This article was written by P. M. Turner of Old Hat Cinema. Her thoughtful explanation of why she supports the Code’s principles and artistic results because she is a Christian is the April 2021 entry in our guest series, What the Code Means to Me. It was originally published on her website here. Pearl, thank you for contributing the twelfth article to our series exploring exploring other writers’ opinions on the Code!
This article, officially launching the Old Hat Cinema publication on Medium, was written for the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s monthly series, “What the Code Means to Me.” To check out the rest of the entries in this ongoing series, as well as the rest of the wonderful PEPS website, please click here.
I’ve been an aficionado of classic film for a little over three years now, but it has only been within the past year or so that I have become more aware of the contents and influence of the Motion Picture Production Code. I wrote my first article on the Code back in May of 2020, but it wasn’t published until I found a site to host my blog. Since I published it last October, it has continued to be my most popular article. It’s brief, and yours truly was not as informed as I am now when I first wrote it. But you can read it, as well as the other articles on my blog, right here. As I’ve learned more and more about the Code, I’ve found that the ideas behind it line up with principles found in the Bible.
Philippians 4:8 declares, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and of there be any praise, think on these things.”
Because I’m a Christian, I appreciate the Godly ideas behind the Code, and the efforts of its prime enforcer, an Irish Catholic by the name of Joseph Breen. Sadly, Mr. Breen does not receive the credit today that he deserves, and the Production Code has become widely known as the “Hays” Code, after the man who supposedly created it, Will Harrison Hays. Actually, the Code was authored by a Catholic layman named Martin Quigley, and a Jesuit priest named Daniel A. Lord.
I love the Golden Era of Hollywood because some of the greatest, most wholesome, most intelligent, and most uplifting films ever were made during that time. Films focused on things that were of “good report.” Even when telling a story that involved crime or some other vulgar and base activity, good taste was exercised in what was shown. For example, the heartbreaking film Waterloo Bridge (1940) dealt with prostitution, yet the word was never uttered once in the story!
Godliness and moral propriety will never be out of date, and because that’s what the Code enforced, it is still as relevant in modern society as it was in 1934.
In fact, in all nineteen pages of the Code, only one point (item 6 under section 2 of the Particular Applications) is outdated. And that point is the forbidding of miscegenation, or romantic relationships between blacks and whites. After all, we’re all members of the human race, and created in the image of God.
Beginning in 1934 with the efforts of Joseph Breen, for the first and only time in history, morality became a focal point of films, and the movies were appropriate for people ages 1 to 100! They were made with a one-size-fit-all approach, under the assumption that the same film could and would be enjoyed by children and adults alike. There were no individual ratings; the rating system wasn’t developed until 1968, when the focus shifted from restricting filmmakers to alerting audiences. A year later, Midnight Cowboy became the first X-rated film to win Best Picture. Sad, isn’t it?
The God-consciousness in film was something to be appreciated too. Faith in God and belief in His Word were evident in films such as A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Sergeant York (1941), and The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Prayer and thankfulness were emphasized in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), and Brother Orchid (1940) told the story of a former gangster who leaves his rough and violent past behind, finding purpose and fulfillment when he joins an order of kindly monks.
Today, it would seem that probably upwards of 90–95%, if not a higher percentage, of references to God or Jesus in movies are swearing.
The modern film industry suffers so much from all the garbage put into it, that even on the few occasions that they manage to present a good story, it’s mucked up by sex or swearing or what-have-you. Modern technology and no restrictive moral guidelines have caused the film industry to languish. Movies now can also rely solely on overblown special effects, innuendo, bad language, or explicit sexual content, and be a smash hit. Under the confines of the Code, not only did it prohibit anything explicit, but urged filmmakers to be creative. Hitchcock, Lubitsch, and Capra, for example, were all masterful and innovative directors who knew their craft, cared about it, and gave of their best to it. Some of their best work was made during the Code era.
Man, in his natural state, is sinful, and the products of that sinful state are reflected in the movies made today. Wickedness and immorality has been allowed to breed and run rampant through the entertainment industry for far too long, and it’s past time to put an end to it. Laws must be made by those who care about morality and uprightness, and those laws must be enforced, as they were during the years when Joseph Breen was head of the PCA. The Golden Era was something special, and we may not see anything quite like it again. But though there may never exist again the level of talent found in that bygone age, the Motion Picture Production Code is something that can be brought back! Filmmaking must be brought back to a purer form, once again making movies an influence for good in American culture, as they once were. This can only be achieved through four simple words.
Bring back the Code!
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