Ways in which some Hollywood Classic Films would have been better if there wasn't the Production Code
Hopefully this will generate an interesting discussion.
Not exactly a Classic but THE BAD SEED would have been scarier if Christine had succeeded in committing suicide and Rhoda had lived, free to kill again.
I have to give this some thought.
"Frankly, Ms. Scarlet ... you should go fuck yourself."
Not sure this works. The classics were written/produced with the code in mind. The films based on plays would be make more explicit reference to the homosex (The Lost Weekend, A Streetcar Named Desire, etc,)other than thatm I can;t think of much.
The movie Rebecca wouldn't have treated rebecca's death as an accident. In the book, Max kills his wife and is pleased about it. He also gets away with it.
But the Hollywood code of the time wouldn't allow a murderer to escape punishment so the ending was changed to make rebecca's death an accident.
'Suddenly Last Summer' would have made sense. 'These Three' would have been produced as 'The Children's Hour' twenty five years earlier. Gay themes would have been woven throughout the films of the forties and fifties.
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof would have dealt with the gay overtone of Brick and his BFF
Tea and Sympathy would have been more open about the young man's questioning whether he was gay.
This wasn't the production code, technically, just studio politics, but ...
"Suspicion" would have been infinitely better with its intended ending, but those in charge refused to have Cary Grant portrayed as the bad guy.
Gary Cooper in full-frontal nudity.
They would have left the DP scene with Mammy, Rhett and Ashley in Gone With The Wind.
Censorship was unfortunate, but dedicated and creative would find their way around it. Now, the milieu is such that people are afraid and censor themselves.
With a few exceptions, I think the Hays Code forced filmmakers to be more creative and clever with dialogue. I don't think some of the films from that period would have had such crackling dialogue if they hadn't been working under those rules and restraints. And I'm a big fan of subtext, something that wouldn't have been necessary without the Code. I'm probably in the minority here, but oh well.
[quote]"Suspicion" would have been infinitely better with its intended ending, but those in charge refused to have Cary Grant portrayed as the bad guy.
Dramatically, it makes much better sense, but I think an audience would have left the theater muttering.
Hitchcock didn't always sort out the best way to end a movie, e.g., "Stage Fright."
Other than the homosexual issues in some films, I don't think too many would be improved.
Would Casablanca be better if we saw Rick and Ilsa getting it on that night she returned for the letters of transit?
Would Citizen Kane be better if Kane was shown cursing?
Would Notorious be better if we saw Ingrid and Claude Rains in bed together?
The best would not improve, they were - as pointed out earlier - conceived with the code in mind.
Unmade films - that's another story. A true depiction of the Jim Crow south, of the fight to prevent unionization, of women being held to a different sexual standard than men, prostitution (although Waterloo Bridge hints this very well), drug addiction - without the looney "devil's weed" thing.
That would have been different.
[quote]With a few exceptions, I think the Hays Code forced filmmakers to be more creative and clever with dialogue.
It's the opposite for me. When I watch a pre-code film I'm always amazed by the colorful and racy and yet still tasteful dialogue. It was a great combo rarely matched afterwards.
Mildred Pierce may have been more interesting if we would have seen Veda being a total slut.
I agree with R17 and have always thought that. That hilarious scene where Veda is singing "The Oceana Roll" in that nightclub was supposed to be her "being a slut" as Mildred looked on in horror. You would have thought she was watching her daughter pick up quarters with her vagina in a Tijuana strip joint rather than performing some dance hall Victorian number which was ridiculously old fashioned even in 1945!
[quote]Mildred Pierce may have been more interesting if we would have seen Veda being a total slut.
Jesus Christ, how much worse could she have been?
Generally, I agree with R13. The code made them work harder, but they got the message across.
The one change I do think would have improved things would be the elimination of the rule that the characters always had to pay for their crimes and the bad guys always had to be caught at the end. Sometimes crime does pay.
"The movie Rebecca wouldn't have treated rebecca's death as an accident."
Not necessarily true, that's the sort of thing that gets changed even today. Audiences still like admirable heroes and happy endings, and hate to see anyone get away with a crime. They also hate to see a sympathetic heroine end up with a man who'd rather kill his wife than file for divorce.
On the other hand, today you don't get "dance hall girls". Remember Donna Reed in "From Here To Eternity", playing a bad girl who does nothing but dance too close with soldiers?
