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

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Yale University Press, 1996 - Political Science - 394 pages
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During World War I, the Catholic church blocked the distribution of government-sponsored VD-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.
Frank Walsh tells how the church's influence in Hollywood grew through the 1920s and reached its peak during the 1930s, when the film industry allowed Catholics to dictate the Production Code, which became the industry's self-censorship system, and the Legion of Decency was established by the church to blacklist any films it considered offensive. With the industry's Joe Breen, a Catholic layman, cutting movie scenes during production and the Legion of Decency threatening to ban movies after release, the Catholic church played a major role in determining what Americans saw and didn't see on the screen during Hollywood's Golden Age.
However, notes Walsh, there were serious divisions within the church over film policy. Bishops feuded with one another over how best to deal with movie moguls, priests differed over whether attending a condemned film constituted a serious sin, and Legion of Decency reviewers disagreed over film evaluations. Walsh shows how the decline of the studio system, the rise of a new generation of better-educated Catholics, and changing social values gradually eroded the Legion's power, forcing the church eventually to terminate its efforts to control the type of film that Hollywood turned out. In an epilogue he relates this history of censorship to current efforts by Christian fundamentalists to end "sex, violence, filth, and profanity" in the media.

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Sin and censorship: the Catholic Church and the motion picture industry

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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 ... Read full review

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About the author (1996)

Frank Walsh is professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

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