C Is For 'Condemned': A Nun Looks Back On 47 Years Of Unholy Filmmaking
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Here are some movie titles for you - "Some Like It Hot," "From Russia With Love," "The Odd Couple." What they all have in common is that they received a C rating from the Catholic Church. The C is for condemned. Tonight, Turner Classic Movies begins a series on the Catholic Legion of Decency and the influence it had on the film industry for more than four decades. From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando reports.
BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: In 1933, an effervescent Ernst Lubitsch comedy called "Design For Living" gave us two men and a woman living closely together as roommates. No sex, but that boundary starts to break down, and the woman played by Miriam Hopkins points out an inequity.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DESIGN FOR LIVING")
MIRIAM HOPKINS: (As Gilda Farrell) You see, a man can meet two, three or even four women and fall in love with all of them, and then by a process of interesting elimination, he's able to decide which one he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork if she wants to be considered nice. Oh, it's quite all right for her to try on a hundred hats before she picks one out.
FREDRIC MARCH: (As Thomas B. Chambers) All right, fine. But which chapeau do you want, Madam?
HOPKINS: (As Gilda Farrell) Both.
ROSE PACATTE: Yeah, that would've irritated them (laughter). It was all about temptation or attraction and marriage and maybe, you know, treating marriage in a frivolous way. And that's - the pervasiveness of the theme would have irritated - would have certainly called down the condemnation of the Legion of Decency.
ACCOMANDO: That's Sister Rose Pacatte. Turner Classic Movies has selected a nun who also happens to be a respected film critic as the person to guide us through 47 years of salacious filmmaking for its new monthly spotlight called "Condemned." Will McKinley is a blogger and active member of the TCM social media community. He also attended Catholic school for 12 years.
WILL MCKINLEY: It does remind me of childhood, where, you know, letters would come home from Catholic school to my parents, telling them to tell us to, you know, not watch things. It's so odd because - do you know, during the period of time that the Legion of Decency held sway, certainly the majority of the country was not Catholic, but, you know, to a large degree, their entertainment was being dictated by Catholic precepts.
ACCOMANDO: Premarital sex was out. So too was homosexuality, abortion and divorce. In 1943, "The Outlaw" stirred moral panic with the buxom Jane Russell wearing a blouse that simply couldn't stay up on her shoulders.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The outlaw is the most exciting entertainment you have ever seen - savage, primitive emotion.
MCKINLEY: You just get a vision of sort of like red-faced priests, you know, in 1943 sort of, like, you know, taking their pulse to make sure they didn't have a heart attack.
ACCOMANDO: Anything that casts the Church in a negative light was out, too, like the 1947 film "Black Narcissus" which shows nuns questioning their faith. But things started to change in the 1950s with a movie called "The Moon Is Blue."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And now with the same engaging characters, the same hilarious situations, the same provocative lines, "The Moon Is Blue" has at last hit the screen.
ACCOMANDO: Those provocative lines included words like seduce and professional virgin. The film bypassed both the Legion of Decency and the industry's own Hays Code to be released in theaters. That's when people began to see the legion's condemnation as something to be ignored and even mocked. For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.
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