You May Be Surrounded by Philistines
Francois, marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together.
But with you, Francois, I think it would be a mistake."
-Kay Francis, as Mariette Colet, in Trouble in Paradise (1932)1
Does a popular medium have the power to influence change? Has 1984 changed the way people view military activity, or is it just a cultural signpost, a reference point for citizens who would already distrust their own government? When America declares war on countries claiming the effort is meant to stabilize a region and promote peace, is someone going to see this as a sign that fascism is potentially on the rise, or just an example of convoluted logic? Is someone going to go on a murderous driving spree, running over pedestrians, smashing into on-coming traffic, and flying off a ramp into the Pacific Ocean because Grand Theft Auto made it look so appealing? How would someone's view of the sanctity of marriage be affected because they saw a movie in which a woman rejects the comforts of a loveless, but safe, bourgeois companionship to move in with two other men whom she cares for deeply? If one were going by popular appeals for censorship throughout the history of mass media, one would assume that humans are on a dangerous course towards unfettered deviancy. Pre-Code film provides a useful example, it was the birth of a new medium, a moving picture with sound, and the moral compass of America wasn't sure exactly how much policing would be required to keep the country from plunging into social anarchy, with all mores previously accepted as upstanding and righteous, thrown out the window in favor of lawlessness and debauchery.
In 1932, Jason S. Joy of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), reading the script of Love Me Tonight (1932) before production of the film commenced, offered concern that the lyrics of one of the film's songs, "A Woman Needs Something Like That" seemed to "...go a little too far in innuendo" but he felt that once heard sung, it probably wouldn't be found to be "too offensive." In September of that year, on the release of the film, the Ohio Censor board felt that if the film were to be shown within its state's borders that the scene would have to be cut. In 1949, Joseph I. Breen, on the picture's restricted re-release (it was only to play in a few selected art theatres), decided the scene needed to be cut whole cloth, the general public couldn't handle or wouldn't tolerate something so suggestive. That scene, along with a couple of other shorter scenes originally deemed acceptable by the self-governing censorship body, (though not necessarily by the few individual state censorship boards) were deleted in compliance with the Hays Office, meaning that then, in 1949, and still now, in 2007, one watching the film won't have to be offended by the uncouth nature of the lyrics. For those curious to know what that "something" a woman might need, or, for those possessing a masochistic streak and are willing to have their delicate sensibilities assaulted head-on, here are those offending lyrics in their entirety:
"Let me tell
you this, my dear
A doorbell needs tinkling, a flower needs sprinkling
And a woman needs something like that
A car needs ignition to keep in condition
And a woman needs something like that
All inventions of Edison and medicine would leave you flat
A peach must be eaten, a drum must be beaten
And a woman needs something like that"2
The period known as "Pre-Code," when Hollywood worked under the production code created by Father Daniel A. Lord, lasted a little over four years, from March 31, 1930 through July 2, 1934. Though occasionally argued otherwise, the code was actually enforced and did have a measure of authority, but studios were not held to the letter of the code as rigorously as they would be after July 2nd of 19343, when the Production Code Administration was created and Joseph Breen was appointed its head. "Post-code," often referred to as "Classical Hollywood,"4 would last from 1934 until 1968 when the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) instituted the Ratings system, after which it was no longer expected that every movie would have to appeal to, and have appropriate content for, a general audience. The MPAA established the ratings G, M (the equivalent of today's PG rating), R, and X (which would be changed to NC-17 as the earlier rating came to be associated with porn).5 Though there seems to be no definitive copy of the implemented code of 1930, there are various versions circulating that all hold similar values regarding the ethical obligations of the medium. With the code, there was a distinct Progressive emphasis on moral uplift, as Thomas Doherty describes, "(The production code) evinced concern for the proper nurturing of the young and the protection of women, demanded due respect for indigenous ethnics and foreign peoples, and sought to uplift the lower orders and convert the criminal mentality."6
In 1921, a series of articles published by the Brooklyn Eagle revealed that film studios had paid off the National Board of Review in order to have films that might be deemed more controversial to be reviewed by boards that would be more lenient in their reviewing for decency. Later in that year, over a hundred anti-movie bills were introduced in state legislatures and in six states (Florida, Kansas, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia) independent censorship boards were established. In response, and in an effort to curb the momentum support for outside regulation of the industry had gained, Columbia, MGM, Paramount, RKO, Twentieth Century-Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. joined forces to create the MPPDA with the specific purpose of combating censorship bills at the federal and state level. William Hays, who had been Warren G. Harding's Postmaster General and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, was selected as the face of new-found propriety within the industry. His first test was attempting to thwart the creation of a statewide censorship board in Massachusetts. Within the context of the fight, Hays wrote in an article for the Boston Globe, "Censorship [drove the] pilgrims to Plymouth Rock ... forced the Minute Men to Concord Bridge ... and caused the Boston Tea Party. [Americans] were against censorship of the press, against censorship of the pulpit and against censorship of the movies." He added that Hollywood was against censorship not because they wanted to make "dirty movies" but because they were "American."
