cover image Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration

Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration

Thomas Doherty, . . Columbia Univ., $29.50 (427pp) ISBN 978-0-231-14358-5

In this comprehensive coverage of cinematic censorship, Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University, probes the power of Joseph I. Breen (1888–1965), head of Hollywood's puritanical Production Code Administration from 1934 to 1954, and along the way, he captures the clash of “Catholic priests, Jewish moguls, visionary auteurs, studio hacks, hardnosed journalists and bluenosed agitators” in pre-TV Tinseltown. Born in Philadelphia, the Irish-Catholic Breen was a journalist turned publicist. His successful marketing of a film documentary showing “Catholic multitudes” at the 1926 Eucharistic Congress catapulted his career. With powerful backers in his corner, the Catholics and the New Dealers, Breen tightened the screws: “I am hopeful of doing something, to lessen, at least, the flow of filth, but I have no illusions about the problem.” He ruled with an iron fist, altering scripts and deleting footage until Otto Preminger cracked the Code in 1953 with The Moon Is Blue . Amid an avalanche of anecdotes and fascinating movie lore are 60 illustrations (ads, posters, stills) and a copy of the 1956 Production Code. The 42 pages of bibliographic notes are evidence of the author's exhaustive research. Doherty writes with such wit and verve, bringing the past to life, that this scholarly study is also a very entertaining read. (Nov.)