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Motion Picture Production Code

Production Code cover

The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral guidelines that was applied to most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922-45. Under Hays' leadership, the MPPDA, later known as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), adopted the Production Code in 1930 and began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The Production Code spelled out what was acceptable and what was unacceptable content for motion pictures produced for a public audience in the United States.

From 1934 to 1954, the code was closely identified with Joseph Breen, the administrator appointed by Hays to enforce the code in Hollywood. The film industry followed the guidelines set by the code well into the late 1950s, but during this time the code began to weaken due to the combined impact of television, influence from foreign films, bold directors (such as Otto Preminger) pushing the envelope, and intervention from the courts, including the Supreme Court.[1][2] In 1968, after several years of minimal enforcement, the outdated Production Code was replaced by the MPAA film rating system.


  • Background 1
  • Don'ts and Be Carefuls 2
  • Creation of the Code and its contents 3
  • Enforcement 4
    • Pre-Code Hollywood 4.1
    • Breen era 4.2
    • Decline of the Production Code 4.3
    • Production Code abandoned 4.4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • Sources 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


In 1922, after several risqué films and a series of off-screen scandals involving Hollywood stars, the studios enlisted

  • Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  • Motion Picture Association of America: History and Film Ratings
  • Bibliography of books articles about movie censorship (via UC Berkeley)
  • Complete list of the 36 'Don'ts and Be Carefuls' of 1927
  • Complete text of the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (without the subsequent amendments)
  • The Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry (includes examples, all amendments, the 1956 rewrite, and 1966 rewrite)
  • More Sinned Against than Sinning: The Fabrications of "Pre-Code Cinema"
  • Talking Pictures website: Article by Nigel Watson about film censorship issues accompanied by classroom activities for students
  • Numbered list of Production Code certificates of approval

External links

  • Gilbert, Nora, Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship; Stanford University Press, 2013; ISBN 978-0804784207
  • Lugowski, David M., "Queering the (New) Deal: Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood's Production Code", Cinema Journal 38, 2, Winter 1999, pp. 3–35
  • Miller, Frank, Censored Hollywood; Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1994; ISBN 1-57036-116-9

Further reading

  • Bernstein, Matthew. Controlling Hollywood: Censorship and Regulation in the Studio Era. Rutgers University Press 1999; ISBN 0-8135-2707-4.
  • Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. Cambridge University Press 1996; ISBN 0-521-56592-8.
  • Butters Jr., Gerard R. Banned in Kansas: motion picture censorship, 1915-1966. University of Missouri Press 2007; ISBN 0-8262-1749-4.
  • Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press 1999; ISBN 0-231-11094-4.
  • Gardner, Eric. The Czar of Hollywood. Indianapolis Monthly, Emmis Publishing LP February 2005; ISSN 0899-0328. (available online)
  • Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. Penguin Group; ISBN 978-1-59420-152-3.
  • Hirsch, Foster (2007). Otto Preminger, the man who would be king (1st ed. ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780307489210.
  • Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 1997; ISBN 0-520-20790-4.
  • LaSalle, Mick, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood; New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000; ISBN 0-312-25207-2.
  • Leff, Leonard L. & Simmons, Jerold L. The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code. University Press of Kentucky 2001; ISBN 0-8131-9011-8.
  • Lewis, Jon, Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle Over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry; New York University Press, 2000; ISBN 0-8147-5142-3.
  • Prince, Stephen. Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1968. Rutgers University Press 2003; ISBN 0-8135-3281-7.
  • Siegel, Scott & Barbara. The Encyclopedia of Hollywood (2nd edition), Checkmark Books 2004; ISBN 0-8160-4622-0.
  • Smith, Sarah. Children, Cinema and Censorship: From Dracula to the Dead End Kids. Wiley-Blackwell 2005; ISBN 1-4051-2027-4.
  • Staff. "Col. Jason S. Joy profile", Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities; retrieved February 10, 2014.
  • Vieira, Mark A. Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1999; ISBN 0-8109-8228-5.
  • "Will Hays: America's Morality Czar", Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 21. Gale Group, 2001"; retrieved April 17, 2014.
  • Wittern-Keller, Laura. Freedom of the Screen: Legal Challenges to State Film Censorship, 1915-1981. University Press of Kentucky 2008; ISBN 978-0-8131-2451-3.