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, These Three and Streetcar - all great films, beautifully directed with perfect casts - would have all been far better if they didn't have to remove the adult material that Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Children's Hour and Streetcar had on stage.
Part of what made the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s work was the deferred desire. Most of those films were about the chase. The capture didn't happen until the end.
Wouldn't Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the movie have been better if they would have revealed what Brick's problem really was? What about Streetcar, what if they wouldn't have danced around Blanche's issues.
CROSSFIRE in 1947 would have been the first movie to seriously address gay bashing.
Rhett would have said to Scalett, "frankly my dear, Fuck You."
Casablanca would have been better if it had ended with a closeup of Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart in a great big Hollywood kiss.
R11. What does DP stand for?
I Confess. There was more to the "present" day relationship between Ann Baxter's character and Monty's Father Logan. Still all the shock was invested in their past and her visiting him once for advice on blackmail based on their past.
Born Yesterday, there is a scene between Billie (Judy Holliday) and Paul(William Holden) in which they discuss "getting any". I felt there needed to be a reason Paul wanted to marry Billie in the end. They had an affair and he was smitten with that.
Of course there was The Women. Joan Crawford should have just called them all bitches.
The rape scene in 'The Fountainhead' would have been realistic, instead of it looking like Gary Cooper knocked Patricia Neal down and walked away.
As with other posters here, I think the Code required alterations in practice to find work-arounds for "adult" themes and plot points. But more than this, it forced an adaptation of style, resulting in several variations of form that wouldn't have existed without the Code.
By this I mean that it's one thing to come up with twelve ways to indicate that a couple is having or has had sex, but it's another to develop an entire fictional form in which these symbolic cues fit. Of course, the Code wasn't a separate set of mores existing outside the culture of the time; it was an attempt to adapt a certain view of cultural proprieties to filmmaking that would leave the products viewable by all audiences without endangering the producers either legally or politically (and ultimately financially). But the specific decisions - feet on the floor when on the bed, language limitations, plot limits, body and costume limits - led to a vocabulary that, altogether, created the mid-early-century world of movies we now know as the "Golden Age."
So it's very difficult to say that without the Production Code films would have been better. They would have been different films altogether. And society would have been different, too. It's hard to overstate the impact of the movies on popular culture, and that includes societal behaviors that people adopted. The movies helped form notions of what was classy, permissible, not permissible, lowbrow, and all those concepts that people took on as "what the world was like" - always in conjunction, of course, with what their real-world surroundings evidences - would have been different, too.
We say, "fuck" and "shit" in mixed company now, discuss various topics openly, dress the way we do, and see ourselves in our cultural context in part because the way film - and by extension its child, television - presents life. Without the overriding Production Code basis of God and Family and Country, the ultimate drivers of its policies, American life would have been different.
Sure, Crystal Allen may have called the other women "bitches," but the male-driven, save-the-marriage, oddly un-ironic (even as Booth Luce strove for social commentary) approach to the entire subject could have been very different in the first place.
And Marjorie Main's Lucy being an out-of-the-closet lesbian would have given the whole thing a healthy smack on the ass.
Costumes would be far more revealing and racier.
You'd see navels and cock bulges in men's pants.
Male actors would no longer be required to shave their chests.
Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Ann Sheridan and Betty Grable would have done at least one topless scene.
Ava would have done a full-on nude.
First let me state that I love old movies. This next comment is going to make me sound like trash, but sometimes when I'm watching old movies I'm not really sure if they did it. Even though I have learned certain old movie techniques/euphemisms for they had sex, sometimes I'm still not sure. And then there are bad girls that we never really see doing bad things. That bothers me. If a girl is a slut, I want to see her do more than dance a little to closely to the hero.
Cat on a hot tin roof, even as the original play, dances around what Bricks problem really is. The play hints, suggests, implies but it never comes right out with it. I doubt the play would have been staged, during that period, if it had been more overt.
The kiss scenes wouldn't have been so terribly awkward. Actors weren't allowed to use tongue so in all the climactic smooch scenes the man basically grabs the lady by her shoulders and slams her mouth against his and they hold it like that for several uncomfortable seconds while the violins swell and the scene fades to black.
since it had been brought up several times, the dialogue in the film "The Women"is far superior to the dialogue in the play. This is an example of the Production Code improving material.
