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Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood
de Mick LaSalle
Between 1929 and 1934, women in American cinema took lovers, had babies out of wedlock, got rid of cheating husbands, enjoyed their sexuality, and led unapologetic careers. Before then, women on screen had come in two varieties -- sweet ingenue or vamp. Then two stars came along and blasted away those stereotypes. Greta Garbo turned the femme fatale into a woman whose capacity for love and sacrifice made all other human emotions seem pale. Meanwhile, Norma Shearer succeeded in taking the ingenue to a place she'd never been: the bedroom.These complicated women paved the way for a deluge of indelible stars -- Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, and Mae West, to name a few. Then, in 1934, the draconian Production Code became law in Hollywood, and these women were banished, not to be seen again for three decades.
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