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Early Pre-Code Dramas
The Gangster Cycle and the Fallen
Woman Cycle
1930-1933
• Three common types of films:
– Gangster Cycle
– Fallen Woman Cycle
– Prison Cycle (we won’t be watching these)
• Response to social conditions of the early
years of the Depression.
• Threats to usual social codes and economic
stability led to films that questioned both.
Gangster Films
• American dream in its negative form
• Ambitious hero hungers for success but is
thwarted by economic conditions
• He starts at the bottom and works his way up.
• Traditional sources of justice (police, courts)
are corrupt or inept.
• Gangster’s downfall results from rivals or
personal flaw, not the operations of the law.
Gangster Films, continued
• Frequently embody the immigrant’s narrative
toward success in America
– Hard work and thrift versus a flashy, excessive way of
life
– Old world parent (often a mother) with traditional
values in conflict with American (modern) values
– Respect for authority is conflicted
– Purity of women and the sanctity of the home is
threatened
– Often a set of paired characters: friends, siblings
– Traditional values of education and literacy are
questioned
Gangster Films, continued
• Robert Warshow, “The Gangster as Tragic
Hero”: “The gangster is doomed because he is
under the obligation to succeed. . . . Every
attempt to succeed is an act of aggression. . . .
The effect of the gangster film is to embody
this dilemma in the person of the gangster
and resolve it by his death.
The Fallen Woman Film
• Heroine “falls” from the purest of motives, often to
save a family member or for true love.
• She often bears a child and struggles to legitimize it or
provide a home, despite enormous sacrifices.
• Economic crisis may force her to prostitute herself.
• In the “mistress” films, the woman sacrifices her own
happiness so as not to break up her lover’s marriage.
• Unlike the gangster films, the fallen women films have
the woman suffering throughout (rather than a tacked-
on “crime does not pay” ending).
Fallen Woman Films, continued
• Threat to the social order posed by women
alone dictates that conventional morality must
be upheld.
• The women are frequently miserable even when living
in luxury.
• Often the loss of a child, a family member, or the man
whom she truly loves punishes her in the end.
• Heroine overcomes poverty with a sin (prostitution) but
then rejects the sin and begs forgiveness.
Examples and Exceptions
• Blonde Venus
• The Easiest Way (1931)
• The “working girl” variation: She Had to Say
Yes
• Exceptions: the “golddigger” film

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gangsters_and_fallen_women.ppt

  • 1. Early Pre-Code Dramas The Gangster Cycle and the Fallen Woman Cycle
  • 2. 1930-1933 • Three common types of films: – Gangster Cycle – Fallen Woman Cycle – Prison Cycle (we won’t be watching these) • Response to social conditions of the early years of the Depression. • Threats to usual social codes and economic stability led to films that questioned both.
  • 3. Gangster Films • American dream in its negative form • Ambitious hero hungers for success but is thwarted by economic conditions • He starts at the bottom and works his way up. • Traditional sources of justice (police, courts) are corrupt or inept. • Gangster’s downfall results from rivals or personal flaw, not the operations of the law.
  • 4. Gangster Films, continued • Frequently embody the immigrant’s narrative toward success in America – Hard work and thrift versus a flashy, excessive way of life – Old world parent (often a mother) with traditional values in conflict with American (modern) values – Respect for authority is conflicted – Purity of women and the sanctity of the home is threatened – Often a set of paired characters: friends, siblings – Traditional values of education and literacy are questioned
  • 5. Gangster Films, continued • Robert Warshow, “The Gangster as Tragic Hero”: “The gangster is doomed because he is under the obligation to succeed. . . . Every attempt to succeed is an act of aggression. . . . The effect of the gangster film is to embody this dilemma in the person of the gangster and resolve it by his death.
  • 6. The Fallen Woman Film • Heroine “falls” from the purest of motives, often to save a family member or for true love. • She often bears a child and struggles to legitimize it or provide a home, despite enormous sacrifices. • Economic crisis may force her to prostitute herself. • In the “mistress” films, the woman sacrifices her own happiness so as not to break up her lover’s marriage. • Unlike the gangster films, the fallen women films have the woman suffering throughout (rather than a tacked- on “crime does not pay” ending).
  • 7. Fallen Woman Films, continued • Threat to the social order posed by women alone dictates that conventional morality must be upheld. • The women are frequently miserable even when living in luxury. • Often the loss of a child, a family member, or the man whom she truly loves punishes her in the end. • Heroine overcomes poverty with a sin (prostitution) but then rejects the sin and begs forgiveness.
  • 8. Examples and Exceptions • Blonde Venus • The Easiest Way (1931) • The “working girl” variation: She Had to Say Yes • Exceptions: the “golddigger” film