Developing the censors

Am discovering that I am very interested in film censorship. Thinking of doing something concerning it for my thesis in a year. Am doing a subject vaguely concerned with censorship of all art this coming semester not because I think it will be great, but because it may have a little to do with this and I can always research into that particular area.

Was reading about a seminal point of the breakdown of censorship, Joseph Breen requested to see the shooting script for Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw (1943), and Hughes obliged even though he was an independent producer without Association membership. But even though he had obliged when not necessary, his final print of the film, at an initial screening, exposed his cheek at skirting the Code- that although his script was passed, his ‘immorality’ was transposed within the diegesis. Jane Russell’s breasts, and both talk and unmistakable references toward a plethora of illicit sexual encounters being the major culprits.

outlawjanerussell.jpg Breasts!

So ironically then, and as a nice kick in the arse for the PCA, the publicity agent Russel Birdwell built interest in the film, in order to get it released, by emphasising Jane Russell and her breasts. His plan worked out so well that people wanted to see her, magazines wanted to publish her and everyone knew who she was before her debut film had even been released. Nice work. Leff and Simmons record a reporter’s findings that in a three week period during 1942, ‘photos of Russell had decorated the covers of eleven national magazines, while stories about her had appeared in 532 dailies and 448 Sunday papers.’

After this the PCA and Breen seemed to ease up. ‘Producers “have got hep to the fact that plenty of real crime takes place every day and that it makes a good movie”,’ according to author of the story Double Indemnity, which became a film in 1944. But I’m not sure that it’s so simple to say that they did loosen up; according to Leff and Simmons, although much of the anger and feeling of the novel of The Postman Always Rings Twice was removed/rediced in the film script, ‘Breen predicted that “the overall flavor of lust” would bring the boards down.’ The subtle infusion of lust in the film is definately powerful, expressing passion and desperate violence without the need to be any more blatant. But still, the minor offense of lust was still much on the Administration’s radar. The picture did get produced though- and although the screenwriter apparently claimed that Lana Turner’s forty-one white costumes would suggest that she kept her pants on, this was, thankfully, not the actual message sent in the film.

postman.jpgA dressing gown, a revealing outfit.

‘The Seal on The Postman would close the parenthesis on an era of Code enforcement; it would tell Hollywood to purchase the most salacious books and anticipate Production Code certification.’ Which left the slate open for some pushing of the proverbial envelope in the late 40s and 50s. And some intense audience enjoyment at the Administration’s ignorance.

Leff, Leonard J. and Simmons, Jerold L., 1990. The Dame In The Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code from the 1920s to the 1960s, New York; Grove Weidenfeld.

About cinemelo

I love to write about film and comment on culture. Hopefully providing insight and interesting thoughts for fellow cultural itinerants.
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One Response to Developing the censors

  1. pomotofu says:

    Good to see you’re feeling better!
    When you say you’re doing a subject on censorship &c, do you mean apbp? If so, that is rather cool.

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