Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

3/19/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The first in a series of articles on Catholics and the movie culture.

The Legion's original pledge condemned "vile and unwholesome moving pictures" and called upon its members to "unite with all who protest against them as a grave menace to youth, to home life, to country and to religion." The Legion's gradual slide into moralistic irrelevance is best exemplified by the four films the Legion condemned in 1960, all now considered classics: Breathless, Never on Sunday, Spartacus, and Psycho. I imagine Rev. Daniel Lord, S.J., never thought his Code would be used to bash serious works in the art form called cinema.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/19/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Movies

Keywords: movies, films, legion of decency, movie code, film, Catholics and Movie Culture, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - In film history, there is a "pre-Code" (1930-33) when films were racier, naughtier, and more suggestive than the films that came after, that is, until after WWII.  This seismic shift was the creation of Catholics who feared the omnipresence of the movie culture was destroying America's morals. 

The Hays Code, itself, had already been instituted in 1930 with the advent of the "talkies" by the film industry to ward off government censorship.  Under its official name, the Motion Picture Production Code was led by Will H. Hays, a former Postmaster General appointed by President Harding. 

Hays, a Presbyterian, had led the Studio Relations Committee since 1922 but was delighted when he received a completed set of standards for movie censorship from a Chicago Jesuit, Rev. Daniel A. Lord, S.J., with the encouragement of Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago and influential Catholic laymen, Martin Quigley and Joseph Breen. 

Along with Breen, Quigley, and several other Jesuits, Rev. Lord had been working on the document for a year.  When Hays was given the Code at the beginning of his new job as chief censor of Hollywood, he said, "My eyes nearly popped out when I read it. This was the very thing I had been looking for." Hays' previous attempts to lead the studios' effort in self-censorship had floundered.

For Rev. Lord it had been the addition of spoken dialogue in films that sounded the alarm, especially about the potential influence on children. Hays, along with several studio heads, including Irving Thalberg, the young genius of MGM, met with Quigley and Rev. Lord in February, 1930 and agreed to the new Code, after some revisions were made.  The first part of the Code was a statement of general moral principles, and the second was their application to the particulars of any film under consideration.

Given its authorship, the Code was not heavy handed or moralistic, at least as seen in its historical context.  Though an attempt was made to keep its authorship a secret, its Catholic perspective was obvious; a scholastic voice sounds throughout its various shades of distinctions.

But the bottom line was this: "that throughout, the audience feels sure that evil is wrong and good is right."

Those who ridicule the Code (Motion Picture Production Code) without having read it, may find themselves nodding their heads at the common sense found there, such as in its first line: "If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind." When it came to issues of homosexuality, adultery, and "miscegenation," the Code recognized that "maturer minds may easily understand and accept without harm subject matter in plots which does younger people positive harm."

The films that were produced in Hollywood over the next three years did not bear the imprint of Lord's careful work - although these "pre-Code" films hardly shock us now, they quickly became much bolder and experimental in their depictions of violence (Scarface, 1932), sex (Safe in Hell, 1931), and moral decadence (Baby Face, 1933).  The pressure for external censorship arose not from the government but from America's Catholics.

In 1933, the Vatican's Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani sounded the alarm at a speech in New York City before a large and influential Catholic audience. His demand for the "purification of cinema" was heard by Archbishop John T. McNicholas of Cincinnati. Archbishop McNicholas then founded the Catholic Legion of Decency which was renamed the following year to National Legion of Decency to include the non-Catholics who wanted to join. The Legion's impact on Hollywood over the next 25 years would be substantial.

The Legion's original pledge condemned "vile and unwholesome moving pictures" and called upon its members to "unite with all who protest against them as a grave menace to youth, to home life, to country and to religion." The Legion condemned many films in 1933 and 1934 including Baby Face, Queen Christina, She Done Him Wrong, The Scarlet Empress, and Madame Dubarry.  Hollywood moguls had to pay attention - the boycotts announced and organized by the Legion diminished not only their bottom line but also the credibility of the movie business itself.

Only five films made it into major theater chains that weren't given at least a B rating - morally objectionable in part - by the Legion for the next thirty years.  It took a full 20 years before any film with a C rating - condemned by the Legion of Decency - made a profit: The Moon is Blue (1953).

As a result, films became tamer but more crafty in their depiction of risqué material, giving rise to the now much-adored genre of the "screwball comedy," such as the groundbreaking It Happened One Night (1934) and the hilarious Bringing Up Baby (1938).

