Censoring and Selling Film Noir

Sheri Chinen Biesen

Abstract


Film noir is known for its duplicity. Industry censors considered 1940s noir cinema provocative, salacious and ‘sordid.’ Hollywood studios walked a fine line between appearing to comply with Hays office Production Code censorship while simultaneously pushing the envelope of its moral constraints, then hyping and sensationalizing censorable sex, violence and hard-hitting themes to sell noir films to the public. In fact, studios capitalized on the racy explicit nature of noir pictures in publicity contradicting assurances of censorial compliance. For instance, censor Joseph Breen was “shocked” when MGM purchased James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. It was banned for a decade. Yet, ten years later as filmmakers adapted hardboiled fiction, Breen assured religious groups it would “not be offensive.” Yet, it was promoted as “torrid,” “too hot to handle” with Lana Turner in a bathing suit finding “Love at Laguna Beach” with hunky John Garfield who clamored, “You must be a she-devil,” suggesting far more sex, skin and “savage boldness” than is shown in the film. Film noir responded to Production Code censorship and other regulatory factors, including Office of War Information Bureau of Motion Pictures restrictions on Hollywood screen depictions of the domestic American home front (or overseas combat front), and Office of Censorship strictures such as a wartime ban on screen gangsters as ‘un-American’ for propaganda purposes in World War II-era noir films centering on criminals. These multiple censorship entities often collided. This regulatory climate catalyzed the development of film noir, a dark cycle of shadowy 1940s-50s crime films that boomed by World War II and evolved over the postwar era. I will investigate extensive primary archival research—including scripts, memos from industry censors, writers, directors, producers, and publicity records—to compare how film noir was censored and sold.


Keywords


Censorship; Film Noir; Hollywood Cinema; Motion Picture Production Code; Film

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References


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Filmography

Double Indemnity, Dir. Billy Wilder, U.S.A., 1944.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, Dir. Tay Garnett, U.S.A., 1946.




DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/1386

NBN: http://nbn.depositolegale.it/urn%3Anbn%3Ait%3Aunica-16967

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