Hitchcock and the Censors

Hitchcock and the Censors

by John Billheimer


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


Throughout his career, Alfred Hitchcock had to deal with a wide variety of censors attuned to the slightest suggestion of sexual innuendo, undue violence, toilet humor, religious disrespect, and all forms of indecency, real or imagined. From 1934 to 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code Office controlled the content and final cut on all films made and distributed in the United States. Code officials protected sensitive ears from standard four-letter words, as well as a few five-letter words like tramp and six-letter words like cripes. They also scrubbed "excessively lustful" kissing from the screen and ensured that no criminal went unpunished.

During their review of Hitchcock's films, the censors demanded an average of 22.5 changes, ranging from the mundane to the mind-boggling, on each of his American films. Code reviewers dictated the ending of Rebecca (1940), absolved Cary Grant of guilt in Suspicion (1941), edited Cole Porter's lyrics in Stage Fright (1950), decided which shades should be drawn in Rear Window (1954), and shortened the shower scene in Psycho (1960).

In Hitchcock and the Censors, author John Billheimer traces the forces that led to the Production Code and describes Hitchcock's interactions with code officials on a film-by-film basis as he fought to protect his creations, bargaining with code reviewers and sidestepping censorship to produce a lifetime of memorable films. Despite the often-arbitrary decisions of the code board, Hitchcock still managed to push the boundaries of sex and violence permitted in films by charming — and occasionally tricking — the censors and by swapping off bits of dialogue, plot points, and individual shots (some of which had been deliberately inserted as trading chips) to protect cherished scenes and images. By examining Hitchcock's priorities in dealing with the censors, this work highlights the director's theories of suspense as well as his magician-like touch when negotiating with code officials.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813177427
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 06/14/2019
Series: Screen Classics
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

John Billheimer is the author of two mystery series; one with West Virginia failure analyst Owen Allison, and the other featuring Ohio sportswriter Lloyd Keaton. He has taught courses in film noir, hard-boiled fiction on film, and the modern mystery in film and print at Stanford and Santa Clara Universities.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I The Code and the Censors

1 Origins of the Code 9

2 Censors at Work 24

Part II The British Years (1922-1939)

3 The British Board of Film Censors 35

4 The British Gaumont Thrillers 42

Part III The Selznick Years (1940-1947)

5 Hitchcock and Selznick 59

6 Rebecca (1940) 64

7 Foreign Correspondent (1940) 71

8 Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) 81

9 Suspicion (1941) 85

10 Saboteur (1942) 91

11 Shadow of a Doubt (1943) 98

12 Lifeboat (1944) 102

13 Spellbound (1945) 110

14 Notorious (1946) 118

15 The Paradine Case (1947) 129

Part IV The Transatlantic Years (1948-1949)

16 Hitchcock and Transatlantic 139

17 Rope (1948) 141

18 Under Capricorn (1949) 149

Part V The Warner's Years (1950-1954)

19 Hitchcock and Warner Bros. 157

20 Stage Fright (1950) 160

21 Strangers on a Train (1951) 167

22 I Confess (1953) 176

23 Dial M for Murder (1954) 184

Part VI The Glory Years (1954-1968)

24 Hitchcock in Ascendance 191

25 Rear Window (1954) 194

26 To Catch a Thief (1955) 200

27 The Trouble with Harry (1955) 206

28 The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) 210

29 The Wrong Man (1956) 215

30 Vertigo (1958) 219

31 North by Northwest (1959) 227

32 Psycho (1960) 235

33 The Birds (1963) 244

34 Mamie (1964) 254

35 Torn Curtain (1966) 264

Part VII The Television Years (1955-1965)

36 Television Censorship 273

37 Alfred Hitchcock Presents 281

Part VIII The Post-Code Years (1968-1980)

38 The Decline of the Code 291

39 The Rise of the Rating System 295

40 Topaz (1969) 298

41 Frenzy (1972) 303

42 Family Plot (1976) 309

Conclusion 312

Acknowledgments 322

Appendix: List of Pre-Code "Don'ts" and "Be Carefuls" 323

Notes 325

Selected Bibliography 353

Index 357

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Alfred Hitchcock pushed the boundaries of onscreen permissiveness as much as any artist/entertainer of the twentieth century. John Billheimer meticulously catalogs the filmmaker's battles with the censors, both mischievous and profound, in fantastically readable fashion. A vital and fun addition to Hitchcock scholarship." — Eddie Muller, author, Film Noir Foundation founder, and Turner Classic Movies Host

"Many Hitchcock books and articles include accounts of censorship, and many books and articles on censorship include material on Hitchcock films. I don't know of any other work that brings the man and the topic together in as businesslike a way as is done in Hitchcock and the Censors. It is an attractive study that offers a valuable, fresh angle on Hitchcock's career." — Charles Barr, coauthor of  Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films

"A meticulous deep dive into the sweaty tango between Hitchcock and the Code. Amazing to witness how arbitrary and stringent the rules were and the resulting sacrifices movies had to make. Hitchcock rose to the challenge and made the debates part of his expression — but what a bloody tiresome waste of his time." — Darren Aronofsky

Customer Reviews