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Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man

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Using the same mix of accessibility and insider knowledge he used so successfully in Complicated Women, author and film critic Mick LaSalle now turns his attention to the men of the pre-Code Hollywood era. The five years between 1929 and mid-1934 was a period of loosened censorship that finally ended with the imposition of a harsh Production Code that would, for the next th Using the same mix of accessibility and insider knowledge he used so successfully in Complicated Women, author and film critic Mick LaSalle now turns his attention to the men of the pre-Code Hollywood era. The five years between 1929 and mid-1934 was a period of loosened censorship that finally ended with the imposition of a harsh Production Code that would, for the next thirty-four years, censor much of the life and honesty out of American movies. Dangerous Men takes a close look at the images of manhood during this pre-Code era, which coincided with an interesting time for men-the culmination of a generation-long transformation in the masculine ideal. By the late twenties, the tumult of a new century had made the nineteenth century's notion of the ideal man seem like a repressed stuffed shirt, a deluded optimist. The smiling, confident hero of just a few years before fell out of favor, and the new heroes who emerged were gangsters, opportunists, sleazy businessmen, shifty lawyers, shell-shocked soldiers-men whose existence threatened the status quo. In this book, LaSalle highlights such household names as James Cagney, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson, Maurice Chevalier, Spencer Tracy, and Gary Cooper, along with lesser-known ones such as Richard Barthelmess, Lee Tracy, Robert Montgomery, and the magnificent Warren William. Together they represent a vision of manhood more exuberant and contentious-and more humane-than anything that has followed on the American screen.


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Using the same mix of accessibility and insider knowledge he used so successfully in Complicated Women, author and film critic Mick LaSalle now turns his attention to the men of the pre-Code Hollywood era. The five years between 1929 and mid-1934 was a period of loosened censorship that finally ended with the imposition of a harsh Production Code that would, for the next th Using the same mix of accessibility and insider knowledge he used so successfully in Complicated Women, author and film critic Mick LaSalle now turns his attention to the men of the pre-Code Hollywood era. The five years between 1929 and mid-1934 was a period of loosened censorship that finally ended with the imposition of a harsh Production Code that would, for the next thirty-four years, censor much of the life and honesty out of American movies. Dangerous Men takes a close look at the images of manhood during this pre-Code era, which coincided with an interesting time for men-the culmination of a generation-long transformation in the masculine ideal. By the late twenties, the tumult of a new century had made the nineteenth century's notion of the ideal man seem like a repressed stuffed shirt, a deluded optimist. The smiling, confident hero of just a few years before fell out of favor, and the new heroes who emerged were gangsters, opportunists, sleazy businessmen, shifty lawyers, shell-shocked soldiers-men whose existence threatened the status quo. In this book, LaSalle highlights such household names as James Cagney, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson, Maurice Chevalier, Spencer Tracy, and Gary Cooper, along with lesser-known ones such as Richard Barthelmess, Lee Tracy, Robert Montgomery, and the magnificent Warren William. Together they represent a vision of manhood more exuberant and contentious-and more humane-than anything that has followed on the American screen.

