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How the Catholic Church censored Hollywood’s Golden Age


These are some of the most beloved films in
the history of American cinema. But they all share something else in common: They were all censored by the Catholic Church. In fact, for decades, there’s a good chance
you didn’t see anything in a Hollywood movie unless the Catholic Church wanted you to. Hollywood in the late ’20s was chock-full
of films about pirates, lovers, and monsters. But not everybody was happy about that, most notably Catholics, some of whom were
alarmed by what they viewed as the crumbling morality in motion pictures. Two devout Catholics, a publisher named Martin
Quigley and a Jesuit priest named Father Daniel Lord (that’s his real name), decided to
do something about it. In 1929, they wrote the Motion Picture Production
Code, a set of proposed moral guidelines for movies. It prohibited such things as nudity, indecent
dancing, and ridiculing religion while requiring the promotion of Roman Catholic values where
good triumphs over evil and immoral behavior is punished. There were also slightly less folksy provisions
like barring romance between different races as well as “white slavery.” Yikes. When the big five studios — Warner Brothers,
Paramount, MGM, Fox, and RKO — received the guidelines, they agreed to them. Why would Hollywood ever willingly sign on
to censorship like this? We always have to remember that movies had
no 1st Amendment rights during this time. And that meant that any state or municipality,
or, by extension, the federal government, could censor motion pictures. This is Thomas Doherty. And these are his slippers. And there are real fears in Hollywood that
Roosevelt’s New Deal government, which is proliferating government agencies with great
abandon, is going to create a federal censorship agency to censor American movies. Studios chose to adopt it voluntarily hoping
that it would deter government interference. But then in 1930, the Great Depression hit. Following the economic downturn, movie attendance
tanked and studios scrambled to do whatever it took to sell more tickets. And what sells tickets? Sex. Violence. And big-ass goblets of booze. So for a period of four years from 1930 to
1934, Hollywood studio films were pretty f***ing crazy. The Roman Catholics especially get very upset
by this, and in late 1933 and early 1934, they begin organizing something called the
Legion of Decency. What sounds like the lamest superhero franchise
ever actually released publications of all studio movies with their accompanying rating
— A being morally unobjectionable, B being morally
objectionable in part, and C being the dreaded condemned. The legion had something called the Legion
Pledge, and you have 20 million Catholics at Mass and at Knights of Columbus meetings
would stand up, raise their hand, and pledge on their immortal soul that they would not
attend motion pictures that the church deemed unworthy and unholy. To avoid a devastating boycott, Hollywood
created the Production Code Administration to enforce the guidelines and appointed devout
Catholic Joseph Breen as its head. Here’s Edward Herrmann playing him in The
Aviator. I can state categorically that I have never
seen anything quite so unacceptable. The Breen office would get a script from a
studio, and he would go through them line by line to make sure that nothing was said
or implied or visualized that defied the Production Code. For instance, here’s a couple of their notes
on the Jimmy Stewart film It’s a Wonderful Life: Page 21: While it will be acceptable to indicate
Gower as having recourse to drink because of his disturbing emotional problem, we must
ask that he not be shown at any time offensively drunk here or throughout the scenes. This is important. Page 37: The action of Harry slapping Annie
on the fanny is unacceptable. Page 38: This reference to impotency is unacceptable. The Breen office approved every aspect of
a film, every image, every line of dialogue, ad mattes, marketing, costumes, and it really
makes him one of the most powerful men in Hollywood history. And by extension made his office one of the
most influential in Hollywood. If you look in the credits of every Hollywood
film from 1934 to 1954, you can see the PCA logo. Without it, your movie didn’t stand a chance. The PCA got to say which movies the studios
could make. And since the studios owned many of the theaters
in the country, most audiences only had access to Production Code films. You could almost call this arrangement a monopoly. And some people did. Nine people, to be exact. US v. Paramount Pictures was a landmark antitrust
court case in 1948 in which the Supreme Court said this kind of monopoly was illegal and
forced the studios to sell their theaters. Since the studios could no longer control
what was shown, it opened up the floodgates for independent and European films, neither
of which needed to abide by the code. The PCA quietly existed until 1967, when the
Motion Picture Association of America took over and American film switched over to a
ratings system. So I always see the code as something that’s
not good or bad but something that is inevitable, and it allowed them to create a lot of great
art. I mean, if you look at the movies made under
the Production Code, we’re talking about, what, hundreds of marvelous creative works
of art that people still look at today.