  1. ^ a b McGilligan, Patrick (2004). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Harper Perennial; ISBN 978-0-06-098827-2, p. 376
  2. ^ a b Sperling, Millner, and Warner (1998), Hollywood Be Thy Name, Prima Publishing; ISBN 1-55958-343-6, p. 325.
  3. ^ Will Hays profile, Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, (2001) Vol. 21.
  4. ^ a b c Doherty. pg. 6
  5. ^ a b c d e Yagoda, Ben. HOLLYWOOD CLEANS UP ITS ACT The curious career of the Hays Office,, October 10, 2010; accessed March 19, 2014.
  6. ^ Gardner (2005). pg. 92 (available online)
    • Leff & Simmons. pg. 3
  7. ^ Siegel & Siegel. pg. 190
  8. ^ Prince. pg. 20
  9. ^ Jowett, essay in Bernstein. pg. 16
  10. ^ Butters Jr. pg. 149
  11. ^ Butters Jr. pg. 148
  12. ^ LaSalle (1999), p. 62
  13. ^ Vieira. pgs. 7–8
  14. ^ a b Butters Jr. pg. 187
  15. ^ a b Vieira. pg. 8
  16. ^ Prince. pg. 31
  17. ^ LaSalle (2002). pg. 1
  18. ^ Butters Jr. pg. 189
  19. ^ Lewis, Jon (2000). Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle Over Censorship Created the Modern Film Industry.  
  20. ^ a b Smith. pg. 38
  21. ^ Jacobs. pg. 108
  22. ^ Prince. pg. 21
  23. ^ Staff. "Col. Jason S. Joy profile". Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c d e LaSalle, Mick. "Pre-Code Hollywood",, accessed October 4, 2010.
  25. ^ a b c d Doherty. pg. 8
  26. ^ Doherty. pg. 2
  27. ^ a b c d e Leff, Leonard L. & Simmons, Jerold L. The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990 (reprinted University Press of Kentucky, 2001); ISBN 0-8131-9011-8, pp. 270-271, 286-287
  28. ^ a b Doherty. pg. 7
  29. ^ a b Doherty. pg. 11
  30. ^ Butters Jr. pg 188
  31. ^ Hollywood Censored, Gregory Black, 1994.
  32. ^ Black. pg. 43
  33. ^ Doherty. pg. 107
  34. ^ a b c d Black. pp. 44-45
  35. ^ a b c Black. pp 50-51
  36. ^ Jacobs. pg. 27
  37. ^ Vieira. pg. 117
  38. ^ Black. pg. 52
  39. ^ a b Thomas Doherty (May 20, 2006). "'"The Code Before 'Da Vinci. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  40. ^ Scott, Henry E. Shocking True Story, The Rise and Fall of "Confidential", America's Most Scandalous Magazine, Pantheon, 2004, 2010; ISBN 0375421394.
  41. ^ Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  42. ^ Harmetz, pp. 162–166 and Behlmer, pp. 207–208, 212–213
  43. ^ Vieira (1999). pg. 188.
  44. ^ Mondello, Bob. "Remembering Hollywood's Hays Code, 40 Years On",; August 8, 2008; accessed April 17, 2014.
  45. ^ As per The Brothers Warner (2008 documentary)
  46. ^ Mushnik, Phil. "Three Stooges first to blast Hitler"., July 14, 2013; accessed April 17, 2014.
  47. ^ Schumach, Murray, The Face On The Cutting Room Floor: The Story Of Movie And Television Censorship; New York: William Morrow and Company, 1964; ISBN 978-0-3068-0009-2, pp. 163-164
  48. ^ Hirsch, Foster (2007). Otto Preminger the man who would be king (1st ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  
  49. ^ Leff & Simmons (2001)
  50. ^ Leff, Leonard J. (1996). "Hollywood and the Holocaust: Remembering The Pawnbroker" (PDF). American Jewish History 84 (4): 353–376.  
  51. ^ a b Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.  
  52. ^ Doherty, Thomas Patrick (2007). Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration.  
  53. ^ "The MPAA Rating Systems". September 16, 1994. 
  54. ^ David J. Fox (September 27, 1990). "X Film Rating Dropped and Replaced by NC-17 : Movies: Designation would bar children under 18. Move expected to clear the way for strong adult themes.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  55. ^ Jeremy Arnold. "Jesse James". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 


