Censorship code governed films

The play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," with its themes of thwarted sexuality, greed and bitter family relationships, was not likely to emerge intact on its way to becoming a 1958 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play had to run through the censorship gauntlet known as the Hays Code.

Adopted in 1930 and named for its creator William Hays, the code listed rules for moviemakers and stayed in force until 1968, when a ratings system was adopted.

The Hays Code was a way for the film industry to police itself and avoid government censorship following the rapid transition from silent movies to "talking pictures."

The code warned filmmakers that "the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin."

Murder techniques and methods for cracking safes and dynamiting trains were off-limits.

Scenes of passion were only to be introduced when essential to the plot, and filmmakers were told that "excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown."

Any references to "sexual perversion" were forbidden.

Also, "White slavery shall not be treated," the code said.

Sexual relationships between black and white people could not be shown.

Swearing, nudity, suggestive dancing and any ridiculing of religion was off limits.

"Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used as comic characters or as villains," the code said.

The criminal justice system had to be portrayed as fair, although an individual police officer or judge could be depicted as corrupt.

Movies were supposed to improve the moral character of the human race, and not degrade humans, the code said.

"So correct entertainment raises the whole standard of a nation. Wrong entertainment lowers the whole living conditions and moral ideals of a race," the code said.

"Morally evil" art included "unclean art, indecent books, and suggestive drama," the code warned.

The motion picture industry had special moral obligations because of its mass, popular nature. A movie is more vivid than a book, and brings a story "closer to the audience than the play," the code asserted.

The Hays Code especially warned filmmakers about portraying types of evil-doing that could be alluring to audiences, such as sexual misdeeds, daring thefts and revenge killings.

The code said that the portrayal of those actions "needs great care in handling, as the response of human nature to their appeal is obvious."

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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