100 Comments

  1. Vox Author

    The Hays Code left its mark on cinema, but the invention of technicolor revolutionized it. The Wizard of Oz was a prime example. Watch our video here: http://bit.ly/2GPLmK2

    Reply
  2. Creepy Stares Author

    Catholics have been trying to control life since their creation. If you don't follow, they do what they can to destroy you, including your death. This is a church of "God". It's not they lost their way, they never had an appropriate way to follow in the first place – just control.

    Reply
  3. Jophar Hautman Author

    The battle against Christian censorship was fought by musicians in the 80's as well and pretty much won excepting the Parental Advisory tags. Enter the social Marxists; the new face of censorship where a vocal minority uses social media to bully studios towards their own version of morality.
    Today's enemies of freedom of art, expression and choice also claim a higher moral authority and just want to make our world a better place.

    Reply
  4. Mara Author

    Guess what all those 'controlled' films had in common? THEY WERE ALL AWESOME CLASSICS THAT PEOPLE STILL REFERENCE. Films today are trash. If the Church controlled Hollywood the we wouldn't have such trash films.

    Reply
  5. David Marquez Author

    We are long overdue in rejecting, condemning and burying this shameful religious bigotry past. Its odd that nowdays is the NRA doing the same thing.

    Reply
  6. Almann The Man Author

    So your gonna talk about how the Catholic Church censored things, but were not gonna talk about the fact that you want to censor other people’s voices that disagree with you. Yeah that makes sense, you are vox

    Reply
  7. Crunch Author

    Please be careful. The entity of the Catholic church is different from Catholics. When you talk about a religious organisation to not incite hate. I am a Catholic and I am not like this

    Reply
  8. Joey B Author

    Wrong! The Hollywood movie industry has long been owned and controlled by Jews, who couldn't have cared less what the Vatican thought about their movies. Your little anti-Christian, propaganda video isn't based on facts or the truth. Fail.

    Reply
  9. Thulasi Krishnan Author

    Wait, did the guy in slippers attribute the credit of all the awesome creativity in vintage films to that dumb Production Code at the end?

    Reply
  10. stoneh2ovino Author

    It wasn't just Catholics who were worried. The first attempts at censorship were by Protestants. The Catholics were just more effective. This is better and funnier, the organization was called The Legion of Decency: http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2016/20-films-banned-by-the-legion-of-decency-that-are-worth-your-time/

    Reply
  11. Cynthia Wood Author

    Does it bother, the Catholic sheep that the alter is a dead sheep and the Vatican is the Seat of the Lucifer and shaped like a big Serpent?

    Reply
  12. Human Man Author

    If this video where about Islam who are more extreme about censorship this video would have been demonetized and paraded as Islamophobic! Such hypocrisy from the left, demonizing religions and beliefs that don’t fit their agenda!

    Reply
  13. Paul Gibson Author

    Another VOX special…. Surprise, surprise! Anti-Catholic rhetoric? More muslim-loving, LGBT videos crying out for respect? Wow… never would of thought…

    Reply
  14. E. Th. Author

    I don’t even like to turn on my TV anymore what with all the filth that’s on it..won’t even consider watching movies or shows with my parents either, especially when there’s like 1200 sex scenes. How awkward. Maybe the code wasn’t all THAT bad

    Reply
  15. Sally Lee Author

    It's fascinating that the Roman catholic church had so much influence over America. I thought WASP were still the de factor power group, and majority of Americans were protestants at that time.

    Reply
  16. Wolf Author

    It's kinda like black people and the back off the bus, because they were the main people riding the bus, when they stopped the bus company almost went out of business

    Reply
  17. Abi Pereira Author

    I hate theocracy and I’m decidedly not catholic. BUT I’m sick of “PG” movies being enough to make anyone with a sense of decency squirm. Truly many of them are making humans increasingly immoral and heartless.

    Reply
  18. captainavenger360 Author

    You're gonna get a lot of angsty middle schoolers clicking on this for the title suggesting that the video is hating on Catholics. Weren't Catholics hated at that time?