See also

Because the American Humane Association's Hollywood office depended on the Hays Office for the right to monitor sets, the closure of the Hays Office in 1966 corresponded with an increase in animal cruelty on movie sets. According to a writer for Turner Classic Movies, the association's access did not return to Hays-era standards until 1980.[55]

In 1969, the Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow), directed by Vilgot Sjöman, was initially banned in the U.S. for its frank depiction of sexuality; however, this was overturned by the Supreme Court. In 1970, because of confusion over the meaning of "mature audiences", the M rating was changed to GP, and then in 1972 to the current PG, for "parental guidance suggested". In 1984, in response to public complaints regarding the severity of horror elements in PG-rated titles such as Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the PG-13 rating was created as a middle tier between PG and R. In 1990, the X rating was replaced by NC-17 (under 17 not admitted), partly because of the stigma associated with the X rating, and partly because the X rating was not trademarked by the MPAA; pornographic bookstores and theaters were using their own X and XXX symbols to market products.[54]

By the late 1960s, enforcement had become impossible and the Production Code was abandoned entirely. The MPAA began working on a rating system, under which film restrictions would lessen. The MPAA film rating system went into effect on November 1, 1968, with four ratings: G for general audiences, M for mature content, R for restricted (under 17 not admitted without an adult), and X for sexually explicit content. By the end of 1968, Geoffrey Shurlock stepped down from his post.[27][52][53]

Production Code abandoned

That same year, the British-produced, American-financed film Blowup was denied Production Code approval. MGM released it anyway, the first instance of an MPAA member company distributing a film that did not have an approval certificate. That same year, the original and lengthy code was replaced by a list of eleven points. The points outlined that the boundaries of the new code would be current community standards and good taste. Any film containing content deemed suitable for older audiences would feature the label SMA in its advertising. With the creation of this new label, the MPAA unofficially began classifying films.[27]

In 1966, Warner Bros. released Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the first film to feature the "Suggested for Mature Audiences" (SMA) label. When Jack Valenti became President of the MPAA in 1966, he was faced with censoring the film's explicit language. Valenti negotiated a compromise: the word "screw" was removed, but other language remained, including the phrase "hump the hostess". The film received Production Code approval despite the previously prohibited language.[27]

The Pawnbroker was the first film featuring bare breasts to receive Production Code approval. The exception to the code was granted as a "special and unique case" and was described by The New York Times at the time as "an unprecedented move that will not, however, set a precedent".[51] However, in Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris' 2008 study of films during that era, Harris wrote that the MPAA approval was "the first of a series of injuries to the Production Code that would prove fatal within three years."[51]

In 1964, the Holocaust film The Pawnbroker, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Rod Steiger, was initially rejected because of two scenes in which the actresses Linda Geiser and Thelma Oliver fully expose their breasts, as well as due to a sex scene between Oliver and Jaime Sánchez described as "unacceptably sex suggestive and lustful". Despite the rejection, the film's producers arranged for Allied Artists to release the film without the Production Code seal, with the New York censors licensing the film without the cuts demanded by Code administrators. The producers appealed the rejection to the Motion Picture Association of America. On a 6–3 vote, the MPAA granted the film an exception conditional on "reduction in the length of the scenes which the Production Code Administration found unapprovable". The requested reductions of nudity were minimal; the outcome was viewed in the media as a victory for the film's producers.[50]

By the late 1950s, increasingly explicit films began to appear, such as Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1961). The MPAA reluctantly granted the seal of approval for these films, although not until certain cuts were made. Due to its themes, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959) was not granted a certificate of approval, but it still became a box office smash, and, as a result, it further weakened the authority of the Code. At the forefront of contesting the Code was director Otto Preminger, whose films violated the Code repeatedly in the 1950s. His 1953 film The Moon Is Blue — about a young woman who tries to play two suitors off against each other by claiming that she plans to keep her virginity until marriage — was released without a certificate of approval. He later made The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), which portrayed the prohibited subject of drug abuse, and Anatomy of a Murder (1959), which dealt with murder and rape. Like Some Like It Hot, Preminger's films were direct assaults on the authority of the Production Code, and their success hastened its abandonment.[48] In the early 1960s, films began to deal with adult subjects and sexual matters that had not been seen in Hollywood films since the early 1930s. The MPAA reluctantly granted the seal of approval for these films, although again not until certain cuts were made.[49]