30 review for Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man

  1. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    This was a fascinating read despite it not being as good as Complicated Women. Let's face it; the women of the Pre-Code era were a hell of a lot more interesting overall simply because what was being done for women was progressive and refreshing in that time. They suffered much more of asetback once the Code was enforced because patriarchal ideas were being established again instead of opposed. The men are still fascinating though and the book does a great job of going into all the different way This was a fascinating read despite it not being as good as Complicated Women. Let's face it; the women of the Pre-Code era were a hell of a lot more interesting overall simply because what was being done for women was progressive and refreshing in that time. They suffered much more of asetback once the Code was enforced because patriarchal ideas were being established again instead of opposed. The men are still fascinating though and the book does a great job of going into all the different ways men were being portrayed and how they represented the views of society at that point. The shift of preferential male characters from the silent period to the early talkies is delved into quite quickly. Old-fashioned romantics were no longer wanted. Tradition was being rebelled against and was replaced with men who took what they wanted; who had a quick-talking, shifty, forceful and criminal side to them. The author does a great job, even better than he did with Complicated Women in this regard, of discussing the actor's work as well as their private life in ways that were relevant to the types of characters they would play. Hearing about James Cagney was incredible because every time I read any quote from him I just fall in love more. There are so many other actors that I am a fan of that LaSalle goes into. What was even more interesting was when he discussed the actors that are not talked about as often. These included Warren William, Lee Tracy and particularly Richard Barthelmess and his constant desire to appear in film what politicized issues he cared about. Corrupt businessmen were hated and the underdog was preferred. Overall this was a great companion piece to Complicated Women, both of which pay the level of respect that Pre-Code film deserves and so rarely gets.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I am a great fan of early film, especially the pre-Code era and this book added to my knowledge of the careers of those actors who were at the top of the heap during those days. The author offers a plethora of insider information regarding players. many of whom are practically forgotten today and provides the reason why some, such as Clark Gable, went on to a long and historic career, and why others, like Ramon Navarro, lost their popularity with the movie audience. The tone of pre-Code film sui I am a great fan of early film, especially the pre-Code era and this book added to my knowledge of the careers of those actors who were at the top of the heap during those days. The author offers a plethora of insider information regarding players. many of whom are practically forgotten today and provides the reason why some, such as Clark Gable, went on to a long and historic career, and why others, like Ramon Navarro, lost their popularity with the movie audience. The tone of pre-Code film suited the personalities of actors like Lee Tracy and Warren William......fast talking, slightly dishonorable and amoral. The day of the swooning romantic leading man was over and those actors that could not change their image to meet the changing times faded away. This is a fascinating book that is highly recommended for the film buff.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeri

    Even better than Complicated Women, I have to say. Maybe because the material isn't so well known? Pre-Code films (and its history) are usually about the women, so it was interesting to read about its impact on men and their roles. Plus, LaSalle was a lot funnier in this than in his previous book. I laughed out loud more than once at some of his snarky comments--he really doesn't like Al Jolson, for example: "[A] boy get hit by a truck, causing Jolson to serenade him in the hospital with "Little Even better than Complicated Women, I have to say. Maybe because the material isn't so well known? Pre-Code films (and its history) are usually about the women, so it was interesting to read about its impact on men and their roles. Plus, LaSalle was a lot funnier in this than in his previous book. I laughed out loud more than once at some of his snarky comments--he really doesn't like Al Jolson, for example: "[A] boy get hit by a truck, causing Jolson to serenade him in the hospital with "Little Pal." Miraculously, the singing doesn't kill the child." Aside from the Pre-Code usuals--Gable, Cagney, Fairbanks, Powell and Montgomery, LaSalle "introduces" others I now really want to dig up, Warren William and Richard Barthelmess.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    This book is beautifully written with loads of information, insightful commentary, and wonderful touches of humor. I enjoyed this one even more than its companion book, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. As I stated in my review for that book, I don't agree entirely with all of LaSalle's conclusions regarding the detrimental effect of the Production Code. However, I enjoyed this book immensely. It offers a window into another time and really captures the spirit of Pre-Code H This book is beautifully written with loads of information, insightful commentary, and wonderful touches of humor. I enjoyed this one even more than its companion book, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. As I stated in my review for that book, I don't agree entirely with all of LaSalle's conclusions regarding the detrimental effect of the Production Code. However, I enjoyed this book immensely. It offers a window into another time and really captures the spirit of Pre-Code Hollywood. I especially enjoyed the little mini biographies of the many stars the author mentions. LaSalle offers insight into the ways in which their personal lives affected their films and the messages they tried to convey. It's almost as if he knew them personally. If you aren't familiar with the actors, there is just enough information to whet your appetite, leaving you hungry to find out more about their lives and movies. As for the actors you know and love, the book manages to beautifully sum up what you like most while offering you additional insight. I especially enjoyed the sections on James Cagney and John Barrymore, two of my all-time personal favorites. LaSalle's extensive knowledge and sharp wit keep the pages turning, and the book reads quickly. That easy readability does nothing to make the book any less insightful. While fun facts and interesting tidbits abound in plenty, the book goes beyond movie trivia and examines the cultural climate of the time in which the films were made. He makes an interesting point when he writes: "Movies reflect culture but also affect it, and we can never know for sure which is influencing the other more." LaSalle does an excellent job of framing the films he discusses within the historical context of the era. Great reading for film buffs or fans of any of the "dangerous men" of old Hollywood.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mei

