picture. The Beast was a tough guy too. He could lick the world. But when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him."

In addition, the film had some sex-related sequences:

(1) a braless Ann went to costume herself for the screaming film-test with Denham, soon returning and wearing a revealing, off-the-shoulder "Beauty and Beast costume"

(2) after being looked at, smelled at, and bathed by the monstrous ape, Ann swam away after plunging off Skull Mountain and lost the top of her dress (in a split second shot)

Censors did away with other scenes of doomed sailors being eaten by giant spiders, of natives being crushed in Kong's mouth or trampled into mud, of a woman being snatched from her NY apartment's bed (and held upside down over the street and then released after being mistaken for Ann), and the scene of the ape peeling down the blonde beauty's clothing - these were all censored and cut.

In the remake King Kong (1976), a curious Kong fondled a topless 'Fay Wray' character (Jessica Lange) - a scene which was re-instated.


Ann Darrow
(Fay Wray)


Native Girl



Ann with King Kong

Jessica Lange in
King Kong (1976)

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

This was an early 'women in prison' film, featuring lesbianism and brutal prison life, with the presence of butchy prison guards.

Barbara Stanwyck starred as Nan Taylor, an imprisoned bank-robber at San Quentin.

She had a love-hate relationship for the reformed minded radio evangelist David Slade (Preston Foster) who turned her in when she confessed her guilt. Nan was sentenced to prison, where she was cautioned:

"There's a lot of big sharks in here that just live on fresh fish like you."

She gave the smart reply:

"Oh yeah, when they add you up, what do you spell?"



Nan Taylor
(Barbara Stanwyck)


Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

This pre-Code "woman's film," based upon a novel by Virginia Kellogg, dealt with issues of alcoholism, single unwed motherhood, and professional prejudice based upon gender.

Kay Francis starred as the title character Dr. Mary Stevens - an intelligent, emotional and strong female pediatrician. The trailer captured her personal and professional dilemmas, however: "Men trusted her with their LOVES, but not with their LIVES," and "Must she give up woman's privileges to make good in a man's profession?" Some patients refused to be treated by her - preferring instead a male doctor.

Mary was in love with Dr. Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot), who had graduated with her from medical school years earlier. At first, they had offices in the same building and struggled during the Depression Era in New York. Then due to his desire for an easier life, Andrews married Lois Cavanaugh Rising (Thelma Todd), the daughter of wealthy political boss Walter Rising (Charles Wilson). Even with high-class clients and a new office, Andrews faced difficulties in his life including alcoholism (and performing operations on children while under the influence) and charges of insurance fraud/graft. He eventually separated from his wife, due to selfishness, jealousy and mistrust.

Although Mary severed her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, now married, she continued to pine for him. When the two were unexpectedly reunited in an upstate New York hotel, they engaged in an affair (when he agreed to divorce his wife). Mary became pregnant, booked a trip to Europe, and was excited about becoming a mother. She delivered the baby in Paris (with plans to avow that the baby was adopted). However, her baby died after contracting infantile paralysis on the return trip home. Depressed, and stating: "I'll never practice again," she was about to commit suicide by hurling herself from a hotel balcony.

She changed her mind and was convinced to live when she reaffirmed her purpose and dedication to medicine. She was interrupted by having to save a child from choking to death after swallowing a safety pin. ("They say medicine is a man's game, but I wonder what a man could do in that situation.") Andrews also promised to make her an 'honest woman' now that his divorce was official.



Dr. Mary Stevens
(Kay Francis) with
Dr. Andrews (Lyle Talbot)

Our Betters (1933)

This early George Cukor drawing-room comedy was a typical early example of how 'the movies' portrayed homosexuals as a 'sissy' stock character (or prissy dancing fop/queen). The objective was to provide extreme contrast with other males (and females), or a humorous element.

In this example, the over-the-top character of Ernest (Tyrell Davis, uncredited) appeared with garish 'gay' make-up and his formal 'town clothes' to teach lecherous Dutchess Minnie (Violet Kemble) how to dance the tango.


Ernest
(Tyrell Davis)

Penthouse (1933)

Director W. S. Van Dyke's mystery-crime drama, a risque pre-Code era film from MGM, was marked by sexual innuendo and intimations that the main 'call-girl' character was sexually free. The witty script was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, screenwriters for The Thin Man (1934).

Myrna Loy starred as the intelligent, quick-witted, beautiful and charming Gertie Waxted - a high-class "call-girl" character (although never specifically labeled that in the film). In the complex story, however, she was regarded in a positive and sympathetic light.

