Most of the popular streaming services offer classic movies of some sort, but if you want to watch Pre-Code films from the early 1930s the best subscription service is definitely Warner Archive Instant, a recent arrival on the market that specializes in classic films from the extensive Warner catalog. Warner makes a point of showcasing its Pre-Code offerings with their own category on its site, which highlights the ways in which the service caters to serious old school cinephiles.
Pre-Code films are known for their racy content. They flourished in the early 1930s before the Hays Code began to be more rigorously enforced around 1934, when Joseph Breen took over as head of the Production Code Administration. In the heady days before Breen’s arrival, films could get away with a lot more adult content, including enough sex and violence to raise the eyebrows of jaded modern viewers. Adultery was a popular topic, and Prohibition was gleefully ignored by screen characters, much like the early Hays Code itself. Stars like Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, and Barbara Stanwyck showed skin and sex appeal with abandon and became top box office draws. (You can learn more about the life and career of Pre-Code star Joan Crawford by watching the video at the top of this article.)
Among the Pre-Code films you’ll find on Warner Archive Instant right now are “The Purchase Price” (1932), starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent, “Red-Headed Woman” (1932), starring Jean Harlow, and “The Divorcee” (1930), starring Norma Shearer. Other Pre-Code films currently available include “Baby Face” (1933), “Blonde Crazy” (1931), “Footlight Parade” (1933), and “Madame Satan” (1930). Stars include Joan Blondell, James Cagney, Ruth Chatterton, and Loretta Young.
Warner Archive Instant adds new films to its catalog frequently, and more Pre-Code classics are sure to be in the mix. Visit the site to see its offerings in other categories like film noir, silent, comedy, and science fiction. The Archive streaming catalog includes films that viewers won’t find anywhere else.
Want to learn more about Pre-Code films? Read the GreenCine essay by Mick LaSalle or try books like Thomas Doherty’s “Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934.”
Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, “Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching,” is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.