Almost every Thursday, we publish an article in a series which we have been featuring on and off for over a year, Breening Thursdays. In this series, either I or another member of my family writes about a movie which was not made during the American Breen Era (1934-1954). These movies, which are silent, pre-Code, foreign, Shurlock, and rating system, are collectively “un-Code.” In these articles, we “breen” these un-Code films. Breening is a verb which Variety coined to describe the unique process of film self-regulation which Joseph I. Breen and his colleagues used at the Production Code Administration during his twenty-year tenure there. It was a combination of applying the Motion Picture Production Code’s rules, considering public standards, consulting American and international laws, acknowledging censorship boards throughout the country and world, using their common sense, and intelligently working, talking, and compromising with the filmmakers to make the highest standard of films possible. This standard has never been equaled in any time before or since that Golden Era. Many people think that that system only worked because of the unique circumstances in the country and the film business at the time. However, we believe that the same magnificent results could have been achieved in any other time if breening had been used the same way. To graphically illustrate this, we hypothetically breen un-Code films, hoping to show our readers how the PCA’s influence would have changed movies which were made during other times.
We try to pick an interesting assortment of movies to breen. So far, including breening articles from blogathons, we Brannans have breened one silent film, seven pre-Code films, three foreign films, ten Shurlock films, and eight rating system films. I think a lot can be learned from the breening of films from every era. However, we want to breen the movies that you, our readers, want to see breened. Thus, on March 24, we asked for suggestions for future Breening Thursday topics. So far, one person has responded, Sally Silverscreen from 18 Cinema Lane. This charming lady, who is one of our most devoted followers, suggested six Shurlock and Rating System Era films. I immediately decided to take her up on one of them as soon as I could.
The film I decided to choose first is The Moon-Spinners from 1964. I have loved this live action Disney film for a good many years and was already considering it as a possible breening topic. When Sally suggested it, I knew that I would breen it as soon as I could. Thus, this Hayley Mills films is my topic for this week, the last Breening Thursday in April. Thank you for the suggestion, Sally! I look forward to breening some of her other suggestions in the future.
The Moon-Spinners is part of a unique sub-genre of the Shurlock Era, Disney Shurlock films. During the 1960s, Walt Disney Studios made numerous charming live action films for the whole family, many of which starred Hayley Mills. These movies continued to be basically wholesome even as Hollywood was rapidly racing away from the Code under Geoffrey Shurlock’s enforcement or lack thereof. Most of these Disney films are a charming relief from the increasingly-unacceptable content which the other studios were producing at the time. Some of these movies are Code Shurlock films, meaning they are completely Code-compliant even though they were not made during the Breen Era. However, most of them contain at least a few small problems, usually in the form of light forbidden expressions, which subtly reveal that the movies are from the 1960s. The Moon-Spinners is one such film. In fact, it has more objectionable points than most of Hayley Mills’s other Disney films, since it was made later during the 1960s and it deals with more dramatic subject matter. However, it is basically a wonderful movie, and the problems are all very superficial. This film is noteworthy in the fact that it is the first Disney Shurlock film we have breened, and it is also the latest Shurlock Era film we have breened so far. Before we proceed to the actual breening, let’s briefly review the film’s plot.
