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Production Code Administration

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Production Code Administration

The Production Code Administration (PCA) was established by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) in 1934 to enforce the Motion Picture Production Code. The PCA required all filmmakers to submit their films for approval before release.

Motion Picture Production Code

The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral censorship guidelines that governed the production of most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It was also popularly known as the Hays Code, after Hollywood's chief censor of the time, Will H. Hays.

The MPPDA, which later became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), adopted the code in 1930, began enforcing it in 1934, and abandoned it in 1968, in favor of the subsequent MPAA film rating system. The Production Code spelled out what was acceptable and what was unacceptable content for motion pictures produced for a public audience in the United States.

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The Films of Alfred Hitchcock

In the spring of 1935, British studio head Michael Balcon travelled to America to sign deals to distribute Gaumont-British films. During the visit, he met with PCA officials to learn more about the Code and to ensure the studio's films — including The 39 Steps — didn't fall foul of censorship.

I was very much impressed by my talks with Will H. Hays and Joseph I. Breen, Production Code Administrator, while I was in Hollywood. They explained the machinery to me and I became convinced of its practicability. After all, the code is in work here; pictures made in Hollywood and under it have improved. If we in England want distribution in this market, it is entirely logical that we should be prepared to observe the code principles.
 — Balcon quoted in Motion Picture Daily (20/Apr/1935)

During Hitchcock's years in Hollywood, the heads of the PCA office were Joseph Breen[1] (until 1954) and then Geoffrey Shurlock (1954-68). The director frequently tussled with the Production Code Administration, and especially Shurlock, over the content of his screenplays and what could be shown on the screen.

Several of Hitchcock's screenwriters have claimed that the director would often add redundant scenes or dialogue which he knew the PCA would disallow, as he suspected this would distract the office from potentially objectionable material that he wanted to keep in the final film.

Bathrooms and Toilets

[Joseph] Breen goes to the bathroom every morning. He does not deny that he does so or that there is such a place as the bathroom, but he feels that neither his actions nor the bathroom are fit subjects for screen entertainment.
 — Val Lewton, screenwriter/producer[2]

A common theme through Hitchcock's films is the use of bathrooms as a location, something which the Code frowned upon, and very occasionally the initials "B.M.", which could stand for "bowel movement".[3] Psycho (1960) is often named as being the first Hollywood feature film to show a flushing toilet.

Daisy takes a bath
  • The Lodger (1927) — Daisy Bunting is seen taking a bath
  • Murder! (1930) — Sir John Menier is seen shaving in his bathroom
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) — Bob Lawrence finds an important message hidden in a shaving brush in Louis Bernard's hotel bathroom
  • Secret Agent (1936) — Richard Ashenden and Elsa Carrington examine an encoded note in their hotel bathroom and a toilet is clearly visible in the background
  • The Lady Vanishes (1938) — Miss Froy hides in a train compartment bathroom
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) — Jeff Custer and his parents use a noisy office bathroom to have a private conversation
  • Shadow of a Doubt (1943) — the ring Uncle Charlie gives to his niece is inscribed with the initials "B.M."
  • Lifeboat (1944) — John Kovac has a tattoo with the initials "B.M."
  • Spellbound (1945) — Dr. Anthony Edwardes enters into a trance whilst shaving in his bathroom
  • Rear Window (1954) — Stella tells Jeff about when she nursed a director of General Motors, who claimed to be suffering from a kidney ailment: "When General Motors has to go to the bathroom 10 times a day, the whole country's ready to let go."
  • The Trouble with Harry (1955) — Harry's body is briefly concealed in bathtub
  • Roger ponders Eve's little razor
    North by Northwest (1959) — Roger Thornhill hides in the restroom of a train and then the bathroom in Eve Kendall's compartment, evades detection in a railway station washroom whilst we hear the sound of the detectives checking the toilet cubicles, and then changes out of his suit in Kendall's hotel bathroom
  • Psycho (1960) — Marion Crane uses a car salesman's restroom to count out money, later flushes a ripped up sheet of paper down her motel room toilet and is then killed in a bathroom
  • Marnie (1964) — Marnie Edgar washes her ink-stained blouse in an office restroom and later hides in a restroom stall
  • Torn Curtain (1966) — Michael Armstrong is seen taking a shower and then later decodes a message whilst resting a book on a toilet cistern
  • Topaz (1969) — Luis Uribe and Philippe Dubois meet in Uribe's hotel bathroom, and André Devereaux examines smuggled microfilm in the toilet of an airplane
  • Frenzy (1972) — Bob Rusk hides in a roadside café toilet
  • Family Plot (1976) — the kidnappers have a modern chemical toilet in their secret lair

