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production code

Article from Katz's Film Encyclopedia

A self-regulatory code of ethics created in 1930 by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (M.P.P.D.A.), under Will H. Hays, and put into strict effect on July 1, 1934, with Joseph I. Breen as director of the Code Administration. The code set forth general standards of "good taste" and specific do's and don't's concerning what could and could not be shown in American movies. Among the general principles of the code was the requirement that "no picture shall be produced which will lower the standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin."

The specific regulations included the following typical examples: "Revenge in modern times shall not be justified"; "Methods of crime shall not be explicitly presented"; "Illegal drug traffic must never be presented"; "The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted or common thing"; "Scenes of passion should not be introduced when not essential to the plot"; "Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embracing, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown"; "Seduction or rape should be never more than suggested … They are never the proper subject for comedy"; "Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden"; "Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden"; "Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures"; "Children's sex organs are never to be exposed"; "Pointed profanity (this includes the words God, Lord, Jesus, Christ—unless used reverently—Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd), or other profane or vulgar expressions, however used, is forbidden"; "Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden"; "Ministers of religion … should not be used as comic characters or as villains."

As compared with its strict language regarding the treatment of sex, the code was lenient on the presentation of violence, requiring only that "actual hangings or electrocutions … brutality and possibly gruesomeness … be treated within the careful limits of good taste." In any case, the Production Code, modified only slightly over the years, had a profound and far-reaching effect on American cinema. Its seal of approval was denied any film that did not meet its morality standards, a risk few producers dared take. Only occasionally would the effectiveness of the Production Code Seal be tested by such producers as Howard Hughes (THE OUTLAW) and Otto Preminger (THE MOON IS BLUE). But the pressure of social change, Supreme Court decisions concerning obscenity, and civil liberties groups, brought a sweeping revision in the code in 1966. The new code still paid tribute to virtue and condemned sin but suggested restraint in treating sexual themes on the screen, rather than forbidding them outright, and corrected the balance by forbidding explicit detail of violence and brutality. In 1968 a Rating system was put into effect, classifying films according to their suitability for viewing by the young.