The Hays Code in Film Noir

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The Hays Code in Film Noir
The Motion Picture Production Code, commonly known as the Hays Code, was adopted in March 1930, though it was not truly enforced until four years later in 1934. This set of rules had tremendously influenced the way Hollywood movies were made for a number of years. This code was based on the ethics and norms if that time. There were three main principals of the Hays Code. The first was no picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standard of those who see it. What was meant by this was that sympathy should not be portrayed towards crimes, wrongdoings, evil or sins. The second stated that only a correct standard of living could be presented that are only subject to the requirements of drama and entertainment. Lastly, was that the law could not be ridiculed whether it be natural or human and if so it should not create sympathy in spite of it. In addition to the general principles there were twelve particular applications of the code. Both had additional reasoning supporting the preamble of the code as well. The first five applications that I feel were the most influential on film noir in regards to meeting the standard, touch on the subjects of crimes against the law, sex, vulgarity, obscenity and profanity. Many feel that The Hays Code had a negative impact on movies made under its authority at the time. Part of this is because it restricted audiences from coming up with their own interpretation of the films and did not give the option for people to reject suggestions made by movies and directors. The goal of the writers of the code was to use the power of social influence to provide a common morality for society as a whole, in turn reaching a mass amount of individuals. The rationality behind this seems as if the intention was good but in reality it presented a sort of propaganda of the time. Not only did this play a role in movie making but politics as well. Examples that can be looked at as similar in conception to The Hays Code include those of Hitler and Marx. All three refer to a crowds experience as a whole and praise the idea of influence of mass suggestion. Hitler only allowed selective information to be conveyed to people under his power in order to reinforce his beliefs which ultimately inhibited people from the ability to think or know otherwise. Parallel to Hitler’s practices, the writers of the Hays Code were worried that viewers were going to make a connection between what movies seemed to do to peoples and the potential threat of mass riots resulting from that. This partly had to do with the fear of communism at that time in the United States and the potential for movies to create powerful collective emotions. By banning anything that would possibly give society to think outside of the box they felt that they were protecting not only the country as a whole but the people too. Film noir in particular was affected by the Hays code in many ways. The films by nature are set up to be dark and corrupt where the characters are greedy driven by sexual gains. With the ethical code in place it made it difficult for film noir directors to create their hardboiled stories. Often the characters and storylines of many of the movies deviate from the code and had to make readjustments. It was common for directors to have to omit scene from their films that contained unacceptable acts of crime, violence or sexual innuendos in regards to the code. Elaborating a little more on the link to Hitler, an important influence on the genre as a whole was German expressionism. This was due to with the German disconnect with society and government of that era. Under the Hays Code it was near impossible to portray this discontent attitude in a film. There are numerous examples of the Hays Code in movies such as The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and Kiss Me Deadly. By simply watching these films it may not be apparent to the average viewer where the code had an impact but with further research...
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