The 39 Steps (1935)

Carroll and Donat share a bed

According to Aubrey Malone's book Censoring Hollywood: Sex and Violence in Film and on the Cutting Room Floor (2011), Hitchcock managed to side-step the Production Code's ban on showing unmarried couples sharing the same bed — in fact, the Code stipulated that unmarried couples couldn't even be shown sleeping in the same room — by having Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat handcuffed together when they first climb onto the bed.[4]

The original script for the film included a coda apparently designed to placate the British censor — following the death of Mr. Memory at the London Palladium, Carroll and Donat leave in a taxi and he explains that, under Scottish law, registering as "Mr and Mrs Henry Hopkinson" at the inn was a public declaration of marriage and so the night they spent together was as man and wife. A publicity still exists from the taxi scene, implying that it was actually filmed but not included in the final edit.[5]

Jamaica Inn (1939)

According to writer Sidney Gilliat, the Production Code would not allow "a clergyman to be the villain". Producer Erich Pommer, keen to ensure the film would be shown in the US, insisted that the occupation of the film's villain, Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), be altered to make him a Justice of the Peace.[6]

Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca's lingerie

The Production Code did not allow criminals to get away with their crimes, so the key plot reveal from Daphne du Maurier's book — that Rebecca manipulated Max into killing her so that she wouldn't suffering a slow lingering death from cancer — was altered to imply that her death was accidental and that Max (Laurence Olivier) was not responsible.[7]

Hitchcock's initial script had strongly implied a homoerotic relationship between Rebecca and her housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson) which the PCA office regarded as "quite inescapable inferences of sex perversion" and the offending dialogue was removed. However, the final film still retains hints of the relationship, particularly when Mrs. Danvers strokes Rebecca's lingerie whilst talking to the second Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine).[8]

Mr. and Mrs Smith (1941)

knocking pipes

Approximately 70 minutes into the film, Jeff Custer (Gene Raymond), Mrs. Custer (Lucile Watson) and her husband (Philip Merivale) use an office bathroom to hold a private conversation. Hitchcock had originally wanted their conversation to be repeatedly interrupted by the sound of flushing toilets from the floor above, but officials at RKO, fearing objections from the PCA Office, overruled the director and the sounds heard in the film are of knocking pipes.[9]

The film is also an example of the "comedy of remarriage" genre, popular in the early 1940s, which used divorce as a plotline to circumvent the Production Code's ban on "explicit references to or attempts to justify adultery and illicit sex".[10]

Notorious (1946)

Grant and Bergman

According to the section on "Sex" in the Production Code, "The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld ... Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown." The unofficial rule of thumb was that screen kisses were not allowed to last for more than 3 seconds.

Hitchcock successfully circumvented this in Notorious by having Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant repeatedly kiss for short periods of time, whilst being interrupted by a telephone conversation. Bergman later recalled, "We just kissed each other and talked, leaned away and kissed each other again ... the censors couldn't and didn't cut the scene because we never at any one point kissed for more than three seconds ... we nibbled on each other's ears, and kissed a cheek, so that it looked endless."[11]

The Paradine Case (1947)

prison cell without toilet

According to biographer Donald Spoto, Joseph Breen made a number of objections to the various script drafts submitted to the PCA Office for approval, including:

  • the design of Alida Valli's prison cell could not include a toilet
  • profanities such as "Good God!" and "Good Lord!" should be removed
  • the phrase "disorderly house" (referring to an untidy house) must be removed as it could be interpreted as meaning a brothel
  • "in the scene in the bathroom, it would be advisable to omit any showing of Gregory Peck in the bath, even by suggestion, in order to avoid showing a man and a woman in the bathroom at the same time"