In 1952, in the case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overruled its 1915 decision (Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio) and held that motion pictures were entitled to First Amendment protection, so that the New York State Board of Regents could not ban The Miracle, a short film that was one half of L'Amore (1948), an anthology film directed by Roberto Rossellini. Film distributor Joseph Burstyn released the film in the U.S. in 1950, and the case became known as the "Miracle Decision" due to its connection to Rossellini's film. That reduced the threat of government regulation, which had formerly been cited as justification for the Production Code, and the PCA's powers over the Hollywood industry were greatly reduced.[2] By the 1950s, American culture also began to change. A boycott by the National Legion of Decency no longer guaranteed a film's commercial failure, and several aspects of the code had slowly lost their taboo. In 1956, areas of the code were rewritten to accept subjects such as miscegenation, adultery, and prostitution. For example, the remake of a pre-Code film dealing with prostitution, Anna Christie, was cancelled by MGM twice, in 1940 and in 1946, as the character of Anna was not allowed to be portrayed as a prostitute. By 1962, such subject matter was acceptable and the original film was given a seal of approval.[47]

Some British films — Victim (1961), A Taste of Honey (1961), and The Leather Boys (1963) — challenged traditional gender roles and openly confronted the prejudices against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code. In keeping with the changes in society, sexual content that would have previously been banned by the Code was being retained. The anti-trust rulings also helped pave the way for independent art houses that would show films created by people such as Andy Warhol who worked outside the studio system.

Vertical integration in the movie industry had been found to violate anti-trust laws, and studios had been forced to give up ownership of theaters by the Supreme Court in United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. (1948). The studios had no way to keep foreign films out, and foreign films were not bound by the Production Code. (For De Sica's film, there was a censorship controversy when the MPAA demanded a scene where the lead characters talk to the prostitutes of a brothel be removed, regardless of the fact that there was no sexual or provocative activity.)

Hollywood continued to work within the confines of the Production Code throughout the 1950s, but during this time the movie industry was faced with very serious competitive threats. The first threat came from a new technology, television, which did not require Americans to leave their house to watch moving pictures. Hollywood needed to offer the public something it could not get on television, which itself was under an even more restrictive censorship code. In addition to the threat of television, there was also increasing competition from foreign films, such as Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), the Swedish film One Summer of Happiness (1951), and Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika (1953).

Decline of the Production Code

Some films produced outside the mainstream studio system flouted the code. One example is Child Bride (1938), which featured a nude scene involving a twelve-year-old child actress (Shirley Mills). The Code began to weaken in the late 1940s, when the formerly taboo subjects of rape and miscegenation were allowed in Johnny Belinda (1948) and Pinky (1949), respectively. In 1951, the MPAA revised the code to make it more rigid; the 1951 revisions spelled out more words and subjects that were prohibited. In 1954, Breen retired, largely due to ill health, and Geoffrey Shurlock was appointed as his successor. Variety noted "a decided tendency towards a broader, more casual approach" in the enforcement of the Code.

The PCA also engaged in political censorship. When Warner Bros. wanted to make a film about concentration camps in Nazi Germany, the production office forbade it—citing the above-mentioned prohibition on depicting "in an unfavorable light" another country's "institutions [and] prominent people"—with threats to take the matter to the federal government if the studio went ahead. This policy prevented a number of anti-Nazi films being produced. In 1938, the FBI unearthed and prosecuted a Nazi spy ring, subsequently allowing Warner to produce Confessions of a Nazi Spy,[45] with the Three Stooges' short subject You Nazty Spy! (January 1940) being the first Hollywood film of any sort to openly spoof the Third Reich's leadership.[46]

The first major instance of censorship under the Production Code involved the 1934 film Tarzan and His Mate, in which brief nude scenes involving a body double for actress Maureen O'Sullivan were edited out of the master negative of the film.[43] Another famous case of enforcement involved the 1943 western The Outlaw, produced by Howard Hughes. The Outlaw was denied a certificate of approval and kept out of theaters for years, because the film's advertising focused particular attention on Jane Russell's breasts. Hughes eventually persuaded Breen that the breasts did not violate the code and the film could be shown.[44]

