Male. Born in Brooklyn, NY; married Amy Freed. Education: Rutgers University, B.A. (English); University of North Carolina, M.A.
Author and movie critic for San Francisco Chronicle.
Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Mick LaSalle is a movie critic who has written about a topic he knows well: men and women in the movies. His two books focus on what is called "pre-Code Hollywood," a five-year time period between 1929 and 1934 before Hollywood moguls instituted the Promotion Code. This code, which remained in effect until the 1960s, strictly regulated the movie industry and imposed very rigid rules about film content and characters.
Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood focuses on female actresses such as Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. The book asserts that everyone paid a heavy price when the sexy, independent, and powerful women these actresses portrayed were effectively banned from the screen. As Wendy Smith of Variety noted, "LaSalle celebrates the serious social contribution that pre-Code films made by dramatizing changing female attitudes without ever losing sight of how much sheer joy was had in smashing all those tired Victorian conventions." LaSalle argues that this time period was the best era for women's films because the female characters were in charge of their lives. The heroines in pre-Code movies took lovers, had children out of wedlock, conducted affairs, and held professional jobs, all without apologizing. After the Code, the same actresses were forced to play submissive housewives who were forced to take their husbands back after their affairs. LaSalle also contends that the depiction of women was not the only casualty of the Code era. As Steve Kurtz observed in Reason, Complicated Women "demonstrates that there was something lost in Hollywood films for ove three decades. Not only were issues such as race relations almost never dealt with, but when Hollywood did attempt to take on something controversial, the storytelling was usually neutered and the result frustrating."
LaSalle's second book looks at the same time period, but concentrates on male actors. Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man features such actors as Clark Gable, James Cagney, and Rudolph Valentino, who were called "dangerous" because they portrayed characters who resisted authority and often displayed crude and caddish behavior, but were still respectable men. Prior to these pre-Code characters, men were portrayed as either evil criminals or heroes. A Kirkus Reviews writer noted that this book chronicles a period that "helped foster the very ideal of the modern man, caught between his own sense of right and an increasingly mechanized, conformist society." The book is filled with vignettes and analyses of many famous films from this era.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2000, Mike Tribby, review of Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, p. 200.
Entertainment Weekly, September 29, 2000, review of Complicated Women, p. 126.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man, p. 1283.
Library Journal, August, 2000, Stephen Rees, review of Complicated Women, p. 107.
New York Times Book Review, October 8, 2000, Andy Webster, review of Complicated Women, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, July 10, 2000, review of Complicated Women, p. 51.
Reason, March, 2002, Steve Kurtz, Hollywood's Second Sex: Women and the Movies, p. 75.
Variety, August 14, 2000, Wendy Smith, review of Complicated Women, p. 28.