Related image

This photograph, which is one of the few in which Mr. Breen is smiling, shows our blogathon’s guest of honor having a good time with Joe E. Brown.

Today is the second day of PEPS’s first blogathon, “The Great Breening Blogathon!” This is the most important day of our Breenathon, since it is Joseph Breen’s 129th birthday. Happy Birthday, Joseph Breen! We are celebrating his birthday with another day of marvelous articles analyzing the Code, describing the Code era, and praising Mr. Breen himself.

Our participants are giving us some interesting and diverse opinions on our subjects. We of PEPS are celebrating his life on the weekend of his birthday because we consider him to be for Hollywood what George Washington was for the United States of America. He was the first enforcer of the Code as President Washington was the first enforcer of the Constitution. Now that’s enough of my opinions about him. I will let you read what all of our wonderful participants have contributed. Here is the roster:

Part 1 – Breening Films

The Black Cat (1934) – The Great Breening Blogathon by Moody Moppet

This article is an intelligent analysis of what makes this underrated pre-Code horror film a pre-Code film. The authoress mentioned the interesting fact that this film was released only two months before Mr. Breen began to really enforce the Code. As a matter of fact, Joseph was the head of the SRC at the time, so that means that he reviewed the film, even though he didn’t have the power to demand changes. We didn’t find this movie to be very violent or particularly disturbing, but we are sure it could be very disturbing to some people. The only real surface problems are the dead female bodies which are preserved, the fact that Boris Karloff and his wife are in the same bed, and especially the torture which Bela Lugosi begins to inflict on him. That was the only part that made us cringe. As Moody Moppet rightly pointed out, though, there are deeper, lurking elements of the plot which probably would prevent it from ever being a truly Seal-worthy film. Her excellent, intelligent analysis of this movies has earned her a PEPS Seal of Approval. (All PEPS Seals may be reproduced on the receiver’s website with our blessing.)PEPS Seal No. 2

Breening “The Tender Trap” from 1955 by James Brannan for PEPS

In his first article for PEPS, president James Brannan breens an excellent musical from the early Shurlock era, The Tender Trap. In his analysis, he praises the film’s merits while analyzing its unnecessarily risque elements. Don’t miss this brilliant article by the Joe Breen of the twenty-first century!

Part 2 – Code Films Ideas

We don’t have any articles in this category so far.

Part 3 – Tributes to the Code Era

Joseph I. Breen: America’s Moral Guardian by Tiffany Brannan for PEPS

This is my birthday tribute to Mr. Breen. In it, I explained my personal feelings about him. I also strove to disprove the most common falsehoods which are believed about him. I hope that all the participants will read this article, since I tried to explain his real character in it.

The Don’ts by David Cairns for Shadowplay

David Cairns joined this blogathon with the agreement that he would provide a contrasting opinion about the Code and its era. In his article, he discussed the eleven “Don’ts” from the 1927 list of “Don’ts and Be Carefuls.” This list was compiled by the moguls with help from Will Hays, unlike the Code, which was written by Martin Quigley and Father Daniel Lord in 1929. Mr. Cairns partially agreed with the rule forbidding profanity, but he thought that it doesn’t hurt anyone and said that even the Bible does not clearly forbid vulgarity, only taking the Lord’s name in vain; we must correct him on this point by quoting Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” While he is entitled to his belief that undressed forms can be pleasant to see, we feel that no motion picture is improved by the inclusion of nakedness; it merely produces lustful thoughts and limits the audience. Regarding the ban on presenting the illegal drug traffic, the idea behind this is that any reference to or depiction of drugs can produce morbid curiosity in immature minds; as proof, we refer to “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle in which a college student samples opium after reading Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and is addicted to it for the rest of his life. Regarding perversion, the normal facts of life are not included in this; in this instance, as in the Code, perversion means any abnormal amorous relationship, not the normal biological reaction between a man and a woman, whether it is proper or not. Regarding white slavery, it is a generally filthy subject which was considered too vile to be depicted to the general masses; Mr. Cairns compared white slavery to black slavery, wondering while the former was forbidden but the latter wasn’t. While black slavery was a terrible situation, it was a dreadful reality of history; whenever slaves were depicted in Code films, they seemed basically like servants, and the horrendous acts of many slave owners were never depicted. Regarding hygiene, specific diseases, childbirth, and children’s intimate organs, they are not considered to be necessarily evil; it just is not proper to depict or show these things. While the Don’ts just said that the clergy could not be ridiculed, the Code said a film should not throw ridicule on any religious faith, that ministers should not be villains or comical characters, and that religious ceremonies should be respectfully depicted; this does not mean that individual characters in a film may not ridicule a religion. The idea is just that any religion depicted, not just Christianity, should be respectfully and fairly depicted by the general film, not the characters in it. The Dont’s forbade wilful offense to any nation, race, or creed, but the Code said that the history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry of other nations must be represented fairly; this is more clear and better stated than the phrase in the Don’ts. I’m sure that most people will agree that it is a good idea to try to not offend others; in my opinion, Mr. Breen did a fine job of eliminating pre-Code stereotypes and jokes about nationalities and races. Of course, we want to be clear that we meant no criticism by this detailed response to Mr. Cairns’s very intellectual and detailed article. We greatly enjoyed reading his opposing view, but we felt compelled to give our response. We encourage all our participants to read his full article and consider his opinions on the Don’ts and the Code. We hope that Mr. Cairns will write articles about the Be Carefuls and the Code itself in the future, as he hinted that he might. We would be happy to link to them on our website. We thank him for his perceptive analysis and especially for participating in this blogathon even though he doesn’t agree with the Code. We would also like to thank him for refraining from insulting Mr. Breen personally. We encourage Mr. Cairns to respond to our thoughts on his article.  

