There are three main documentaries on the pre-Code Hollywood era that are all worth checking out. And, luckily, as of this posting, all of them are available on YouTube!
Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship (2008)
Included in Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2, Thou Shalt Not is probably the best general look at the era. I have a full review and breakdown of it here.
Why Be Good? Sexuality and Censorship in Early Cinema (2007)
Produced by Hugh Hefner (yes), Why Be Good? covers the silent and early talkie era and how they dealt with sex before the spectre of censorship finally caught up to them. It’s a little more goofy and playful than the other two, but still worth checking out.
Complicated Women (2003)
Based on Mick LaSalle’s book of the same name, this one looks at the actresses of the pre-Code era and what they could get away with before censorship arrived. Also a lot of fun to watch and a nice cribbing of the book, though that’s definitely worth checking out too!
“Sex in Monochrome” (2015)
While not a documentary, The Secret History of Hollywood’s podcast about pre-Code Hollywood, “Sex in Monochrome”, is an extensive 3-hour look back at the twin demons of sin and celluloid. It’s a blast to listen to. It will make you a better human being.
If you know of any good podcasts, video essays, etc, about pre-Code Hollywood that I don’t have here, send me a link or leave a comment below. Cheers!
Steve Marinucci · January 8, 2017 at 3:11 pm
“Hollywood Uncensored,” which is available on DVD from Amazon, is a great documentary that includes a generous look at pre-code films.
Her’es the description from Amazon: “Hollywood Uncensored” unearths everything we always wanted to see-but weren’t allowed to. Co-hosts Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Peter Fonda take us on a provocative and fascinating voyage through the history of Hollywood censorship: from highly exploitive scenes of Shirley Temple playing a Mae West-like seductress to the steamy sexuality of Carroll Baker in “Baby Doll,” from shocking scenes of an ape gone wild in “King Kong” to the powerful and disturbing violence of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.” The movie industry was still in its infancy when films began to be scrutinized by groups throughout the country. Some were declared obscene, some condemned as mortal sin and some even caused riots. By 1922, the situation had become so scandalous that the industry hired Will Hays, the ex-Postmaster General, to institute its first code of ethics. For better or for worse, censorship had arrived in Hollywood. Carroll Baker, Jane Russell, Eli Wallach and Martin Scorsese are a few of the celebrities who recount the effect the Hays Office, the Ratings Board, and the Church had on their movies. In some cases, pictures widely regarded as classics today were banned from theatres entirely. HOLLYWOOD UNCENSORED features scenes once considered searing from “Baby Doll,” “The Outlaw,” “Promises, Promises,” “Peeping Tom,” “Woodstock,” Carnal Knowledge,” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night” along with rarely seen footage from “King Kong” and W.C. Fields’ “The Dentist.