Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood” as Want to Read:
Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  870 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
In the pre-Code Hollywood era, between 1929 and 1934, women in American cinema took lovers, had babies out of wedlock, got rid of cheating husbands, enjoyed their sexuality, led unapologetic careers, and, in general, acted the way many think women only acted after 1968.

Before then, women on screen had come in two varieties-sweet ingenue or vamp. Then two stars came along:
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 19th 2001 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Complicated Women, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Complicated Women

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jan 13, 2010 Elaine rated it liked it
I've watched more pre-code movies since I read LaSalle. His writing was so convincing and his cut to Breen's jugular so adept, I was carried along and convinced, although I'm not usually so convincable. Perhaps it was because he made Breen, the Censor who ruled over Hollywoodland from 1934 on so loathesome. Also, like most Americans who consider themselves intellectual, whether that's justified or not, I am predisposed to find inanity in rigid controls and government interference in artistic por ...more
Collin Bost
Jun 13, 2012 Collin Bost rated it liked it
Mick LaSalle's central thesis is the pre-Code offered the most complex portrayals of women in the classic studio era--that this was the best time for actresses, more so than the 1940s, because women were allowed to be real people and to have real fun on screen. Although this argument might be persuasive (and even true), most of this book is actually about how much LaSalle really, really likes Norma Shearer.

The book is organized around in-depth sections on Shearer and Greta Garbo. As a result, La
Oct 30, 2014 Tereneh rated it really liked it
I fell in love with fashion because of the movies from the 1930s and 40s. What I failed to realize until I read this book is how much I actually missed by not seeing more pre-code films. What a loss what a waste of talent and we are still living with the ramifications. Worth reading.

My only wish is that the author would mention race, i think he did once "black maids." I am bored with the idea that when we talk about women in American history we only mean white women. That is as limiting as only
Apr 30, 2008 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Turner Classic Movies.
Shelves: non-fiction-film
Entertaining and informative history of women's roles in the pre-code (late 20's - early 30's) era. Warning: this book will make you want to see all of the films mentioned in it! But that's a GOOD thing.
Sarah Fields
Sep 12, 2015 Sarah Fields rated it really liked it
I have some disagreements with LaSalle's assessment of Pre-Codes. He makes them out to be much more progressive then they are and is a harder on the films that came after 1934 then I think is fair. I do agree that the representation of women between 1929 and 34 was more complicated, as LaSalle says. They did often subvert certain gender norms and cultural expectations, but they were also products of their time and could be just as misogynistic as any film made later. If anything, many of the fil ...more
Feb 08, 2010 Bruce rated it it was amazing
The preponderance of this book covers the female stars of Pre-Code Hollywood. The movies and actresses of this era reflected the new freedoms women had obtained as a result of changes in society. In the movies women were empowered and on an equal footing as men. Sex and romance combined to provide movie goers an idea of the new society. Stars like Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo exuded a sensuality that enticed men and women into the movies. Alas, reality was not to last. Anti-Semetic misogynists ...more
Feb 02, 2014 Rama rated it it was amazing
The fascinating history of the studio-era and pre-code Hollywood

This is a fascinating book that discusses the movies produced during pre code period of 1929-1934 and evaluates the impact it had on the careers of Hollywood's leading ladies. The movies of Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo are extensively discussed along with many other leading ladies and how it impacted the studios and the Hollywood culture. Shearer was a smiling subversive and her most characteristic film is the Divorcee and Riptide
James Eckman
Sep 13, 2015 James Eckman rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Film buffs
Recommended to James by: Sarah Fields
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is a book about the onset of censorship in Hollywood and its attack on women, mostly headed up by TADA! the religious right and the Catholic church. The same sort of evil clowns who brought you the 50's comic code. Women were advancing, progressive and permissive roles were shown on the silver screen; that had to stop.

I only remember a handful of the movies listed in this work and I'm not old enough to have seen them in theaters, but for those LaSalle's descriptions are spot on. The author
Mar 12, 2013 Bkwormmegs rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book. It's a thorough and joyful review of the leading ladies and their films in the late twenties and early thirties before the Code was enforced in Hollywood. When you read about the actresses, their ambitions and independence, the influence they held and exercised in their work, the strength of the characters they played and the personas they inhabited - it's all startlingly modern. I came out of this book with a fresh and more favorable view of Garbo as an actress - her mystique ...more
Jun 25, 2016 Mollie rated it it was amazing
Fascinating subject and wonderfully written book. These actresses deserve so much more recognition that what they get. Wow.
Jun 04, 2017 Elizabeth rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Frederick Gault
May 24, 2017 Frederick Gault rated it it was amazing
Very well researched. It is best to use it as a guide as you explore pre-code movies.
Jan 06, 2017 Richard rated it it was amazing
I love the movies of the 1930s, and I loved reading Mick LaSalle's take on some of these films, which is the main reason that I'm giving this book a five-star rating. It's perhaps too easy to dismiss these movies as dated or corny and not give them the respect they deserve. I appreciate that LaSalle takes these films seriously.