    Interesting insight into pre-code leading men. It was overall a quick read. The book is only about 200 pages long. I picked this up to read up on Fredric March, one of my new found favorite leading men. Being a classic movie buff, it was fascinating to learn about the typecasting of the pre-code Clark Gable. The book also offers a different viewpoint of John Gilbert's film demise. (It wasn't his voice) Interesting insight into pre-code leading men. It was overall a quick read. The book is only about 200 pages long. I picked this up to read up on Fredric March, one of my new found favorite leading men. Being a classic movie buff, it was fascinating to learn about the typecasting of the pre-code Clark Gable. The book also offers a different viewpoint of John Gilbert's film demise. (It wasn't his voice)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    What's driven me to read this repeatedly has been the merging of meticulous research, observation, and the author's genuine love of this period in film history. Pre-code Hollywood is a fascinating subject, and LaSalle's work, with it's engaging, vivid tone, sets a very amusing mood for it, which makes reading it a breeze. What's driven me to read this repeatedly has been the merging of meticulous research, observation, and the author's genuine love of this period in film history. Pre-code Hollywood is a fascinating subject, and LaSalle's work, with it's engaging, vivid tone, sets a very amusing mood for it, which makes reading it a breeze.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Elsey

    Way better then Dangerous Women despite being a lesser topic if only because the book is better order and reads better. It's not this person career and then someone else career. It's all tied together in this book and works a lot better. If you're interested in old movies this is a great book. Way better then Dangerous Women despite being a lesser topic if only because the book is better order and reads better. It's not this person career and then someone else career. It's all tied together in this book and works a lot better. If you're interested in old movies this is a great book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    A fascinating account of pre-code Hollywood, looking at the male stars and how different they were from those who followed them, getting so much more scope to show their emotions and go against stereotypes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Greta

    Couldn’t put it down! Fascinating account of many actors, good observations, very astute, lots of descriptions of films. Includes Barthelmess, Barrymore, Warren William, John Gilbert, Ramon Novarro, as well as the usual suspects.

  10. 5 out of 5

    DeAnna

    I think this book would have been more interesting if I had seen a lot more of the movies the author was discussing. As it was, I added a few movies to my Netflix queue, but didn't feel like finishing the book. I think this book would have been more interesting if I had seen a lot more of the movies the author was discussing. As it was, I added a few movies to my Netflix queue, but didn't feel like finishing the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    As good as LaSalle's "Complicated Women." A fun, entertaining, informative read. Great stills too. I hope TCM makes a documentary of it as they did of the earlier book. As good as LaSalle's "Complicated Women." A fun, entertaining, informative read. Great stills too. I hope TCM makes a documentary of it as they did of the earlier book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Another great book by LaSalle on 1920s/1930s Hollywood. I couldn't get into this one as much as with "Complicated Women," but it was still a great work. Another great book by LaSalle on 1920s/1930s Hollywood. I couldn't get into this one as much as with "Complicated Women," but it was still a great work.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    James Cagney, Clark Gable, and Warren William...need I say more?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brian DiNitto

    I loved hearing how these films connected with the culture of the time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    A

    Once again LaSalle blows me away with his transcendent writings. Brings me right to such a fabulous era. As always if you are interested in such an era and the musings around it.It's a must to read. Once again LaSalle blows me away with his transcendent writings. Brings me right to such a fabulous era. As always if you are interested in such an era and the musings around it.It's a must to read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Much better than Complicated Woman. Book is more organized and focused and provided more than just the common knowledge information that Complicated Women had.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Magnus Stanke

