TCM Marks 90th Anniversary of Hollywood’s ‘Hays Code’ With Special Lineups in July 2024

black and white image from the 1931 film
Courtesy Everett Collection
Barbara Stanwyck (left) and Joan Blondell in the risqué-for-its-time pre-Code 1931 crime drama/mystery Night Nurse

For over 30 years, between its implementation on July 1, 1934, to its replacement with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating system beginning Nov. 1, 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code worked as a set of guidelines for studios to exercise self-censorship when it came to certain subjects in their films.

More familiarly known as the Hays Code (after Will H. Hays, president of the MPAA’s predecessor organization, under whose leadership these standards were set), the code forbade some topics outright, while warning producers to exercise caution on others.

black and white image from the 1932 movie "Scarface." Standing on the left is Ann Dvorak, dressed in a dark dress and holding a rifle upright in front of her. She is looking with somewhat bemused interest at Paul Muni, right in front of her wearing a dark suit, as he speaks while holding a pistol facing down in his right hand, and a machine gun facing down in his left. An arsenal of other guns are surrounding the pair in this room.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Ann Dvorak and Paul Muni in the 1932 pre-Code gangster classic Scarface


Ninety years after its implementation, which impacted what was shown in most major movies made during Hollywood’s golden age, and certainly many of the titles in Turner Classic Movies’ library, the network is putting a spotlight on the Hays Code each Monday night during July 2024.

These evening lineups include double features of movies whose stories deal with topics frowned upon by the Hays Code; one of the films in those double features was made prior to the code, the other produced under the code, giving viewers a chance to contrast what had been allowed onscreen (in some cases just a year or so earlier) versus what was not once the code went into effect.

scene from the black-and-white 1933 movie "Baby Face." It is in a bar room, where Barbara Stanwyck is standing on the left, wearing a dress shirt and skirt, looking seductively at Nat Pendleton in front of her. The large and muscular Pendleton is bare-chested, wearing a visored cap and holding a bottle of liquor, and looking intently back at Stanwyck's character.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Barbara Stanwyck eyes up Nat Pendleton in the 1933 pre-Code drama Baby Face


TCM Spotlight: The Hays Gaze (90th Anniversary of the Hays Code) Lineups (All Times Eastern)

Monday, July 1, 2024, beginning at 8pm

Starting things out this evening are two versions of the drama Waterloo Bridge: the original, pre-Code version from 1931, which was censored in some cities due to its portrayal of prostitution, and the film’s Oscar-nominated remake, with the same title, which was produced under the Code in 1940 with significant changes, and some sanitization, to its Vivien Leigh/Robert Taylor-led story.

The next double feature begins with one of the more notorious pre-Code films, and one that likely led to the Code’s enforcement: Baby Face (1933), a drama starring Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers, a woman who uses sex to advance in the world. After that is the post-Code title The Girl From Missouri (1934), led by Jean Harlow and Lionel Barrymore, which tells a similar, though not nearly as frankly depicted “gold digger” sort of tale.

Closing things out early the next morning are the drama Primrose Path (1940), starring Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea, and the pre-Code musical Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), also featuring Rogers.

Monday, July 8, 2024, beginning at 8pm

Tonight’s first pairing looks at two crime/gangster films: Scarface (1932), director Howard Hawks’ influential classic led by Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak, which was banned in some cities and states even after alterations were made to make it not appear to be glorifying gangsters and violence as much as some censors thought it did, followed by The Roaring Twenties (1939), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane and Humphrey Bogart.

After that are a couple of films dealing with illegitimate children: the pre-Code comedy/drama The Bachelor Father (1931), led by Marion Davies, followed by Bachelor Mother (1939), a romantic comedy starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven.

