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Transition in Censorship in Post-War Hollywood

Censorship began to lose its hold on movies during the postwar years for several reasons. The influence of the Production Code Administration (PCA) and the Legion of Decency (LD) waned as these institutions failed to demonstrate precisely defined regulations. Also, a cultural shift concerning sexuality was occurring as this topic became a more mainstream conversation due to things like 1948 Kinsey Report. What’s more, films of the postwar years drew heavily on source material from theater and literature, uncensored mediums whose thematic content reflected as much. Thus, films made during this period manifest censorship’s declining influence. (Casper 121)

The Apartment was a 1960 Misch Corp./MGM picture starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine as C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik, respectively. This film evidences the importance of stage material as its initial concept and was based on Noel Coward’s one-act play, Brief Encounter. Baxter uses sex to get promotions at work: he allows his bosses to use his apartment as a place to have extramarital affairs with various female employees. The film treats affairs as commonplace; the entire office seems to engage in them regularly. A wild office party shows the employees carrying on in such a way that you’d think the world would end if they didn’t prove that the Kinsey Reports had merit.

These affairs represent both extramarital and premarital sex as the men are married and in high office positions while the women are single and professionally subordinate secretaries and elevator girls. Furthermore, Ms. Kubelik is not a home-wrecking stereotype. Instead, she is a multidimensional character who agonizes over the status of her relationship. After Sheldrake gives her a $100 gift, she slips off her gloves and coat. He tells her there isn’t time to have sex, to which she dejectedly replies, “I figured since you already paid for it…” Yet, amidst this sordid situation her character is incredibly sympathetic. The audience can hardly judge her for her actions as she emits an irresistible ‘girl next door’ charm.

The Kubelik character touches upon another once-taboo topic. When it seems clear that Sheldrake will never leave his wife, she attempts to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Suicide as a plot point was able to be present thanks to films like William Wyler’s Detective Story (1951), for which the PCA decided suicide could be dealt with as long as it was never “justified, glorified, or used to defeat the…law (Casper 133).

Lover Come Back is also an example of censorship’s changing era. The film stars Doris Day and Rock Hudson as Carol Templeton and Jerry Webster, rival professionals who work for Madison Avenue advertising firms. This sex comedy was significant as the issues it raised were the same issues that America was dealing with at the time. The Kinsey Reports, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), created a new image of the male and female.

Sex was newly posited as a form of pleasure, not as a means to an end, such as marriage. Previously, the notion of the ‘single life’ didn’t exist; now the culture began to view the single life as a satisfying possibility. Jerry Webster is an example of a man living such a life. His tactics for securing advertising accounts involves wining and dining his clients with alcohol and women. He has no qualms about premarital sex and uses reverse psychology in an attempt to get rival Carol Templeton into bed. Consequently, Ms. Templeton also inhabits a screen taboo as she, the virginal woman, unwittingly becomes the aggressor and initiator of seduction.

Romance, in this type of comedy, is superseded by sex. The ease in censorship allowed sexual double entendre to be used in the film’s dialogue. Hudson’s masquerading character says, “As my brother the missionary said, ‘knock and you will be taken in…Ms. Templeton, I’m taking you in.” The sexual overtones occur not just in language, but extend to the props and décor, from the penis-shaped wax can, to Tony Randall’s broken ‘cane,’ or Hudson’s daisy twirling after the strip show. Doris Day and Rock Hudson both had clean personas and as such, censors did not perceive their performance to be too vulgar.

Casper, Drew. Postwar Hollywood: 1946-1962. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Glitre, Kathrina. Hollywood Romantic Comedy: States of the Union, 1934-1965. United Kingdom: Manchester UP, 2006.

Film Romantic Hollywood History


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