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Movie Poster of the Week: Pre-Code Posters

Hot stuff! Too hot for the censors, but hot enough for you. Scandalous lads and ladies revealed—inside!
Ladies They Talk About Poster

As a first volley in the Notebook’s coverage of Film Forum’s four-week, 50-film Essential Pre-Code series, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the posters of the era that best captured the racy, uncensored, libertine air that the Motion Picture Production Code squashed in American movies for the next three decades. While the Code never addressed advertising materials per se it’s safe to say that many of the posters of the Pre-Code years of 1929 to 1934 (the year in which the Production Code Administration started to enforce the Code) are more risqué than those from the years that follow. Legendary pin-up artist Alberto Vargas painted an alluringly déshabillé Barbara Stanwyck for 1933’s Ladies They Talk About, (a women’s prison drama though you’d be hard pressed to tell), though Vargas’s best known film poster is the now iconic and even more explicit artwork for the otherwise forgotten The Sin of Nora Moran from the same year.

The Sin of Nora Moran poster

Many, though not all, of the films featured below—in lurid one-sheets, window posters and advertising heralds (“the throbbing adventures of a woman who unleashed her heart”)—will be shown in the Film Forum series (programmed by Bruce Goldstein who has been championing the Pre-Code era in revelatory retrospectives since the 1980s). One notable thing about these posters is that, as lurid or suggestive as they may be, they are all undeniably elegant, with beautiful deco lettering that, to any graphic designer, is just as thrilling as a glimpse of Clara Bow’s thigh must have been in 1929.

The Mind Reader posterFootlight Parade PosterEx-Lady posterSaturday Night Kid posterShe Done Him Wrong PosterHot Saturday posterWhite Woman posterBlonde Crazy PosterCall Her Savage posterEmployees Entrance poster

Most images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Man, that poster for The Mind Reader almost has to be better than the film itself, if not, then the movie would have to be fantastic!
A lot of these posters remind me of the ads for soap that were supposed to highlight the “healthy” benefits of the product, but seemed like come-ons or an opportunity to show some skin. Cagney’s look seems to be all nudge-nudge, say no more, say no more.
The ampersand in the LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT poster is amazing!
Terrific posters.The Mind Reader one is stupendous. Thanks for your wonderful columns Mr. Curry.
Love it.
wonderful stuff. that ‘ladies they talk about’ poster is actually better than the film
‘Constance Cummings’ lol
I like The Sin of Nora Moran
Drooling over gorgeous movie posters is a real pleasure and these are stunning (I reckon Saturday Night Kid is my favorite for the impish smile and ample thigh – hound dog howls).
I find it interesting to reflect on this having just returned back from a summer trip to Berlin. When we were experiencing our tightening of moral standards under the Hayes Codes, the open celebration of sexuality (both heterosexual and gay) of the Weimar Republic era in German culture was disappearing under the rise of the Nazi party. Not quite the same, yet interesting still.
Anyone else weirded out by the anatomy in the “Footlight Parade” poster? Ah well, cool and colorful posters nonetheless.
Wow! Hot stuff! Thank you so much for posting this!
Thanks for posting the Mind Reader! Mel (

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