In his lively and interesting introduction to the Warner Brothers/First National Pictures 1933 film, Employees’ Entrance, on Sunday — as part of the Virginia Film Festival — the legendary film critic and historian Leonard Maltin opened with a brief history lesson about Motion Picture Production Code, noting that even prior to its having been formally introduced, it was still possible to produce a film in which the “sin” of adultery was committed, so long as some punishment was depicted in the lives of the individuals who had violated the prevailing proscription against it.
The film in question, Employees’ Entrance, directed by Roy Del Ruth, which featured stunning performances by the seasoned professional at age 39, Warren William, in the role of Kurt Anderson; and the also season 20 year-old Loretta Young in the role of Madeline. Young had made her first appearance as a child, in the 1917 film, Sirens of the Sea at the age of four.
Employees’ Entrance was in the first stages of production — having been adapted from a play of David Boehm, who contributed to the screenplay along with screenwriter Robert Presnell — at about the same time that the Motion Picture Association of America, initially adopted the Motion Picture Production Code in 1930, destined to be the forerunner of the far more stringent Production Code Administration (PCA) adopted as an amendment to the Motion Picture Production Code, itself, which required all films released on or after July 1, 1934, to obtain “a certificate of approval” before their being released.
The transition from silent films to sound films, often referred to as “talkies.” was regarded by those of a rigorous approach to the practice of their faith as Christians, to be a threat to the concepts of virtue and self-discipline that would lead impressionable youth toward a path of self-indulgence and a lack of respect for authority, which in turn was seen to be a danger to the American way of life and of the undermining of the kinds of moral discipline that would allow for young people to accept the responsibilities of self-government in a democratic system that was still somewhat fragile, a little more than 100 years after the death of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, on the same day, as the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of Independence Day, on July 4, 1826,
All movies – from 1930 to 1967 – were governed by a Production Code, which went through several iterations over that period of time, and there is a website which had reproduced the Code, providing specific examples of situations in which the application of the Code prevented certain stories and scenes from being produced.
The following language of the Preamble to the Code, and the General Principles should shed further light upon the motivations of those who believed this kind of ‘fettering’ was most advisable, and their reasons in support of this approach, which is so very difficult for today’s audiences – and today’s electorate – to comprehend; but which will be nonetheless useful to hear, perhaps, by way of consideration for our own time and place:
Motion picture producers recognize the high trust and confidence which have been placed in them by the people of the world and which have made motion pictures a universal form of entertainment.
They recognize their responsibility to the public because of this trust and because entertainment and art are important influences in the life of a nation.
Hence, though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.
During the rapid transition from silent to talking pictures they realized the necessity and the opportunity of subscribing to a Code to govern the production of talking pictures and of acknowledging this responsibility.
On their part, they ask from the public and from public leaders a sympathetic understanding of their purposes and problems and a spirit of cooperation that will allow them the freedom and opportunity necessary to bring the motion picture to a still higher level of wholesome entertainment for all the people.
1. No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin.
2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.”