1934 June 13

Notorious Movie Censorship Code Adopted


Early Hollywood films often had many edgy moments and themes with regard to sex. In response, moralistic activists began demanding that Hollywood “clean up” the movies. There were a number of efforts at voluntary film censorship by industry leaders beginning in the 1920s. There were actually many different versions of “The Code,” taking into account all the revisions. See, for example, the “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” issued on October 15, 1927, and an early version of the code, adopted on March 31, 1930. All of these early efforts were voluntary, however, with little enforcement mechanisms.

The 1934 version, released on this day, had tighter enforcement, and marked the beginnings of the most heavy-handed censorship in the history of American movies. The enforcement of the Code rested on an agreement between the major movie theater chains (which at that time were largely owned by Hollywood studios) would not show a film that did not have the production code seal of approval. In practice, many films were produced and released only after negotiations with production code officials.

The Catholic Church played a major role in both the development and the administration of the 1934 Code (see July 14, 1934). Church leaders organized a boycott of “indecent” films in 1933-1934, and Hollywood producers capitulated to their demands out of fear of lost revenue. Once it was adopted, the Code was enforced by administrators who brought the Church’s views to questions of what was acceptable on screen. (See Walsh, Sin and Censorship, below.)

The Code finally collapsed in the 1960s under the pressure of changing sexual mores and First Amendment challenges to censorship. To get some idea of what the movies were like (well, some of them), find the Turner Classic Films collection of Pre-Code Hollywood films.

Learn more: Frank Walsh, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry (1996)

Sex under the 1934 Code:
“II. Sex: The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.

Scenes of Passion: They should not be introduced when not essential to the plot. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown. In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.”

Read about the Codes: http://productioncode.dhwritings.com/intro.php
And alsohttp://censorshipinfilm.wordpress.com/resources/production-code-1934/

Learn about “pre-Code” Hollywood films: Thomas Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 (1999)

Watch clips of “pre-1934 Code” filmshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3-XCvlTkK4

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has a collection of pre-code films for sale. Buy Forbidden Hollywood, watch the films, and notice the differences (as for example, how often women are in the lingerie):

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