Pre-Code Hollywood: the Rules are Made to be Broken

Pre-Code Hollywood: the Rules are Made to be Broken

Oct 20, 2022 | News

Listen up, all you dirty rats and hot dames. Let us transport you back to Hollywood’s savage years, when the restrictive censorship of the Hays Code wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Before the Hollywood censors decided to enforce the rules around sexuality, violence, drugs and hard living, a group of films we now call the Pre-Codes tested the boundaries by breaking every single one of them. And just as the gangsters and gold-diggers on-screen raised eyebrows by profiting from their nefarious deeds, cinema was enriched by some of the wittiest, wildest and most audaciously enjoyable movies Hollywood has ever made.

If you want to see women centre-stage and expressing their own desires, or criminals so charming you’ll pray they get away with the loot, step this way…

This November we’re showing brand new remasters of four classic Pre-Codes, from the sparkling Jewel Robbery (1932) starring Kay Francis and William Powell in a tale of Viennese gentlemen thieves wreathed in marijuana smoke, to James Cagney and Joan Blondell in the classic crime caper Blonde Crazy (1931). While in Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933), Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck learn how to get ahead, one notch on their bedpost at a time. Swing by the UPP on the following dates to see these classics of Pre-Code Hollywood:

Sunday 6 November 16:00
Monday 7 November 18:30

Sunday 13 November 16:15
Monday 14 November 18:30

Saturday 19 November 15:45
Monday 21 November 18:30

Saturday 26 November 15:30 + Intro by Pamela Hutchinson
Monday 28 November 18:30

Book your tickets by CLICKING HERE or by clicking on the individual film titles above.

About the curators:

Christina Newland is the lead film critic at the i paper and a journalist on film, pop culture, and boxing at Criterion,Sight & Sound, BBC, MUBI, Empire, and others. She runs an award-winning newsletter, Sisters Under the Mink, on the depiction of women in crime film and TV. Her first book, an anthology entitled ‘She Found it at the Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema’, was published by Red Press in 2020. She tweets at @christinalefou.

Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance writer, critic, film historian and curator. She writes for Sight & Sound,Criterion,Indicator, the Guardian, Empire and regularly appears on BBC radio. She is also the editor of Sight and Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin, an email newsletter. Her publications include the BFI Film Classic on Pandora’s Box and 30-Second Cinema (Ivy Press), as well as essays in several edited collections. In 2021 she delivered the Philip French Memorial Lecture at Cinema Rediscovered. Her site: is devoted to silent cinema.

Words by season co-curators Pamela Hutchinson and Christina Newland. With thanks to Park Circus and Warner Bros.

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Plan your visit

Our beautiful art deco inspired auditorium can be found just off East Oxford's Cowley Road. We are open 7 days a week. We open the cinema and box office 30 minutes before the scheduled start time of each film, and the Box Office then closes 10 minutes after the film starts. We don’t show adverts, just a couple of trailers, so don't be late as the film itself starts very close to the advertised time!