Rear Window (1954)

Georgine Darcy as Miss Torso

The PCA office rejected the initial cut of Rear Window and in particular raised objections to a scene where Miss Torso appeared to be topless. According to screenwriter John Michael Hayes, Hitchcock had done this on purpose to divert the PCA's attention from other parts of the film that he had suspected they might object to. The scene was easily replaced with an alternative non-topless take.[12]

The PCA also raised concerns about Grace Kelly's nightgown being "too unconventional."[13]

To Catch a Thief (1955)

sexual fireworks

The PCA were unhappy with some of the more risqué dialogue in To Catch a Thief and especially with the Cary Grant and Grace Kelly hotel room romance scene that ended with a sexually symbolic firework display. Although Breen wrote to Paramount's PCA liaison Luigi Luraschi asking explicitly for the firework display to be removed, Hitchcock retained the scene in the released film. Breen also warned that any scenes showing bikinis would be rejected.[14][15]

According to biographer Patrick McGilligan, to deflect attention from the content he wanted to keep, Hitchcock included a superfluous running gag in which the French plainclothed policeman tailing Grant enjoy looking at postcards of nudes during their surveillance breaks. As the director told composer Lyn Murray, "if I take that out they won't complain so much about the fireworks scene."[16]

The final film is brimming with sexually loaded dialogue, most memorably when Kelly asks Grant if he'd prefer "a leg or a breast" during the picnic scene.

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

the Captain rests his arm

After John Michael Hayes' screenplay was submitted to the PCA for approval, Joseph Breen raised concerns about the sexual overtones of the line "Do you realize you'll be the first man to cross her threshold?", implications that Arnie is illegitimate, and discussions about Jennifer's wedding night[17]

To minimise the risk associated with costly reshoots to appease the PCA, several scenes were shot with alternative action, including the scene where Edmund Gwenn rests his arm on the bosom of the ship's figurehead and the scene where the short-sighted doctor trips over Harry's body.[18]

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Vertigo (1958)

"What's this doohickey?"

In his book Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, author Dan Auiler details the various issues the PCA Office and Geoffrey Shurlock raised during the production of Vertigo, including:

  • Concerns about the initial dialogue between Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Scottie (James Stewart) regarding the brassiere design and the discussion about Midge's love life.
  • Following Madeleine's (Kim Novak) jump into the water at Fort Point, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, there were objections to her undergarments being shown drying in Scottie's apartment. During filming, Hitchcock shot two versions of the apartment camera pan: one showing a bra drying on the line in the kitchen and one without. The latter version was used in the final film.
    Kissing at Cypress Point
  • Madeleine and Scottie's kiss at Cypress Point should "conclude on the couple and not pan away to the pounding waves", which was perhaps a reference to Hitchcock's use of fireworks in To Catch a Thief.
  • Shurlock reminded Hitchcock that the Code did not allow criminals to get away with their crimes: "It will, of course, be most important that the indication that Elster will be brought back for trial is sufficiently emphasized".

Shurlock's last concern necessitated the addition of a coda to the shooting script set in Midge's apartment where Midge and Scottie listen to a radio broadcast reporting on Gavin Elster's imminent arrest in Europe. Hitchcock was required to film the scene, not for the foreign market as is often misreported, but to ensure US Production Code compliance. Early during the post-production editing, Hitchcock discarded the scene.[19]

North by Northwest (1959)

train entering the tunnel

The PCA were unhappy with Eve Kendall's line of dialogue "I never make love on an empty stomach" during the dining car scene with Roger Thornhill. Hitchcock later redubbed it in post-production to "I never discuss love on an empty stomach".[20]

When the PCA forced an awkward edit to the ending of North by Northwest to show that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint's characters were now married, Hitchcock seemingly took his revenge by appended a sexually suggestive shot of a train entering a tunnel to the very end of the film — this final shot was apparently added without seeking PCA approval.[21][22]

Psycho (1960)

The PCA Office raised a number of initial objections and concerns with Joseph Stefano's initial script submission, including:

  • Risqué dialogue, such as the Texan oilman's line "Bed? Only playground that beats Las Vegas!"
  • The opening scenes of the lunchtime hotel room tryst between Marion and Sam.
  • Objections to "the very pointed description of an incestuous relationship between Norman and his mother".
Janet Leigh in her underwear

Stefano also recalled a script objection that surprised him:[23]

I had a meeting with some people from the Production Code. You won't believe what upset them more than anything else: the word "transvestite." They said, "You cannot use that word." And I said, "Why? It's a scientific word." And they, apparently, had some preconceived notion that this was very dirty, and that I was trying to put one over on them. So we got a dictionary, and it's "a man who likes to wear women's clothes". I think they were a little embarrassed. I was shocked that they were ready to put their foot down on that.

The PCA Office were also concerned about how the shower scene would be shot, "It will, of course, be necessary to exercise the upmost care in the scenes ... in the bathtub, and of the effort of Norman to dispose of [Marion's] naked body. These scenes, beginning with the time she steps into the tub, will have to be handled with the utmost discretion and good taste."[24]

Once Hitchcock had a completed print of the film ready to send to the PCA Office, it was screened for Paramount's PCA liaison Luigi Luraschi. Hitchcock's assistant Peggy Robertson attended the screening:[23]

So we start running it and Luigi laughs at Hitch's appearance in the film, which took place in the beginning of the film [...] Then comes the shower sequence. We're all sort of looking on placidly. Luigi: "Stop! Stop! My God!" So Hitch said, "Yes, Luigi, what is it?" Luigi: "I saw her breast." "No, you didn't, Luigi. It's just in your dirty mind. You didn't see a breast at all. Yes, we'll run it again." So we ran it again. "Well, Luigi, did you see a breast?" "No, but we're going to be in a lot of trouble with it." [...] We made him realize that he was wrong, that he hadn't seen a breast, that it was a perfectly charming little Sunday afternoon shower sequence, and we sent it off with Luigi to the censor.
filming the shower sequence

As expected, the PCA Office objected to the shower scene, with three of the censors stating they saw nudity but two stating they didn't. The film was returned with strict instructions for Hitchcock to remove any shots of nudity and to then return the newly edited scene for approval. Script supervisor Marshall Schlom recalled that Hitchcock agreed to edit the sequence, but simply sent it back to the PCA Office without making a single change — this time, the censors who had previously seen nudity thought it had been removed, and those who hadn't, claimed they could now see nudity.[25]

The PCA also objected to the length of time Norman watched Marion get undressed through the peep-hole in his office and Hitchcock agreed to shorten the sequence and end it before Marion is seen removing her bra. This sequence was left uncut for the UK and European print of the film and is sometimes shown on European television.[26] Subsequent objections by the National Catholic Legion of Decency also resulted in edits to the sequence where Norman washes blood off his hands and to the shot where "mother" repeatedly stabs the detective.[27]

With the shower scene deadlocked, Hitchcock negotiated with the PCA and reached an agreement whereby he would reshoot the opening sequence — which the censors had also raised objections to as being "entirely too passionate" — if they allowed the shower scene to remain intact. PCA officials were invited to attend the reshoot so that they could ensure the scene was filmed to their satisfaction. According to Schlom:[28]

... [the PCA officials] never showed up, so we never [reshot the opening sequence]. And they finally agreed they didn't see the nudity in the shower sequence which, of course, was there all the time.
Marion's exposed breasts

As Schlom correctly notes, Hitchcock had indeed slipped in some rather obvious nudity into the sequence — when the dying Marion reaches out to grab the shower curtain before collapsing out of the bathtub, her out-of-focus breasts are clearly visible. As actress Janet Leigh filmed all of her sequences wearing patches of pink moleskin over her breasts, it's seem more likely the segment was shot with Leigh's body-double, Marli Renfro.

Joseph Stefano also recalled a shot that he'd added to the shooting script:[23]

I must tell you there is a shot in the shower scene that was never used that is one of the most heartbreaking shots I've ever seen. The camera pulls all the way up, and we look down on the girl lying across the tub and her bottom is bare. There was objections to using that. Perhaps Hitch felt that it wasn't really necessary anyway. There was something very tragic about seeing this beautiful figure with the life gone from it.

