Tuesday, January 15th, 2018, at 6:30 p.m.
Every month, films from the Library’s collection are shown at the Mary Pickford Theater in the James Madison building, ranging from titles newly preserved by the National Audio Visual Conservation Center film lab, classics from the National Film Registry, and lesser known titles worthy of discovery.
This month we present a pre-Code double bill of The Hatchet Man and Hard to Handle. The Motion Picture Production Code (known popularly as the Hays Code) was a set of rules guiding the content and themes of motion pictures in Hollywood from the early 1930s into the 1960s. The Code was an attempt to censor what many saw as immoral content, including crime, sex, profanity, and violence. This pair of pre-code classics was recently preserved by the Packard Campus Film Preservation Lab from nitrate negatives in the United Artists Collection.
THE HATCHET MAN (First National, 1932). Directed by William A. Wellman. Screenplay by J. Grubb Alexander, based on the play “The Honorable Mr. Wong” by Achmed Abdullah and David Belasco. With Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Dudley Digges, Leslie Fenton, Edmund Breese. (73 min, black & white, 35mm).
Edward G. Robinson plays an enforcer for a Chinese syndicate who must execute his childhood friend, but promises to care for his daughter. Expertly made, albeit with Hollywood’s customary indifference to race and ethnicity, the film features another of Robinson’s remarkable portrayals of immigrant outsiders, a role he honed to perfection during the 1930’s. Curiously dismissed by the actor as “one of my most horrible memories,” “The Hatchet Man” has over the years grown in stature both as an intriguing take on the conventions of Warner Bros. crime dramas, and as one of director William Wellman’s most underappreciated works (author Frank T. Thompson called it a “film of great beauty and style”).
HARD TO HANDLE (Warner Bros., 1933). Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Screenplay by Wilson Mizner and Robert Lord, from a story by Houston Branch. With James Cagney, Mary Brian, Allen Jenkins, Ruth Donnelly, Claire Dodd. (76 min, black & white, 35mm).
After a six-month absence from Hollywood due to a dispute with Jack Warner, James Cagney returned to the screen as the fast-talking publicity man Lefty Merrill in the appropriately titled “Hard to Handle.” Promoting everything from marathon dance contests to skin creams and Florida real estate, “Lefty” is a quintessential Cagney character, a shrewd, streetwise operator, ready to bend the law for success and profit. Frenetically paced, packed with zingers (“the public is like a cow, bellowing to be milked”), and with the grapefruit making a comeback following its legendary application in “The Public Enemy” (1931).
Seating is on a first-come first-serve basis. Doors open at 6:00 pm.
For more information on our programs, please visit the Mary Pickford Theater website.
The Mary Pickford Theater is located on the 3rd floor of the Library of Congress James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE, Washington, DC, 20540.