In 1934, Joseph Breen–a prominent Roman Catholic layman who had worked in public relations–was appointed head of the new Production Code Administration (PCA). Under Breen's leadership of the PCA, which lasted until his retirement in 1954, enforcement of the Production Code became rigid and notorious. (Even cartoon sex symbol Betty Boop had to change from being a flapper and began to wear an old-fashioned housewife's skirt.) Breen's power to change scripts and scenes angered many writers, directors, and Hollywood moguls. Breen influenced the production of Casablanca, objecting to any explicit reference to Rick and Ilsa having slept together in Paris and to the film mentioning that Captain Renault extorted sexual favors from his supplicants; however, both remained strongly implied in the finished version.[41] Adherence to the Code also ruled out any possibility of the film ending with Rick and Ilsa consummating their adulterous love, making inevitable the ending with Rick's noble renunciation, one of Casablanca‍ '​s most famous scenes.[42]

Father Daniel A. Lord wrote: "Silent smut had been bad. Vocal smut cried to the censors for vengeance." Thomas Doherty, Professor of American studies at Brandeis University, has defined the code as "… no mere list of Thou-Shalt-Nots but a homily that sought to yoke Catholic doctrine to Hollywood formula. The guilty are punished, the virtuous rewarded, the authority of church and state is legitimate, and the bonds of matrimony are sacred."[39] What resulted has been described as "a Jewish owned business selling Roman Catholic theology to Protestant America".[40]

Some directors found ways to get around the rules; an example of this is in Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 film Notorious, where he worked around the rule of three-second-kissing only by having the two actors break off every three seconds. The whole sequence lasts two and a half minutes.[1]

On June 13, 1934, an amendment to the Code was adopted which established the Production Code Administration (PCA) and required all films released on or after July 1, 1934, to obtain a certificate of approval before being released. The PCA had two offices—one in Hollywood and the other in New York City. The first film to receive an MPPDA seal of approval was The World Moves On (1934). For more than thirty years, virtually all motion pictures produced in the United States adhered to the code.[39] The Production Code was not created or enforced by federal, state, or city government; the Hollywood studios adopted the code in large part in the hopes of avoiding government censorship, preferring self-regulation to government regulation. The enforcement of the Production Code led to the dissolution of many local censorship boards.

Breen era

One factor in ignoring the code was the fact that some found such censorship prudish, due to the libertine social attitudes of the 1920s and early 1930s. This was a period in which the Victorian era was sometimes ridiculed as being naïve and backward.[24] When the Code was announced, the liberal periodical The Nation attacked it.[34] The publication stated that if crime were never to be presented in a sympathetic light, then taken literally that would mean that "law" and "justice" would become one and the same. Therefore, events such as the Boston Tea Party could not be portrayed. If clergy must always be presented in a positive way, then hypocrisy could not be dealt with either.[34]The Outlook agreed, and, unlike Variety, The Outlook predicted from the beginning that the Code would be difficult to enforce.[34] The Great Depression of the 1930s led many studios to seek income by any way possible. Since films containing racy and violent content resulted in high ticket sales, it seemed reasonable to continue producing such films.[24] Soon, the flouting of the code became an open secret. In 1931, the Hollywood Reporter mocked the code and quoted an anonymous screenwriter saying that "the Hays moral code is not even a joke any more; it's just a memory"; two years later Variety followed suit.[25]

On February 19, 1930, Variety published the entire content of the Code and predicted that state film censorship boards would soon become obsolete.[34] However, the men obliged to enforce the code — Jason Joy (who was the head of the Committee until 1932) and his successor, Dr. James Wingate — were generally unenthusiastic and/or ineffective.[25][35] The first film the office reviewed, The Blue Angel, which was passed by Joy with no revisions, was considered indecent by a California censor.[35] Although there were several instances where Joy negotiated cuts from films and there were indeed definite — albeit loose — constraints, a significant amount of lurid material made it to the screen.[36] Joy had to review 500 films a year with a small staff and little power.[35] He was more willing to work with the studios, and his creative writing skills led to his hiring at Fox. On the other hand, Wingate struggled to keep up with the flood of scripts coming in, to the point where Warner Bros.' head of production Darryl Zanuck wrote him a letter imploring him to pick up the pace.[37] In 1930, the Hays office did not have the authority to order studios to remove material from a film, and instead worked by reasoning and sometimes pleading with them.[38] Complicating matters, the appeals process ultimately put the responsibility for making the final decision in the hands of the studios.[25]

Pre-Code Hollywood


The entire document was written with Catholic undertones and stated that art must be handled carefully because it could be "morally evil in its effects" and because its "deep moral significance" was unquestionable.[28] It was initially decided to keep the Catholic influence on the Code secret.[32] A recurring theme was "that throughout, the audience feels sure that evil is wrong and good is right".[5] The Code also contained an addendum commonly referred to as the Advertising Code which regulated advertising copy and imagery.[33]