It's uncertain if this shot was actually filmed — if it was, it would have been with Renfro rather than Leigh — but it stands as a prime example of the kind of redundant shot that Hitchcock would include purely to misdirect the attention of the PCA Office from other sequences that he wished to keep. In his 1998 remake of Psycho, Gus Van Sant reinstated the overhead shot.

The National Catholic Legion of Decency gave the film a "B" rating ("morally objectionable in part") and stated that the "sensational use of sex and the excessive violence, which partially mar the development of the story, are considered to be entirely lacking in dramatic justification and to be highly objectionable."[27]

The Birds (1963)

eyeless Dan Fawcett

In November 1961, Shurlock wrote to Hitchcock's assistant, Peggy Robertson, to voice concerns over the gruesome nature of the bird attacks and to object to a proposed scene in which Tippi Hedren would be seen dressed in her underwear, "It is unacceptable to show Melanie only in a bra and a skirt. She should be wearing a slip."[29]

A subsequent revised script was passed as acceptable under the Production Code, with the proviso that American Humane Association monitored and approved the scenes which involved live animals. The Humane Association later wrote that the "handling, feeding and care of the birds has been very good" and complaints about the use of animals in the film "were based on rumor or misinformation; it is certainly an unusual picture but there was no harm or mistreatment of the birds in this film."[29]

Hitchcock also anticipated a potential objection to the close up of Dan Fawcett's pecked-out eyes. Rather than zooming into a close-up, he used a series of staccato edit jumps, each one progressively closer to the actor's face — in the event of the PCA objecting, the sequence could then be easily shortened by removing the final jumps.[30]

Frenzy (1972)

actress Susan Travers

Following the introduction of the MPAA film rating system, Hitchcock was able to include nudity in Frenzy using stunt women and also body doubles for Barbara Leigh-Hunt and Anna Massey.

For television screenings of the film, Hitchcock ensured alternative coverage takes were made of the scenes with any nudity or profanity. This included takes in which Susan Travers, who plays the role of the final victim, had her breasts exposed and alternative takes in which they remained covered.[31]

Notes & References

  1. Curiously, Breen's middle name was "Ignatius", which was also the name of the school Hitchcock attended in London.
  2. See Scott Eyman's "Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer", page 190
  3. The number of examples of "B.M." in Hitchcock's work has been greatly exaggerated and only 3 major film characters have those initials: Barbara Morton (Strangers on a Train), Dr. Benjamin McKenna (The Man Who Knew Too Much) and Babs Milligan (Frenzy).
  4. "Censoring Hollywood: Sex and Violence in Film and on the Cutting Room Floor" by Aubrey Malone (2011), page 44
  5. The 39 Steps: A British Film Guide (2003) by Mark Glancy, pages 76-77
  6. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 222-23
  7. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 242
  8. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 249
  9. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) by Donald Spoto, pages 238-39
  10. Wikipedia: Comedy of remarriage
  11. Book Extracts: Ingrid Bergman - "My Story"
  12. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 46
  13. "Censoring Hollywood: Sex and Violence in Film and on the Cutting Room Floor" by Aubrey Malone (2011), page 91
  14. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, pages 105 & 122.
  15. AFI: To Catch a Thief
  16. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 501
  17. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 135
  18. Hitchcock at Work (2000) by Bill Krohn, page 150
  19. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 68-69, 112 and 130
  20. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 573-4
  21. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 574
  22. The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds (2013) by Tony Lee Moral, page 182
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 The Making of Psycho (1997) - transcript
  24. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990) by Stephen Rebello, pages 77-78
  25. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990) by Stephen Rebello, pages 145-146
  26. Movie-Censorship.com: Psycho
  27. 27.0 27.1 AFI Catalog of Feature Films: Psycho
  28. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990) by Stephen Rebello, page 146
  29. 29.0 29.1 The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds (2013) by Tony Lee Moral, page 182
  30. The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds (2013) by Tony Lee Moral, page 132
  31. Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy: The Last Masterpiece (2012) by Raymond Foery, page 62