Pre-Code movies rediscovered in Los Angeles (TCM Fest) & New York (MoMA)

loretta young, spencer tracy, man’s castle

At the fifteen annual Turner Classic Movies TCM Fest, just completed in Hollywood, we most enjoyed two marvelous movies, Only Yesterday (1933) in which Margaret Sullavan bucks the stigma of her single motherhood and The Good Fairy (1935) with Sullavan, again, playing a young innocent entangling with marital norms, this time with the always wonderful British-born actor Herbert Marshall. These two films guest critic Stephen Farber recommended in an artsmeme story here.

Neither films felt dated; au contraire, each was witty and charming, marvelous adult escapist fare.

Across the country, Museum of Modern Art film curator Dave Kehr was sharing Man’s Castle (1933), long considered one of the most profound and transporting of director Frank Borzage’s spiritual love stories—a cohort that includes 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), History Is Made at Night (1935) and The Mortal Storm (1940). This constituted Kehr’s mini-Borzage festival, films cinephiles may like to watch out for.

tracy and glenda farrell

For decades Man’s Castle has been available only in a heavily censored cut created in 1938, when this extremely pre-Code film was reissued to cash in on the back-to-back Oscar wins of its star, Spencer Tracy.

A major subplot was dropped, weakening the film’s central conflict between the easygoing eroticism represented by showgirl Glenda Farrell and the more difficult and soulful connection proposed by Loretta Young, here astonishingly beautiful as an innocent young woman cast adrift in the Great Depression.

Many individual shots were deleted to appease the strict moral guidelines of the Production Code Administration; perhaps most absurdly, a wedding scene in the seventh reel was moved up to the first, to give some moral cover to Tracy and Young as they share a shack in a Central Park shantytown.

Man’s Castle has been restored by Sony Pictures Entertainment to a state quite close to its premiere version, and one can only say that a great film has emerged as something even greater — richer in its emotions and more profound in its philosophy. The curator who shepharded the movie’s special “rebirth” screening at MoMA, Mr. Kehr, informs us by email, “Borzage was a hit! Sold out or close for most shows!” a level of audience reception he found, “Very encouraging!”

Frank Borgaze and Man’s Castle (1933) | Museum of Modern Art | closed April 24

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