Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

3/20/2014 (5 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Supreme Court decision marked not only an end to the power of the Code but was also a sign that the cultural clout of Catholics was coming to an end. However, to put it this way is misleading.

The sophistication seen in the original Code written by a Chicago Jesuit, Rev. Daniel Lord, SJ, had been turned into a fear-driven attempt of the Legion to act as parents looking out for a nation of impressionable children. In doing so, the Legion's condemnations showed no appreciation of, or respect for, film as an art form, in the manner contained in Rev. Lord's original Code. The moral of the story? Catholics lose cultural influence when they act like parental arbiters of public taste, especially when they refuse to acknowledge excellence in works of art they find somehow objectionable or dangerous. 

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/20/2014 (5 months ago)

Published in U.S.

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



WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Catholics of my generation probably remember only dimly the furor provoked among Catholics by films in the 1950s directed by Luis Bunuel, Los Olivados (1950); Roberto Rossellini, The Miracle (1951); Otto Preminger, The Moon is Blue (1953); Elia Kazan, Baby Doll (1956); Roger Vadim, And God Created Woman (1956); and Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot (1959).

Most people tend to think of the "culture wars" as beginning in the 80s, with the Reagan era, but obviously the roots of that struggle can be traced back to the postwar period when filmmakers shook themselves free of the Catholic-inspired Production Code that had ruled Hollywood since 1934.

As I discussed in a previous column, it was fear of government censorship that had led to the creation of the Code in the first place. But it wasn't until its strictures were enforced with boycotts by the Legion of Decency that Hollywood started paying attention, a period that would last through the end of WWII. As the "Mad Men" decade began, filmmakers began to challenge the Legion's cultural power, and won, first in the Supreme Court and eventually among the vast movie audiences in the culture itself. 

It was the 1950 New York City showing at the Paris Theatre of an Italian film, The Miracle (Il Miracolo), directed by Roberto Rossellini, that made its way to the Supreme Court. Shown under the title Ways of Love, the Rossellini film, starring Anna Magnani, won the best foreign language film award the same year from the New York Film Critics Circle. (The scandal caused by Rossellini's relationship with Ingrid Bergman would come several years later.)

The National Legion of Decency denounced the film as "anti-Catholic" and a "blasphemous mockery of Christian-religious truth," giving it the C rating - for condemned - so previously feared by Hollywood studios. The Legion's rating led the New York State Board of Regents, in charge of film censorship, to revoke its license to be shown in movie theaters.

The movie's distributor, Joseph Burstyn, initiated a lawsuit that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which found in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson that the film's artistic expression was guaranteed by the First Amendment - freedom of speech.

When the same film was released in Italy two years earlier, the Vatican's newspaper Osservatore Romano wrote, "objections from a religious viewpoint are very grave," but there are "scenes of undoubted screen value," concluding that, "we still believe in Rossellini's art."

Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York never saw the film but issued a statement to be read at every Mass in every parish of the New York Archdiocese.  He condemned it as "a despicable affront to every Christian" and "a vicious insult to Italian womanhood," eliciting demonstrations in front of the Paris Theater. Cardinal Spellman's public condemnation of Greta Garbo's 1941 Two-Faced Woman had caused MGM to withdraw and re-release an edited version.

Ten years later Catholic power in Hollywood was on the wane.

The Supreme Court decision marked not only an end to the power of the Code but was also a sign that the cultural clout of Catholics was coming to an end. However, to put it this way is misleading. 

Less than a decade later the United States would elect its first Catholic president, and during the same period a number of Catholic writers would become celebrated among the elites of the literati, including Flannery O'Connor, J. F. Powers, Graham Green, Muriel Spark, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Paul Horgan.

Merely contrasting the work of these celebrated Catholic writers and the Catholic mentality behind the condemnation of films by Bunuel, Rossellini, Preminger, Vadim, Kazan, and Wilder tells most of the story. 

The sophistication seen in the original Code written by a Chicago Jesuit, Rev. Daniel Lord, SJ, had been turned into a fear-driven attempt of the Legion to act as parents looking out for a nation of impressionable children. In doing so, the Legion's condemnations showed no appreciation of, or respect for, film as an art form, in the manner contained in Rev. Lord's original Code.

It was by "crying wolf" too often at important, well-made films, the Legion and its supporters became irrelevant. A simple, one-sentence summary of The Miracle certainly makes the condemnation sound plausible: A poor shepherdess named Nanni who believes herself to be the Virgin Mary is seduced with liquor drink by a wanderer whom she thinks is St. Joseph, played by director and co-writer Federico Fellini.

Yet, after viewing the film itself, The Miracle is precisely what one Catholic critic called it at the time, a story of "unregenerating suffering." And the unforgettable performance by Anna Magnani, as a "holy fool," demonstrates how far a verbal description of a character and plot and their cinematic incarnation can deviate. 

It should be added that the same year, 1950, Rossellini made what is arguably the best film ever made about the life of St. Francis, The Flowers of St. Francis (Francesco, giullare di Dio). Also co-written with Fellini, the film about St. Francis was called, in l995 by the Vatican, one of the 45 greatest films ever made.