A young English girl, Nikky Ferris (Hayley Mills), is traveling around Crete with her musicologist aunt, Fran Ferris (Joan Greenwood). They visit a remote village, Aghios Georgios, where a wedding is taking place at the local inn, The Moon-Spinners. However, the owner, a widowed woman named Sophia (Irene Papas), is reluctant to let them stay. She finally is persuaded but still seems hesitant. Her cheerful young son, Alexis (Michael Davis), tells them that his uncle, Stratos, is a strange man who hasn’t wanted anyone to stay at the inn since he returned from London. They soon meet Stratos (Eli Wallach), a rude, superstitious astrologer who warns them to leave the next day. Nikky happily plans to do so until she catches sight of the other English guest at the inn, an attractive young Englishman whom she spies returning from a diving trip. That evening, she and her aunt meet the charming young Mark Camford (Steve McEnery), to whom Nikky is instantly attracted. They enjoy each other’s company during that evening’s wedding celebration, and he invites her to swim with him the next morning at the Bay of Dolphins. It soon becomes apparent that the young Mr. Camford is watching and being watched by the sinister Stratos and his accomplice cousin, Lambis (Paul Stassino). The two Greeks are clearly up to no good, and they don’t want Mark to stop them from accomplishing their evil plan. That night, Mark follows the two men to the Bay of Dolphins, which they are cruising in a small fishing boat. When they see him, they begin shooting at him. He falls into the water, having been hit, but they can’t find his body. The next day, Nikky is very distressed to hear that Mr. Camford left on the early bus without leaving any sort of note. She senses that something is wrong, so she wanders around the village. She enters a deserted church, where she stumbles upon the wounded Mark. Despite his protests and his refusal to tell her what happened, she determines to help him. Now the romantic young girl is caught in a dangerous web of intrigue which involves Mark, Stratos, Lambis, the Bay of Dolphins, and some priceless jewels. As they struggle to seek justice and stay alive, the two young Brits find themselves growing closer to each other, since they may be the only people they can really trust. Now, with no further ado, let the breening begin!
When Nikky and Aunt Fran are finally granted accommodations at the inn, Alexis takes them to their room. He tells them about Stratos, his sinister uncle, who soon barges into their room and makes them very unwelcome. Alexis says, “Uncle Stratos is much lousy man.” Nikky later reiterates, “Lousy is the word.” The italicized adjective is a forbidden expression. It is the most common objection in this film. Alexis uses it frequently as part of a running joke about the English slang which he has picked up from visitors. However, this word was considered very vulgar in the earlier 20th century because of its reference to filth and condemnation, stemming from the plague of lice in the Old Testament. Thus, the word lousy in this dialogue should be replaced with an acceptable negative adjective such as rotten.
On their first evening at The Moon-Spinners, Nikky and her aunt attend the local wedding which is taking place. When attending the festivities, Nikky dons a pretty pink dress to impress the young Englishman. The dress is very stylish, but the neckline is a little too low. It is indecent for this young lady, or any lady for that matter, to wear a neckline which reveals her chest. The neckline should be raised.
At the wedding, Nikky and Mark attempt to do a Grecian dance. After some unsuccessful attempts, Mark suggests that they really cut loose, and they begin to do the twist. In all instances, this Shurlock Era dance is unacceptable. It is too convulsive and primarily focused on isolated shaking of the torso. Instead, they should start doing the swing.
After the evening’s celebrations at the hotel have ended, all the locals walk in a procession behind the bride and groom, singing. Nikky asks Mark what they are doing, and he replies, “They’re singing the bride and groom to bed. It’s a local custom.” I understand that it is a Cretan custom, but the italicized words are too pointed a reference to the intimate aspects of marriage. Instead, he should say, “They are singing the bride and groom to their new home.”
That night, Nikky and Fran talk in their room before going to bed. Nikky is wearing a nightgown with a rather low neckline. I was surprised by how many of Hayley Mills’s costumes in this film have indecent necklines. This neckline should be raised to a decent level.
The next day, Nikky is wandering around the town, wondering why Mark left so unexpectedly. She wanders into a local church. When looking at the old architecture, she sees some drops of blood on the floor, and her curiosity is peaked. As she looks around, she sees three bloody fingerprints on the wall. Then, she goes into another room with a staircase which leads to a subterranean mausoleum. On the staircase, she sees some more fingerprints in blood. I think that there are too many bloody markings in the church. The drops of blood are acceptable, but the finger-markings of blood are rather grotesque. The rest of the trail must just be a few more drops of blood, no fingerprints.
