The term “Pre-Code” covers films shot in the United States between the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the appointment of Joseph I. Breen, in July 1934, as director of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. The films of this period are distinguished by an extraordinary formal and narrative freedom.

The Black Cat

by Edgar G. Ulmer

1934 / USA / Fiction / 65′

With Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners

While honeymooning in Budapest, young couple Peter and Joan Allison meet Doctor Vitus Verdegast, who is en route to the mansion of his old ‘friend’, Hjalmar Poelzig. Forced to enjoy Poelzig’s hospitality themselves following a bus crash, the Allisons discover that he is in fact a devil worshipper who betrayed Verdegast and thousands of their countrymen during WWI. Verdegast now wants revenge – but Poelzig pre-empts him by taking his guests prisoner, announcing his intention to turn Joan into the bride of Satan.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

by Robert Florey

1932 / USA / Fiction / 61′

With Sydney Fox, Bela Lugosi, Leon Ames

In 1845 Paris, mysterious Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) demonstrates his theories on evolution using his ape, Erik, at a carnival visited by medical student Pierre Dupin (Leon Waycoff) and his girlfriend, Camille Espanaye (Sidney Fox). Unknown to his audience, Mirakle performs experiments in his secret laboratory that involve mixing human blood with that of Erik’s. After three prostitutes are found dead from being injected with a strange substance, Pierre is alarmed when Camille goes missing.

Heat Lightning

by Mervyn Leroy

1934 / USA / Fiction / 63′

With Aline MacMahon, Ann Dvorak, Preston Foster

In the Mohave Desert, Olga runs a gas station, lunch counter, and auto camp with her younger sister Myra. In a 24-hour period, Olga must deal with Myra’s desire to go to a town dance with a cad, the appearance by happenstance of George, an old boyfriend whose conduct is never above suspicion, and the overnight presence of two women recently divorced in Reno, who, with a chauffeur, are carrying valuable jewels.

16mm collection print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

The Sin of Nora Moran

by Phil Goldstone

1933 / USA / Fiction / 64′

With Zita Johann, John Miljan, Alan Dinehart, Paul Cavanagh, Claire Du Brey

Nora Moran, a young woman with a difficult and tragic past, is sentenced to die for a murder that she did not commit. She could easily reveal the truth and save her own life, if only it would not damage the lives, careers and reputations of those whom she loves.

Digital presentation courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive


©Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


by Michael Curtiz

1933 / USA / Fiction / 60′

With Ruth Chatterton, George Brent

Alison Drake runs the car business inherited from her family with an iron fist. As uncompromising in her office as in her bedroom, she has a habit of inviting some of her employees over and then getting rid of them, until she meets a man who can stand up to her, seducing him Jim Thorne.