Specifically, LaSalle addresses the Pre-Code movies, made before mid-1934 when the censorship rules became compulsory, rather than suggested. It's an interesting look at w
Jan 29, 2010 Catherine rated it really liked it
Book 22: Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood - Mick LaSalle

This was a great look at women in Pre-Code. The author clearly worships the period and heavily mourns it at the same time making it very satisfying to read. Basically with Pre-Code, women were in control of their lives and afterwards their freedom was taken away by the punishing and suffocating women’s picture to come after. Films were being made that actually had women making decisions for them and were doing wh
Jun 28, 2007 Shelley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: old movie fans and feminists
Shelves: history, media
"Between 1929 and 1934, women in American cinema were modern. They took lovers, had babies out of wedlock, got rid of cheating husbands, enjoyed their sexuality, lead unapologetic careers, and, in general, acted the way many think women acted only after 1968."

This spawned one of my favorite documentaries, so I was hoping it would live up to it. I missed seeing clips of what he was discussing, but I still greatly enjoyed it. I always love any Norma Shearer movie I see, and she was often the focus
Oct 04, 2007 Jodi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in film, society, gender, or history
This book is righteous. It details a short, but fantastic period in film, from the time that talkies came into being, until the Hollywood Production Code of 1934 was put into place. This was an incredible time in our social history, what with industrialization and the end of the first world war, and the book discusses, in detail, the emergence of the modern woman (as well as the modern man, in 'Dangerous Men,' also by Mick LaSalle). The brilliance of this period in film is that it actually refle ...more
Dyah Subagyo
Apr 15, 2014 Dyah Subagyo rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Do you think that old and vintage somewhat means virtuous, unsullied, and pure? Do you equate the age when our grandparents were just wee children with the age of innocence? If your answers to those questions are yes, prepare to be surprised. In USA, at least, it was a wild and free age, at least before the enforcement of Hays Code.
This book is suitable for ones who are interested in movie history or simply love anything from the period of 1920s-1940s. The author, I think, is biased but it doesn
Feb 05, 2017 Paul rated it liked it
I've been binging on early talkies lately (as one does), so I was interested in LaSalle's dissection of the "pre-Code" era (roughly 1929-1934) in which Hollywood films were more racy, violent, cynical and (per LaSalle's interpretation) gynecentric than the "Golden Age of Hollywood" features that followed the industry's implementation of self-censorship in late '34. LaSalle relates some fascinating history, especially about the anti-Semitic bigotry that sparked the "Production Code" which prohibi ...more
Aug 20, 2010 Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Having always loved old movies, I really enjoyed this book. It is an interesting, informative, and well-written look at early Hollywood and the forces that shaped its films. It gives credit to a host of wonderful early actresses and addresses the complex relationship between society and the movies. The author’s love for Norma Shearer is apparent early on, and, having seen a few of the films he recommends, I can see why. She really is brilliant. The book is worth reading, if only to gain a list o ...more
Holly Montrose
Feb 23, 2014 Holly Montrose rated it it was amazing
'Complicated Women' takes us back to Hollywood, before the enactment of the 'Hayes Code' in 1934. This code ripped the heart out of Hollywood movie making and brought us things like married couples sleeping in twin beds and only kissing on either the upper or lower lip, and other assorted ridiculousness.

Before the Hayes Code, men took a back seat in the movies. Women were the real stars, the box-office draws, the money-makers. Norma Shearer features heavily in the book and is obviously the write
Jan 07, 2013 Faith rated it it was amazing
Fascinating insight into pre-code Hollywood in the early 20th century. Very reflective of different/opposing views/expectations for women. It particularly compared the careers of two women- Norma Shearer, and Greta Garbo-& related them to two traditional stereotypes of women. Interesting to read how socially advanced Pre-Code film were at for the time. And also, reflects on the influence of events on society, on culture. Very interesting. I especially enjoyed reading how many 1920s/early 193 ...more
Jan 30, 2012 Kate rated it really liked it
I adore old Hollywood flicks, and I love what they still say about society today. They are still relevant.

And LaSalle makes an incredibly compelling argument for many of these actresses that have sadly fallen by the wayside or mis-remembered because of the Hollywood Code.