Two melodramas conclude things early the next day: the pre-Code title The Sin of Nora Moran (1933), starring Zita Johann, and That Certain Woman (1937), led by Bette Davis, Henry Fonda and Anita Louise.

poster for the 1933 movie "The Sin of Nora Moran." The primary image on the poster is an illustration of Zita Johann's title character, scantily dressed, crouched down and lowering and covering her head in shame. The title of the film is printed above her, and the cast is listed in the lower right of the poster, all of which is set against a yellow background.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Monday, July 15, 2024, beginning at 8pm

Up first tonight are two films about women con artists: the pre-Code romantic comedy Trouble in Paradise (1932), directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, followed by writer/director Preston Sturges’ screwball comedy The Lady Eve (1941), led by Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda.

After those are a couple of films dealing with female social climbers who go to great lengths to get ahead: Red-Headed Woman (1932), a pre-Code romantic comedy written by Anita Loos and starring Jean Harlow as a woman who uses sex to rise in society, breaks up a marriage and even attempts to kill a guy, followed by director King Vidor’s drama Stella Dallas (1937), led by Best Actress Oscar nominee Barbara Stanwyck in the title role alongside Best Supporting Actress nominee Anne Shirley.

Two films dealing with women and divorce conclude things early the next morning: the Best Picture-nominated pre-Code drama The Divorcee (1930), starring Best Actress winner Norma Shearer, and the Best Picture-nominated Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical The Gay Divorcee (1934), made right around the time when the Hays Code was more enforced and thus featuring some elements that caused concern for censors.

Monday, July 22, 2024, beginning at 8pm

Tonight’s first pairing looks at two films in which religion plays a big role in the story: director Frank Capra’s pre-Code romantic drama The Miracle Woman (1931), featuring Barbara Stanwyck as a clergyman’s daughter who teams with a con man (Sam Hardy) and performs fake miracles for profit, followed by Boys Town (1938), the Best Picture Oscar-nominated biographical drama starring Best Actor winner Spencer Tracy as Father Edward J. Flanagan, alongside Mickey Rooney.

After that are two adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydethe pre-Code 1931 version followed by the 1941 version — each of which handled the sex and violence found in the story in very different ways. Playing the titular dual personalities in the 1931 film is Fredric March, who won the Best Actor Oscar (tying with Wallace Beery in The Champ), with Spencer Tracy portraying the characters in the 1941 production.

Two films about bosses and secretaries conclude things early tomorrow: the pre-Code romantic drama The Office Wife (1930), starring Dorothy Mackaill, Lewis Stone and Natalie Moorhead, and Wife vs. Secretary (1936), a romantic comedy led by Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy.

Monday, July 29, 2024, beginning at 8pm

Leading things off on the final evening of TCM’s monthlong comparison of films with similar subjects made before and after the implementation of the Hays Code are two movies dealing with alcoholism: Night Nurse (1931), a pre-Code drama directed by William A. Wellman, which was also considered risqué for its scenes of stars Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell in their lingerie, followed by the Best Picture Oscar-winning drama The Lost Weekend (1945), from Best Director winner Billy Wilder (who also shared an Oscar win for his screenplay with Charles Brackett) and starring Best Actor winner Ray Milland.

After that are a couple of films that feature gangster molls among their characters: director Wellman’s pre-Code crime drama Midnight Mary (1933), led by Loretta Young as Mary Martin (aka “Midnight Mary”), followed by another crime drama, Marked Woman (1937), starring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart.

Two Tarzan features conclude things early tomorrow: the pre-Code production Tarzan and His Mate (1934, pictured below), the second film in MGM’s Tarzan franchise led by Johnny Weissmuller, which caused controversy because of the very revealing costume worn by Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane, as well as her skinny-dipping sequence, and Tarzan Escapes (1936), the third film in the series and the first produced under the Code, also led by Weissmuller and O’Sullivan.

black and white image from the 1934 movie "Tarzan and His Mate." Johnny Weissmuller, as Tarzan, is shirtless and wearing a loincloth and on the ground, propping himself up on his right elbow. He is looking down at Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, who is lying on her back and wearing a small top and short skirt, with her midsection bared. She is looking up at Tarzan and smiling.

Courtesy Everett Collection