The world is full of injustice. Of programs that want to accomplish the right things but get twisted by the people that run them. This essay will deal with the reasons and Birth of the Hays Commission, the ludicrous steps they took to add “morality” to the motion picture industry, and some other sensors of the time. All things said in this essay are true and taken from the Hays correspondence its self.
It is a known fact that sex sells. It is used by advertisers to get us to by there product, and likewise it is used by producers and directors to get us to see their films. During he Depression, no one had enough money to buy dinner much less go see a movie. So, there was a increase in the sex that was on the screen to pull in people. Not that there was any rules or guidelines of the studios to follow. It was just they didn’t care. There was a outcry by the catholic church and in April, 1934 a committee of bishops were set up named The Legion of Decency. These Bishops would tell all the priests, and they in turn would in turn tell the parishioners what movies were proper to see and what was not.
This thought scared the Hollywood studios. A boycott of that size in the middle of a depression would crush them. The heads of all the major studios got together to solve this problem. They knew that they didn’t want to lose the Catholics, and they didn’t want government intervention. Their solution was to have a board to censor all the movies coming from the major studios (at that time it was legal for studios to own their own theaters so independent films weren’t generally seen by the public at large). To head this committee was William Hays.
“William Hays was a Republican politician from Indiana with the impatient look a mailman whose paycheck was being sent by mail. Actually he was the Postmaster General in one of the most corrupt administrations of the century, Warren G. Harding”(Gardner, xvii). Because of this, he had friends on high places in the movie industry. Even though his name was on the committee all he was responsible for was making the set of rules. To enforce these “laws” a reporter with catholic leanings (surprise, surprise), Joe Breen, was used.
The way the censoring worked is that the studio would send the finished screenplay and reels of the movies to the committee. They in turn send a letter back to the studio telling all the “corrections” that needed to done. This would go back and forth until the committee was satisfied it would give the movie its stamp of approval. Without this stamp none of the distributors would touch it. There was a court of appeals but it was more of a token than any thing else.
Some of the dialog that was cut from movies was ludicrous. In Going My Way they thought priests in a bad light. In Inherit the Wind the whole premise of the film could not be accepted originally because it supposedly slammed Christianity and “portrayed the minister as the villain in the movie (parish the thought no pun intended).” Sunset Boulevard was rejected because Norma’s crime of shooting Gillis went unpunished. Apparently the fact that she was a lunatic wasn’t enough.
In Casablanca certain facts were left on the cutting room floor. Like Ilsa knew that her husband was alive and had the affair anyway. The whole movie is full of sexual innuendoes. Captain Renult, the viche officer, only gave visas to women who would have sex with him. All this was neatly taken out of the movie. Every one knows that no married woman sleeps with another man unless her husband is dead (sometimes not even then). And there would not be a man in the world who would take advantage of a woman in that way.
And the directors had other concerns as well. Casablanca was not accepted in Sweden. It was one of the few countries that escaped the scourge of the Nazis. Sweden thought that if they showed a movie with so much Nazi bashing it would cause the Nazis to invade.
The movie The Lost Weekend came up with strong opposition from the liquor lobbies. They said that if this movie came out their profits would dive. They did.
Near the end of the Hays years a party was held by a Mr. Joe McCarthy to find all the commies. Hundreds of people were brought before senators to answer if they were now or ever had been a member of the communist party. And if they weren’t could they name names. Of these hundreds ten refused to answer the question. They were: Alvah Bessie, Lester Cale, John H. Lawson. Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner, Herbert Hiberman, Abrian Scott, Samuel Arnitz, Albert Maltz, and Edward Dmytyk. All were fined and jailed in 1947. They became known as the Hollywood ten and were blacklisted.
In 1968 the censorship system was replaced by the rating system. In this system the movie will not be changed only given a letter to represent the content of the movie. One can’t help but wonder what movies would have came with out the Hays committee.