Thursday, March 10, 2016

Chance's Corner: John Wayne + Baby Face + Hays Code

Several boxes of movies were donated to the Franklin County Library recently, filled with classics, musicals, and westerns. Mixed in the lot was a ton of John Wayne films that helped us beef up our John Wayne collection and replace some of the VHS copies we still had on the shelf.

John Wayne was a very prolific actor, credited in 178 movies, dating all the way back to 1926. Granted, some of his early credits are: Extra, Flood Extra, Tall Boy and Richard Thorpe as a corpse. It wasn't until the 1930s that John Wayne actually started to get roles that had a specific name attached to the character.

One such film is Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who knows what's she got, and how to get everything else. Va-va-va-voom! I stumbled upon Baby Face while researching which John Wayne films we still didn't have in our collection, and it sounded like a real humdinger, but John Wayne was only in the movie for a short period of time, so I dismissed it.... until it came on Turner Classic Movies last week.

Baby Face, released in 1933, instantly struck me as something different. From the get go, Stanwyck was chewing men up and spitting them out. She'd smile at a man, flutter her lashes and take him to a dark corner... in an overly-suggestive manner. John Wayne was one of those men, for a mere two or three minutes. Sure, none of that "sexy stuff" is really new for movies today, but for 1933, it was scandalous.

It was so scandalous, in fact, that Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America, was called upon to form the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code), which was strictly enforced in 1934 - 1954. The objective of the Hays Code was to prevent pictures that would "lower the moral standards of those who see it" from ever seeing the light of day.

Baby Face certainly wasn't the only film that caused the enforcement of the code. Films such as The Blue Angel, Gold Diggers of 1933 and The Sign of the Cross caused quite a stir. Several real life scandals in Hollywood involving well-known stars, including accusations against actor/comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, were also contributing factors.

The times have changed, and the Hays Code has been dead for several years now. However, movie makers are still being held accountable for their content by the Motion Picture Association of America with the use of a rating system (G, PG, etc.). This system is give or take. It allows for more freedom and less censorship, but it still controls audience perceptions of a film and how much a director is willing to cut to make an R movie PG-13 to make more money off younger audiences.

Whew! If it wasn't for John Wayne, I never would have never unearthed Baby Face, and I never would have dove deep into the history of the Hays Code. So again, John Wayne saves the day!

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