When the Legion of Decency Scared Hollywood

Oscar Weekend is coming up. So it was a perfect time for us at Interfaith Voices to air two interviews about the days -- from the 1930s through the mid-1950s -- when the Legion of Decency wielded a lot of power over movies … simply by threatening to virtually eliminate the Catholic audience with a “condemned” rating for movies that did not meet its moral standards. 

You may not recall … I know I find it hard to remember … but Catholic school students took a “pledge of allegiance” to the Legion of Decency, and it was not unusual for the local parish priest to stand near an offending movie theater so that students from the parish school dared not enter. 

Those were the days when the laity actually listened to what bishops had to say, and acted accordingly. Hard to remember, I know, but it did happen.

Those were the years when the very threat of a “condemned” rating stripped nudity, marital infidelity and other “offensive” scenes from movies before they were released to the public! Thomas Doherty, a film professor at Brandeis University, and author of Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration, tells the whole story in straightforward terms on Interfaith Voices this week. 

We then feature an interview with John Mulderig, currently the lead movie reviewer for Catholic News Service. It’s not the same, of course. Very few people even know his reviews exist, and no one vows allegiance to his views. But the hierarchy is still trying.


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