Universal Unveils ‘Pre-Code Hollywood’ Backlot Series17 Feb, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold
Universal Studios Home Entertainment is going back to its studio parent’s roots for a new DVD line.
The Universal Backlot Series will consist of historic films from the studio’s library. The first batch of films, coming April 7, includes a 75th anniversary edition of Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra and six saucy classics from Hollywood’s notorious pre-Production Code era.
Cleopatra, nominated for five Academy Awards, ranks as one of DeMille’s most lavish historical epics. The 1934 production stars Claudette Colbert as the cunning queen of the Nile, Warren William as Julius Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony.
The six films in what Universal is billing as the “Pre-Code Hollywood Collection” are The Cheat, with Tallulah Bankhead as a woman willing to do anything to pay off her gambling debt; Merrily We Go to Hell, with Fredric March as an abusive alcoholic; Hot Saturday, with Cary Grant; Torch Singer, with Claudette Colbert; Murder at the Vanities, best remembered for the musical number “Sweet Marijuana”; and Search for Beauty, with Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino.
All six films were produced before the 1934 introduction of the restrictive “Production Code,” which for decades changed the way movies treated, or avoided, certain subject matter. These “pre-code” films satisfied public demand for graphic stories filled with scandal, adultery, prostitution, illegal drug use, murder and homosexuality — topics filmmakers conspicuously avoided for decades thereafter.