In 1924, the Hays office created "The Formula" as a means of self-regulation. Each studio was to forward a synopsis of every play, novel, or story under consideration for future production. While 125 proposed projects would be rejected, continuing outside pressure created a need for public proof that Hollywood was making inroads to deny any potentially salacious material from reaching movie houses. The Studio Relations Department was created, headed by Jason Joy. It worked closely with studios to ensure that potentially offensive material would be removed in the pre-production and post-production process. The SRD's first production code was known as the "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" which attempted to prohibit profanity, nudity, drug trafficking, and white slavery as well as urging producers to exercise good taste in presenting criminal behavior, sexual relations, and violence.7 The main benefit of a uniform code that would sate state censorship boards and religious groups who had been very vocal in displeasure over the amoral content of films of the day, meant that there wouldn't be need for more states to create their own boards, which meant that studios wouldn't face the financial risk of not being able to screen their movies in large markets, and also avoid the additional cost of post-post-production editing required by different state's boards before their permission to screen would be granted.8 One only has to look at the varying notes from state and provincial censorship boards during the 1932 release of Love Me Tonight, where the Alberta, British Columbia, Ohio, Ontario, and Pennsylvania Censor Boards all required multiple and varied cuts. Added together, each of the film's nine reels (a section of film, at that time, running around ten minutes) would need some trimming before it would be released in all areas.9
Sensitive, not just to the costs of re-editing its pictures, the studios also were fearful of potential religious boycotts of films due to questionable content. In order to appease God-fearing men and women who possessed the authority required to launch a boycott which could hurt grosses, the Hays Office accepted the production code of Martin Quigley and Daniel Lord which sought to make movies lessons of morality. Quigley and Lord felt that it was vital that movies have a strong moral perspective because they had a wider appeal than other forms of entertainment and could have the greatest influence, positively or negatively, on its viewer's attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Hoping to prevent further political intervention, and also because a number of those inside the industry, including Louis B. Mayer, believed a set of standards for acceptable on-screen behavior ought to be established, the code was adopted in early 1930, If it were to be followed, entertainment films would reinforce the belief that deviant behavior cost violators the love and comforts of home, the intimacy of family, the solace of religion, and the protection of the law.10 The code would be followed, it would be enforced, but to the great despair of many, not quite to the letter. In Trouble In Paradise (1932) and Design For Living (1933), traditional representations of comfort and family intimacy would be rejected, but without sacrificing the potential for love and happiness; whereas, in Blonde Venus (1932), Marlene Dietrich's character, Helen, would embrace marriage and family, though by doing so she's undoubtedly sacrificing her own happiness.
Trouble in Paradise begins in Venice with a rendezvous between Gaston Monescu, a thief posing as a Baron, and Lily, a thief posing as a Countess. Each character's true identities are exposed as they reveal what they have managed to steal from the other throughout the course of the evening-a broach, a pocket watch, a garter, etc. Dually impressed by the other's skill and already finding the opposite charming, they fall into each other's arms. The next time we see them, they are in Paris; they are no longer in the opulent surroundings they were when they'd met, and with an allusion to a night they both remember from a year before it's clear sizeable length of time has passed. According to Scott Eyman's commentary track, a line that had originally been in the script, but was cut before the film was released, "and now we will celebrate the second anniversary of the day we didn't get married," suggests that it's been at least two years since that earlier scene.11 It would also clarify the nature of the relationship-that the two are "living in sin" and have no intention of altering that arrangement. With Gaston uttering the phrase, "prosperity is just around the corner," one can assume that the crooks are feeling the effects of the Depression. Gaston, having stolen a handbag which belonged to wealthy widow Mariette Colet, views a notice of reward which far out-prices what he believes he could get for it if he were going to sell it and decides to return the purse. While in the process of accepting the reward, and casing Mariette's home, they both discover that she has one hundred thousand francs in her safe. Ingratiating himself to her throughout the visit, Gaston suggests that she should have more, that in "times like these" one should have a sizeable amount of their savings within arm's reach. Telling her that if he were her secretary he would spank her, in a business way, over the irresponsible way she handles her finances, he is hired. Installing Lily as his underling, he attends to the transfer of seven hundred fifty thousand francs to be placed in Mariette's home safe, located in the secretary's quarters, and plans the heist which would take place not long after. Not accounted for would be the burgeoning affair between Gaston and Mariette, clearly taking on more importance to Gaston than he had originally intended. When the heist is to be carried out, Gaston delays his escape with Lily in order to spend the night with Mariette. Lily, guessing Gaston's reason for waiting until morning to leave, takes matters into her own hands and steals the money in the safe. At the same time, Gaston's true identity is revealed, and it's clear that he must leave before morning, by which time the police will have been called to the Colet estate. Accepting the temporal nature of their romance, Mariette accepts the theft of the money from her safe, the theft she has walked in on, as well the pearls that Lily had coveted and the film ends triumphantly with Gaston and Lily reenacting their first meeting's exchanged thievery, her stealing the pearls, him stealing the money, and in the process reminded what brought them together in the beginning. She forgives him his emotional betrayal, and they happily escape into the night with the loot.
The greatest concern for the Hays Office upon reading the script, and after production, was the way that the Italian police force are portrayed as, at best, goofy or, at worst, incompetent. There's a similarity between that perceived need for censorship and Jason Joy's concerns that Love Me Tonight might offend French Royalists, due to the lightness with which Bastille Day is referred. Offending Italians or the French, Paramount risked losing potential overseas business,12 but Lubitsch's biggest defiance of the production code seem, if not ignored, allowed, and that it remains in the final print suggests why, until its DVD release this decade, Trouble In Paradise proved a difficult movie to get a copy of. It could only have been seen on laserdisc, as part of a repertory theatre's catalogue, and maybe on cable, but not on video cassette, as quality prints hadn't been maintained during the heyday of Breen's Hays Office, since the film had no chance of being re-released until the enforcement of censorship would lax in the 1950's and 1960's.13
Daniel Lord, in conceiving the code, had a clear idea of how relations between men and women should be depicted. When dealing with behaviors towards sex, and specifically with adultery, it was necessary that it never appear attractive or alluring and that the love of a third party by one already married needed careful handling.14 Gaston and Lily aren't married, but it is suggested by William Paul, that Lily is a wife figure. That they aren't married, Gaston is pursued by another woman whom he is also pursuing, the film doesn't just defy the code's intent that marriage as institution be respected, it suggests one might be happier not lawfully wedded. Gaston isn't cheating on his wife, he's cheating on his live-in girlfriend, and when the affair is halted, as much by circumstance as anything else, the tone isn't of regret for their actions but rather that fate intervened and made their love impossible. Gaston and Mariette exclaim how, if only the police weren't going to interrupt their affair, what could have been would have been marvelous and divine. Mariette is satisfied with what could have been, but won't be, and Gaston is nearly immediately forgiven by Lily. With the adultery accepted and everyone relatively satisfied, an ending that would have been melancholy, had it followed the conventions of Lord's code, is turned on its head.
To add insult to injury, Trouble in Paradise, unlike the other two movies presented in this survey, would defy the code's requirement that crime, by the final reel, must be condemned and appear unattractive to the spectator. In relation to the way illegal activity was to be portrayed and the way punishment was supposed to be forced upon the guilty, the production code of 1930 was clear. No plot was to be constructed in a way that would inspire sympathy for the guilty character. Criminals could not be presented as heroes, and while their crime must not always be punished, it must be clear to the audience that they were in the wrong. Gaston and Lily are thieves, they fall in love after learning the professional ability of the other, and we are meant to like them. Paul reads Gaston's first robbery and the filmmaker's intent, "we condone Gaston's theft at the beginning ... because he has the cleverness to get away with it ... the film equates success in robbery with success in sex, and style provides the key to triumph in both: the first robbery might keep the fussy Francois from his date with two prostitutes, but he is [incapable of] the kind of smooth seduction Gaston performs in the next scene. The inevitable conclusion: he deserves to be robbed."15 Though Francois would eventually remember Gaston from that robbery, and his identification of the man who is posing as an upstanding secretary as, instead, a world famous crook, would necessitate a quick escape and the dissolution of one potential romance, by the final fade Gaston is rich, continuing his adventure with partner in crime and romance. The exaltation of their supreme competence at their craft is Hawksian16, it being irrelevant that what they're good at is unlawful, and perhaps immoral, their ability is the justification for their actions, if they even needed one.
Edward Everett Horton, repeating his performance as Resident Square, would again be the symbol of propriety in Ernst Lubitsch's next feature film, Design for Living. Playing advertising executive, Max Plunkett, Horton's best line, and one repeated no less than four times throughout the picture, "immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day," best exemplifies the attitude of the creators of the code, and stands in great opposition to the feelings of the protagonists of the film. Gilda meets Tom and George, the aforementioned protagonists, on a train and is immediately attracted to both of them, as they are to her. Tom and George, who have been close friends for over a decade, begin seeing Gilda without the other's knowledge. Upon finding out they're both being two-timed, they initially quarrel, but that's resolved when they determine their friendship is worth too much to be divided by common affections for a woman. Gilda, in love with both of them and unwilling to limit herself to one paramour, proposes they keep their relationships professional, that her role will strictly be that of "mother of the arts," to cultivate Tom's and George's artistic ability. Within a short manner of time, the play Tom has been writing is bought, a contract is signed, and an opening night is scheduled in London. Tom leaving, to oversee rehearsals, changes the dynamic of the group, what was an unconsummated ménage a trios, is a rekindled affair between George and Gilda. Later, Tom comes back to Paris to visit George and Gilda, knowing they've paired off, but still possessing feelings for Gilda. Tom and Gilda's affair is rekindled while George is away painting a rotund woman's portrait in Nice. Unable to foresee a way in which all three can be engaged in a relationship, and now having to face the party she is rejecting, Gilda is unable to hurt either man at the expense of the other, so she leaves both and marries Max, who had, before she met the artists, positioned himself as a friend hoping to one day be a suitor. In the final sequence, Gilda, unhappy as Mrs. Plunkett, is reunited with Tom and George as they crash Max's soiree. All three leave Max's house and while riding in the back of a cab, a shot reminiscent of the final one in Trouble in Paradise, agree to continue their relationship as it had been before Tom had left for London. As William Paul notes, while they are still pledging to follow the "gentlemen's agreement" to forget about sex as they had pledged to do earlier in the film, it's unlikely they have any intention of living up to it. Unlike the kisses on the forehead Gilda had given both men when explaining how their relationship would be that of "mother of the arts" and pupils, they are now kissing on the lips, suggesting that the three have finally given up trying to live up to the dominant order of monogamy.17
In Trouble in Paradise, as well as Design for Living, the motivations of the characters are clear. In the former, Gaston is in love with Lily and with Mariette, each affair given equal weight. In the latter, Gilda loves both Tom and George, ending her marriage to Max Plunkett when it's clear that the relationship she is meant to be in is a simultaneous one with the other two men. Ernst Lubitsch was able to subvert the accepted norms directly, where in Josef von Sternberg's Blonde Venus, the sanctity of the institution of marriage might, on the surface, be validated, if one where to desire to read the film differently, the way the final resolution is acted, filmed, and written, one could question if this contrived Hollywood conclusion is truly intended to be a happy ending. This lack of clarity regarding the intended moral is how the film would get passed censorship boards. As in Design for Living, here the most desirable suitor is not the husband, but the man with whom the female protagonist is carrying on an affair. The depiction of an adulterous affair wouldn't violate the code that existed at the time, as the resolution in Design for Living would, Lord acknowledged that it was suitable material for drama, his qualm was that it could not be justified or weaken the respect of marriage.18
The film opens in Germany, Ned is touring the countryside with his college chums while Helen is bathing nude with the other women from her chorus line. After a quick meeting and a rebuffed pick-up attempt, the story jumps to a small New York apartment that Helen and Ned Faraday share. Ned, a chemist, is suffering from radiation poisoning and, if he's to get treatment, must make a costly journey to Germany. With only Ned's income, the couple has nowhere near the capital required, so Helen decides to return to the stage. Singing in a nightclub she meets Nick, a wealthy politician. Nick, attracted to her, offers to give her money so that Ned can get treatment. While Ned is gone, Nick convinces Helen to quit working at the nightclub and to move into an apartment he's paying for. Two weeks before Ned is due back, Nick and Helen go on a trip of their own, missing Ned's telegram announcing that he'd be arriving early. Back from her vacation with Nick, Helen comes back to the apartment she and Ned had shared to retrieve the mail and discovers that Ned has returned early. Forced to explain her absence, she confesses where she'd procured the money for Ned's treatment. Furious that Helen had, in his mind, betrayed him with another man, Ned demands a separation and custody of their son. In response, Helen kidnaps her son and spends the next several months attempting to evade capture by the detectives her estranged husband has hired to track her down. Unable to perform her cabaret, since that's the first place she'd be looked for, she eventually runs out of money and resorts to prostitution to financially support herself and her son. Identifying the detective that had been hired to track her down, Helen makes his job easy, by giving herself and the boy up. As a conciliatory gesture which only comes off callous, Ned gives her the money he'd earned for his never specified scientific discovery, so that he can feel as though he doesn't owe her anything. He takes the child and announces that he will make it his goal that their son forgets the existence of his mother. Helen, drunk and depressed, finds herself at a flophouse. Not wanting Ned's money, she gives it to the first woman she meets and then leaves, proclaiming that she'd find herself "a better bed." The film cuts to Paris, where she is now a success, through overheard dialogue it's revealed that along the way she "used men like stepping stones." Nick, who happens to be in France, goes backstage in an attempt to persuade her to return to the States with him, so she can be reunited with her son and because he is in love with her. He is rebuffed, but as the last time a suitor was rebuffed abroad, the next shot contradicts what preceded it, and we learn that they are traveling back to New York and are engaged. Returning, Nick talks Ned into letting Helen see their son, and as they are reunited, Nick excuses himself. The boy, unaware that there is friction between his parents, serves to bring them back together by insisting they tell his favorite bedtime story, the night they first met. Ned, reluctant to tell it with the same sentiment as he had earlier, eventually warms, and the film ends with Ned and Helen Faraday's marriage intact.
There would be three drafts of the script for Blonde Venus before production, the first and third were written by from director Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich. The second script was authored by producer B. P. Schulberg, working for Paramount. The first draft by von Sternberg and Dietrich was deemed "utterly impossible" by Lamar Trotti of the Studio Relations Committee, the second by Schulberg to be better but still problematic, and the third, again by Sternberg, with a great deal of material from the first draft re-introduced, particularly the ending, an improvement on the second draft. The primary issues censors had with the story were Helen and Nick's affair, Helen resorting to prostitution, and that Helen, when working in the nightclub, would be performing for blacks.19 In regard to the way the adulterous affair would be portrayed in the third draft, Jason Joy viewed three specific scenes to be problematic: the scene following Helen's first nightclub performance in which the audience is informed that Helen will stay with Nick, the dialogue in the scene in which Nick asks Helen to go away with him, and the scene in which, after Helen has returned from her vacation with Nick, Ned confronts her concerning the nature of her and Nick's relationship and what she had done to raise the money for his treatment. The first two scenes were altered, Nick's motivation isn't implicitly stated and it's unknown whether he requested anything in exchange for the money he's given her. In the second scene that Joy objected to, when Nick requests her company on a vacation he had planned, a line was cut in which Helen explained why she had come to him in the first place.20 The edits cut implicit context and dialogue, but the nature of their relationship was still fairly obvious. Nick has been introduced as someone who appreciates the company of a showgirl, and is framed as the primary audience for Helen's "Hot Voodoo" number in which she sings the following lyrics.
Hot Voodoo -- dance of sin
Hot Voodoo -- worse than gin
I want to start dancing in cannibal style
That beat gives me a wicked sensation
My conscience wants to take a vacation
Got Voodoo -- head to toes
Hot Voodoo -- burn my clothes
I want to start dancing
Just wearing a smile 21
Further, it's possible that audiences of the time didn't need Dietrich's character's impropriety explicitly detailed, as the film's plot mirrored the personal life, as reported by the tabloids of the day, of Marlene. She had left her husband in Germany to work in Hollywood. She had been romantically linked to Josef von Sternberg and Maurice Chevalier, both married men. In 1931, von Sternberg's wife sued for alienation of her husband's affections and in 1932, Chevalier had filed for divorce.22
Von Sternberg's use of ellipses, cutting quickly before actions are made explicit, makes it difficult for the audience, who must rely on inference to know all of the motivations of the character's actions the content of the film. This allowed Jason Joy to defend the film when addressing external censorship boards, arguing that Helen remains a loyal mother to point that she'll debase herself if it helps provide for her child, but gives up the child when it becomes clear she cannot provide a suitable living situation for him. She suffers for her extramarital affair, realizes her transgression, and accepts that, despite her newfound fame and fortune in Paris, that her place is with her family, back in New York, barely making ends meet. Contemporary critics, when reading the film tend to give a different take of the ending. Helen's attire, an outfit picked up while she was in Paris, as a symbol of just how contrived the reconciliation of the marriage and her return to her subordinate role as housewife is. Dressed in an ostentatious, sequin-trimmed coat, and once removed, she reveals to be wearing underneath, a long-sleeved, backless evening gown as she gives her son a bath, "in the space of the family, her domestic role hovers on the absurd."23 Robin Wood wrote in 1978, that the "restoration of 'normality'," if one were to read the ending as a happy one, is subverted by Sternberg's taking of "care both to indulge the conformist endings and to refuse it simultaneously ... The happy ending is undercut by acting, imagery, and (above all) context. (Ned) has treated his wife monstrously throughout most of the film ... The two are forced into a hideous union by the acceptance of the child's supposed (ideologically decreed) needs. The final image of the film shows the boy's fingers stretching through the prison bars of his (crib) to turn the revolving mechanical angels of the musical roundabout (Helen is holding) -- an image combining the ideas of entrapment, "purity" and manipulation."24
Blonde Venus bears a resemblance in plot to a type of film popular in the era, commonly referred to as the Fallen Woman film. According to Janet Staiger, there are two kinds of Fallen Women, there are the victims and the victimizers, the Helen character being a bit from both columns A and B. Victims were women who had been seduced and abandoned, forced, in some cases, to prostitution, they were often sacrificing mothers and through the course of the movie it's clear that they are too be pitied. Victimizers, on the other hand, were subjects to be desired, using their feminine charm to gain social standing.25 The two most cited examples of the Fallen Woman as victimizer are Red Headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933), they're also two of the films that most violate the code as it deals with seduction, which was not to be shown, and extra-marital affairs. In Red Headed Woman, Lil first starts out by seducing her married boss. Succeeding in breaking up his marriage, they are wed shortly thereafter, and she begins having an affair with his boss, a coal magnet. When her husband finds out, he ends the relationship and returns to his ex-wife. In reaction, Lil pulls a gun and shoots him. He will survive, not press charges, and the last we see of Lil she has, from all clues gathered, rebounded nicely, and has found her place in Paris society. It's unclear whether a viewer could really decipher a positive moral from the picture, something which would be tacked on in Baby Face, a plot following another Lily's rise. Arriving in New York after the death of her father, she obtains a job at the Gotham Trust Company by seducing an office boy. Lily ascends the corporate ladder by seducing other employees, which works out as planned until, after breaking up the marriage of a young executive, she then moves onto the vice-president. The young executive, who genuinely cared for her, but perhaps wasn't the most rational, calm, and collected crayon in the box, murders the vice-president and then commits suicide. Blackmailing the bank's board of directors to keep her from publishing her affairs with the now dead men, she accepts a job at the bank's Paris branch to keep quiet. When the new president of the company visits her, she goes to work on him, and soon they are married. Arriving back in the United States, it's discovered that he's lost all of his money, and in an ending revised to appease censors, Lily stays with him as he goes to work in a steel mine in Pennsylvania, where she'd come from.26 The director of the Studio Relations Department's job was to appease censors and studio heads, which were often at odds. Jason Joy would step down and be replaced by James Wingate later in 1932.27 Films like Red Headed Woman, Baby Face, and also the Mae West vehicles She Done Him Wrong (1932), and I'm No Angel (1933), were often the source of controversy, but while these films were censored by state boards, if not out-right banned as She Done Him Wrong had been in Atlanta, they proved to be highly profitable for their studios.28
Another one of the more notorious trends of the Pre-code era was the gangster picture, the more famous of the films being The Public Enemy (1931), Little Caesar (1931), and Scarface (1932), in which aspiring young men worked their way up through the ranks of the morally bereft and then, after year or two on top were promptly murdered. The production of such violent pictures, despite the fact that the title characters would always end up dead as recompense for their criminal lifestyle, would inspire amendments to the code. It was deemed unacceptable for gangsters to engage in violent conflict with law-enforcing officers, to wield machine guns, sub-machine guns, or other weapons which could be classified as illegal, and scenes in which police officers die at the hands of criminals were prohibited.29 In 1933, the Motion Picture Research Council issued the results of a five-year investigation on the way movies impacted children, Our Movie-Made Children, by studying children's sleep patterns. Parents now had disputable evidence that motion pictures were corroding the moral fiber of the day's youth. According to interviews, films had taught boys to act tough, and girls how to flaunt sexuality. By the end of the year, the New Deal created National Recovery Act would promulgate authority over the movie industry.30 Joseph Breen was promoted to head of the Studio Relations Committee and made a concerted effort towards true self-regulation. Before he had control, it was generally considered that internal censors, specifically James Wingate, concerned themselves with a script's obviously offensive material, ignoring the color of the films produced,. With increased pressure from the government through the NRA and Catholic groups ordering boycotts of the cinema, the studios, fearing they might lose commercial and creative control, buckled and in July of 1934, instituted a new Production Code, pledging this time to properly administer it. While movies wouldn't change as drastically as some might claim, for example, in 1937 with Angel, Ernst Lubitsch was still able to introduce adultery into a plot without having to severely punish any of his characters, many films that were produced and popular before July of 1934 would be unavailable for decades. Some, like Convention City (1932), were lost forever, though, in the case of that particular film, at least the promotional copy survived, its tagline went as follows, "Why do a million men leave home every year? Join the daffy doings of one of those convulsing conventions where big business makes hey-hey -- and farmer's daughters make hay! Make the rounds with the boys -- make whoopie with those dazzling convention sweeties!"31
Lea Jacobs believes that a great deal of the success of Blonde Venus could be attributed to the way von Sternberg was able to work around the constraints of the code.32 By framing the action with ellipses, he was able to transform what could have been a one-note, "Life Is Horrible" storyline to create a layered film with an ambiguous conclusion masquerading as an affirming resolution. The argument that outside interference actually fosters creativity, rather than stifles it, is one Lars von Trier and Jorgen Leth were able to make convincingly in The Five Obstructions (2003), and I believe there's something to that. Janet Staiger takes the pro-censorship argument even further, stating that censorship opens up dialogue between audience members about what isn't presented.33 While a skilled filmmaker can create compelling work despite the hindrance of philistines, it's hard to argue ways in which cinema was positively impacted by the work of Joe Breen and friends. A dialogue about censored content is difficult to engage in when a work is effectively suppressed, which many films of the era were. If Trouble in Paradise is Lubitsch's best film, it's not because of the work done by Schulberg, Joy, or Wingate, it's because he understands the form, framing, how to use sound and montage to advance plot, etc. Unfortunately, since only two of his five Pre-code features have found their way to DVD or home video, until another Lubitsch retrospective works its way around the country, the censors' Pre-code legacy will continue to have as much impact on most what filmgoers who look back at the period can see of one of the medium's masters.
* Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censured: morality codes, Catholics, and the movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
* Paul, William. Ernst Lubitsch's American comedy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
* Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
* Leuchtenberg, William E. The perils of prosperity: 1914-1932. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.
* Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
* Weinberg, Herman G. The Lubitsch touch: a critical study. New York: Dover Publications, 1977.
* Staiger, Janet. Perverse spectators: the practices of film reception. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
* Zucker, Carole. The idea of the image: Josef von Sternberg's Dietrich films. Rutherford: Fairleigh University, 1988.
* Wood, Robin. "Venus de Marlene." Film Comment 14, no. 2 (March-April, 1978): 58-63.
* "Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System." Wikipedia:
The Free Encyclopedia. March 12, 2007.
* Maltby, Richard. "More Sinned Against than Sinning: The Fabrications
of 'Pre-Code Cinema'." Senses of Cinema. No. 29 (November-December, 2003).
March 12, 2007.
* Mayer, Geoff. "A parallel universe? Hollywood in the 'Pre-code' era." March
1, 2000. March 13, 2007.
* Anderson, Jeffrey
M. "Paradise Found." Combustible
Celluloid. March 20, 2003.
March 13, 2007.
* Love Me Tonight. Dir. Rouben Mamoulian. Perf. Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith. DVD. Kino, 1932. Commentary. Miles Kreuger, 2003.
* Trouble in Paradise. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis. Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton. DVD. Criterion, 1932. Commentary. Scott Eyman, 2002.
* Design for Living. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper, Frederic March, Edward Everett Horton. DVD. Universal, 1933.
* Blonde Venus. Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Perf. Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Cary Grant. DVD. Universal, 1932.
* Red Headed Woman. Dir. Jack Conway. Perf. Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Charles Boyer. DVD. Warner Home Video, 1932.
* Baby Face. Dir. Alfred E. Green. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook. DVD. Warner Home Video, 1932.
* She Done Him Wrong. Dir. Lowell Sherman. Perf. Mae West, Cary Grant, Owen Moore. VHS. Columbia, 1932.
* I'm No Angel. Dir. Wesley Ruggles. Perf. Mae West, Cary Grant, Gregory Ratoff. DVD. Universal, 1932.
* The Public Enemy. Dir. William A. Wellman. Perf. James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell. DVD. Warner Home Video, 1931.
* Little Caesar. Dir. Mervyn LeRoy. Perf. Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell. DVD. Warner Home Video, 1931.
* Scarface. Dir. Howard Hawks. Perf. Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, George Raft, Boris Karloff. VHS. Universal, 1932.
* Angel. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Melvyn Douglas. VHS. Universal, 1937.
* The Five Obstructions.
Dir. Jorgen Leth & Lars von Trier. Perf. Jorgen
Leth, Lars von Trier. DVD. Koch Lorber, 2003.
1 Trouble In Paradise. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis. Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton. DVD. Criterion, 1932.
2 Love Me Tonight. Dir. Rouben Mamoulian. Perf. Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette
MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith. DVD. Kino, 1932
Commentary. Miles Kreuger, 2003.
3 Maltby, Richard. "More Sinned Against than Sinning: The Fabrications
Of 'Pre-Code Cinema'." Senses Of Cinema. No. 29 (November-December, 2003).
March 12, 2007.
4 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. p. 5
5 "Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System." Wikipedia:
The Free Encyclopedia. March 12, 2007.
6 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. p. 6
7 Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censured : morality codes, Catholics, and the movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. pp. 31-33
8 Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censured : morality codes, Catholics, and the
movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. p. 41
9 Love Me Tonight. Dir. Rouben Mamoulian. Perf. Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette
MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith. DVD. Kino, 1932
Commentary. Miles Kreuger, 2003.
10 Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censured : morality codes, Catholics, and the movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. pp. 36-43
11 Trouble In Paradise. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Herbert Marshall, Miriam
Hopkins, Kay Francis. Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton. DVD. Criterion,
Commentary. Scott Eyman, 2002.
12 Trouble In Paradise. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Herbert Marshall, Miriam
Hopkins, Kay Francis. Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton. DVD. Criterion,
Commentary. Scott Eyman, 2002.
13 Anderson, Jeffrey
M. "Paradise Found." Combustible
Celluloid. March 20, 2003.
March 13, 2007.
14 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection
in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. p.
15 Paul, William. Ernst Lubitsch's American comedy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. p. 55
16 Howard Hawks has directed a number of movies in which, it could be argued,
the central characteristic of the protagonist is their competence in their
chosen field, sometimes this singular focus prevents the characters from developing
relationships. Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), and Rio
Bravo (1959) serve as just a few examples.
17 Paul, William. Ernst Lubitsch's American comedy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. p. 84
18 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. pp. 350-354
19 Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. pp. 87-89
20 Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. p. 91
21 Blonde Venus. Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Perf. Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Cary Grant. DVD. Universal, 1932.
22 Staiger, Janet. Perverse spectators: the practices of film reception. New York: New York University Press, 2000. pp. 84-85
23 Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. pp. 94-98
24 Wood, Robin. "Venus de Marlene." Film Comment 14, no. 2 (March-April, 1978): 58-63.
25 Staiger, Janet. Perverse spectators: the practices of film reception. New York: New York University Press, 2000. p. 81
26 Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. p. 71
27 Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censured : morality codes, Catholics, and the movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. pp.51-52
28 Black, Gregory D. Hollywood censured : morality codes, Catholics, and the movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. p.78
29 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. p. 366
30 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. pp.322-323
31 Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. p.108
32 Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. p. 105
33 Staiger, Janet. Perverse spectators: the practices of film reception. New York: New York University Press, 2000. p.77