Monday, September 29, 2014

These pre-Code films have enough uncensored grit, grief, sex and horror to last five lifetimes.

Holy crap. Have you been watching any of those pre-Code movies this month on TCM? THEY’RE INCREDIBLE! I saw two on Saturday while Sam was unconscious on the sofa and now I wish I’d saved them for him. They were: 1) Call Her Savage (1932) starring Clara Bow and Gilbert Roland; and 2) The Hatchet Man (1930) starring Edward G. Robinson as the “enforcer” of a Chinese gang and Loretta Young as his Chinese child bride. (Seriously.)
I’d like to offer a meaningful Howdygram synopsis of each film in case you’ve never seen them, okay? I’ll start with Call Her Savage.

Call Her Savage actually came near the end of Clara Bow’s career and was one of her few ”talkies,” which is unfortunate because she was awfully damn good in this as a rebellious girl from Texas who: 1) is a wild & crazy floozie who constantly fights with her father, gets kicked out of the house and falls in love with the wrong men; 2) has fistfights with women and brutally attacks a man with a whip; 3) is seduced, married and dumped on her wedding night; 4) has a baby that dies in a boarding house fire while she’s out on the street turning tricks to earn enough money to buy him medicine; 5) finds out she inherited $100,000 from her grandfather’s estate only two stinking days after the baby dies, so she starts drinking like a fish; 6) is sexually assaulted by her ex-husband, who now has syphillus; 7) finds out she’s just as miserable WITH money than WITHOUT it; 8) learns that her real father was an Indian chief who had an affair with her mother; and 9) knowing this, she finally ends up with her first sweetheart, a half-breed Indian played by Gilbert Roland, who was the dude she whipped back in item 2. Trust me, people, every minute of this film had enough over-the-top uncensored grit, grief, sex and horror to last five lifetimes. Wow.

The Hatchet Man had its share of “holy shit” moments, too, mostly due to all the white people playing Chinese characters in ridiculous makeup. Edward G. Robinson is Wong Low Get, the hatchet man (enforcer) of a Chinese “tong” (gang) in San Francisco around 1915. After he’s instructed to murder his best friend Sun Yat Ming (J. Carroll Naish) by the leader of the tong, Eddie inherits all of the man’s worldly possessions and becomes guardian to his six-year-old daughter Toya San, who grows up to be Loretta Young with a lot of great clothes.

Eddie and Loretta eventually marry even though he’s a lot older, but it’s pretty clear that Loretta genuinely loves him and the marriage is a huge success until Eddie hires a crew of bodyguards, at which time one of them — womanizer Harry En Hai, played by Leslie Fenton — has an opportunity to seduce Loretta. And here’s where the plot does a nosedive into jaw-dropping pre-Code seediness: 1) Harry is sexually aggressive; 2) Loretta gets a little too excited and starts running around with him; 3) Eddie catches Loretta and Harry together and grants her a divorce because what choice does he have; 4) Harry gets deported to China and drags Loretta with him; 5) Harry ends up addicted to opium and sells Loretta to a dragon lady as a sex slave; 6) Eddie is disgraced by the tong for not avenging his wife’s infidelity, loses everything and becomes a social outcast; 7) Eddie finds out what happened to Loretta after after she sends him a love letter with a “P.S.” that she’s stuck in China without a passport; 8) Eddie goes to China, yanks Loretta out of the whorehouse and murders Harry with his trusty hatchet. That final scene is APPALLING.

In my next post I’ll include a review of Downstairs (1932) starring Paul Lukas, Virginia Bruce and John Gilbert.

Thank you for reading this.

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