Perhaps it will gladden the hearts of Trish and David E. and Filmbrain and Noel Vera and Tom Shone and and Glenn Kenny and Tony Dayoub and Kent Jones and oh, pretty much much her entire blogroll to hear that the Siren ran out of excuses last night and she watched Zodiac. Alone, with the kids in bed, curled up on the couch with a flannel blanket, a box of Kleenex for her head cold and a small glass of brandy to keep the beasties at bay. And yes guys, she liked it, more than The Social Network even, and the Siren liked The Social Network quite a bit. The Siren had a dilemma, however. She was going to write about something scary for Halloween, and Zodiac didn't scare her. Creeped her out, yes; made her clutch her blankie during violent scenes; showed her that Robert Downey Jr. is sexy even with a ghastly '70s beard; made her reflect that if she were ever to be picked off by a serial killer, and harbored hopes that the wheels of justice eventually would run the guy over, she really had better not get bumped off on the border between police jurisdictions. But scared, no. The Siren didn't even need the brandy, although she drank it anyway. So here it is, Halloween eve, and everybody else is doing scary stuff. The Siren wants to play too, so she came up with a solution. You what's scary?
This guy is scary. Joseph I. Breen, dean of the Hays Office, enforcer of the Production Code, scourge of toilet-flushing, decolletage and the word "lousy."
So grab your blankie and your brandy and return with the Siren to the days when the Great Bluenose From Philadelphia stomped through Hollywood, leaving in his wake piles of balled-up script pages and discarded film stock, as well as filmmakers rubbing their temples and reaching for the bicarbonate.
Let's see how Breen sought to protect us from too much sex in our horror movies, because isn't that what you think about when deciding which one to watch? That's the Siren's first concern with every horror movie, no matter the year: "Gee, I hope there's no sex."
The Hays Office did a great deal of its work before cameras ever turned, going through scripts and tossing out whatever ran afoul of the Code and their interpretation of it. What follows are some excerpts from correspondence about the 1940 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, directed by Victor Fleming; they're taken from Gerald Gardner's The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters from the Hays Office, 1934 to 1968. These script notations are part of Joe Breen's memo to Louis B. Mayer, Nov. 12, 1940:
Page 38: The scene of the girl taking off her stocking must be done inoffensively and without any undue exposure. Please also do not overemphasize the garter… Page 47: The line 'I want you--want you every minute' is not acceptable… Page 49: Omit the underlined words in the expression 'the little white-breasted dove'… Page 63: The following broken line must be changed: 'Underneath I'm as soft as your white--' Page 56: The dialog that ends the scene beginning 'I'm hurting you because I like to hurt you--' is unacceptable by reason of containing a definite suggestion of sadism…After the script had been edited to the censors' satisfaction, often a movie would be screened so they could be sure a director wasn't trying to screw them (a verb the Hays Office was striking as late as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Screening Dr. Jekyll resulted in the following memo:
In the scene where Jekyll carries Ivy up to her room, delete the large close-up where Ivy's breasts are unduly exposed… In the first montage, delete all scenes [of Hyde] lashing the two girls. In the second montage, delete all scenes having to do with the swan and the girl, and the stallion and the girl… [Note from the Siren: Damn, I would have liked to see that.] In the scene in the cabaret, delete the crotch shot of the dancing girls...Breen, ever ready to do a good deed, also warned the filmmakers that the British Board of Censors would probably delete a reference to Buckingham Palace. Fleming & Co. still managed to turn in a great S&M horror flick, even if the Siren prefers Rouben Mamoulian's 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Let us turn now to James Whale's very great Bride of Frankenstein, which began life in 1934, the year the Code came into full effect. Sex wasn't so much the problem with this one, although Whale received notice that the term "mate" was unacceptable as it implied that the monster "desires a sexual companion…we suggest that you substitute the word 'companion.'" No, the real trouble with the script was intrinsic to the very theme of all Frankenstein pictures, the idea of a scientist usurping the role of God--although some sex still had to be scissored, as well as icky words. From a memo sent by Joe Breen to Universal Pictures, dated Dec. 5, 1934, about the script then called The Return of Frankenstein:
Page A-12. We suggest changing the word 'entrails,' as it will be offensive to mixed audiences. Page A-16. We also suggest omitting this scene of the rat, as its portrayal has in the past proved offensive… Page B-7: We suggest omitting the line 'It was like being God.' This line in the past has proven somewhat blasphemous. Page B-20: For the same reason, we suggest omitting the line 'as they say, "in God's own image."' Page B-25: This scene of the miniature mermaid should be handled in such a way as to avoid any improper exposure. [Note: This may well be the Siren's all-time favorite Hays Office line.] Page B-26: You should omit the line 'If you are fond of your fairy tales' as a derogatory reference to the Bible.James Whale responded to each point, changing the word "entrails" to "insides," for example, and altering the B-7 line to "it was like being the Creator himself." Whale also told the office that the mermaid was going to have very, very long hair.
It's worth noting that the Hays Office was, unbelievably, often more lenient than other censors. Despite all those protracted negotiations and extensive changes, Bride of Frankenstein was banned in Trinidad ("because it is a horror picture"), Palestine and Hungary, and shown only with extensive deletions in Japan, China, Sweden and Singapore. The Siren adds that Mr. Gardner cleared up her confusion about the poison in Ivy: "The word 'arsenic' was struck from many scripts on the theory that, deprived of this information, the moviegoer would never realize that arsenic was a lethal substance." Happy Halloween! The Siren, confident that she has fulfilled her obligation to frighten her readers, adds links with the same aim: Kim Morgan on Strait-Jacket. The Siren can't think of another film writer anywhere who could use this giddily bizarre flick to anchor the most respectful and deeply affectionate tribute to Joan Crawford that any fan could desire.
They Came From Beyond Hollywood, at Peter Nelhaus' place.
Flickhead visits the Hot L Whitewood, with a side trip to Chiller Theater.
The Futurist has been doing a lot of scary stuff for Halloween, but this takes the biscuit. Jacqueline T. Lynch reminds us of what might have been frightening people on other radio channels during that War of the Worlds broadcast. Complete with a newsreel of Orson Welles saying "Sorry, guys," a rundown on the 1953 movie and advice on how to handle a Martian invasion.
Every day is Halloween at Obscure Hollow. Just click over and bask in all the incredible screen grabs. The Siren may not be a horror connoisseur, but she loves this site to bits and pieces.