Many to give the film industry pressure for censorship.

Many historians are convinced that the 1920s is the most
scandalous decade in Hollywood history. In that time, many Hollywood stars were
involved in criminal cases and sex scandals (Langford, 2010). One of the most
infamous cases is the murder of William Desmond Taylor, which involves many
well-known film stars like Mabel Normand, Mary Mile Minter and Marshall Neilan.
Moreover, as Bordwell and Thompson (1994) indicate, the excessive depiction of
sex and violence in the 1920s Hollywood cinema provoked the anger from the
conservative political and religious organisations who believed the depiction
of sex and violence in cinema would bring society indecent values and cause
social disorder. As a result, these organisations protested to give the film
industry pressure for censorship. In response to their criticism, the studios
founded the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) and
hired Will H. Hays as the first chairman of the association to rebuild the
image of Hollywood. During his term of office, the Production Code, also known
as the Code, was firstly introduced in 1930. The Code is the predecessor of
modern day’s the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating
system which categorises films based on its subject matters and depictions.
Every film produced by a studio that is a member of the MPAA must get a seal of
approval. Otherwise, they were not prohibited to exhibit in any affiliated
theatre. Although the Hollywood cinema had changed a lot after the Second World
War, the Code still played an important role in the industry. The Code had
shaped the Hollywood for 38 years until its abolition in 1968. This essay will
discuss the changes of the role and the impact of the Code in Hollywood cinema
from 1945 to 1968 with three films from three different periods.

As Gerber (1994: 545) argues, by the
end of the Second World War, Americans had contradictory feelings for veterans.
On one hand, they appreciated the contribution and sacrifices that veterans had
made during the war. On the other hand, they feared that veterans would pose a potential
threat to society as many veterans found adjusting to civilian life difficult.
Some of them experienced difficulties in relationships with their family and
sexual partner; some of them could not fit in society because of their
disabilities; some of them could not recover from war-induced psychological
trauma. In Hollywood, many filmmakers were convinced that war films were no
longer relevant to audience as they were living in a peaceful time and these
filmmakers believed that they should make films that based on social problems
that they faced in that time (Langford, 2011:51-52).  The Best
Years of Our Lives (William
Wyler, 1946) is one of these social problem films that investigate the
challenges and difficulties that veterans might face. This film is about the
journey of three veterans, namely Fred Derry (played by Dana Andrews), Homer
Parrish (played by Harold Russell), and Al Stephenson (played by Fredric March),
overcoming their difficulties of adjusting to normal life. The issue of
marriage and divorce was serious in that time. According to Reed (1947:17), ‘one
out of every three war time marriages entered into by American servicemen have
already ended in divorce’ in 1945. As Gilbert (1986: 57) indicates, the divorce
rate in America reached its reach its highest point in 1946. According to 100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics
United States, 1867-1967, an official government report published by U.S.
Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1973, there were more than
600,000 Americans divorced in 1946. The filmmaker of The Best Years of Our Lives also addresses the seriousness of the issue
of marriage and divorce among veterans in that time. In The Best Years of Our Lives, Fred’s wife, Marie (played by Virginia
Mayo), is unfaithful to him. When Fred returns home, he realises Marie does not
live there anymore. She is now a nightclub waitress who lives nearby her
workplace. This implicates that she is not a loyal wife.
In that time, people usually associated nightclub with sex as they thought
wealthy men usually chose their sexual partners at nightclubs. Then,
Fred goes to a bar and meets Homer, Al and his family. Fred and Peggy (played
by Teresa Wright), Al’s only daughter, find each other attractive at first
sight. Peggy wants more in the relationship between her and Fred. Peggy wants Fred
to divorce his wife Marie, so they can be together. However, this could breach
the principle of the Code. According to the Code,
it is forbidden to present the extra-marital affair with positive attitude in
films. Therefore, the plot does not allow Fred
and Peggy to develop an intimate relationship unless the marriage of Fred and
Marie ends first. As a result, Peggy’s father Al steps in and forces Fred to
end their affairs. Then, Fred tries to save his marriage. He compels Marie to
leave her job at the nightclub and to act like what they used to be; however,
all his efforts were in vain. One day, when Fred comes home early, he sees
Marie is with another man. Fred feels betrayal and askes the man to leave but
Marie confronts him and insists the man is ‘an old friend’ of hers. Marie adds
that she knows ‘a lot of people’ when Fred is serving overseas. This implies that
Marie might have extra-marital affairs with numerous men. Because of the Code,
the film cannot explicitly show Marie picking up other men outside her marriage.
Instead, the film can only show another man staying at her home while Fred is
not there. When a wife inviting a man to her home without the presence of her
husband, people usually associate it with extra-marital affairs. After Fred
expressing his dissatisfaction to Marie, she complains that she has sacrificed
too much in their marriage and demands to divorce. The filmmaker sets this
arrangement to set Fred free from his marriage. Now, Fred and Marie are no
longer husband and wife and they can date anyone. All Fred needs is an
opportunity to meet Peggy, so the filmmaker lets Fred and Peggy meet again at
Homer’s wedding by the end of the film. While Homer and his wife making their
wedding vows, Fred stares at Peggy and realises she still loves him. He walks
towards her and kisses her. The obstacle between Fred and Peggy in this film is
the marriage of Fred and Marie. The filmmaker does not allow Fred and Peggy to
be together at the beginning, it would otherwise violate the sanctity of Fred’s
marriage. However, at the end, they are allowed to be a couple since Fred’s
marriage is no longer valid. Because of the Code, the film must evade the possibilities
of the existence of the extra-marital relationship of Fred and Peggy.