Defense lawyer Jackson "Jack" Durant (Warner Baxter) was known for taking cases of disreputable clients (showgirls, bootleggers, other criminals). His girlfriend Sue Leonard (Martha Sleeper) had dumped him for "Park Avenue" man Tom Siddall (Phillips Holmes), but then solicited Jack's assistance for help when Tom was framed by the mob. Tom was accused of murdering his ex-moll girlfriend-mistress, jealous Mimi Montagne (Mae Clarke). He was found holding a gun on a balcony after the sound of a gunshot (off-screen), next to Mimi's dead body.

Jack enlisted Gertie Waxted, Mimi's pretty apartment-mate, to secretly help expose the real killer. Gertie agreed to stay with Jackson until he had exhaustively questioned her regarding suspected racketeer Jim Crelliman's (C. Henry Gordon) activities. When they first arrived in his apartment, she bluntly stated: "Don't stall. You didn't ask me up here because of my fatal fascination. I was Mimi's pal. I was at Crelliman's party. You want to help Miss Leonard. It adds up too smoothly." When she said it might take "weeks," he promised to be patient and would make her feel "comfortable." When he showed her the bedroom, he didn't mention the word. She coyly asked: "But isn't it going to be pretty dull just talking all the time?" When he suggested that she go to bed, she responded: "I hate to quit on you. But cheer up, maybe I talk in my sleep."

After spending the night in his apartment, she told him:

"...last night. I didn't exactly have to fight for my honor. A few more weeks of this and I'll be out of condition. Say, are you still in love with someone, or are you just decent?"

A ballistics report showed that the fatal shot was fired from the penthouse apartment above the balcony, owned by Crelliman's "finger man" Tim Murtoch (George E. Stone). Although Durant's life was threatened, he escaped being ambushed - saved by aid from grateful gangster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton) - he was appreciative that Jack had previously saved him from the electric chair. The murderer eventually confessed - it was Murtoch.

In the film's last lines, Gertie was planning to marry Jackson and go to Europe: "I can't marry you. I'll ruin you with all your friends. Why, I'm not even a lady," to which he replied:

"You're not, huh? Well, you'll do till a lady comes along."






Gertie Waxted
(Myrna Loy)

Queen Christina (1933)

The fact that the actual 17th century Queen Christina of Sweden was bisexual in orientation provided this Rouben Mamoulian-directed film, Queen Christina (1933), with a pretext for its lesbian leanings. Although Hollywood attempted to 'heterosexualize' the Queen's life story, the film's subtext also included cross-dressing, 'butch' mannerisms, and a shared kiss with her lady-in-waiting. Most of the film was troubling to film censors at the time.

The film showcased the cross-dressing and gender disguises of the Queen, and specifically her romantic attraction to her own neglected, complaining lady-in-waiting Countess Ebba Sparre (Elizabeth Young) whom she affectionately kissed on the lips and promised more personal time after Ebba groused: "You're surrounded by musty old papers and musty old men and I can't get near you" - the Countess was assured by the Queen:

"Today, I'll dispose of them by sundown. I promise you. And we'll go away two, three days in the country...Wouldn't you like that?"

She also expressed her professed desire to remain a bachelor (Chancellor: "But your Majesty, you cannot die an old maid." Christina: "I have no intention to, Chancellor. I shall die a bachelor!"), and made a cross-dressing announcement in the country inn while standing on a table about her assessment of the queen's highly promiscuous behavior:

"The truth is that the queen has had twelve lovers this past year, a round dozen."

In the film's centerpiece sequence, she had a notorious overnight tryst and bedroom scene (before a roaring fire) in the inn with a Spanish Catholic emissary (John Gilbert). The scene sizzled as she removed her outer garment and the emissary was surprised to realize that she had breasts under her thin blouse - in a double-take.

Later in the afterglow of heterosexual love-making (a scene considered offensive by the censors), a morning-after scene, she caressed objects in the room (she even caressed a phallic-shaped bedpost) and made sentimental joyous statements:

"I have been memorizing the room. In the future, in my memory, I shall live a great deal in this room...This is how the Lord must have felt when he first beheld the finished world with all his creatures breathing, living!"


Queen Christina
(Greta Garbot)


Lesbian Kiss




The Queen with Spanish Emissary (John Gilbert)

Roman Scandals (1933)

This escapist Eddie Cantor musical comedy, with a time travel plot, wove several risque, pre-Code Busby Berkeley choreographed numbers into the fantasy.

