Today is Sunday, so it is time for another article in our weekly series about new Code films, 52 Code Films. Every week, I watch at least one American Breen film that I have never seen before. Since PEPS is all about the Code and the movies its enforcement by Joseph Breen produced for twenty years (1934-1954), it is obvious that we like Code films. However, when it’s dinner time and I want to choose a movie to watch, it’s so easy to pick my same old favorite. That favorite is a wonderful movie, but there may be so many other films which would also be favorites if I ever saw them! The purpose of this series is to make myself watch more Code films I haven’t seen before. I am now on the twenty-seventh week, and I have found some wonderful new movies so far!
Today’s topic is The World Moves On from 1934. Released throughout the USA on August 31, 1934, this was officially the first Code film. The opening credits give the thrilling site of PCA Seal No. 1. Since we are hosting our Favorite Code Film Blogathon this weekend in honor of the 85th anniversary of the PCA’s formation this July, I decided to make the first Code film my topic for this week. Ever since I announced our blogathon, I struggled to think of my own topic of participation. I love so many Code films that it is so difficult for me to choose one, especially one which I haven’t already reviewed extensively. Thus, I decided to write about the very first Code movie and combine my blogathon entry with this week’s 52 Code Films article. I have wanted to watch this movie for a couple of years. It has been on our Amazon Prime watchlist for at least a year and a half. I am glad that I finally had a good reason to watch and review this landmark movie! This marks the first film of the twelve I included on the 52 Code Films poster that I have actually watched and reviewed this year. I hope to watch most if not all those unseen movies before 2019 is over.
In 1825, a wealthy cotton family in the South mourns the death of the patriarch, the Cotton King, and plans for the future. His will arranged for the expansion of the business in Europe and the subdivision of power between his sons. The spokesman son finds himself very attracted to the beautiful young wife of their British business partner, an elderly Englishman who was their father’s best friend. When the young lady is insulted by an oaf at a party, he fights a pistol dual for her honor and kills the man. The beauty is touched, but both agree that they must honor the company’s oath, which says that all must be sacrificed for the family. They resist the temptation even to kiss and say goodbye forever as she goes back to England with her husband. Nearly ninety years later, there is a huge family reunion at the Southern plantation. Relatives come from Europe for the event, which is hosted by the current father and son, the latter of whom looks exactly like his great-grandfather, the young man who loved and lost the beautiful Englishwoman. In his drawing room, he meets a lovely English girl who is the descendant of his ancestor’s lost love. She is here with a man who resembles the ancestor’s elderly husband, but, thankfully, he is her father in this case. As the two young people meet in the drawing room where the first scene took place, they feel an immediate attraction, a sense of deja vu, and a strange recollection of events which happened before their lifetimes. The young man also meets his European cousins, who are running the foreign branches of the cotton company. He is very disturbed to learn that the lovely young lady is engaged to his German cousin, whose long-winded father invites the whole family to attend his other son’s wedding the next spring. At that wedding, the German youth announces his engagement to the English girl without asking her permission, since he thinks they have an understanding. She is upset, since she really loves the young American. However, this announcement makes the heart-broken American leave Germany for Paris with his French cousin. Once there, the two young men hear about the outbreak of the Great War. They both join the army and fight for France together. Meanwhile, the Englishwoman has broken her engagement from the German cousin, and the family is now being torn apart by the European war. The English girl must head the British branch of the company, but she fears that she may lose her true love forever. Can the family and the sweethearts survive the ravages of war?
The American son in 1825 and his great-grandson in 1914 are both named Richard Girard and are played by Franchot Tone. The English partner’s wife in 1825 is Mrs. Warburton, and the English partner’s daughter in 1914 is Mary Warburton; both are played by Madeleine Carroll. One of the young American’s brothers in 1815 is Carlos Richard, and the French cousin in 1914 is Henri Richard; both are played by Raul Roulien. Mary Warburton’s fiance is Erik von Gerhardt, played by Reginald Denny. His father, the head of the German branch of the company, is Baron von Gerhardt, played by Siegfried Ruman. His other son, whose wedding is a grand occasion, is Fritz von Gerhardt, played by Ferdinand Schumann-Heink. The English girl’s husband in 1825 is Gabriel Warburton, and her descendant’s father in 1914 is Sir John Warburton; both are played by Lumsden Hare. The oaf who insults Mrs. Warburton at the party in 1825 is The Duallist, played by Walter McGrail.
This film was directed by John Ford. It was produced by Winfield Sheehan. The production company was the Fox Film Corporation. The story and screenplay were by Reginald Berkeley with additional, uncredited writing by Doris Anderson, William M. Counselman, Joe Cunningham, James Gleason, Llewellyn Hughes, Edward T. Lowe Jr, and Henry Wales. At the Venice Film Festival, this film was nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film, and John Ford won an award for this film at that festival.