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By the early 1950s, the American public did not think
veterans were harmful to society any more, but teenagers were. From the early
1940s to the early 1960s, many babies were born in the US mainland. The demographers
describe these baby as ‘baby boomers’. The mass reproduction of babies made the
American population unbalanced: the population of children is significantly
larger than other population group. According
to Clark’s (1994: 69) research, the American teenage population nearly
doubles its size from 5.6 million in 1946 to 11.8 million in 1960. When the
first generation of baby boomers entered their puberty in the 1950s, like other
teenagers from different periods, they became rebellious and bring troubles to
society. Some of them even involved in crimes. According to MacIver’s (1966: 4)
studies, the number of juvenile delinquency cases tripled
between 1950 and 1959 in New York City. In response to juvenile crimes, the Children
Bureau set up a Juvenile Delinquency Branch (Barnosky,
2006; 331).

The issue of juvenile delinquency was
so serious that caught filmmakers’ attention. In the 1950s, many films that are
about rebellious teenagers were produced. Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) is a remarkable
example. The film depicts the life of three rebellious middle-classed
teenagers, namely Jim Stark (played by James Dean), Judy (played by Natalie
Wood) and John Plato Crawford (played by Sal Mineo). Violence is one of the
attractions of this film. One of the most exciting fighting scenes is the knife
fighting between Jim and Buzz Gundersone (played by Corey Allen).  The film shows the whole fighting in a very
detailed way. The blood from Jim and Buzz can be seen explicitly. Another
violent scene from the film is Plato killing one of the Buzz’s friend. After being
shot, he falls down the stairs. This partly violates the 1930’s Production
Code. According to the Code, the use of weapon should not be presented in
detail. Besides, the film does not show the consequences of breaking the law. Some
characters do not receive punishment for their crimes. For Instance, Jim, Judy
and Plato are not arrested for breaking into a house. Another example is that
Buzz’s gang does not get caught for stealing two cars for preparing the
‘chickie run’. According to the Code, films should not present that criminals
can get rids of their responsibilities for their crimes.

