You can read the just-a-bit-too-breathless words of Farran Nehme (always playing offense with extra defense) in the text accompanying the pre-Code series she and Dave Kehr have devised for MoMA that begins tonight, with nineteen films (from 1926 to 1933) playing through February 19.
Rather than simply apologizing for "yet another preCode series", Nehme seeks some form of exalted justification, which really doesn't seem necessary, for the angle she and Kehr have taken to this show is a solid one, particularly given the moment in which we live. Highlighting pre-Code films that showcase actresses whose careers could (mostly) flourish in the weird, hot-house impermanence of wide-open censorship rules is a fine twist on the programming innovation that was so eye-opening thirty years ago but has stalled (mostly because there aren't really enough truly astonishing films in the time frame to sustain a frequent dive into the material).
Thus this approach is a fine way to put female faces on select films from the timeframe. To cut to the chase, here are the films in the series with the actresses showcased in each put side by side (something that Kehr and Nehme, following the maddening practice of almost all film purveyors, fail to do):
NIGHT WORLD (1932) Mae Clarke
THE MAD GENIUS (1931) Marian Marsh
ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932) Genevieve Tobin
BODY AND SOUL (1931) Elissa Landi
HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM (1933) Madge Evans
THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR (1933) Nancy Carroll
EAST LYNNE (1931) Ann Harding
BIRD OF PARADISE (1932) Dolores del Rio
HER MAN (1930) Helen Twelvetrees
REACHING FOR THE MOON (1930) Bebe Daniels
YOUNG DESIRE (1930) Mary Nolan
BY CANDLELIGHT (1933) Elissa Landi
IMPATIENT MAIDEN (1932) Mae Clarke
THE WILD PARTY (1929) Clara Bow
PART-TIME WIFE (1930) Leila Hyams
FOLLOW THROUGH (1930) Nancy Carroll
THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933) Toshia Mori
BAD GIRL (1931) Sally Eilers
DAS PAZNERGEWOLGE aka THE ARMORED VAULT (1926, silent) Mary Nolan (as Imogene Robertson)
What's the verdict? A-minus for the idea, B-minus/C-plus for execution. The show is clearly padded with names (Harding, Bow, del Rio, perhaps even Mae Clarke) who don't quite fit the definitions set forth by Nehme (and you could make an entire film festival from the post-BAD GIRL filmography of Sally Eilers).
I'd also like to have seen a film such as THE BOUDOIR DIPLOMAT (1930) in the lineup, as it definitely fits into the "racy" side of pre-Code and would afford Nehme and Kehr an actual trifecta of actresses to add to their list (Betty Compson, Mary Duncan, and Jeanette Loff). Of course, Duncan merely retired early after marrying a wealthy polo player and carpet magnate, but it certainly couldn't hurt things all that much to show "the other side of the coin"...
As it is, the series has many things to recommend it, even if the films selected veer a bit too much toward melodrama.