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canbelto

Yet another movie thread: Hays code

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I've been watching a lot of old movies recently and I've been wondering whether the Hays code ironically made movies better, sexier, and more daring than they are today. The code was in many ways ridiculous (no kiss longer than 3 seconds, no "taboo" subjects such as homosexuality, adultery had to be punished, etc.). But in a way I think it made directors and actors think "outside the box" (pun intended). Movies in the Hays code era seemed to rely more on body language, witty repartee, and vague suggestions that are still shocking today. For instance I was watching East of Eden, and the famous Ferris wheel scene. Abra gives this speech about how much she loves Aron, but you can see her inching closer and closer to Cal until she's practically sitting in his lap. When they finally kiss I dare say it's hotter than Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone writhing in "Basic Instinct."

I love how directors suggested the taboo with a choice line here or there. Only in the Hays era could you have a character as subtly gay as Captain Renault, who says he "would be in love with Rick." Or the wide-eyed adoration Sal Mineo shows towards James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Profanity was also outlawed, and so I love the insults old Hollywood came up with. "You're like a leaf blown from gutter to gutter." "You despise me Rick." "If I gave you any thought I probably would." "She's my idea of nothing." "She can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. The triple threat."

I still love movies that are made today, but as I watch old movies I'm often jolted out of my complacency by how imaginative the directors and screenwriters were back in the day. I love their use of phallic symbols, particularly their use of cigarettes.

Anyone else have a favorite "Hays code" moment?

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Not to take anything away from your point, canbelto, which is a good one, but I remember movies from before the production code. There was considerably more nudity, for one thing. With the code, Tarzan and Jane, who'd been wearing the scantiest of costumes when I first saw them, turned boringly modest.

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One thing I noticed about code movies is the odd fetishes that pop up. For instance, all femme fatales will have flowing, wavy tresses. When two characters do not like each other, they will inevitably chain smoke and blow it in each other's faces. "Good" girls will be dressed in white or blue or other neutral tones. "Bad" girls are dressed in red or black. Studying Code movies is almost like studying a whole new language.

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I remember several scenes of lovers embracing passionately -- followed by a cut or pan away from the bed(s) and to the firepace. The flames burst upward.

On the other hand, there are rules about the depiction of violence that might enhance the pleasure (and social utility) of movies today.

QUOTE:

"Particular Applications

1. Murder

a. The technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation.

b. Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail.

c. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.

2. Methods of Crime should not be explicitly presented"

Thanks, Mme. Hermine, for the link to the fascinating artifact.

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Wikipedia has a good entry on the Code, here. While it’s true that less is sometimes more, I think the negatives of the Code far outweighed any positives. The Wikipedia entry will indicate what I mean.

The Code was a boon to certain genres – the great era of screwball comedy was a direct outgrowth of the advent of censorship, I think – and encouraged the proliferation of musicals, adventure stories, etc. – types of pictures where the naturalistic or realistic depiction of events wasn’t central or even especially desirable.

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Anyone else have a favorite "Hays code" moment?

Alfonso Bedoya as Gold Hat in "The Treasure of The Sierra Madre"

"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."

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I think my new favorite Hays code line (as it only could have been dreamed up under the Hays code) is Ninotchka's "Chemically we are already quite sympathetic."

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Hmmm... the comic phrasing comes from Ninotchka’s bureaucratic and technical background and her characteristic way of denying the emotions. I don’t think it’s necessarily an evasion of the Code. (You could also rephrase it more explicitly and it would still be funny.) A scene from that movie that could be described as a way of getting around the rules would be the hotel scene with the cigarette girls, I think.

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