Some film critics suggest that Rebel without a Cause not only discusses the issues of juvenile delinquency,
but also the issues of sexuality. As Noriega (1990: 22) indicates, in the 1930s
and 1940s, filmmakers generally changed the sexuality of homosexual film characters
that based on homosexual-central plays or novels to heterosexual to evade the
discussion of homosexual issues; however, in the 1950s, filmmakers dared to
discuss or identify homosexuality in their films. In Rebel without a Cause, although Plato does not tell audiences about
his sexuality, there are many hints suggesting he is homosexual in the film. When
Plato appears for the first time, he is portrayed as
a weak, shy and non-masculine boy. This is contradictory with the stereotypes
of men what society believed they should be in the 1950s. In that time, people
expected men to be strong and dominant. When Plato opens his locker door and
combs his hair, a picture of Alan Ladd, a famous film actor, is shown. Most
convincing is the sequence of Jim persuading Plato to leave the observatory at the end. The filmmaker
portrays Plato as if he is Jim’s abandoned
lover. Plato is mad at Jim for leaving him alone at the mansion. When Jim is
convincing Plato to get out, he gives him his jacket and Plato wants to keep
it. For Plato, he might think that Jim’s jacket is a token of his love. In the
conservative 1950s, some people might find this film homoerotic. However, the
original version is more homoerotic than anyone could expect. According to Frascella
and Weisel (2014: 172), there were kisses between Plato and Jim in the scenes
of ‘chickie run’ and mansions, but it irritated the Production Code
Administration. As a result, the filmmaker was forced to replace kiss by other
less intimate actions like stroking Plato’s head. Although the Code prevent
Plato and Jim developing same-sex romance, the film has sympathy for
homosexuals. Hollywood films in the 1950s usually portray homosexuals as
abhorrent psychos or perverts but Rebel
without a Cause does not. In the film, Plato is portrayed as a loyal and
caring person. He is willing to sacrifice himself to save Jim.

As has been shown, it can be deduced
that the Production Code started to loosen its restrictions on controversial
depictions and subject matters in films in the 1950s. This changing trend of
the Code can be explained by an important event. In 1952, the supreme court
ruled the famous case, Joseph Burstyn,
Inc. v. Wilson (aka the Miracle decision),
that overturned the judgement of Mutual
Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio (Langford, 2011:63). The
Court ruled that films were under the freedom of speech project and local
censors did not have the right to prohibit any films to exhibit. This judgement
means the Production Code is only an agreement between the Studios to
self-censor their own films and it has no legal effect. As a result, filmmakers
started to challenge the Code. They began to discuss taboo topics like
homosexuality and openly defied the Code.

The 1960s is the decade when liberalism began to prevail in
America. People started to speak up for their own rights and challenge the
conservative values and norms. Different social groups were fighting for
equality. For instance, African-Americans protested against racial segregation
and discrimination; feminists demanded for gender equality; homosexuals fought
for gay rights. The ideology of liberalism advocates the idea of individual
freedom. This political trend accelerated the collapse of the Production Code. As
has been discussed, the Miracle judgement
had weakened the role of the Code and encouraged filmmakers to create their films
freely. There were more filmmakers ignored the warnings and guidelines from the
Production Code Administration and released their films without the seal of
approval in the 1950s and 1960s. Surprisingly, some of them proved to be hits.
For instance, to challenge the Code, Otto Preminger made The Moon Is Blue (Otto Preminger, 1953), a film which is mainly
about seduction and sex, and released the film without a seal of approval. The
film turned out to be a successful film that earned 3.5 million US dollars in
box office (Fujiwara, 2015:146-147). The success of these films which rejected
the Code proved that audiences and society had changed their taste and they started
to accept taboo issues. Besides, under the threat of television that has stricter
censorship, the Production Code Administration had to lower the restrictions of
the Production Code to allow filmmakers to make films more daring (Bordwell and
Thompson, 1994: 386). Consequently, the Production Code
Administration decided not to issue the seal of approval to films anymore
in 1966 (Bordwell and Thompson, 1994: 386).

Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur
Penn, 1967) can reflect the ending of the Code. This film is based on the real
life of two notorious criminal Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in the 1930s. The
excessive sexual appealing images and depiction of violence were the attractions
of the film. There are many seductive images in the film. The film begins with
Bonnie wondering her home naked. This suggests that she is sexually permissive.
One of the most sexual suggestive shot is when Bonnie drinking coke with Clyde.
She rubs her mouth around a phallic object, her coke bottle rim. After Bonnie
asking Clyde about his armed robbery history and waiting him to reply, she puts
the bottle in her month and drink it. This suggest that Bonnie is sexually
attracted to Clyde’s misbehaviour. Then, Clyde gives her a dissatisfactory
answer. Bonnie immediately puts down her bottle and tells Clyde that she does
not believe he committed the crime. As a result, Clyde takes his gun (another
phallic object) from his pocket and shows it to Bonnie surreptitiously. When
she sees his gun, her hand slowly and tenderly approaches to it. Bonnie’s admiration
for his gun can be understood that Clyde’s masculinity (committing crimes)
arouses her sexual desire. To prove his masculinity, Clyde goes to rob a store randomly.
While they are on their run after robbing the store, Bonnie is fondling and
kissing Clyde.