It used to be that the biggest box-office hits, for men and women, were movies about WOMEN. Women's health and choices and their sides of the marriage and divorce, female prostitution and even issues of abortion. But all that
Margaret H.
Jun 11, 2010 Margaret H. rated it really liked it
I just happened to snag this book as I was stacking at my library, and what a treat. I know so much more about pre-code Hollywood, and LaSalle makes an extremely convincing case for Norma Shearer's status as a latent feminist icon. After reading about all her pre-codes, I am a little curious to see them, but I worry that they won't live up to LaSalle's exalted description. He doesn't seem to think much of the 30s screwball comedies I love with my whole heart, so it's likely we have different tas ...more
Alex Severin
Feb 08, 2011 Alex Severin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hollywood-film
Complicated Women takes us on a journey into pre-code Hollywood – the early days before the ridiculous and diluting piece of legislation that was called the Hayes Code was enacted in 1934.

This was a time when women were the biggest stars and male actors were secondary. Women were the real driving force in pre-code Hollywood – not just ingenue or muse, but movers and shakers and box office dynamite.

Mick LaSalle has a real grasp of his subject and an obvious affection for the era. His obvious fav
I think LaSalle did a good job capturing the Hollywood of the pre-code era. I love the old movies and think the portrayal of women was much more realistic before Breen et al; LaSalle gives the reader an in-depth history of why the Code existed without being boring. One thing he doesn't cover is how/why the Code passed out of existence.

It's fairly obvious that he loved Shearer and Garbo as he spent so much of the book on the films of these two women. I will watch Garbo films differently now than
Christine Borgerding
Jun 26, 2012 Christine Borgerding rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the classic movie buff
Very informative. Loved the appendix at the end that lists the movies discussed, where and if they can be found for viewing and the brief account of where the Ladies themselves ended up.

Gave very good accounts of the Movies that he discussed as most are impossible or extremely hard to find and watch for the average person. This book was written in a way that holds all other actresses up to Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo for comparison.

I'm excited to use this book as a tool to hopefully track do
Dort Hanshaw
Jun 05, 2016 Dort Hanshaw rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you expect to read about Shearer about Garbo

Then this book is is for you. Granted, in writing this bok, the author does set up Garbo and Shearer as the two women who paved the way in making sure that they were e new, modern woman. Women that chucked the double standard. However, there were only little bits and pieces about Stanwyck, Carol Lombard, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Harlow, Crawford, whom all should be included as sane, sexy women in the Pre Code years.

I did give this book a 4 star
Jan 18, 2017 Amberly rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
I really enjoyed this look into the lives of the women who dominated the screen during this fascinating time in film history. I always pick up these books to fill in the gaps of my own education about the subject and boy did this book do the job. Most of the actresses (Harlow, Loy, Garbo, Colbert, etc.) I had already known and seen some of their pre-code and code movies but I learned about Norma Shearer and the affects the code had on so many women's careers. It was shocking to believe that some ...more
As someone who had only a peripheral knowledge of pre-Code Hollywood and the stars that shone, this book was an enlightening. I was completely taken aback by how scandalous the stars and the movies were in this period, and was totally ignorant of the rampant feminism that wove through the movies, the studios and the media. In LaSalle's capable hands, this explosive era is brought back to life and given its due treatment.
Feb 09, 2016 Nina rated it liked it
The details about the stars are interesting; the broader thesis of what the code did to feminism, women's issues, etc is the real draw though. For non-fiction, this was a pretty quick read, but that doesn't make it less scholarly. This is a book about movies so there is a lot of opinion in it, but I thought many of his points were really on point and made me look at those early talkies differently.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Censorship 1 7 Feb 13, 2010 10:49AM  
  • Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood
  • Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema; 1930-1934
  • Without Lying Down: Screenwriter Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood
  • The Parade's Gone By...
  • City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s
  • From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies
  • Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow
  • Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara
  • Silent Stars
  • Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture
  • Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood
  • Louise Brooks: A Biography
  • Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew
  • Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming
  • Swanson on Swanson
  • Lulu in Hollywood
  • Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star
  • Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies
Mick LaSalle is an American film critic and the author of two books on pre-code Hollywood. As of March 2008[update], he has written in excess of 1550 reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle,[1] and he has been podcasting them since September 2005.[2]

LaSalle is the author of Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, a history/critical study of the actresses who worked in the film indu
More about Mick LaSalle...

Share This Book

“No longer stereotypes, these screen women had become complicated. This combination of sensuality, independence and playfulness, made them fascinating to watch and completely modern.” 1 likes
More quotes…