The Archivist’s Nook: Legion of Decency Keeping the Big Screen Clean

Cleopatra, 1963
Cleopatra (1963), scourge of the National Legion of Decency [source: wikimedia commons]

This week’s post is guest authored by Vitalina A. Nova, Archives assistant and LIS graduate.

Regardless of your opinion of Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) movie ratings, you’re likely familiar with them and know the MPAA reviews film content to determine suitability for specific audiences. What you’re less likely to know is that the indignation which led to the formation of the MPAA’s predecessor, the Hays Code, also led to the formation of the National Legion of Decency, a Catholic interest group with similar goals.

The Hays Code imposed restrictions on the film industry beginning in the early 1930s, aiming to align content on the big screen with moral standards codified as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) Don’ts and Be Carefuls.  The Hays code was replaced by the MPAA in 1968.  The full list of Don’ts and Be Carefuls is available from the School of Media Arts at the Santa Barbara City College.

In contrast, the National Legion of Decency maintained an interest in advising the American public on the morality of films long after the Hays Code went out of use.  Formed in 1933, the Legion was initially composed of religious and laity of Jewish and Christian faiths concerned that exposure to immoral material harmed viewers’ quality of character.  Censurable material included the discussion or depiction of childbirth, immodest dress, and a lack of ultimate judgment on characters’ questionable behavior (as defined by the Legion).  Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Legion of Decency Keeping the Big Screen Clean”