Did you know that sometimes Hollywood cinema is glibly defined as a Jewish owned business selling Roman Catholic theology to protestant America? With the Great Depression and evaporating income cinema attendance fell drastically. To counter this trend Hollywood became more and more violent and sexy, to a point that a call for censorship of some kind was in the air. Indeed the better organized catholic minority created the Catholic Legion of Decency and the clergy admonished their Sunday church goers to boycott certain cinemas and films. Hollywood became to be viewed as a place of the damned and sinful.
But Hollywood did certainly not want the government to step in. The studios therefore decided to engage in their own self-censorship. They hired Will Hayes, who had been postmaster general of the United States, a Republican and Presbyterian, non-smoker, non-drinker, but wired to power in Washington and Wall Street. He was expected to “clean up” Tinsel town. A production code was commissioned and written by two Catholics.
This production code gets enforced by July 1934 and worked for the best part of 20 years until American culture changed at the end of WW2. The credo was that crime must not pay. You were not to show how to crack a safe or commit a robbery. A little temptation was alright, but it was necessary to show that it had consequences. This, of course, came as a challenge to script writers and directors and one can say that Hollywood’s most creative era was due to this production code. How directors invented subtexts is best demonstrated by Hitchcock’s Notorious who cleverly circumvented censorship to show the longest and best known kiss between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergmann, while the code restricted you to 30 seconds. Musical comedy presented an elegant way out and Cyd Charisse remembers how she got away with sexy dancing. Only in 1968 is the eroded code formally ended and replaced by a rating system which rather warns than forbids.
Film Directors and Producers : Julia Kuperberg & Clara Kuperberg
Year : 2015
Time : 52 minutes
Channel : OCS Géants
Author of Hollywood’s Censor & Pre-Code Hollywood
American film Historian and professor at Pepperdine University