Campbell Wealth Management - December 2021

Prohibition for the Movies? The Little-Known Story of the Hays Code

If you’ve seen the classic movie “Casablanca,” you might be surprised to learn that the original version was more risque than the one later shown on theater screens. The night Rick and Ilsa shared in Paris was more, ahem, explicitly passionate, but those lines were dropped on the cutting room floor. Why? Well, it wasn’t because of artistic choice. According to Mental Floss, “Joseph I. Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration, personally objected to any reference in ‘Casablanca’ about Rick and Ilsa having possibly slept together in Paris.” What a killjoy! Breen’s objection was backed up by an industry standard of the time called the Hays Code (or officially, the Motion Picture Production Code). This now-forgotten list of rules predated today’s movie rating system and

governed Hollywood from 1934 to 1968, restricting expression in countless movies and TV shows. It was intended to clean up the violent, drug-filled movie business much like Prohibition — which preceded it— had been designed to clean up a drunken America. As the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) puts it, “The code prohibited profanity, suggestive nudity, graphic or realistic violence, sexual persuasions, and rape” — but it also prohibited certain kinds of costumes and dances, censored homosexuality, and banished married movie couples to separate beds! Just a few of the stranger things banned under the Hays Code were justifications of revenge, mockery of the clergy, and showing alcohol “when not required by the plot.”

Code without realizing it was to blame for the wacky choices the directors made. For example, Mental Floss reports the code is the reason “I Love Lucy” never showed Lucy and Ricky sharing a bed or used the word “pregnant,” even when Lucy was expecting! It’s also the reason why Betty Boop temporarily lost her garter belt and why the birth scene in “Gone With the Wind” was filmed in shadows. In fact, even a “silhouette” birth should have been off-limits, but somehow, the producers sneaked it through. To learn more about the origins and ending of the Hays Code, check out the NPR story “Remembering Hollywood’s Hays Code, 40 Years On.”

You’ve likely watched movies and TV shows filmed under the restrictions of the Hays

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