As Nikky looks around the eerie cellar, she seems to feel that something strange is in the air. Suddenly, a blood-stained hand is thrust out from behind a crypt. After a moment of terror, Mark falls forward, badly wounded and barely conscious. Nikky and the audience are able to breathe again after the shock of that horrible-looking hand, which looks unbelievably grotesque for such a young man. I almost wonder if they used somebody else’s hand to make the situation even more frightening. That moment is so startling that it makes me uncomfortable for several minutes beforehand due to my anticipation. I think that the horror-film moment of the hand appearing should be eliminated. It is dangerously frightening. Mark should just fall forward, which would be startling enough.
As Nikky goes over to Mark, we see that he has been severely shot in the shoulder. There is blood all over his white shirt near the wound. I think that there is a little too much blood in this situation. It looks gruesome and somewhat disgusting. I think the blood-staining should be diminished.
Nikky goes back to the inn to get a first aid kit and some other supplies for Mark. When she returns, she proceeds to dress his arm. She comments that he has started bleeding again. Indeed, we can see the blood running down his arm. This is a little gruesome. She can make the comment about his bleeding, but we shouldn’t be able to see the flowing blood.
Later, Mark finds Alexis and asks for his help. The boy is surprised to see his English friend, who he thought left that morning. He says, “I think pretty lousy thing when you go without saying goodbye.” The italicized forbidden expression should be replaced with rotten or crummy.
In one of the most famous and climactic scenes in the film, Alexis jumps on the sails of a windmill in the tower of which Nikky has been tied up. He explains to Mark that jumping onto the sails is a game which the local children play. After the boy has returned to the ground, he remarks, “I get too old to play this lousy game.” As noted before, the word lousy should be replaced with some acceptable adjective.
When Mark and Nikky are climbing through the hills, Mark is attacked by Lambis. During their fight, Lambis drops his rifle. Thinking quickly, Nikky picks up the gun and hits Lambis over the head with it, knocking him out. She is afraid that she has killed him, but Mark confirms that his heart is still beating. She adds, “But I heard his head crack.” This line is overly violent. It should be removed.
Eventually, the two English refugees end up at the house of the British consul, Anthony Gamble (John Le Mesurier). However, Mark is unsure that Mr. Gamble is trustworthy. He tells Nikky to find out the name of a boat which is offshore. As Nikky is using the telescope on the terrace to do just that, Mr. Gamble comes up and directs her gaze toward a Phoenician fort, one of the treasures of the area. He tells her that the heads of malefactors used to be hung on the fort and left to blister in the sun. This piece of history is very gruesome. He should recount some less gory bit of historical information.
The last costume which Nikky wears in this film is a green dress. This outfit, like many of her previous garments, has too low a neckline. It should be raised to a decent level.
Later in the film, Mark and Stratos have a climactic standoff at the Bay of Dolphins. Mark ends up in Stratos’s boat, and they fight over the priceless jewels which are at the center of the complicated plot. This fight is a little too violent and prolonged. The pugnacious activities should be toned down a bit.
As the fight progresses, Mark ends up in the water while Stratos is still in his boat. The villain tries to hit him with the boat several times, but the hero manages to dive out of the way. Finally, Stratos grabs his harpoon and thrusts it into the water right where Mark was swimming. The harpoon flies straight at the camera into the water, and we don’t see whether or not Mark has been hit. The harpoon shot is too violent. It shouldn’t be thrown right at the audience. We should instead be above the water near Stratos as we see him throw the harpoon.
That concludes my breening of this film! As promised, there weren’t many problems which I had to fix. As you can see, this is a very wholesome movie. The main problems are some forbidden expressions, a few low necklines, and primarily violence. In 1992, when this film was re-issued, the Classification and Rating Administration rated it PG for action violence. I think that that is overly-harsh considering Disney’s standards for current films at the time. Compared to the 1990s Disney Renaissance cartoons which Rebekah has breened, such as Aladdin, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this film is quite mild. Perhaps CARA were being harsher because The Moon-Spinners is live action. However, I have noticed that the rating system likes to give PG ratings to Code Era films. If the film had been breened as I suggested, there would have been no need of a PG rating. The violence makes my mother somewhat reluctant to watch this film, despite its excellent content and acting. The Code would have ensured that there was none of that.
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