    Reply
  19. Victor Gomez Author

    I appreciate how informative and structured the video is. However, it has disproportionately and incorrectly used the Catholic Church's name in the video. The Catholic Church had no say whatsoever in the censorship of American movies. He makes mention that a few of the head men leading the censorship were Catholic and that the cinematic guidelines written were morally influenced by Christian principles. The pictures and companies did not bow to the Catholic Church. They were not regulated by the Catholic Church. They were not censored by the Catholic Church. They agreed and adhered to the regulation and censorship of men who were "American-ly Christian". The racist and discriminatory guidelines are proof that it was not in conjunction with Church teachings – seeing as Catholic social teaching has always been an influencing factor of equality and civil rights improvements in the world throughout history. Fr. Daniel Lord, like many Catholic priests during the time, were American before they were Catholic and acted out of line with Church authority and in-line with the majority of the ignorant white male American.

    Reply
  20. Võ Đức Quang Author

    The timeline of this is very off. The Hayes Code was introduced in 1922 following scandals such as the Arbuckle Case (the alleged murder of an actress by the silent comedian star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle who was acquitted) and the murder of director William Desmond Taylor.  Will H. Hayes (who was a Presbyterian) worked in the Harding administration. The context of Prohibition was also a driving factor in this period. There is an entire documentary on this period of Hollywood history, but nothing about how Catholics tried to censored the movies.

    Reply
  21. bluecollarlatin Author

    I understand that the Catholic Church was all about censorship but movie goers gave them that power. But what is wrong today is that movies like Black Panther are being shoved down our throats: if you don't like it your a racist!!! I'm Mexican American but I'm sure I'll be considered racist anyhow…

    Reply
  22. redranger2013 Author

    What I would like to point out that the Catholic Church didn’t actually do this!!! Catholics back then did this! Not the church if the church did this it would have to go through the pope!

    Reply
  23. Emanuel Andrade Author

    No wonder why the movies today is all about, sex, violence, blasphemy. Catholics be aware! Watching any media content that promotes blasphemy or any type of sinful activities, it is a SIN. By censoring Hollywood movies, the Church was doing His duty which is to guide the sheep. But if you want to enjoy those pleasures and put your souls in risk, it's up to you! God bless!

    Reply
  24. Gonzalo Bernal Author

    You think it was the church? Lol You Think Public Opinion didn't matter? You think normal senators and congressmen weren't extremely formal? Was only at the Victorian age I mean you think I didn't have anything to do with it?

    lol… you know prohibition was around and you want to blame the Catholic Church? Get the f*** over yourself

    Reply
  25. Declan Kirby Author

    I am genuinely curious about this.

    If a Catholic says objectification of women is bad, (which it is) it's censorship
    But if a Feminist group says objectification of women is bad, (which it is) it's a womens' rights issue?

    Please someone explain this to me.

    Reply
  26. steven tipton Author

    Look to the saints if you want to see the spirit of Catholicism ..when a catholic man does wrong , the whole religion is blamed ..the basis of Catholicism is that we men are sinners "original sin"..i guess people don't understand that , its such a beautiful ancient religion i ask that you look beyond the surface

    Reply
  27. steven tipton Author

    "Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption"~~Pope John Paul II

    Reply
  28. Nick Iannucci Author

    You guys have to understand that in the United States then and now most people in the country are Christian. Therefore nobody had a problem with this because everyone believed in Catholic morals and values.

    Reply
  29. Neonennui Author

    As an italian girl, I guarantee that catholic church is still a heavy burden to carry for my country. It's a big corporation wich colludes and collaborates with mafia and the government. It owns a good percentage of italian real estates (and it doesn't even have to pay taxes on it, since 1929's Lateran Treaty!), it controls our legislation, it does everything in its power to keep people in ignorance. Let alone for pedophilia allegations..
    It is the worst, seriously.

    Reply
  30. hendrix3081 Author

    The Catholic Church kept the Marxist Jews out of the Movies. Those movies had to be successful without using sex and violence. They presented what we should see about others, the good and honourable. Not the sleazy and vile. That's why it was known as the Golden age of Hollywood (late 30s-early 60s). Up until Cleopatra (1963) at least. From then the Marxist Jews took over and killed it.

    Reply
  31. Kevin and Pamela Smith Author

    The good church did censure cinema to the benefit of all. Thanks to the modernism in the Catholic church, they not only compromised the catholic church with modernism, but they abbrogated their job as censures of cinema and we are the benefactors of the filth that hollywood produces today.

    Reply

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