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Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood (2008)

Various film historians, film makers, and cultural commentators discuss the cultural, political, economic and religious reasons for what is known as the pre-code era of Hollywood movie ... See full summary »


Steven Smith


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Valerie Spencer ... Herself - Narrator (voice)
John Landis ... Himself - Interviewee
Jonathan Kuntz Jonathan Kuntz ... Himself - Interviewee
Rudy Behlmer ... Himself - Interviewee
Jerry Beck ... Himself - Interviewee
Camille Paglia Camille Paglia ... Herself - Interviewee
Hugh Hefner ... Himself - Interviewee
Jack Valenti ... Himself - Interviewee
Will H. Hays ... Himself (archive footage) (as Will Hayes)
Jeffrey Vance ... Himself - Interviewee
Molly Haskell ... Herself - Interviewee
Mark Vieira ... Himself - Interviewee (as Mark A. Vieira)
Norma Shearer ... Various Roles (archive footage)
Clark Gable ... Various Roles (archive footage)
Barbara Stanwyck ... Various Roles (archive footage)


Various film historians, film makers, and cultural commentators discuss the cultural, political, economic and religious reasons for what is known as the pre-code era of Hollywood movie making in the early 1930s, and those same factors which resulted in the drastic turn to working under the code for the twenty or so years starting in 1934. The "code" is the Hollywood Production Code of 1930 (also known as the Hays Code, so named for Will H. Hays, the first head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America), which was developed in order for movie making in Hollywood to run smoothly in the face of increased outside censors. The code was largely ignored until 1934, when its enforcement was overseen by Joseph I. Breen who took over from Hays and who had a different agenda of moral purity. During those four years, pre-code Hollywood movies are characterized by their rawness and pushing the envelope of sexuality and moral ambiguity (with the depraved side often winning), which... Written by Huggo

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Release Date:

3 March 2008 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Hollywood prohibido See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Black and White (archive clips)| Color
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Did You Know?


Included in Warner Home Video's 2008 DVD set "TCM Archives - Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 2". See more »


Features Possessed (1931) See more »


St. Louis Blues
Written by W.C. Handy
Performed by the orchestra
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User Reviews

Extremely educational, entertaining...and a bit sleazy!
28 July 2012 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

Will Hays--Joseph Breen the topless scene shown at 8:00 mark was a religious epic--"Ben Hur"! subtitles didn't work economics pushed films towards sleaze and then later away from it gay Code of 1930 pretty much ignored--tightened up in 1934

I adore the so-called 'Pre-Code' films and was delighted when Turner Classic Movies brought this wonderful documentary to its audience. It was great because it was extremely well made and because it introduced this style of movie to viewers. Up until 1930, there were lots and lots of censorship boards across the nation but none for the studios themselves. Because of this, standards varied wildly. Some relatively innocent films were condemned by some groups and some amazingly adult and salacious films passed! Because of this inconsistency, the studios finally hired Will Hays to start the new board. However, it soon became obvious that this board had no teeth to enforce the new code--nor did it seem to want to clean up the films. Nudity, violence and a glorification of adultery were pretty common and things continued this way until mid-1934. And, this 1930-1934 is the Pre-Code era. But when the Depression and public outrage resulted in much lower revenues, the studios grudgingly decided the clean up its act and created the NEW Production Code--and the fun, as they say, was over!

This film not only details this process but it also celebrates the various famous examples of sleaze--such as "Red Headed Woman", "Tarzan and His Mate" and "Baby Face". Now I have seen other documentaries on this time, but "Thou Shalt Not" works best for two HUGE reasons. First, the guests who were interviewed really were excellent. Second, and most importantly, because Turner Entertainment owned the rights to these Pre-Code films, it was easy to show the clips--and in pristine condition. By contrast, the earlier documentary "Hollywood Uncensored" showed clips mostly from public domain films or the clips were VERY, VERY scratchy. "Thou Shalt Not" and "Complicated Women" (also by TCM) are both excellent chronicles of this age--and are exciting, educational and amazingly sleazy!

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