Sunday, May 04, 2008

Mae West: Canada's Censors

Thinking back to MAE WEST's battles with the censors, Bruce Kirkland emphasizes: "Canada's controversial bill C-10 is nothing more than the Production Code." In fact, it is the central point in his column "Mae West DVD transcends time — — Scandalous 1933 Mae West classic still relevant today."
• • Bruce Kirkland writes: In the Mae West classic She Done Him Wrong, the buxom Bowery beauty famously drawls: "When women go wrong, men go right after them!"
• • That was just the kind of salty dialogue that agitated Hollywood censors in 1933. Even more so because West's first starring vehicle was electric with other bon mots, such as her immortal, sexual invitation to Cary Grant: "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"
• • She Done Him Wrong, new to DVD this week, was a box-office smash that saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. It even scored an Oscar nom as best picture. Audiences loved West's outrageous quips, not to mention her sashaying hips.
• • Within a year, the forces of right-wing, American heartland repression had marshalled. Amid the roil of the Great Depression, they quickly forced Hollywood to censor itself on moral grounds. The Production Code, written up in 1930 but widely ignored, would finally be enforced -- for the next three decades.
• • Hollywood capitulated for many reasons: Anti-Semitism against the Jewish studio heads, producers and writers; the power of the Catholic Church to denounce movies from the pulpit; the fear that government would censor if Hollywood studios did not do it for themselves; and the financial burden of the Depression, including an industry dilemma involving local censorship and the mutilation of prints.
• • In that context, She Done Him Wrong is even more relevant today than just qualifying as camp entertainment.
• • Director Lowell Sherman's bawdy opus is part of the Universal Cinema Classics series. Also new is: Mitchell Leisen's screwball comedy Easy Living (1937), starring Jean Arthur; Billy Wilder's directorial debut The Major and the Minor (1942), starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland; and another Leisen comedy, Midnight, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche.
• • None but West's movie is controversial. Enforcement of the Production Code under Will Hays, and his zealous henchman Joseph Breen, guaranteed blandness.
• • But the raunchy She Done Him Wrong, a loose adaptation of West's own stage play Diamond Lil, remains potent for what it shows about Hollywood — — and audiences — — in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Coming out of the silent era, filmmakers wanted to develop an adult maturity in the telling of stories about adult relationships. Films indulged in nudity, sexual frankness, infidelity, abuse, violence, betrayal, female liberation and even homosexuality and lesbianism. Some did so just to titillate or shock. Others to showcase reality.
• • This is dealt with in a fascinating 2008 documentary, Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. It is tucked away in a splendid, two-disc box set, Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume Two.
• • The Warner Bros. set includes five licentious movies of the era: The Divorcee (1930), A Free Soul (1931), Night Nurse (1931), Three On A Match (1932) and Female (1933). Volume One of Forbidden Hollywood was released in December, 2006, with Waterloo Bridge (1931), Red-headed Woman (1932) and Baby Face (1933). None is a second-rate throwaway. Femme stars include Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Mae Clark, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer and Joan Blondell, often playing women in free-wheeling sexual situations. Stanwyck openly sleeps her way up a bank's corporate ladder in Baby Face.
• • Censors, and the segment of the population that encouraged their efforts, could not stand this level of what they perceived as depravity. They did what censors always do: They banned that which they feared and misunderstood, repressing artistic freedom.
• • Lessons are here for today. Canada's controversial bill C-10 is nothing more than the Production Code applied to the new millennium through backroom politics. That is as scary as the repression of 1930s Hollywood.
— — Source: — —
• • Article: "Mae West DVD transcends time — — Scandalous 1933 Mae West classic still relevant today"
• • Byline: Sun Media columnist Bruce Kirkland — — bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca
• • Published in: Jam Showbiz.com — — www.jam.canoe.ca/
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo:
• • Mae West • •
1933 • •

Mae West.

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