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Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry

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Overview

During World War I, the Catholic church blocked the distribution of government-sponsored V.D. prevention films, initiating an era of attempts by the church to censor the movie industry. This book is an entertaining and engrossing account of those efforts-how they evolved, what effect they had on the movie industry, and why they were eventually abandoned.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
During the 1920s, Hollywood scandals allowed proponents of censorship to start a two-pronged attacked. On the secular side, the Hays Office was established to promote self-censorship of the film industry, while on the religious front the Catholic Church established the Legion of Decency. Together, they formed an alliance that would intimidate the film industry into delivering a product so sanitized that it little resembled everyday life. Walsh, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, takes us on a journey with the self-righteous that is often hilariously conveyed. The Catholic Church first became galvanized because of a 1927 film called The Callahans and the Murphys in which stereotypes of Irish-Catholics were highlighted. Using its power to have the film pulled, the Church after much internecine debate formed the Legion of Decency in 1934, which inveighed against everything from Duck Soup to Mae West. With the end of WWII and the filming of message-laden pictures such as Gentleman's Agreement and The Best Years of Our Lives, the power of the censors began to wane. Walsh has written a heavily footnoted academic history of a topic that will be of special interest to film historians and anticensorship guardians Mar.
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
During the 1920s, Hollywood scandals allowed proponents of censorship to start a two-pronged attack. On the secular side, the Hays Office was established to promote self-censorship of the film industry, while on the religious front the Catholic Church established the Legion of Decency. Together, they formed an alliance that would intimidate the film industry into delivering a product so sanitized that it little resembled everyday life. Walsh, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, takes us on a journey with the self-righteous that is often hilariously conveyed. The Catholic Church first became galvanized because of a 1927 film called The Callahans and the Murphys in which stereotypes of Irish-Catholics were highlighted. Using its power to have the film pulled, the Church after much internecine debate formed the Legion of Decency in 1934, which inveighed against everything from Duck Soup to Mae West. With the end of WWII and the filming of message-laden pictures such as Gentleman's Agreement and The Best Years of Our Lives, the power of the censors began to wane. Walsh has written a heavily footnoted academic history of a topic that will be of special interest to film historians and anticensorship guardians.
Library Journal
Walsh history, Univ. of Massachusetts, Lowell chronicles the moral influence exerted by United States Catholic groups, and bishops in particular, on the film industry from its earliest days through the mid-1990s. Walsh does yeoman's service in gathering innumerable references from published and archival sources. His work represents fairly the points of view of those involved, such as the industry's Hayes Office and the church's Legion of Decency, tracking in a readable manner the politics and polemics of the times. Boycotts, blacklists, codes, cuts, and controversies succeed one another as alliances on both sides wax and wane. Walsh's book is neither a sociological nor a psychological study but a fact-laden account that will take many readers on a sentimental journey in its summaries of specific films and the conflicts surrounding them. He concludes that the cure was often worse than the disease. Unique in its breadth, this work is recommended for media and religious collections.-Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, N.Y.
Kirkus Reviews
A humorous but critical portrayal of the Catholic Church's censorship of Hollywood movies from WW I to the present.

Walsh (History/Univ. of Mass., Lowell) traces the formation and activities of the Legion of Decency, the powerful film review board that rose within American Catholic ranks in the 1930s. One of Walsh's primary contributions is to demonstrate that the Legion did not, as it seemed at the time, burst out of nowhere in 1931 to become a prime mover in Hollywood. American Catholics had been flexing their censorship muscles ever since WW I, when two public health shorts about venereal disease sparked serious controversy. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Legion of Decency reigned as the studios' most influential censor, seeking to eliminate nearly all film references to pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and even divorce. Walsh tells this story in an engaging, often sardonic fashion, a kind of behind-the-scenes romp through the cutting floors of Hollywood history. He paints vivid portraits of the legendary studio executives, directors, and producers, as well as the lesser-known censors of the Legion and other review boards. But the book's most obvious fault lies with its subjectivity: Walsh admits that he is very reluctant to endorse any ecclesiastically motivated censorship. This honesty is refreshing, but it does little to mitigate the sometimes harsh tone of the narrative. Walsh has a tendency to see the Catholic Church as a monolithic and institutionally static entity during the decades in question, although he quite ably documents Catholic demographic changes that led to the Legion's demise in the 1960s.

Walsh dramatically highlights tensions between Catholic dogma and Hollywood glitter, but greater insight into the Church would have given this study more weight.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300063738
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.94 (d)

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