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Edward L. Cahn's "Laughter in Hell" (1933), a pre-code flick by a director I've loved since his Z-Grade but very affecting "Runaway Daughters" (1956), made specifically for Florida drive-ins and starring grrrls on the verge and their having-crossed-over parents (alcoholic, "inappropriate," cruel, deluded, unfeeling). Then there's Italian second cuz Fabbio, who envisions them 'daughters' as a stable of working girls. Laughter in Hell stars serial priest portrayer Pat O'Brien at an early, almost good-looking stage wearing suiting cut to the quick like it's 21st Century Japanese couture. Depths of the Depression, but everyone wore suits, especially the poor, with scads of material saved under a "trim" silhouette. Pat's tie looked like Lou Costello's in his 1950s TV show with Abbott. Remember waiting waiting waiting for the thing to get going at its MOMA screening and boy did it get going. I've rarely seen a murder scene more affecting as that of Pat's slutty wife and his childhood nemesis, who are making a sorry cuckold out of Pat. Still, the fast-cut edit (think "Psycho" shower scene) showed barely a punch, and none of the wife's demise. And yet it was all too horrible. The theme was within-and-without the pre-Code pix of the time, which often showed too much and which spurred the Breen commandments. But what Laughter in Hell didn't show, the unseen but feared, made more of a wallop than anything more clinical.


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