“My head is splitting! The wine last night, the music, the delicious debauchery!” — Charles Laughton, as Emperor Nero, in The Sign of the Cross
The sensual freedom that constituted much of the imagery of Hollywood’s silent period persisted into the sound era for four more years until a nationwide morals crusade reached critical mass in 1934, and strict enforcement of the Hays Code began.
Small-town church-goers were pushed to the brink by The Sign of the Cross (1932)—Cecil B. DeMille‘s notorious epic—which purloined a “Christian” story and served up nudity, violence, a lesbian dance sequence, and Emperor Nero as a raging queen. Needless to say, big city audiences responded to DeMille’s decadence with curiosity and enthusiasm, flocking to cinemas wherever it was playing.
Also on the bill: John M. Stahl‘s Only Yesterday (1933)—Margaret Sullavan‘s film debut—depicting out-of-wedlock childbirth, feminist and socialist advocacy, and an openly gay couple (Franklin Pangborn and Barry Norton)—scenarios that would disappear from Hollywood scripts for the next thirty years.
Mark A. Vieira will sign copies of his book Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era before the screening.
Friday, April 26, at 7:30.
Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.
From top: Claudette Colbert in The Sign of the Cross (1932); Charles Laughton (left), Colbert, and Fredric March in The Sign of the Cross; Laughton (right) with George Bruggeman in The Sign of the Cross; Margaret Sullavan and John Boles in Only Yesterday (1933); Sullavan (left) and Billie Burke in Only Yesterday; Burke (left) and Sullavan (right) in Only Yesterday. Colbert, Laughton, and March photographs © Paramount Pictures, courtesy of the studio and Photofest. Sullavan, Boles, and Burke photographs © Universal Pictures, courtesy of the studio and Photofest.