This is a perfect Code film. I was so pleased by what a wonderfully decent movie it is, since many of the early Code films are less totally Code-compliant because they weren’t wholly self-regulated under the PCA. This is such a dramatic, epic, stirring story. It sets a very high standard for the future of PCA-approved movies. I thought it started on the right note, as the first image seen was a large crucifix on the wall. Within the first few minutes of the film, there is a potential problem, love between a single man and another man’s wife. One couldn’t ask for a better first love triangle, since attraction never goes beyond propriety. Temptation is resisted, and the forbidden couple is soon replaced by their descendants, who are, happily, both unmarried. The movie runs into very serious subject matter when World War I begins. One reviewer on IMDb described this movie as pacifistic, but I don’t see that message. I think that the depiction of the horrors of war is very honest. War is horrible, and America was still recovering from the first World War. This movie reflects the feeling which many Americans in the 1930s had toward war. With World War I, the “war to end all wars,” not even twenty years past, Americans were not eager to join another European skirmish. I thought there was some amazing war footage in this film. It was so realistic. There were longer battle scenes than in many later Code films, and they were very convincing. I found the war footage almost uncomfortably long, since it was very intense. However, it was not actually gruesome or gory. You saw men falling in battle, but there was no blood or graphic violence. The only blood shown was on one man’s hand when he was shot but not seriously injured. I felt that the war violence was acceptable in this usage, since it was not disgusting. John Ford did an excellent job of depicting the horrors of war without offending the audience’s sensibilities. Later in the film, a wife comforts her husband, and he gets into bed with her. They embrace, but it is not suggestive or inappropriate at all. It is a very sweet and right depiction of the beautiful relationship which a husband and wife can have. British censors often deleted scenes which showed a man and woman in bed together, even if they were husband and wife. For that reason, the PCA often suggested that married couples be shown in twin rather than double beds, especially after a difficult situation with one film in 1937. However, by American standards of decency, there is nothing unacceptable about this scene. This is an example of all a Code film should be.
I think this is a wonderful movie. The historical costumes are gorgeous. The acting is sublime. I thought that Franchot Tone was marvelous in this film. I was especially impressed by the way he showed his character changing because of the times and his experiences. I was very impressed by the performance of Madeleine Carroll, whom I have never seen in a film before. I thought that she was lovely and very effective in this role. The rest of the cast was also excellent. I really liked Raul Roulien’s performance as Henri. He is a particularly inspiring character and a great voice of wisdom and morality in the latter part of the film, when he becomes a priest. I found the story very riveting and moving. To me, the most amazing part of this movie is the way World War II is predicted during a montage in the latter part of the film. Newsreel footage is shown of Hitler, Mussolini, Japanese activity, British warships, and other military stirrings. I had to keep reminding myself that this was made seven years before America joined the war! It is especially interesting because Nazi activity wasn’t discussed in films until 1939, yet this brief glimpse truly shows what was coming. This is a brilliant film on so many levels. It shows the past and the future, both of world politics and of Hollywood movies.
I highly recommend this film to my readers. It is a masterpiece. A lot of people don’t like it, but I don’t know why not. It has something for everyone. There is touching sentiment and a moving depiction of a family. There is emotional romance and a beautiful love story. There is excitement and conflict because of the war sequences. There is excellent historical detail. This film spans almost 110 years, since it begins in 1825 and goes to modern times, 1934. The only thing I found a little strange about this movie is the deja vu between the leading characters. The way they seemed to remember events from the lives of their ancestors hinted at reincarnation, which is a little mystic for me. However, they didn’t make a lot of it, so it didn’t bother me. It is a subtle hint and not an ideology which is strongly presented. I think that this is a movie which will really be enjoyed by most classic film fans.
For the Blogathon
This movie was such a perfect start to the greatest era in film history. This movie dealt with very current and controversial topics of the day. Hitler came to power in 1933. Although war with England wouldn’t officially begin until 1939, some people could already see by 1934 that “Der Fuehrer” was trouble. Some say that this movie is anti-war because it features a passionate speech by Mary against war as the solution to the world’s problems. Rather than being anti-war, I think that this film is pro-faith. It teaches the message that one needs faith in something to keep him during difficult times. Whatever your religious belief is, you need to believe in something. John Ford ends the film with a touching and deeply moving tribute to his own faith and that of the fathers of the Code, since the last shot is an image of the crucifix which we saw at the opening of the film. As the crucifix is then hovering in front of the sky, it is a beacon, projecting the future of America. Faith at last had returned to the country through its films. This is a timeless movie which should be considered one of the classics. It was a turning point for Hollywood. It was the beginning of the twenty-year era of decency in America under Joseph Breen’s watchful and loving guidance. It was the beginning of a time which would leave an indelible mark on the film industry and the country. This was counted as number 1 in a numbering system which continues to this day, unbroken, as the certificates of the rating system. This was the beginning of the Code. This was the first film in the Golden Era of Hollywood.
By the way, please join our month-long celebration of Code films, #CleanMovieMonth85! Throughout July, we are going to watch nothing but American Breen Era films, and we are inviting participants to do the same. Writers can join this celebration with articles about their own favorite films and discoveries during the month, and we will republish them on our website. Here’s to 85 years since the formation of the Production Code Administration!
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This week, I only watched this one new Code film.
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