The Legion's gradual slide into moralistic irrelevance is best exemplified by the four films the Legion condemned in 1960, all now considered classics: Breathless, Never on Sunday, Spartacus, and Psycho. I imagine Rev. Daniel Lord, S.J., never thought his Code would be used to bash serious works in the art form called cinema.

This is first in a series of articles on Catholics and the movie culture.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.



---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copyright 2015 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for April 2016
Universal:
Small Farmers: That small farmers may receive a just reward for their precious labor.
Evangelization: African Christians: That Christians in Africa may give witness to love and faith in Jesus Christ amid political-religious conflicts.



Comments


More Movies

Pope Pius IX portrayed in Steven Spielberg's latest film Watch

Image of Latest Spielberg movie features Pope Pius IX (WikiMedia Commons).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara," will tell the true story of how a six-year-old's kidnapping relates to Pope Pius IX, the crumbling of the then Papacy and how Italy was unified through the culmination of events. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


True story behind 'Miracles From Heaven' Watch

Image of Annabel Beam shares story of how God cured her of lifelong illness (PA Real Life).

By Monique Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Annabel Beam was only 9-years-old when she fell down a hollowed-out tree and landed on her skull. Despite other horror stories in which spines were snapped and skulls were broken, Annabel emerged with a few scratches and a miracle: She was cured of a lifelong illness. ... continue reading


Star of 'God's Not Dead 2' opens up about powerful journey that led him to God Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Star of the upcoming feature film, "God's Not Dead 2," Jesse Metcalfe opens up about his journey to God and a better life. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Faith is really important to me," expressed Metcalfe during an interview with FOX411. "I really discovered a ... continue reading


What the Vatican paper has to say about 'Spotlight' and its Academy Award for Best Picture Watch

Image of

By CNA/EWTN News

The film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture on Sunday, is a courageous movie that is not anti-Catholic, the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano said in two articles dedicated to comment on the Oscars. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Historian and journalist ... continue reading


Roman turns to Christ in new 'Risen' film Watch

Image of 'Risen' follows the story of a Roman soldier as he searches for Christ's body (risen-movie).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

New movie "Risen" follows a Roman soldier's search for Christ's body after His resurrection. Clavius, acted by Joseph Fiennes, must disprove "rumors" of a risen Messiah, but reveals a life-changing truth instead. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Risen's" website ... continue reading


5 faith-based movies coming in 2016 that are worth your time and money Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Faith-based films with an overt Christian message have been making inroads in the nation's box offices. The film industry is responding to audiences who want Christian themes in their entertainment, and even more films that are Christian are coming to theaters ... continue reading


The Young Messiah: Film to depict Christ as a child Watch

Image of The Young Messiah is the story of Jesus' youth (Wikipedia).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

"The Young Messiah" is the story of Christ's childhood. Who was he? How did he grow to be the world's Savior? What must it have been like to know the Christ child? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On "The Young Messiah" website, it is explained: "Inspired by ... continue reading


The one amazing thing waves of teenagers are doing after seeing this powerful film will inspire you Watch

Image of Recently released to the home entertainment market via DVD and Blu-Ray,

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Many movies make us laugh, thrill us and make us cry ... in the case of the football film, "Woodlawn," the film's story on how a community is torn apart by racial strife to later reunite because of God's love has audiences standing up and cheering - and ... continue reading


New faith-based film 'The Pastor' addresses gang violence, urban decay Watch

Image of Arturo Muyshondt, the star and writer of the new faith-based film

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The faith-based film "The Pastor" is playing in 400 theaters tonight only across the United States. "The Pastor" tells the story of a former gang member, played by the film's writer Arturo Muyshondt, who turns his life over to God and begins his ministry in a ... continue reading


Opulent castle in Hitchcock masterpiece 'To Catch a Thief' on the market Watch

Image of Sharing the screen with Cary Grant in 1955, Grace Kelly fell in love with the amazingly beautiful castle.

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The breathtaking Castle of la Croix des Gardes, used to good effect in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock classic, "To Catch a Thief" is back on the market again after 56 years. Grace Kelly adored the location, with its graceful Florentine contours. The owner of the ... continue reading


All Movies News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 15:22-31
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 57:8-9, 10-12
8 Awake, my glory, awake, lyre and harp, that I may awake the ... Read More

Gospel, John 15:12-17
12 This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 29th, 2016 Image

St. Catherine of Siena
April 29: St. Catherine of Siena was born during the ... Read More