Tuesday, October 11, 2011
In my reviews I often talk about the perfect “pre-Code ending”. What the heck does that mean?
In pictures made after the code, especially those in the Forties and Fifties, whenever someone was “bad” – most of the time a woman who enjoyed being sexually active – he or she was punished by the end of the film for his/her behaviour. Did she lure someone else’s husband into her bed? BAM! Hit by a train in the last reel. If there wasn’t a punishment, then there was a reforming – perhaps she renounced her promiscuity and left town, to start a new squeaky-clean life. Lesson learned.
Pre-Codes have none of this. Think of Red-Headed Woman: Lil acts like a whore, and yet she gets exactly what she wants by the end of the picture. She doesn’t become a nun or get hit by lightning. Things happen the way they happen in real life: sometimes, people act terribly, and yet nothing bad happens, or they’re even rewarded. Best example I’ve seen recently was the end of Employee’s Entrance, where Warren William just continues with his behaviour, not changing an iota of it even after it causes pain and shame to quite a few people. To quote an oft-used phrase: “it is what it is”.
I know someone’s going to bring up Female, with its cheesy and disappointing ending. Yes, it’s true that it doesn’t quite follow the pattern. All I can say is, watch the first half of the film; I think perhaps such a strong woman was a little too threatening for Hollywood, and they needed to tone her down somehow. Such a case is the exception, though, rather than the rule.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – Seneca