Complicated Women (TV Movie 2003) - Plot Summary Poster

(2003 TV Movie)


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  • A look at actresses who starred in films with thought-provoking subjects made between 1929-1934 - before the Hollywood Production Code was enforced.

  • Jane Fonda narrates the story of the years between the ascent of talkies until late in 1934, when the Hays Office cracked down on what it perceived as immorality in Hollywood movies. The emphasis is on how women were portrayed, and focuses on how they were much more liberated and equal (or superior) to men, until 1935 when they once again took subservient roles to their male co-stars.

  • The late 1920's and early 1930's - from the advent of the talkies to the enforcement of the Hays Production Code in 1934 - was arguably the golden age of strong, glamorous, frank and complicated roles for women in Hollywood movies. Two performances broke open this trend: Norma Shearer's in The Divorcee (1930), where she bucked her screen ingénue stereotype to break the double standard between men and women specifically regarding sex, and Greta Garbo's as the moral vamp Anna Christie (1930). Following, a number of movies featured complicated women's roles in situations of sexual freedom, power within work - legitimate work or otherwise such as molls or prostitutes - and/or power using sex as is often the case with gold diggers. Among the most talked about roles during this pre-code era are Garbo's performance as the sexually ambiguous and powerful Queen Christina (1933), Miriam Hopkins's performance as the unforgivingly ruthless southern belle in The Story of Temple Drake (1933), and Barbara Stanwyck's performance as the woman who will use her sexuality to get exactly what she wants after others have used it against her in Baby Face (1933). The freedom expressed in such roles would cease for over thirty years with the introduction of the code.



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