Forty-eight years ago today the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 was officially replaced with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating system. Geoffrey Shurlock had retired the same year as head of the Production Code Administration. This officially marked the end of censorship in Hollywood. Since then, films can feature any content as long as the audience is warned about it. All Hallows Day was an appropriate day for this major change, since it marked the death of an entire era of entertainment.
All Hallows Eve, now called Halloween, was originally a Christian holiday for remembering those who have died. We find this an appropriate day for remembering the dead Golden Era of Hollywood. Most of the great Code actors lived beyond 1968. Some of our favorites lived to the 1990’s or early 2000’s. To us, though, they all died on or before 1968. All the directors, actors, writers, and producers expired with the Production Code Administration. Some really did retire or die around that time. Those who remained changed, compromised, or floundered.
The Code’s death was not a sudden one. It had been fatally ill for years. The malady began in 1954 when Joseph Breen retired. Mr. Breen was the only good care-giver of the Code during its lifetime. Its original nurses were negligent, allowing it to be ignored and neglected. Mr. Breen carefully and lovingly attended to every clause of his charge. The strain of nursing such a sensitive ward took a toll on him, though, and forced him to remove himself to Arizona. He did not live to see the death of his nursling. His own death came three years before. As soon as the faithful custodian was replaced, his successor proved unworthy of the position of trust. He allowed harm to come to the charge, which was vulnerable in its protector’s absence. At first the difference was not noticed. There were maladies in the air, however, which always take advantage of a weakness in the system of the intended victim. The illness was of the consumptive variety. It enters the system then continues to grow and devour until the patient is gone. The main destroyers attacked the poor victim until it began to crumble. Unlike the previous guard, who fought any attacks against the charge of the film industry, Mr. Shurlock was unable to defend it. Each successive blow, though said to be forbidden, weakened the fortress against the sickness of corruption.
Disney was the only studio that retained Code ethics after Breen’s retirement in 1954. After Mr. Disney’s death in 1966, the change in the live action films of that company can be seen. Within a few years, that studio also had capitalized on the demise of the Code. Like many incompetent doctors of consumptives, the Production Code Administration’s attempts to defeat the illness only strengthened it. They attempted to remove the corruption by making amendments to the Code, as doctors attempted to remove consumption through blood-letting. Both methods only weakened the patient, not the attacker. The Code was considered out of date, so the administrators thought that its only chance for survival of any sort was dilution. In 1966 it became apparent that the Code’s disease was a fatal one and that the end was near. In that year, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?” was the first film to have the label “Suggested for mature audiences.” That same year, the Code was returned to a list of eleven points, which basically stated that public taste and opinion would govern what is acceptable and what is not. The poor Code did not last long after that. In 1968 it was officially dead and buried, and the incompetent administrator retired, having totally failed to protect his charge during his fourteen years of guardianship. He had allowed a healthy and thriving Code to be attacked, neglected, ridiculed, mocked, weakened, and finally murdered.
We must not merely mourn the death of a grand and glorious time. We must resurrect the Code and give it a suitable guardian who can defend and uphold it as Mr. Breen did. It has been forty-eight years since the demise of the Code, but it is not too late. The world has gotten so bad that people finally realize the need for censorship. We have a goal: to return the Code by End of Code Day of 2018. Let us not allow a half-century to pass without a scrap of censorship and propriety in the cinema. Before October 2018 ends, the prurience of the post-Code era must end. This is our goal. Please help us accomplish it! If we unite, it is not only possible but probable.
Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!