    Absolutely amazing companion piece/sequel to the author's 'Complicated Women', this is just as compelling, well-written and even often moving (I, for one, have never read a book about the history of cinema that's actually moving!!!). On the surface, at least as far as I'm concerned, some of the films that are discussed here are already more familiar than the ones in 'Complicated Women'. Unlike the 'women's pictures', the titles with guys in the driving seats (Scarface, The Public Enemy, I'm a Fug Absolutely amazing companion piece/sequel to the author's 'Complicated Women', this is just as compelling, well-written and even often moving (I, for one, have never read a book about the history of cinema that's actually moving!!!). On the surface, at least as far as I'm concerned, some of the films that are discussed here are already more familiar than the ones in 'Complicated Women'. Unlike the 'women's pictures', the titles with guys in the driving seats (Scarface, The Public Enemy, I'm a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Frankenstein, Dracula, etc) have always retained their status as bona fide classics, had undergone only modest cuts in order to be considered fit for re-runs. A lot of the other pre-codes disappeared for decades into the vaults of the studios that had produced them as they were deemed un-re-releasable by the all-too-mighty Breen office who almost succeeded in burying these films for good. Almost, because from the mid-90s onwards with the event of TCM, they were rediscovered, reappraised and haven't gone out of style since then, thankfully. We did get our happy end, albeit many decades later. Mark LaSalle is a great, wise writer for many reasons. His style appears effortless, even when he wades through sheathes and sheathes of information, sheds new light on those well-known films, forces us to reconsider them and the people who made them. He also unearthes a wealth of knowledge about less celebrated movies and their stars. We learn not only about Clark Gable, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, but also about Warren William, Robert Montgomery, and - somebody I really didn't know much about - Richard Barthelmess. I never, ever say this, usually, but this time I will: The book's only flaw is that it ends too soon... and the fact that, in comparison, all other writing about the era will now look, well, inferior in comparison. WOW

  18. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I love the movies of the 1930s, and clearly Mick LaSalle does too. This book, a follow-up to his earlier Complicated Women doesn't have as clear a thesis as the previous book, but it's enormously entertaining to read. Even if I don't always agree with his opinion (his take on Jolson is unnecessarily harsh, but not at all inaccurate) it's clear he put a great deal of thought and did a lot of research. I love how he finds threads through the careers of different actors. Sure, everyone knows what a I love the movies of the 1930s, and clearly Mick LaSalle does too. This book, a follow-up to his earlier Complicated Women doesn't have as clear a thesis as the previous book, but it's enormously entertaining to read. Even if I don't always agree with his opinion (his take on Jolson is unnecessarily harsh, but not at all inaccurate) it's clear he put a great deal of thought and did a lot of research. I love how he finds threads through the careers of different actors. Sure, everyone knows what a typical role is for someone like Gary Cooper or James Stewart, but LaSalle also finds commonality in the roles of Fredric March, something I never would have picked up on although I've seen and enjoyed March's work in many films. We also get great insight into the lives and careers of the usual suspects, like Gable and Cagney, plus Edward G. Robinson, Lon Chaney, Paul Muni, and many more. But I also appreciate the connections he draws along certain themes, such as how businessmen are portrayed, or reporters, for example. If they haven't already, Dangerous Men and Complicated Women should be made into documentaries, with LaSalle narrating over clips from the movies he mentions. I looked to see if Mick LaSalle has written any other books, and it looks like there's just one more, about contemporary French movie actresses. I'm afraid that one isn't likely to interest me as much as I'd be much less familiar with his references. All I can say is, Mick LaSalle needs to write more books about classic American movies! I love how he loves this era of film.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily Edmond

    2.5--an easy read but not enough depth.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    A. Very. Distinguish. Guy. With. Talent. And. The. True. Gift. Of. Hollywood. Looks.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Loe

    That rare follow-up book that's every bit as good as the original ( Complicated Women). That rare follow-up book that's every bit as good as the original ( Complicated Women).

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ziwzih

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dykhousel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

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