The production code sought not only to determine what could be portrayed on screen but also to promote traditional values.[30] Sexual relations outside of marriage—which were forbidden from being portrayed as attractive or beautiful—were to be presented in a way that would not arouse passion or make them seem permissible.[24] All criminal action had to be punished, and neither the crime nor the criminal could elicit sympathy from the audience,[5] or the audience must at least be aware that such behavior is wrong, usually through "compensating moral value".[27][31] Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.[24]

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of "general principles" which prohibited a picture from "lowering the moral standards of those who see it", called for depictions of the "correct standards of life", and lastly forbade a picture from showing any sort of ridicule towards a law or "creating sympathy for its violation".[27] The second part was a set of "particular applications" which was an exacting list of items which could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Depiction of miscegenation (i.e. marital or sexual relations between different races) was forbidden. It also stated that the notion of an "adults-only policy" would be a dubious, ineffective strategy which would be difficult to enforce.[28] However, it did allow that "maturer minds may easily understand and accept without harm subject matter in plots which does younger people positive harm."[29] If children were supervised and the events implied elliptically, the code allowed "the possibility of a cinematically inspired thought crime."[29]

In 1929, a Catholic layman, Martin Quigley (editor of the prominent trade paper Motion Picture Herald) and the Jesuit priest Father Daniel A. Lord created a code of standards[20] and submitted it to the studios.[4][21] Lord was particularly concerned with the effects of sound film on children, whom he considered especially susceptible to their allure.[20] In February 1930, several studio heads—including Irving Thalberg of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)—met with Lord and Quigley. After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. One of the main motivating factors in adopting the Code was to avoid direct government intervention.[22] It was the responsibility of the SRC (headed by Colonel Jason S. Joy, a former American Red Cross Executive Secretary[15][23]) to supervise film production and advise the studios when changes or cuts were required.[24][25] On March 31, the MPPDA agreed it would abide by the Code.[26]

Creation of the Code and its contents

The Code enumerated a number of key points known as the "Don'ts" and "Be Carefuls":[19]

Don'ts and Be Carefuls

In 1927, Hays suggested to studio executives that they form a committee to discuss film censorship. Irving G. Thalberg of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Sol Wurtzel of Fox, and E. H. Allen of Paramount responded by collaborating on a list they called the "Don'ts and Be Carefuls", which was based on items that were challenged by local censor boards. This list consisted of eleven subjects best avoided and twenty-six to be handled very carefully. The list was approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Hays created the Studio Relations Committee (SRC) to oversee its implementation.[15][16] However, there was still no way to enforce tenets.[5] The controversy surrounding film standards came to a head in 1929.[17][18]

New York became the first state to take advantage of the Supreme Court's decision by instituting a censorship board in 1921. Virginia followed suit the following year,[11] with eight individual states having a board by the advent of sound film,[12][13] But many of these were ineffectual. By the 1920s, the New York stage — a frequent source of subsequent screen material—had topless shows, performances filled with curse words, mature subject matters, and sexually suggestive dialogue.[14] Early in the sound system conversion process, it became apparent that what might be acceptable in New York would not be so in Kansas.[14]

The move mimicked the decision Major League Baseball had made in hiring judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as League Commissioner the previous year to quell questions about the integrity of baseball in the wake of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal; The New York Times even called Hays the "screen Landis".[5] In 1924, Hays introduced a set of recommendations dubbed "The Formula", which the studios were advised to heed, and asked filmmakers to describe to his office the plots of pictures they were planning on making.[8] The Supreme Court had already decided unanimously in 1915 in Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio that free speech did not extend to motion pictures,[9] and while there had been token attempts to clean up the movies before—such as when the studios formed the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry (NAMPI) in 1916—little had come of the efforts.[10]

[4], and negotiated treaties to cease hostilities."nostrums (MPPDA), where he "defended the industry from attacks, recited soothing Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America served for 25 years as president of the [7],Republican National Committee and former head of the Warren G. Harding under Postmaster General Hays, [6][5][4] Political pressure was increasing, with legislators in 37 states introducing almost one hundred movie censorship bills in 1921. Hays was paid the then-lavish sum of $100,000 a year.[3]

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