Hollywood has a long history of censorship and self-regulation. The Production Code of 1930, also known also as the Hays Code, after then-president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) Will Hays, affected the content and distribution of all films produced in Hollywood regarding profanity, nudity, sexuality, and other potentially offensive situations (as determined by Hays and his office). In large part, the studios found self-regulation preferable to the threat of regulation by the government; but also wanted the seal of the MPPDA on their films to improve their chance of success at the box office. Studios voluntarily submitted their scripts to the Hays Office, which then gave detailed commentary. However, the recommendations were not always followed. In 1934, the Hays Code was made more powerful in joining forces with the Catholic-controlled Legion of Decency, which had the ability to call for boycotts throughout the nation if films didn't pass muster. This potential financial threat to the studios proved most effective in controlling content of films. After 1966, as social mores changed, censorship was more characterized by the response of the viewing public, which sometimes led to individual municipalities removing scenes from films or outright refusing to show them, or boycotts or other expressions of disapproval from the movie-goers themselves.


For reasons unknown, director and choreographer Busby Berkeley seemed to be able to skirt all requirements of the Hays Code that so hampered other directors. Perhaps the generally wholesome quality of musicals overcame any concerns about any erotic subtexts. The film The Gang's All Here features Carmen Miranda and a chorus line doing the suggestive "banana dance" with five-foot bananas--banned abroad, but embraced in America.

The Gang's All Here, 1943

The Gang's All Here, 1943
Alice Faye
Carmen Miranda
Busby Berkeley, dir.

Groucho Marx was the king of sexual innuendo. A little wiggling of his eyebrows, mustache, and cigar merely enhanced the raunchy dialog, and the censors would see red. Groucho's original line in Monkey Business was as follows: "You bet I'm shy. I'm a shyster lawyer. And who are you, he countered roguishly, his beautiful white body aching to be held." It was changed to: "You bet I'm shy. I'm a shyster lawyer." Later in this scene, the script originally read: "I know, you're a misunderstood woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, polish your frame and oil your joints, but you have to stay in the garage all night." It was changed to: "I know, you're a misunderstood woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you have to stay in the garage all night."

Monkey Business, 1931

Monkey Business, 1931
The Marx Brothers
Thelma Todd
Norman Z. McLeod, dir.

If Groucho Marx was the king of sexual innuendo, Mae West was the queen. West's movies were suggestive enough that they were partially the impetus for the strengthening of the Hays Code in 1934, which sought to protect innocent movie-goers from certain defilement. She Done Him Wrong has a famous, but frequently misquoted, line of dialog that would send the censors scurrying for the scissors in the not-too-distant future: "Why don't you come up sometime and see me. I'm home every evening."

She Done Him Wrong, 1933

She Done Him Wrong, 1933
Mae West
Cary Grant
Lowell Sherman, dir.

A mischievous moment in Bringing Up Baby somehow escaped notice of the Hays Office. This particularly chaotic scene shows Cary Grant running around in a frilly women's bathrobe. When a matronly dowager appears at the door and questions why he's dressed in women's clothing, an exasperated Grant yells, "Because I just turned gay all of a sudden!" It probably slipped through because the slang word was relatively new at the time, and the objection wasn't raised until after the film was released.

Bringing Up Baby, 1938

Bringing Up Baby, 1938
Cary Grant
Katherine Hepburn
Howard Hawks, dir.

The classic film Casablanca was set in Northern Africa in WWII contrasted a love affair with the desperation of people trying to escape the war. Captain Renault, played with likeable amorality by Claude Rains, required sexual favors from women who wanted visas to America. This aspect of Rains' character was considerably toned down after the Hays Office read the script. Similarly, the love affair between Rick and Ilsa was originally more "illicit": Ilsa rendez-voused with Rick in Paris while her husband was away on business. After the censors got hold of the script, the husband was "killed off" to lessen the sense of impropriety of a married woman cheating on her husband.

Casablanca, 1942

Casablanca, 1942
Humphrey Bogart
Ingrid Bergman
Claude Rains
Michael Curtiz, dir.

Objectionable in The African Queen was the "immoral relationship" between a missionary and a grizzled boat captain during WWI: the two main characters cohabitate without benefit of marriage. Other problems were found in the script: "The sound of stomach-growlings seems in rather questionable taste"; and the film "ridiculed missionaries" and may be found offensive "to people of serious religious conviction." The director was asked to "delete reference to 'hymn-singing Methodists' and all nudity. Kissing should not be "passionate, lustful, or open-mouthed," and even the expression "on our behinds" was to be removed.

The African Queen, 1951

The African Queen, 1951
Humphrey Bogart
Katherine Hepburn
John Huston, dir.

Tennessee Williams, screenwriter Set in steamy, seductive New Orleans, this film was censored for the moral ambiguity of its characters. Tennessee Williams created men and women that were sometimes appealing, other times brutal, but always charged with sexual tension. Scenes in A Streetcar Named Desire about Blanche Dubois' infidelities were removed from the original 1951 version but later made available.

A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951

A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
Vivien Leigh
Marlon Brando
Elia Kazan, dir.

The Hays Code forbid the showing of a married couple with a double bed. Some scenes from the popular 1950's sit-com I Love Lucy, show Lucy in "her" bed, clearly distanced from Ricky's. Another episode showed how "I Love Lucy" pushed the edges of the envelope by dealing with Lucy's pregnancy, a topic also previously forbidden. The script managed to carefully dance around the term "pregnant" for 30 minutes without actually having a character utter it.

I Love Lucy, 1952

I Love Lucy, 1952
Lucille Ball
Ricky Ricardo