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  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