One example of a film that would have been better w/o the production code is "The Letter". I am surprised that nobody has mentioned it.
R35 I think you should go back to the play. It is pretty explicit. Big Daddy even says that if Brick were like the plantations previous owners (a gay couple), he would be okay with it.
I agree, R17. A three-way with Veda, Mildred, and Wally would have made the message more powerful.
Edwin would have pulled out and came on Baby Jane's tits.
Show me one nude scene that's half as sexy as Gilda doing that flip with her hair. Sorry, I just don't see what the nudity adds 90% of the time.
Was there ever a Code film that all but announced that someone had just gotten a blowjob?
I don't care about the nudity, R41 but I do miss the subject matter. Pre-code films more accurately reflected the times. People who aren't aware of the code and watch post-code films think that nobody had sex, nobody cursed and nobody went to the bathroom. Like R32 said, movies had a huge cultural impact and by pretending groups of people, behaviors, etc. didn't exist they did a huge disservice to the general population.
I love many of the post_code films but I wish the code hadn"t been around>
I watched THE CROWD (1928) recently and was shocked to see the characters' bathroom actually had a toilet in it and there was even a plot point about fixing the toilet.
R37, you can thank me for that.
George Cukor was ready to start directing The Women at MGM when he was suddenly balked by a Board of Censors that removed the best jokes from Clare Luce's script.
There was no time to write a new script, so George and I had to concoct each scene right there on the set just before the cameras started to grind.
If those Production Code-era films were to be different, imagine how movies from the 1960s and '70s would be like in their attempt to be more shocking than that. (I'm thinking of Last Tango in Paris being even more provoking.)
Pass the butter, please
I second r43's message. Pre-code movies have a startling modernity and immediacy post-code films for all their glories lack. There is a very real difference the way men and women relate to each other. Women are more independent and smarter and there is a greater representation of ethnicity. Post code everybody is either WASP or Irish, but characters are Jewish, Italian-American, Polish-American, German-American ...and while African-Americans suffered from caricatured depictions, there were notable exceptions. The OUR GANG films began before the code and Farina, Buckwheat and Stymie had a lot more to do and interacted more closely with the white kids early on than they did post-code. And pre-code films particularly those in urban settings - have a fair amount of Yiddishisms that vanished after 1934.
I had to explain to my mother why Blanche's husband shot himself in "Streetcar" when we watched the 1951 film together. They totally hide it because of The Code.
We had faces then!! We didn't have to flash our tits in the audiences face!!
No one is saying that we had to see Veda blowing Wally, but there were ways to show that she was 'friendly' without being vulgar.
Also The Picture of Dorian Gray was just a little too vague in what Dorian was really up to.
"Remember, honey, on your wedding night it's OK to say yes."
Does anyone know why Hollywood films of the 1940s so often were set in the early 1900s? The look of those films is so dull and tame.
Good example, R18. Also: I have never seen BUTTERFIELD 8 from beginning to end, but I know what the subject matter is, and a friend of mine finds it absolutely hilarious what they do (and don't do) in the movie to indicate that Elizabeth Taylor's character is a call girl. He showed me a few clips as examples, and it is a scream.
R51, The films were set in the 1900s because it reflected the interests of the time. Grandma Moses, Tasha Tudor, Life with Father, Godey's Little lady dolls, Victorian marble top tables cut down to be coffee tables, hobnail glass, etc.
r51: WWII-era nostalgia for "a simpler time". Big, fluffy, Technicolor "Gay '90s"-set musicals were huge moneymakers in their day, but except for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, they haven't aged well. They were a specialty at Fox, though every studio made them. Most are are difficult to sit through, with one corny vaudeville-number after another. Even the 1944-set COVER GIRL grinds to a halt with its "flashback" numbers.
The same nostalgia for the '50s happened in the GREASE era.
Thanks r53 and r54 . I agree that these films have not aged well and are hard to sit through. Everytime I come across a 1940's film I haven't seen and it turns out that it's set in the early 1900s I get so disappointed. I love 1940's design and fashions. Perhaps people longed for a more innocent time without war. Was the early 1900s a good time in american history?
R53 , I must look those things up. I've never heard of most of them.
Question: if it wasn't for the Code, do you think gay rights would be more advanced today?