Skip to content

November 18, 2017 – December 30, 2017

From the introduction of “talkies” until up until 1934, Hollywood studios produced films en masse that spared few topics and reveled in a ferocious and often problematic honesty in tackling social issues and moral codes. But beginning in July 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code, created in 1930 but not rigorously enforced, was set into its full and originally intended effect by the Joseph Breen–led Production Code Administration. The PCA directly targeted the so-called immoral content of mass-produced films coming out of the major Hollywood studios and served to censor in the name of decency. With the Code, freedom of expression in Hollywood—in all its glorious messiness—was largely quashed in favor of wholesome values and an attempt to control cinema as a key tool for disseminating religious values and shaping the American Dream. For over three decades the Code managed to change the direction of films in ways we will never know. Our Pre-Code Cinema series, featuring everything from wisecracking gangsters to cunning “dames,” hardscrabble women, and the “forgotten man,” uncovers little-known gems and shines a light on some of the masterpieces of this short-lived yet legendary era.

All films presented on 35mm!

42nd Street

Directed by Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley

During the early 1930s, Warner Bros. churned out a series of “backstage musicals” featuring complex choreography by the legendary Busby

American Madness

Directed by Frank Capra

Producer Harry Cohn made Columbia Pictures one of the key studios of the early 1930s, perhaps the greatest purveyor of

Baby Face

Directed by Alfred E. Green

One of the most historically renowned pre-code films, Baby Face is the type of film Warner Bros. was so good

Back Street

Directed by John M. Stahl

Under Carl Laemmle Jr.’s steady leadership, Universal in the 1930s produced a slew of social-issue dramas that were pitched slightly


Directed by Victor Fleming

Under the leadership of the tragic figure Irving Thalberg, by 1933 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the house of Hollywood glamour, producing sophisticated,

Employees’ Entrance

Directed by Roy Del Ruth

Warner Brothers during the late silent era and the 1930s was a true industrial machine, churning out product at a

Footlight Parade

Directed by Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley

Busby Berkeley’s last of three “backstage musicals” made at Warner Bros. in 1933 is the delightful, somewhat overshadowed Footlight Parade,

Gabriel Over the White House

Directed by Gregory La Cava

During the depths of the depression, President Judson Hammond (Walter Huston) sides against workers and offers up uninspired political doctrine

Gold Diggers of 1933

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley

Busby Berkeley’s second of three “backstage musicals” for Warner Bros. in 1933 was the fabled Gold Diggers of 1933, which

Heroes for Sale

Directed by William A. Wellman

Wellman's pessimistic 1933 film presents the story of Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess), a soldier whose heroism on the battlefield is

Man’s Castle

Directed by Frank Borzage

Frank Borzage developed a successful career as a silent film director at 20th Century Fox with such films as Seventh


Directed by John M. Stahl

Stahl, a master of the melodrama often situated as the proto-Douglas Sirk, made his second picture of 1931 with the

The Story of Temple Drake

Directed by Stephen Roberts

Produced at Paramount at a time when the studio was floundering under financial hardship, The Story of Temple Drake is

Working Girls

Directed by Dorothy Arzner

Dorothy Arzner was the only female—let alone out lesbian—filmmaker working at a major Hollywood studio in the 1920s and ’30s,

The Northwest Film Center recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.