The Quick 10: 9 Movies and Shows Affected by the Hays Code

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It was this day in 1930 that the Motion Picture Production Code (AKA the Hays Code) went into effect, imposing a set of strict guidelines on Hollywood that are laughable today ("Revenge shall not be justified," "The use of liquor when not required by the plot will not be shown," "Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song joke or by suggestion is forbidden"). We may not realize it, but most movies from 1930 to the mid-"˜60s had to make concessions for this code "“ here are nine you may recognize, and one that managed to sneak by the censors.

1. It Happened One Night. This Oscar-winner was one of the first to really adhere to the code and was richly rewarded for it. The code prohibited basically even the smallest hint of lust or passion ("Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown," and "[Scenes of Passion] should not be introduced when not essential to the plot"). So when the script called for Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert to be stuck in a motel room together, they did it in the most chaste way possible: a blanket was hung between the two beds in the room and Claudette wore a set of pajamas that covered everything but her face. When Clark Gable gave her a "lesson" on how a man undresses, she freaked out. The movie became the first to hit the Oscar Grand Slam "“ it won Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

2. The Outlaw. This movie was kept out of theaters simply because the advertising featuring Jane Russell's cleavage was too racy. Director Howard Hughes threw an absolute fit and ended up cutting a total of 30 seconds from the movie that featured too much décolletage. The movie hit theaters for about seven days in 1943, two years after filming was complete. The Hays office decided it was still too risqué and the movie was yanked, not receiving a full release until 1946. It was such a controversial film by then that it was a massive success.

3. Anything featuring Betty Boop. Pre-Hays Code, Betty was a flapper who liked short skirts and low necklines. Post Hays-Code, Betty wore skirts to the knee, ditched the garter belt in favor of leg-covering stockings, and favored practically prudish necklines.
4. Casablanca. 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. Although they still managed to get the point across, the original version was not so subtle.

5. I Love Lucy. It's pretty hard to have a pregnant main character without ever uttering the word, but Lucy managed to do it to appease the Hays people. They usually used the word "expecting." Lucy and Ricky maintained separate beds on the show for the same reason, which makes you wonder how they found themselves "expecting" in the first place.

6. Anything with Fatty Arbuckle. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was involved in a scandal involving the suspicious death of a young starlet not long before the Code was implemented. In fact, this was part of the reason for the Code "“ some felt Hollywood was getting out of hand with the sex, drugs and drinking (sound familiar?) and that morals needed to be re-instilled. One of Will Hays' first acts was to ban Fatty from the movie industry entirely. Hays recanted later the same year but the damage was already done "“ Arbuckle's career never returned to the heights it had reached before his scandal and blacklisting.

7. Gone With the Wind. Ever wondered why the childbirth scene in GWTW is so tiptoed around? Now you know. The Hays Code very specifically said, "Scenes of actual child birth, in fact or in silhouette, are never to be presented." So I guess the fact that the birth was even shown in shadow was a pretty big deal. Also a big deal? That famous line, "Frankly Scarlett, I don't give a damn." It was quite the accomplishment to get that one tiny four-letter word past the Production Code Administration. It was kept in because the swearing stayed true to the original novel.

8. Monkey Business. Groucho Marx was pretty good at innuendo "“ so good, in fact, that he barely had to say anything at all to upset the Production Code Administration. There's a line in Monkey Business that should have gone, "I know, you're a misunderstood woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your breaks, polish your frame and oil your joints, but you have to stay in the garage all night." The Hays Office felt this was all too much and made them chop the references to polishing the frame and oiling the joints.

9. The Bad Seed. In book about a little girl with an evil mind, the girl's mother kills herself and attempts to kill her daughter at the end. The daughter survives to (presumably) kill another day. In the movie version, however, the mom survives and the girl is killed by a bolt of lightning. This is because the Hays Code forbade the glamorization of crime or making it seem as if a life a crime paid "“ so the good mother dying and the evil daughter surviving was a big no-no. Apparently the Hays Office was willing to overlook a curse word in the name of staying true to a novel, but not murder.

10. The Gang's All Here. Sometimes the things the Production Office would overlook were pretty baffling. This film is a perfect example. Although Groucho Marx was forbidden from making references to "frames" and "oil," it was perfectly acceptable for Carmen Miranda and a bunch of scantily-clad ladies to do the "banana dance" suggestively around a bunch of five-foot-tall bananas. Talk about innuendo! The movie was even banned oversea but the Hays Office let it slide. Hmm. Giant bananas at 3:40, if you don't want to wait:

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March 31, 2010 - 1:43pm
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