Why was there a period of un-Codish films in 1941 and 1942? From 1934 to 1954, films could generally be considered proper because of complete adherence to the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. There were occasional, small breaches when Joseph Breen, the director, was on vacation, in the hospital, or when he chose to make an exception. However, there was a large breach in 1941 and 1942 which I call the non-Code period, since Mr. Breen was acting as vice-president of RKO Pictures from June of 1941 to March of 1942, and his assistant, Geoffrey Shurlock, was in charge of the Production Code Administration. For several months after Mr. Breen returned, however, the impact of his absence could still be seen, since it sometimes took a few months for films which had been sealed by Shurlock to be released. We will review Dr. Kildare’s Victory, The Palm Beach Story, and I Married an Angel to see which shows Hollywood’s need for Mr. Breen the most.
We will begin by reviewing the 1942 film Dr. Kildare’s Victory, the last film in the Dr. Kildare series. The most objectionable element in this film is much of the dialogue said by or concerning Cookie Charles, a spoiled socialite who has her eye on Jimmy. Most of Cookie’s risque dialogue centers around the undressed female form, particularly the fact that Dr. Kildare operated on her. Another un-Codish element of Cookie Charles is that she uses her muliebrity to get her way. When Dr. Kildare is operating on Cookie Charles, Dr. Gillespie’s narration of the surgery is excessive and contains rather gruesome details of open-heart surgery. There is also some slightly disgusting dialogue about Cookie’s case including extensive discussion about her having a piece of glass in her heart.
Second, we will review The Palm Beach Story, a 1942 screwball comedy about a woman who pretends to be her ex-husband’s sister to help his business. There is a significant amount of risque dialogue in this film, most of which is said by the two leading females, Gerry Jeffers and Maude, the Princess de Centimillia. The plot of the film contains the Code-breaking elements of flippant or disrespectful treatment of marriage and divorce, especially regarding Maude, who has been married and divorced five times, and the frequent reference to the concept that a beautiful woman can get anything she wants from any man. There is too clear an implication when Tom carries Gerry up to their bedroom before the scene fades to a double bed where he is sleeping next to a rumpled pillow; even though they are married, the double bed and its transparent innuendo are forbidden under the Code. There are two scenes when Gerry and Tom kiss and embrace in an overly-passionate manner for a longer time than what could be considered decent; also, he kisses her back a few times. Finally, Gerry and Tom both say the title of Section 2 of the Code, a word which was understood to be forbidden by Mr. Breen; Maude says “Nyitz to you,” a joke referring to the forbidden expression “Nuts to you.”
Lastly, we will review the 1942 movie I Married an Angel, the last pairing of Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy which was taken from the Rogers and Hart musical of the same name. The main problem with this film is the central concept of an angel, Brigitta, leaving heaven to marry a mortal man, Count Willie Palaffi; the fact that it occurs in his dream does not diminish the sacrilegious flavor. It is extremely blatant when Brigitta does not return to her “fleecy cloud” on their wedding night and the next morning is seen lying in a large, feathery double bed without her wings; this direct reference to the intimate part of marriage is distasteful and forbidden under the Code, especially because she is an angel. After Brigitta becomes very worldly to save her husband’s business, her conduct is revolting; she wears indecent clothing, engages in cheap flirtation, and becomes the “business advisor” of her husband’s main investor. At Willie’s birthday party, every female guest kisses him rambunctiously as a greeting; one girl kisses him thirty-six times, honoring his thirty-five years and giving him one kiss “to grow on.” Finally, several women, including Brigitta, wear costumes with revealing neck lines, indecent cutouts in the torso, suggestive sheerness, and immodest showings of the legs.
Having reviewed Dr. Kildare’s Victory, The Palm Beach Story, and I Married an Angel, we see that the film which shows the need for Mr. Breen the most is I Married an Angel. Dr. Kildare’s Victory features references to parts of a woman’s anatomy and excessive details regarding open-heart surgery. The Palm Beach Story contains risque dialogue, Section 2 implications, and disrespect of marriage. I Married an Angel contains the sacrilegious idea of an angel marrying a mortal, one very clear Section 2 implication, and revealing costumes. The non-Code period shows us that the decline of the Code and the PCA after 1954 was not caused by America’s moral decay but by Joseph Breen’s absence.
Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!
Dr. Kildare’s Victory:
Dr. James Kildare: The grieving young doctor who is stubbornly pursued by a glamour girl whose life he saved; played by Lew Ayres.
Dr. Leonard Gillespie: Dr. Kildare’s gruff mentor who has become like a father to him; played by Lionel Barrymore.
Cookie Charles: The flirtatious glamour girl who decides that she “wants Jimmy for Christmas” and will stop at nothing to get him; played by Ann Ayars.
Nurse Molly Byrd: The stern but kind-hearted head nurse of Blair Hospital who pretends to be Dr. Gillespie’s enemy but really is his best friend; played by Alma Kruger.
Dr. Carew: The director of Blair General Hospital; played by Walter Kingsford.
The Palm Beach Story:
Gerry Jeffers: An attractive woman who leaves her husband and lives by the idea that a woman can get anything she wants with her beauty; played by Claudette Colbert.
Tom Jeffers: Gerry’s inventor husband whose strapped funds and jealousy put a strain on their marriage; played by Joel McCrea.
J.D. Hackensacker III: A tycoon called Snoodles by his friends who is rather stuffy but very fond of Gerry; played by Rudy Vallee.
Maude, the Princess de Centimillia: Hackensacker’s sister who has been married five times and now has her eye on Tom; played by Mary Astor.
I Married An Angel:
Count Willie Palaffi: A lecherous nobleman who neglects his bank and dreams about marrying an angel who looks remarkably like his wholesome secretary; played by Nelson Eddy.
Anna Zador/Brigitta: Willie’s secretary, who loves him from afar but visits and marries him as an angel in his dream; played by Jeanette MacDonald.
Whiskers: Willie’s advisor and mentor whose good advise he disregards and whom he always calls “Whiskers, old sweetheart;” played by Reginald Owen.
Marika: Willie’s personal assistant at the bank who wants to become even more personal by marrying him; played by Mona Maris.
Baron Szigethy: The main contributor to Willie’s Bank who becomes Brigitta’s sugar daddy in Willie’s dream; played by Douglass Dumbrille.