Why I Find Myself Wistful for
the Old Days of Movie Censorship
June 24, 2016
Although I believe censorship is a potential danger to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, I find myself wistful for the bad old days of the Motion Picture Production Code of the 1930s and 1940s.
The Code was in response to Catholic groups that formed the Legion of Decency in 1933 because of movies like “Cleopatra” in which Claudette Colbert sat naked in a tub, “The Vamp” with half-dressed seductress Theda Bara, Mae West’s blatant personification of sex in “She Done Him Wrong,” and others.
Headed by Joseph Breen (1888-1965) the Code required that all films released after July 1, 1934 be subjected to the prohibition of:
Profanity, including the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, hell, damn
Sex between the white and black races
Ridicule of the clergy
The use of firearms
A woman selling her virtue
Rape or attempted rape
A man and woman in bed together
Sympathy for criminals
Technique of committing murder by whatever method
Theft, robbery, safe-cracking
Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime
You would think that all that censorship would cripple films, but it turns out that the opposite was true...