The great depression and roaring twenties era in America lead to Hollywood producing what some thought of as a constant succession of sordid and immoral films; films that revolved around crime, sin and infidelity. This led to the creation of ‘the production code’ “adopted in 1930 to roll back the profligacy of the 1920s and Set a reformed America again on the path of righteousness in the new harsher decade” (Doherty, p 6). Throughout this essay I will examine the
ways in which the regulations the production code put in place affected Hollywood narratives throughout the 1930s. As well as examining the strong difference in regulation between the early and late 1930s.
The Production code, also known as the Hayes code (named after Will H. Hayes president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America), was written by Martin Quigley a Roman Catholic layman and Father Daniel Lord a Jesuit priest. As a result the whole document contained strong religious connotations. The code was designed to address the “evinced concern for the proper nurturing of the young and the protection of women, demanded due respect or indigenous ethnics and foreign peoples, and sought to uplift the low orders and convert the criminal mentality“ (Doherty, p 6). The code contained two main categories of regulations. Firstly based around general principles and a moral vision and then secondly around particular applications. This was a list detailing material that should be forbidden from Hollywood films.
However the appointed head of the Hayes office committee, Jason Joy was not a strong enforcer of the codes regulations. This led to the era of 1930- 1934 to be known as the pre –code a time in which the rules of the Hayes code were often ignored by filmmakers. As a result narratives of films made in the early 1930s were not greatly affected by the code and continued to be what some considered as sinful and outrageous as ever. The code was viewed as a mockery that no studio took seriously with Variety magazine stating in 1933 “producers have reduced the Hays Production code to sieve-like proportions and are deliberately out-smarting their own document ” (Doherty, p8).
Several films released throughout the early 1930s contained uncensored controversial narrative elements. For example the film Red Dust (1932, Victor Fleming) released in the middle of the pre-code era contains many elements that clearly do not abide by many of the rules and moral guidelines set in place. Clark Gable stars as Denis Carson a rubber plantation owner who drinks a lot of alcohol and is often shown to be bare chested. The story revolves around a love triangle between Carson, bar hostess Vantine and Barbara Willis, wife of Gary Willis who is one of Carson’s workers on the plantation. The narrative does not adhere to the code for many reasons. The uses of excessive amounts of alcohol are frequently portrayed, unnecessary amounts of skin are shown and Vantine is known to be on the run from the authorities in Saigon. A factor, which suggests she has participated in criminal activity of some kind. Additionally it is implied that the character of Vantine is a prostitute, an implication that was not concealed enough to fool a 1930s audience.
The affair between Carlton Barbara Willis was seen as “violating propriety and the
bonds of matrimony with impunity” (Doherty, 14). The sin made worse by the fact the couple certified the relation ship by the narrative implying they had adulterous sexual relations. The constant disregard for the rules of the Hayes code in the narrative of this Red Dust are portrayed even more indefinitely within the conclusion of the film. This is as there is no slight indication that the characters pay a price for their moral wrong doings. Barbara returns to her husband and Carson turns his attentions back to the eagerly waiting Vantine. The last camera shot of the film shows Carson fondling Vantine as she nurses him. This provides the...
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