Wednesday, February 22, 2017


I had to find another pre-code movie to watch, and I found a good one. Extravagance is from 1930, so it was a very early talking picture (the very first one being released just three years earlier). Early talkies tend to have a lot of issues with sound control. For example, in one scene someone crumples a newspaper at the table, and it sounds like thunder, probably due to microphones that were placed all over the set to capture the dialogue. But if a person is willing to take the cuts in the picture and the noise pollution in stride, there are some really enjoyable films to be discovered.

The movie stars an actress named June Collyer as young newlywed Alice. She's a little spoiled, and she's used to living a pretty nice life with the luxuries she's come to expect. Her new husband loves her, but he simply can't afford that type of lifestyle. She makes the acquaintance of a man who is well-known among her circle of friends for providing women with expensive jewelry and fur coats, and in payment for the goods, the women provide him with 'certain benefits' that were usually reserved for married people (wink, wink, elbow nudge).

That's pretty much the whole story, and the entire plot of women, especially married women, whoring themselves for sable coats is pretty scandalous. That alone is enough to relegate this movie to the pre-code set, because after the Hays code began to be enforced in earnest, I don't think this would have flown.

There are a couple other shots which allude to pre-code allowances, like the morning after the wedding the husband's and wife's slippers are shown side by side on the floor near the bed, and they can  be heard making pillow talk about "rolling over and taking another little snooze" but it's more cute and coy than other honeymoon references I've seen in pre-code films.

The other reference is accomplished in the form of a newspaper article. After a marital spat, Alice is not speaking to her husband. But she still wants to annoy him, so she starts whistling. Fred, who knows what she's trying to do, opens the newspaper to read and sees this article:

I have to admit that I laughed out loud at this, because the comedic timing was perfect- much like it used to be on The Simpsons (when the writing on that show was still good). The sub-headline about the man "socking" his wife is pre-code because the Hays Code did seek to regulate violence, and violence within a marriage, and being used as a source of comedy, wouldn't have gotten past the censors. They didn't even like the idea of husbands and wives sleeping in the same bed on screen, so husbands beating their wives was certainly too taboo.

I didn't really know any of the actors in this film. June Collyer only acted in films through the 20's and early 30's, and the TV appearances she made later in her life were on shows I'm not familiar with. It's too bad, because she was great in this movie, and her looks resemble Norma Shearer, but maybe a little softer in the face.

The one actor I kind of recognized was Jameson Thomas, and that's only because he's in one my all-time favorite pre-code movie It Happened One Night. He plays King Westley, who of course loses Claudette Colbert's character to the infinitely more handsome and charming Clark Gable. And one actress' voice sounded very familiar to me, so I took a minute to research her (Nella Walker), and found out that she's also in the Shirley Temple movie Captain January, which I pretty much know by heart now. I really think sometimes that I missed my chance to become a film historian.

Extravagance is basically a cautionary tale to young women: you should value your virtues, and the love of a good man more than material goods. Not the worst lesson to preach, and certainly not the worst film. It's only an hour long, so it's worth the watch.

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