Hitchcock and the Censors

Hitchcock and the Censors

John Billheimer

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780813177427

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky

Abstract

The Motion Picture Production Code controlled the content and final cut on all films made and distributed in the US from 1934 to 1968. Code officials protected sensitive ears from the 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. Censors demanded an average of twenty changes, ranging from trivial to mind-boggling, on each of Alfred Hitchcock’s films during his most productive years. No production escaped these changes, which rarely improved the finished film. Code reviewers dictated the ending of’ Rebecca, shortened the shower scene in’ Psycho, absolved Cary Grant of guilt in’ Suspicion, edited Cole Porter’s lyrics in’ Stage Fright, and decided which shades should be drawn in’ Rear Window. Nevertheless, 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. The director’s priorities in dealing with the censors highlight both his theories of suspense and the single-mindedness of Code officials. Hitchcock and the Censors’ 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.