The moral of the story? Catholics lose cultural influence when they act like parental arbiters of public taste, especially when they refuse to acknowledge excellence in works of art they find somehow objectionable or dangerous. 

Further reading:
 
Tag Gallagher, The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films, Da Capo Press, 1998.
Peter Bondanella, The Films of Roberto Rossellini, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
William Bruce Johnson, Miracles and Sacrilege: Roberto Rossellini, the Church and Film Censorship in Hollywood, University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Laura Wittern-Keller, Raymond J. Haberski, The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court, University Press of Kansas, 2008

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'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for August 2014
Refugees:
That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.
Oceania: That Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.



Comments


More U.S.

Caught in the act! This brutal video shows a CHP officer beating a woman on the side of the freeway Watch

Image of 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock is suing the California Highway Patrol after she was brutally assaulted by a patrolman on July 1.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A viral video has landed a California Highway Patrol officer in huge trouble after it was posted on YouTube. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The California Highway Patrol has announced that it has suspended officer Daniel Andrew after a video was posted online that ... continue reading


Prophetic, Pro-Life Pope Reminds Us Procured Abortion Cut from Same Evil Root as Human Trafficking Watch

Image of On Saturday, August 16, 2014, during the apostolic visit to Korea, Pope Francis made a loud statement. However, he did not use words. He did not have to. His prophetic action brought to mind a saying attributed to his namesake, Francis of Asisi - I preach the Gospel at all times, but sometimes I use words.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

When Francis began his service from the chair of Peter, much hoopla filled the media about some alleged softening in the opposition of the Catholic Church to what are dismissively referred to as complicated "moral issues" such as abortion. Sadly, even some in the ... continue reading


Supreme Court Stays Redefinition of Marriage in Virginia Watch

Image of The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a U.S. Circuit court ruling, redefining the institution of marriage.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to delay the implementation of an appeals court ruling which struck down the expressed will of the voters of the State of Virginia that marriage is capable only between one man and one woman. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The ... continue reading


GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER? U.S. policemen cleared at least 400 TIMES annually for justified homicide Watch

Image of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in addition to more than 40 FBI agents will meet in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of teenager Michael Brown, an unarmed robbery suspect shot six times by a police officer.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Law enforcement agents, be they police or sheriff's deputies, are frequently called upon to defend civilians. In their line of duty, policemen are required to make hair-trigger decisions in order to protect the lives of the innocent. This at times requires ... continue reading


Is the First Amendment dead? Police in Ferguson threaten to kill reporters Watch

Image of The unidentified officer will be found and it is unclear if he will face discipline for threatening to kill journalists.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Overnight, a police officer in Ferguson, MO threatened to kill a member of the press and was recorded doing so. Now a campaign has started online to identify the officer and remove him from the front lines in Ferguson before he really does act out on his threat. ... continue reading


Pope may visit New York City in 2015 Watch

Image of Pope Francis also said there was a possibility he would add Mexico to his travel plans, specifically to visit the Madonna of Guadalupe shrine Mexico City,

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While Pope Francis has confirmed that he is planning to come to the U.S. next year, a spokesman says that the pontiff may visit New York City. Pope Francis hopes to address Congress and the United Nations, as well as attend a meeting in Philadelphia. A surprise ... continue reading


On the Memorial of St. Bernard: Lord, Send Us Monks for This New Missionary Age! Watch

Image of Bernard, Monk, Abbot, Doctor of the Church, and Model of the Christian life and vocation. - Monasteries are a seedbed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church. Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom who always seem to be around right when we need them the most. We need Monks for the authentic renewal of the Church in this hour. Lord, send your Holy Spirit, send us monks for the renewal of your Church and the work of this new missionary age.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Even though he was regularly summoned to leave the monastery by the needs of Church and State, Bernard was above all a monk, a man of deep prayer, communion and contemplation. It was that sincere devotion which made it possible for him to have wisdom to offer the ... continue reading


So this is where school money goes?! Watch

Image of A new study shows that massive amounts of funding go to non-teacher staff in schools, which has little impact on education quality.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Non-teacher employees make up 50% of public school employees, a number which has grown 130% since 1970, a new study claims. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found ... continue reading


Romney weighs in: Obama is doing 'a good deal worse than even I expected' Watch

Image of Mitt Romney called President Obama out over numerous failures in the six years he has been in office during a West Virginia political rally.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney made quite a scene as he attended a West Virginia rally for three Republican Congressional candidates who are up for election in November. Crowds cheered "Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!" as he spoke. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) ... continue reading


Money is NOT the Root of Evil. Learning to Live Evangelical Simplicity in an Age of Idolatry Watch

Image of Simplicity is not about the quantity of the goods of the earth we possess. It is about our relationship to them. Jesus said - Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:21).

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Learning to live in evangelical Simplicity strips away what impedes love. In finding our proper relationship to the goods of the earth- not rejecting them, craving them, or turning them into an idol- we can learn true freedom. Our eyes are opened and everything begins ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ezekiel 37:1-14
1 The hand of Yahweh was on me; he carried me away by ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
2 So let them say whom Yahweh redeemed, whom he ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 22:34-40
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Andrew the Scot
August 22: Archdeacon and companion of St. Donatus. Andrew and his sister, ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter