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Hays Code

Herbert Hoover

Hays Code: Herbert Hoover was the 31st American President who served in office from March 4, 1929 to March 4, 1933. One of the important events during his presidency was the emergence of the Hays Code a means of censorship in the Hollywood movie industry.

Definition and Summary of the Hays Code
Summary and definition:
The Hays Code was a set of rules that enforced censorship on the American cinema in response to the increase of public complaints about the lewd content of movies and the scandalous behavior of Hollywood movie stars. The increasingly liberal content of Hollywood films, and the scandals surrounding famous movie stars, led to a media frenzy.

The public outcry was so great that the federal government were seriously considering the establishment of a national censorship board. To prevent this happening Hollywood moguls and the movie studios decided to voluntarily censor films themselves.

Hays Code: The Code to Govern the Making of Talking and Silent Motion Pictures
A list of production directives were established by a Hollywood board led by Will Hays, a former US Postmaster General, and the President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). In 1930 Will Hays produced a list of rules and guidelines called "The Don'ts and Be Carefuls" which the Hays Code was based on. Its official name was the Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. The Hays Code was set aside in 1965 when the MPPDA adopted the age-based rating system that is in force today. 

What was the Hays Code? The Hays Code was a list of guidelines and rules called "The Don'ts and Be Carefuls" that were voluntarily applied as a form of censorship by the Hollywood movie industry. The Hays Code was called "the motion picture industry's Magna Charta of official decency."

What date did the Hays Code start and end? The Hays Code censorship rules were formulated in 1929, presented in 1930 and were rigidly enforced by 1934. The Hays Code was in place until 1965.

What was the Purpose of the Hays Code? The Purpose of the 1930 Hays Code was to establish a voluntary self-censoring system for the production of movies and to improve the image of Hollywood thus avoiding the creation of a national censorship board by the Federal Government.

Why was the Hays Code abandoned? The Hays Code was abandoned in 1965 in favor of the  age-based rating system that was adopted by the MPPDA which is still in force today. 

The Hays Code
A Hollywood board, led by Will Hays and Joseph Breen with other prominent leaders of the Catholic community, worked on a list of rules and movie industry standards created the final list of production directives, rules and guidelines based on "The Don'ts and Be Carefuls" which became known as the Hays Code - it was also referred to as the Breen Code.

The Hays Code - General Principles
The Production code was divided into two parts. The first part were "general principles" which:

  • Prohibited a movie from "lowering the moral standards of those who see it"

  • Called for depictions of the "correct standards of life"

  • Forbade a movie from showing any sort of ridicule towards the law or "creating sympathy for its violation".

The Hays Code - Particular Applications
The second part of the Production code was a set of "particular applications" which was a stringent list of items which could not be depicted in a movie. These included headings of Crimes against the Law, Sex, Vulgarity, Obscenity, Profanity, Costume, Dances, Religion, Locations, National Feelings and Repellent Subjects.

The Hays Code - The Preamble
The Preamble made a point of emphasizing that movies were ENTERTAINMENT but recognized that as such could be either HELFUL or HARMFUL to the human race and therefore stressed the MORAL IMPORTANCE and MORAL OBLIGATIONS of the standards stating that the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong doing, evil or sin. The Preamble went on to emphasized the role of movies to ART.

The Hays Code - The Official Name
The official name for the rules was the Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. It was finalized by Will Hays and a board headed by Joseph Breen the "chief" of the Production Code Administration (PCA).

The Hays Code - Enforcement
The Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures was published in 1930 but not rigidly enforced until 1934 following more threats of censorship by the Federal Government and the widespread threats of Catholic boycotts of immoral movies. The studios granted MPPDA full authority to enforce the Production Code on all studios.

The Hays Code - Penalties
Those movies that failed to obtain a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration had to pay a $25,000 fine and could not profit in the theaters, as the MPPDA owned every theater in the country through the Big Five studios.

The Hays Code and American Movies
The Hays Code directly influenced the content of almost every movie made in the United States between 1930 and 1965, when the MPPDA adopted the age-based rating system that is in force today. Subject matter of movies of the 'Film Noir' genre, such as 'The Maltese Falcon' and 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' were particularly effected. Following the Hays Code, and its "no scenes of passion", also provided many headaches to the studios. David O. Selznick had huge problems convincing Will Hays and Joseph Breen that the words "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" was kept in 'Gone with the Wind'. The Hays Code even extended to animated cartoon movies to such an extent that the 'career' of the famous cartoon character Betty Boop was ruined.

Facts about Hays Code
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Hays Code.

The Hays Code required that women, in love scenes, at all times have "at least one foot on the floor" (in other words, no love scenes in bed).

People could not be in a horizontal position if they were kissing.

The Outlaw: The 1943 movie "The Outlaw" starring Jane Russell and produced by Howard Hughes had 30 seconds cut from the movie which showed too much of the stars cleavage.

Betty Boop: The Flapper image of even the cartoon character Betty Boop had to be 'cleaned up' due to the strict rules. Her skirts were lengthened to the knee, her garter belt was replaced with leg-covering stockings and the necklines of her dress were raised, so as not to cause offence.

Betty Boop even lost some of her curls and her famous, trademark winks and shaking hips were deemed to be "suggestive of immorality". Betty Boop had to portray a demure image. The censorship of Betty Boop was probably the most extreme example of the rigidity of the Hays Code. The image shows Betty Boop as she looked before she was transformed by the regulations, which led to the ruin of her career.

It Happened One Night: The 1934 movie 'It Happened One Night' was one of the first movies to follow the Hays Code and "no scenes of passion". The characters played by Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable spend a night together at a motel but a blanket divider separates the room into two sections and Colbert wears prudish pajamas.

Film Noir: Film Noir is a movie genre that generally depicts disillusioned and desperate characters in the world of corruption and criminal activities often depicting murder and theft. The characters and plot lines of the Film Noir conflicted with the ethics promoted by the Hays Code.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) - Film Noir: The Maltese Falcon suffered censorship in several ways. The characterization of Joel Cario, played by actor Peter Lorre, demanded he appeared being less "pansy". The moral code demanded that any inference of sex between Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Brigid  (Mary Astor) was removed. And that the consumption of alcohol was reduced.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) - Film Noir: The themes and story were changed for the Postman Always Rings Twice movie which had originally dealt with adultery, murder for lust with no signs of remorse.

The code prohibited portrayals of clergy that made them appear corrupt or foolish and the occupations of characters movie versions of famous stories, such as Pride and Prejudice, were changed to accommodate this rule. Mr. Collins in the 1940 Pride and Prejudice became a librarian and Cardinal Richelieu in the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers became a Prime Minister.

Gone with the Wind: Profanity of any kind was prohibited which was a matter of huge contention in Gone with the Wind and whether Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, would be allowed to say "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn".

Rhett Butlers famous line in Gone with the Wind was allowed when Hollywood producer David O. Selznick convinced Hays and Breen that the line, that was in Margaret Mitchell's famous novel, was not prejudicial to public morals.

US American History
1929-1945: Depression & WW2

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