For those unaware that Hollywood censored itself to avoid government intervention, here’s a quick history lesson to precede the brilliant rebellion that follows…
In the late 1920s, some U.S. citizens, churchgoers, and government officials complained copiously about the movies’ depictions of sex and violence. “Motion pictures are too risque! They’re corrupting our children! They’re of the Devil!” To this end, Hollywood studio moguls hired a bunch of white Catholic men to sit in a room and come up with various rules to apply to their films (better the studios do this than the government, they thought). Sure enough, the men finally came up with a doctrine, which they called ”The Formula” and later “The Don’ts and the Be Carefuls“; it featured regulations like “no white slavery is allowed onscreen,” “there should be no branding of people or animals, and “the clergy should not be ridiculed.” But here’s the thing: no one working in the industry really paid attention to these laws; they kept churning out the pictures they wanted to. Directors wanted their onscreen sex and violence, dammit.
But in 1934, many believed the industry had now run grossly amuck with its gratuitous depictions of scantily clad women and bloodshed. As a result, a more severe group of rules was created and implemented. This would be named The Production Code or Hays Code after the head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA), Will Hays, a politician hired to “clean up Hollywood” after the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal among other things.
In short, The Hays Code would reign supreme throughout the studio era (1930s-1960ish), enforcing certain moral standards so audience members would not “be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin.” This means that for virtually 30 years, Hollywood shuns representations of sex, lustful or excessive kissing, nudity, homosexuality (labeled “sexual perversion” in the Code), and adultery or illicit sex. Certainly, these things were implied all the time in film; you’ve seen, for instance, the tower in Casablanca, the train/tunnel at the end of North By Northwest, and Astaire’s/Rogers’s romantic dances like “Night and Day.” All symbols of sexual intercourse. Still, literal representations like those in cinema today were forbidden.
With this in mind, it’s always fun to discover something that gets past those old white men who sat and watched movies in the Hays office all day long, looking for exposed nipples and costumes that revealed too much. So without further ado, I give you this shot/clip from The Pirate (1948), starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland…
(Our thanks to the lovely Sepia Dreamer for posting the pic on Tumblr.)
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