From 1934 until 1954 Joe Breen, hand nudging the shoulder of star Joe E. Brown in the banquet photo above, enforced the MPPA production code from offices at 5504 Hollywood Boulevard
Sally (1929), dir. John Francis Dillon. No problem here.
Scarface (1932), dir. Howard Hawks. Produced by Howard Hughes.
"Francesca! You and me! We show 'em. We lick them all...Northside...Southside...We lick the whole world."
What most incensed code administrators— mere "advisors" before the code became quasilaw in 1933—was the passionate daring of the gangster anti-hero. In the MPPA administrators' pre-release assessment, Scarface violated a fundamental principle of the code: "The sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin."
Scandal—like a fruit bat pollinating a baobab tree—slathered up every branch of Hollywood, the public read in newspapers in the early 1930s. Consider this 1932 coverage of starlet Lina Basquette, temporarily between marrying, divorcing, and remarrying the boxing trainer who came to be fourth and fifth of her eventual eight husbands. Basquette had been married to Sam Warner when he succumbed to an infection and died in 1927.
"Don't tell me—suggest," Frank Sinatra would admonish friends and lovers in the late 1950s. Knowingly or not, Sinatra was channelling the mind set of the MPPA code. The final shot of Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) illustrates.
Joseph Breen, Motion Picture Association of America Code Administrator, 1932 letter to Rev. Wilfred Parsons, S.J.
You Did It Then: Channeling the mind-set of a Production Code of America administrator, screen scenes (72 minutes) from I Cover the Waterfront (1933), marking down whatever might violate the MPPA production. Then “re-edit” a scene by excising shots or dubbing new dialogue or both, conforming the movie to MPPA guidelines. Step-by-step instructions and scenes from I Cover the Waterfront are here.
You Do It Now: Shoot a scene that is in clear violation of the MPAA code. Go as wild as you want. Give the scene to someone to else to censor. Respond to your censor’s findings, trying to see if you can preserve the essence of the scene—or not. Then screen the censored and uncensored versions, comparing them.