Strange Bedfellows by Rebecca Deniston for Taking Up Room

Rebecca Deniston wrote a very entertaining article about The More The Merrier from 1943. I have seen its Shurlock era remake, Walk Don’t Run, but I have never seen this original. It sounds very similar in its scenario despite the very different setting. We commend her for her intelligent analysis of the Code’s influence on this film. It is interesting to ponder the films which were made under the Code as well as ones which were not. This is a well-written and enjoyable article analyzing a wartime Code film.

We will continue to add articles as they come in during the rest of the day. Come back tomorrow to see more fascinating articles. By the way, it is never to late to join the fun yourself! Let’s make this celebration for Joe Breen’s birthday a huge success!

Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!



  1. Pingback: The Lord of the Rings, If Warner Bros Made It in the 1930s-40s | Christina Wehner

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful and kind response. I appreciate the invite to take part. Though, like any good liberal, I do sometimes communicate in a combination of snark, sarcasm and outright mockery, it comes from a warm place and I enjoy debating with those who hold bracingly opposite views, especially when the approach is so civilized and open.

    I think our differences are broadly clear and needn’t be elaborated. A few things I’d question further, though.

    The line in Ephesians about “corrupt communication” seems open to interpretation: it sounds like part of a call to say edifying things, rather than talking trash, which could include foul language but seems more about foul IDEAS. I think there may be a line from Paul somewhere about vulgarity, but my point was it’s not something the commandments of the teachings of Jesus put a whole lot of emphasis on.

    Bill Hicks had an amusing response to the proposition that some media can provoke lustful thoughts. “Four questions: Yes? And? So? What?” Gene Tierney in a fabulous frock also provokes lustful thoughts too, just in a subtler way. More tasteful, arguably. But taste is better exercised than enforced.

    On illegal drugs, the question becomes one of when is information helpful as a warning, and when is it dangerously enabling? Perhaps it’s always both. Anyway, I’m not sure you can use a fictional Sherlock Holmes story to “prove” anything. I just think that if a child is approached by a drug dealer offering a free sample, the child who has been warned of the dangers is in a stronger position to say a firm no.

    With the question of slavery, the good taste enforced by Breen resulted in many depictions that were so romantic as to be offensive to modern eyes: Gone with the Wind is finally starting to be seen as a problematic film that audiences need to be warned about. Of course the whole subject is a delicate one and easy to get wrong: Slave Ship is a code-era movie that’s more hard-hitting and unglamorous but still struck me as deeply troubling in its use of slavery as spectacular entertainment. But Hollywood could have played an active role in transforming opinion in the South, perhaps with government support. Instead, the Code as adopted pandered to prejudice.

    The question of offence is a fascinating one. “Nobody has the right not to be offended,” says John Cleese. What is an essential freedom to me may offend others, and I can’t exercise my freedom while worrying about their reaction. Being offended doesn’t hurt anyone. Calls to violence DO. That’s my boundary. One doesn’t criticise anti-semitism purely to offend anti-semites, but one can’t worry about their feelings.

    This gets into turbulent waters when we look at the representation of gay people. Just having a character meant to be understood as possibly gay became difficult under the Code, and can offend conservative religious people. But gay people feel they have a right to be represented, to have their existence acknowledged. Some prefer even the comical stereotype of the “sissy” characters seen in pre-codes to the near-complete eradication of gay characters that followed. It isn’t about endorsing a lifestyle or an orientation: it’s about whether movies should be allowed to represent the world truthfully. There are definitely an infinite number of ways of using freedom badly. But I prefer freedom to its alternative.

    Remember, if this blogathon were happening in a Code-era film, we wouldn’t even be able to have this discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Sunday Intertitle: The Be Carefuls | shadowplay

  4. Pingback: The Black Cat (1934) – The Great Breening Blogathon!

  5. Pingback: EXTRA: “The Great Breening Blogathon!” | pure entertainment preservation society

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s