Pre-Code Paramount

Pre-Code Paramount

14 Episodes

In the era before the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code—when sex, sin, and sleaze were splashed across the screen with abandon, and chiselers and gold diggers were cinematic staples—Paramount Pictures stood out for the sophisticated amorality and continental flair it brought to its productions. Among the uncensored wonders that emanated from the studio’s back lots during the early years of talkies: the worldly wit of Ernst Lubitsch (TROUBLE IN PARADISE), the luxuriant exoticism of Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich (SHANGHAI EXPRESS), the jaw-dropping double entendres of Mae West (SHE DONE HIM WRONG), the stylish musical rapport between Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier (LOVE ME TONIGHT), and the subversive feminist sensibility of trailblazing director Dorothy Arzner (MERRILY WE GO TO HELL). This collection of pre-Code classics and rarities spotlights the delightfully risqué side of a studio that knew how to be naughty while (almost) always keeping it classy.

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Pre-Code Paramount
  • Imogen Sara Smith on Pre-Code Paramount

    Episode 1

    The following interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith was recorded in 2022.

  • Honor Among Lovers

    Episode 2

    Directed by Dorothy Arzner • 1931 • United States
    Starring Claudette Colbert, Fredric March, Monroe Owsley

    The incandescent presence of two rising stars—Claudette Colbert and Fredric March—lights up this deft blend of comedy, romance, and social drama. A young secretary (Colbert) faces a life-al...

  • The Smiling Lieutenant

    Episode 3

    Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1931 • United States
    Starring Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins

    Maurice Chevalier’s randy Viennese lieutenant is enamored of Claudette Colbert’s freethinking, all-girl-orchestra-leading cutie. Yet complications ensue when the sexually repressed pri...

  • Broken Lullaby

    Episode 4

    Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1932 • United States
    Starring Lionel Barrymore, Phillips Holmes, Nancy Carroll

    Though best known for the sophisticated comedies he turned out with elegant ease in the 1930s, director Ernst Lubitsch took a rare, often overlooked detour into serious-minded drama with t...

  • If I Had a Million

    Episode 5

    Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Taurog, Norman Z. McLeod, H. Bruce Humberstone, James Cruze, Stephen Roberts, and William A. Seiter • 1932 • United States
    Starring Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft

    An all-star cast of golden-age Hollywood legends adorns this unique and whimsical dayd...

  • Love Me Tonight

    Episode 6

    Directed by Rouben Mamoulian • 1932 • United States
    Starring Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles

    A case of mistaken identity gives a romantic Parisian tailor (Maurice Chevalier) the opportunity to woo the princess of his dreams (Jeanette MacDonald) in this exquisite musical, r...

  • Merrily We Go to Hell

    Episode 7

    Directed by Dorothy Arzner • 1932 • United States
    Starring Sylvia Sidney, Fredric March, Adrianne Allen

    One of director Dorothy Arzner’s most fascinatingly subversive portraits of marital dysfunction stars Sylvia Sidney as a wealthy socialite who falls in love with an alcoholic writer (Fredric M...

  • Night After Night

    Episode 8

    Directed by Archie Mayo • 1932 • United States
    Starring George Raft, Constance Cummings, Wynne Gibson

    “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.” “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.” The inimitable Mae West made her striking screen debut in this pre-Code drama about a speakeasy owner (George R...

  • One Hour with You

    Episode 9

    Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1932 • United States
    Starring Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Genevieve Tobin

    Ernst Lubitsch reunites Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, this time as a seemingly blissful couple whose marriage hits the skids when her flirtatious school chum comes on to ...

  • Shanghai Express

    Episode 10

    Directed by Josef von Sternberg • 1932 • United States
    Starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong

    An intoxicating mix of adventure, romance, and pre-Code salaciousness, SHANGHAI EXPRESS marks the commercial peak of an iconic collaboration. Marlene Dietrich is at her wicked best as Sha...

  • Trouble in Paradise

    Episode 11

    Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1932 • United States
    Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall

    When thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) meets his true love in pickpocket Lily (Miriam Hopkins), they embark on a scam to rob lovely perfume company executive Mariette Colet (Kay Francis...

  • Design for Living

    Episode 12

    Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1933 • United States
    Starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins

    Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins play a trio of Americans in Paris who enter into a very adult “gentleman’s agree¬ment” in this continental pre-Code comedy, freely adapted by Ben H...

  • She Done Him Wrong

    Episode 13

    Directed by Lowell Sherman • 1933 • United States
    Starring Mae West, Cary Grant, Gilbert Roland

    “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” purrs a seductive Mae West to a fetching young Cary Grant in this star-making smash hit based on West’s successful play, “Diamond Lil.” She is at her absol...

  • Cleopatra

    Episode 14

    Directed by Cecil B. DeMille • 1934 • United States
    Starring Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon

    Master of the epic screen spectacle Cecil B. DeMille outdid himself with this lavish account of the Egyptian queen (a vampish Claudette Colbert) whose powers of seduction first charm Ju...