Mark Vieira’s book Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, published in 1999, offers a fascinating window into a Hollywood era that many people know little about. It focuses on films made between 1929 and 1934 when studio filmmakers often ignored what became known as the Hays Code. This was basically an attempt by the major studios to head off government censorship by establishing their own code of conduct and enforcement body. In that sense, the term pre-code is a bit of a misnomer , as the code was in place by 1930, but not actively enforced until the summer of 1934.
Before rigid enforcement, films dealt more freely with such subjects as drug use, homosexuality, abortion and prostitution. Characters could commit adultery or even murder and get away with it. It was a field day for female stars, many of whom flourished in the provocative roles this brief period of freedom provided. Many stars became famous during the pre-code era, though some faded from the spotlight soon after it ended. It would be over twenty years before Hollywood would again be able to take on such daring material in such a forthright manner.
Vieira’s book is filled with stunning photographs, interesting anedotes and engaging analysis. Each chapter covers a specific studio or genre. While it will certainly be atractive to film buffs, the book also serves as an informative introduction to anyone interested in exploring a fascinating era in Hollywood history. It’s available for check out at the Midlothian Campus library. You can access the library catalog from our homepage here.