The Ain’t We Got Fun: Pre-Code Hollywood series continues with another incredible double-feature (yes, 2-for-1!) at the Heights Theatre on Monday night. Check out the insanely entertaining Search for Beauty and Murder at the Vanities, both from 1934… and well before Hollywood “cleaned up” its act.
Search for Beauty and Murder at the Vanities review by Trylon volunteer Colette Ricci.
Search for Beauty is an equal opportunity movie–nothing is weighted too heavily to any one side. Men and women are objectified and preyed upon. The morally high horsed and morally corrupt converting one another is the answer to their problems. Actions have consequence, no matter the morality of the perpetrator. And everyone is unchanged by the end of the film, each just as squeaky clean or immorally motivated as they were at the start.
It’s a surprisingly excellent, though kind of passive, commentary on why bending people to your will isn’t the best tool for converting people. But I wonder if this was a purely accidental commentary. Search for Beauty is flush with cornball acting, running jokes beaten to death, gratuitous near-nudity, a lavish dance number, and characters with no more dimension than a birthday card. Was all that really brilliant camouflage for some social commentary? Search for Beauty walks the line with such utter confidence, I honestly couldn’t say.
Where Search For Beauty attempts to walk a morality tightrope, Murder at the Vanities does a high dive into moral corruption. There’s a love song to marijuana with a backdrop of nude women posing in peyote flowers. The theater owner refuses to stop the show when it becomes apparent there’s been a murder… or two. Actual blood drips from a dead body. The homicide detective just about breaks his neck checking out every dame that walks by. Ladies wear only the slightest hint of clothing.
Assuming this was the bleeding edge in 1934, what would have naturally come next for taboos in film? How would that order of events shape the film landscape of today? If Hollywood had just moved to the rating system and skipped the Code would we have redefined our social taboos that much earlier?
The Hays Code was basically forced naivete. And without relatable manifestations of their problems, desires, fears, experimenting, family troubles, etc., many people were left to feel like anomalies for large portions (if not all of) their lives. Sure you could pick up a book and find these themes, but you’d have to be able to read. Film brought gritty fiction to a much wider audience, and free artistic expression is an important tool of an evolving society. Did stalling that sector of art’s natural evolution stunt our growth as a county for 30 years? Or did we benefit further by having to express those morally bankrupt ideas in far subtler ways?
Whatever your takeaway, these movies should not be assessed solely on face value. Their entry into our lexicon is far more important than any flimsy story line or stiff delivery. It’s a strange chance to reflect on where we are and how we got here.
Colette Ricci writes, photographs, crafts jewelery, draws, has a really killer idea for a magazine, and works retail 40hrs a week. If you know of a way to create time, please contact her, she is desperate.
Search for Beauty screens tonight at the Heights Theatre at 7:30 followed by Murder at the Vanities at 9:10. Double-feature! One ticket gets you in for both shows. Purchase tickets here.