During the production number, "No More Love," the setting was a slave market. While other bikinied, enslaved females danced around, dozens of scantily-clad Roman slave girls (Goldwyn Girls, one of whom was Lucille Ball in her screen debut), nude except for long blonde wigs that reached almost down to their knees, were chained to a round, rotating pedestal. One of the females was sold into slavery, and then was thrown to her death.

In another more lively musical number,"Keep Young and Beautiful" with Cantor singing in blackface, various states of undress were also viewed in a Roman bath, where the 'Goldwyn Girls' cavorted around and were primped and prepared by slaves. As the scene ended, Cantor was subjected to a steambath and was shrunk to midget size (Billy Barty).

Roman Bathhouse Scene with Goldwyn Girls



Roman Slave Girls
(Goldwyn Girls)

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

Mae West's She Done Him Wrong (1933) deeply worried censorship officials and helped to speed the enforcement of the Code in the next year. Her main goals were to demolish the double standard, to be sexually frank, and to end prudery on screen.

Seductive Mae West ("Queen of the Sex Quip") starred as the liberated, racy character of Lady 'Diamond' Lou. She described herself as:

"One of the finest women ever walked the streets."

She drawled a bawdy and carnally-suggestive famous one-liner to young handsome, psalm-singing Captain Cummings (Cary Grant):

"I always did like a man in a uniform. That one fits you grand. Why don't you come up sometime 'n see me? I'm home every evening...Come up. I'll tell your fortune...Aw, you can be had."

Cummings evaluated her diamonds: "They always seem so cold to me, they have no warmth, no soul. I'm sorry you think more of your diamonds than you do of your soul." She responded about her own value: "I'm sorry you think more of my soul than you do of my diamonds. Maybe I ain't got no soul." Lady Lou also provided liberated quips - such as: "Men's all alike - married or single. It's their game. I happen to be smart enough to play it their way", and sang her suggestive, heavily censored "I Like a Man That Takes his Time."

She responded to Capt. Cummings' query: "Do you mind if I get personal?" with: "Hmm, go right ahead, I don't mind if you got familiar."




Lady Lou (Mae West) with Capt. Cummings
(Cary Grant)

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

The promotional poster for this "poverty row" Majestic Films melodrama was much more sensational than the film's actual content.

The 'sin' didn't refer to a sex crime, but to the title character's (Zita Johann) degrading descent and execution for murder (told with flashbacks and flashforwards) after taking the rap for a murder that her lover committed.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

This was a tricky and daring film adaptation of William Faulkner's notorious 1931 short story Sanctuary that required the re-naming of the film. The film's taboo subject matter was considered so shocking in its day that it was attacked by the press even before its release. It was responsible for spurring the rapid passage of the restrictive Production Code.

The plot was about a young, upper-class, pampered, flirtatious and promiscuous 'bad-girl' southern belle named Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins), the daughter of a Mississippi judge.

She was kidnapped and then raped by ruthless, degenerate bootlegger-gangster Trigger (Jack La Rue) in a farmhouse. The actual rape scene was not explicit - basically communicated by a candle (in the original tale, it was a corncob) approaching Drake's bed followed by a scream and quick fade to black.

She was then taken to the city to serve as a kept woman (not completely unwillingly) in a house of ill repute.

In the film's shocking climax in a courtroom, she finally admitted on the stand that she had killed Trigger.



Temple Drake
(Miriam Hopkins)

Torch Singer (1933)

In this pre-Code baiting, irreverent and moving melodrama ("woman's picture") with music from Paramount, Claudette Colbert starred as an impoverished chorus girl named Sally Trent.

She was a 'fallen woman' when she gave birth, without marriage, to a baby girl - a common theme of pre-Code films. During hard times, she gave up her illegitimate baby daughter Sally for adoption at a Catholic charity hospital in New York City. She had been abandoned by the father of the child, wealthy Bostonian Michael Gardner (David Manners). She delivered this timely cynical line:

"Don't ever let any man make a sucker out of you. Make him know what you're worth. Anything they get for nothing is always cheap."

She eventually became Manhattan's most notorious, morally-loose and flirtatious café chanteuse, renaming herself Mimi Benton. In one scene after being told that she was hard and disreputable, she replied:

"Sure I am...Just like glass. So hard nothing can cut it but diamonds. Come around with a fistful sometime - maybe we can get together."

She also became a popular daytime children's radio show host, a storytime narrator, as a way to locate her daughter. By film's end, she was reunited with her five year-old daughter and the biological father Michael Gardner, who had adopted her.


Sally Trent
(Claudette Colbert)

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

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Index to All Decades, Years and Features


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