Published on Tuesday, 05 May 2009 20:00
Written by Rock
In 1930 the major Hollywood studios accepted certain guidelines by which all films would adhere to in terms of moral decency. These guidelines were authored by the Jesuit Priest Daniel A. Lord and forwarded by Joseph Breen, whom worked for the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). These guidelines went largely ignored until July of 1934 when the major studios under pressure from Catholic groups and the threat of bankruptcy adopted the measures known as the Hays Code, named for its new author Will H. Hays. The code remained in effect and was enforced from July 1934 until 1968, when it was dropped in favor of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) Ratings System.
Under the Hays Code, movies could not depict, show, or elude to miscegenation, homosexuality, venereal disease, and depictions of childbirth. Religious figures were not to be mocked or shown in any unfavorable light, even in animated films. The sanctity of marriage, the home, and law enforcement were to be shown as positive institutions. The American Flag was do be portrayed respectfully. The depiction of illegal drug use was forbidden and the use of alcohol restricted to the confines of the plot. With these and other restrictions, it's a wonder that as many good movies were actually made during this period.
Sadly enough, many people haven't had the opportunity to view the films produced in the era of the Pre-Code Hollywood environment. Many of the films produced by the major studios from 1929 to 1934 bent over backwards to outdo one another in terms of topics deemed inflammatory. Strong willed women, promiscuity, adultery, nudity, illegal drug use, gangsterism, child abuse, homosexuality, miscegenation, prostition, and any and all forms of innuendo and rebellion against the Victorian ran rampant and wild in the venues of Pre-Code Film. This included the cartoons of this era, as well.
The good news is that many of these films are starting to emerge on the DVD market now. Turner Classic Movies has released Forbidden Hollywood
and Warner Brothers is rumored to be releasing a collection of their own as well. Many other films are being released independently and a simple search through Wikipedia should help people obtain a desired list. I have personally found the films of the Pre-Code Hollywood era insightful and thoroughly enjoyable. It was interesting to actually spot "blood" depicted in some of these films, something that disappeared during the ban. The criminal as a hero often appears in these films as well. These were also some of the best works for such stars as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Joan Blondell, and Ruth Chatterton.
One might keep in mind that some films were released in several different versions to appease audiences and states with their own censorship laws during the Pre-Code era. Some films were remade in subsequent decades (The Maltese Falcon
-1931), due to the reason that it would have been to difficult to "clean-up". Sadly, one film was actually burned because it could not meet revisions to the Hays code standards upon re-release (Convention City
-1933). Other films on DVD have only been released in their censored versions (Mata Hari
The code eventually began to weaken in the late 1940's and into the 1950's. In 1966, MGM released Blowup, without code approval. There was no way for the MPPDA to enforce their rules and the system was abandoned in favor of the new ratings system. From that point forward, adults would determine what films and subject matter would entertain them. Imagine that.