As has been mentioned, violence is another remarkable
feature of the film. There are many violent scenes in Bonnie and Clyde. For instance, the camera shows the face of the bank
manager being shot by Clyde. The scene of Clyde, his older brother Buck (played
by Gene Hackman), Buck’s wife Blanche (played by Estelle Parsons) and Bonnie getting
attack by the police is also violent. The police and Clyde’s gang continuously
are firing at each other. After failing the first surprise attack, the second
one is more savage and both side suffer heavy casualties. Buck and his wife got
wounded while many policemen were killed. However, the most violent scene of
the film is the death of Bonnie and Clyde. In order to catch them, the police
make a deal with the father of one of the member of Clyde’s gang, who wants to refrain
his son from punishment, to set a trap. The father parked his truck by the side
of the road. When he sees Bonnie and Clyde, he asks them to stop their car to
help him to change his tire. Suddenly, some policemen shoots Bonnie and Clyde
with machine guns. The death of the couple is so horrible that even the
policemen who killed them are shocked. The American public’s acceptance of
violence for this film can be explained by the emergence of television. In the
1960s, America suffered heavy casualties in the Vietnam War and the pubic can
received the violent images or information of the war easily from television. In
that time, television allows moving images transmitting from battlefields to American
home quickly.

The filmmaker romanticises the brutal acts of the criminals.
In the film, the filmmaker portrays Bonnie and Clyde not as brutal as the
actual criminals were. After Clyde heard the story of a family whose house was
taken by a bank, he gives the ex-house owner and his servant who used to live
there a gun to shoot the house to express their anger. This scene suggests Clyde
has sympathy for poor people who were oppressed by the rich. In the scene of
Clyde robbing a shop, even when a crew member is attacking him with a knife,
Clyde hits his head with his gun handle. Clyde latter claims he does not want
to hurt the man. It shows Clyde’s humanity side. Beside, after Clyde has killed
the bank manager after the bank robbery, he wants Bonnie to leave as he does
not want to bring her any trouble. However, Bonnie insists to stay with him.
The emphasises the love story between Bonnie and Clyde. However, the most
romantic is when Bonnie reads the poems that she wrote for her and Clyde. The
filmmaker portrays the love story as romantic as Romeo and Juliet’s. Bonnie and
Clyde could not live without either one of them. The filmmaker also portrays
Bonnie and Clyde as if they are playful teenagers. The first example is when Clyde’s
gang captures a police officer, Bonnie suggests not to shoot him but to takes a
photo with him and the gang. Another example is when the car owner, whose car
is stolen by Clyde’s gang, decides not to chase them, Clyde’s gang turns around
and invites the car owner and his lover to ride with them. The reason for these
scenes is that the filmmaker wants audiences to love the characters. If the
characters are so brutal, the audiences would find the them disgusting. However,
if the characters are impish, the audiences would find them attractive.

Up to this point, this essay has discussed how Bonnie and Clyde reflect the way that
filmmakers producing their films without the restrictions from the Code in the mid-1960s.
When the public no longer supported the Code and Hollywood filmmakers abandoned
it, the MPAA had to find a substitute for the Code. In 1968, the MPAA introduced
a new film rating system that categorise film according to age appropriateness
(Langford, 2011: 113-114). According to the system,
there are four ratings, namely G (General Audiences), M (Mature Audiences), R (Restricted;
under sixteens must be accompanied by an adult) and X (Over sixteen only) (Langford,
2011: 113-114).

So far, this essay has illustrated the changes of the role of
the Production Code. By the mid-1940s, the Code still had an important impact
in Hollywood cinema. To get the seal of approval, filmmakers in that time needed
to carefully handle daring subject matters in their films. However, after the Miracle judgement in 1952, Hollywood
filmmakers realised that their films were under the protection of freedom of
speech and freedom of press. They started to challenge the Code but society in
the 1950s was not liberal enough to allow to abandon the Code. Along with the
rise of liberalism in the 1960s, the public demanded for more individual freedom.
The raging trend changed the audiences’ attitude for censorship and forced the
MPAA to replace the Code with the new film rating system in 1968.


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