Precode Bathtime

A revealing moment of Claudette Colbert in DeMille’s SIGN OF THE CROSS. Costume and production designer (and later director) Mitchell Leisen measured C.C. from toe to nipple so that the sunken bath could be filled with milk to exactly the level dictated by decency. But who knew she’d bounce around so much?

Tom Sutpen has kindly gone to the work of finding the EXACT FRAME of revelation.

The milk soon became unpleasant under the studio lights, and had to be regularly replaced. Then some studio execs visited, and one of them stepped right onto the surface of the milk, which had set into a cheese-like formation and resembled a smooth marble floor. He sank up to his nipples in it at once, of course. Something about the expensive executive buisiness suit coated with soft, malodorous cheese makes a for a pleasing image.

But not as pleasing perhaps as Myrna Loy in THE BARBARIAN, a 30s knock-off of THE SHEIK starring Ramon Novarro.

Anita Loos scripted this kinky fantasy, which offends some people on the IMDb by indulging in the movie equivalent of s&m roleplay. Myrna is abducted by Novarro and learns to like it. I’m sure Anita Loos didn’t take this seriously as a political statement about male-female relations. It’s all meant as good clean dirty fun. It may not be a great film, but Myrna’s frontal nudity, which is even more revealing when you add the movement of the water, is impressively both explicit and yet not quite clear. Is she wearing some kind of modesty garment? It’s hard to be sure.

Hopefully someone will also mention Sybil Seely in Buster Keaton’s ONE WEEK.

9 Responses to “Precode Bathtime”

  1. I’m reminded of another titillating bath scene, the one found in Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs. Olga Baclanova is shown being watched through the keyhole as she prepares to immerse herself in a sunken bath, has this mole above her lip and these blonde ringlets and bears more than a slight resemblance to our modern-day Madonna. This is the same Baclanova who ends up as a deformed chicken-thing at the end of Browning’s Freaks, as the gaggle of grotesques enact their own House of Pain business on the hussy.

  2. david wingrove Says:

    Obscure as it is, THE BARBARIAN is one of the most gorgeously and swooningly erotic movies I’ve ever seen. At one point, Ramon strews Myrna’s bed with blossoms. When she protests, he sighs:


    The day somebody says that to me, I shall die a happy man!

  3. They definitely know what they’re about with The Barbarian!

    I’d forgotten Olga’s bath, I have to go look at it now. Kobal’s Olga interview is good fun, I should dig out a quote from it too.

  4. Great modern bath scenes include Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenbgerg and Michelle Breton in Performance, Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Taylor in Secret Ceremony and Viva and Maxime de la Falaise in ****(Four Stars)

  5. Lucky that milk bath was pre-code. Had the censors been watching, they’d have made the Sign of the Very Cross Indeed*.

    *with apologies to Stephen Fry

  6. Keaton’s “One Week” definitely has a funny bath scene with Sibyl Seely, with her refusing to reach for the slippery soap that’s fallen out of the tub, as her probity would be compromised. Lo and behold, the ‘cameraman’ helps her out by covering the lens somewhat–coyly– with his hand, allowing her to retrieve the soap (see Keaton actually has a brief nude scene in “The Cameraman” when he swims at Coney Island with Marceline Day (here at 8:21). A lovely skinny-dipping scene for Barbara Kent, overseen by no less than Oliver Hardy is charming, in “No Man’s Law” from 1927 ( that rather prefigures Heddy Lamar.

  7. Wow, you know your stuff — you’re like Mr Silent Skin or something. Thanks for the info. I think I have The Cameraman’s nude scene on here somewhere, as part of my Film Directors With Their Shirts Off series.

  8. In an old film interview with Myrna Loy she did mention that she was wearing something of a modesty garment, but didn’t specify. The effect is wonderful, though, and frankly, I loved the mystery of it all.

  9. Yes, I heard something about that after writing this. And the body stocking does seem likely, and almost visible. Most of all, it’s what’s not visible but should be which tends to confirm Loy’s tale…

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