Transgression (1931)

Proof That It’s Pre-Code:

  • Adultery, all day and all night. And someone even gets forgiven of it. Awww.

Danny DISLIKEYou can tell a lot about a reunion based on body language and intonation. “Oh, darling!” means one thing when you run towards someone for an embrace and another thing when you pause and look startled.

That exact scene happens in Transgression, a movie so born from the silent theatrical tradition that Kay Francis says at the start of the film, with a straight face, “I shall miss you so!”

Yeah, it’s another Kay Francis flick (I swear I’m picking these randomly), and one of her earliest roles to boot. That’s matched by the fact that it’s an early talkie, so I hope you like awkward pauses between every line of dialogue.

Quick aside: I really shouldn’t fault this film for its sound design since sound design was about a year old when this film was made, but it’s hard not to notice. Movies like War Nurse and Loose Ankles were both from around the same time, and they both excel as captivating entertainments in spite of their similar technical limitations.

Transgression is not a captivating entertainment.

Transgression is about a married couple that is forced to spend a year apart. The husband is headed off to India (“too savage for a woman!”) and sends his doting wife to Paris. Yes. That’s a great idea.

Paris of the late 20’s was no place for a married woman. She soon meets a man who’s more than happy to show her the city’s lights, and they’re trading late nights and illicit glances. Her husband sends notice of his impending return, but she’s lured away to her lover’s Spanish home for one last tryst. Then, without warning, her lover’s former fling’s father, dressed like a bandido, comes in and shoots him dead!

Okay, that was a lot of plot. There’s a bit more about blackmail annnnnnnd that’s it. While I’ve complained about some of the films in this series stuffing in an insane amount of plots in an attempt to possibly meet some quota, this film deeply under-commits.

This is a shot where there are things in the foreground, and obviously the only interesting one in the film.

The moral of the film preaches forgiveness, though, considering Francis’s quick change from one lover to another, it also seems to praise flightiness. It’s a good thing all of the characters are so bland or I might have actually had form of empathy to convince me that either of these morals was worth deriving.

Everything feels rough around the edges in Transgression, and none of it simmers with the needed chemistry. The cad is a cad, the husband is a husband, and Kay Francis is definitely on screen quite a bit. For this agonizingly boring adventure into tedium, that’s about the nicest I can say about it.


Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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