Film censorship is one of those things that makes sense on a surface level, but is actually a delusional collective madness when you think about it – the idea that films, exclusively, are so powerful a medium that they need to be censored or banned, even for viewing by adults, is actually so bizarre that you wonder why it is accepted.
At least the Legion of Decency – sometimes called the Catholic Film Board – came from a place of religious certainty, where watching some films would be a direct route to damnation. Established in 1933, the Legion was recognised in 1965 as The National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures – or NCOMP for short, which sounds a little too like ‘incompetent’ for comfort. Until 1980, when NCOMP was dissolved, it rated films released in the United States for their suitability for viewing by Catholics (and probably everyone else too, though of course, our souls were already damned).
The rating that everyone wanted to avoid – or possibly acquire, depending on how they took to the idea of the ‘forbidden fruit’ – was the ‘C’ – for Condemned. During the last two years of its operation, NCOMP revised this to ‘MO’ – ‘Morally Objectionable’, which quite frankly seems an even better label to have attached to your movie.The ‘MO’ rating was defined as applying to “films that deny the existence of God, ridicule religious faith or are otherwise sacrilegious. Movies that directly contradict scriptural values and church teaching on such matters as euthanasia, abortion, suicide, adultery, homosexual activity or vigilante killing and revenge also fall into this category. So, too, do films that feature excessive violence, gratuitous or exploitative sexuality or, for no artistically valid reason, non-stop vulgarity.”
By the time it was dissolved, NCOMP had watched some 16,251 films. How the Catholics who watched the films managed to avoid the damnation that awaited ordinary people is unexplained – but then, censors always see themselves as being above the corruption that would affect lesser mortals. In the 1930s, the main concern seemed to be exploitation films that were avoiding the production code and dealing with drugs, prostitution, venereal disease and sexuality; by the late 1940, the main problem was continental films that were years ahead of Hollywood in terms of frankness.
Oddly, NCOMP had some Hollywood clout until the latter half of the 1960s. Their ability to organise boycotts of ‘Condemned’ films and the possible loss of box office actually forced distributors to make cuts, or filmmakers to revise screenplays, in order to avoid the ‘C’ rating. Examples of this include major works adapted from stage plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and The Seven Year Itch, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. These films and others were heavily compromised by the religious fanaticism of this unelected board, which makes the whole farrago seem less amusing.
By the 1970s, NCOMP has lost a lot of its clout, and for many films, being ‘condemned’ just added to the box office. Even Catholics saw it as something of a joke, especially when movies like The Exorcist were cleaning up at the box office and some of the choices became increasingly bizarre (the 1978 dramas Same Time, Next Year and Ice Castles, for instance… we’re struggling to see just how they offended anyone).
it’s easy to laugh at this listing of ‘immoral’ films. But we should remember that although condemned by the Catholic church, these movies could still, at least, be shown publicly in America. In Britain, we might not have had a religious board overseeing what was being released, but many of these films were banned outright by the censors. We can’t claim the moral high ground here.
Interestingly though, the Catholic News Service still has a movie rating system, though it’s hard to imagine that anyone takes any notice of it these days.
For those of you in search of the ultimate corruption, below is a complete list of every film Condemned or found Morally Offensive. Happy viewing!
Day of Reckoning
Design for Living
Extase – notably for Hedy Lamarr’s nude swimming scene and on-screen orgasm
The Emperor Jones
Flying Down to Rio
Grandeur and Decadence
I’m No Angel
She Done Him Wrong – you wouldn’t expect the Legion of Decency to approve of Mae West…
The Song of Songs
The Story of Temple Drake
This Day and Age
Wild Boys of the Road
The Women in His Life
All of Me
Belle of the Nineties
The Big Shakedown
Fashions of 1934
Four Frightened People
George White’s Scandals
The Life of Vergie Winters
Manhattan Love Song
Men in White
Murder at the Vanities
One More River
The Scarlet Empress
Search for Beauty
Success at Any Price
This Man Is Mine
The Trumpet Blows
West of the Divide
Les Amours de Toni
Carnival in Flanders
Gambling with Souls
Pitfalls of Youth – likely a retitling of Marihuana, Weed with Roots in Hell.
The Private Life of Henry VIII
Assassin of Youth – another drug scare film.
Club de Femmes
Damaged Lives – one of the earliest ‘VDsploitation’ sex education melodramas.
The Lie of Nina Petrovna
Lucrezia Borgia – the Abel Gance film.
Slaves in Bondage – a prostitution melodrama.
Children of the Sun – an early nudist film.
Human Wreckage – the legendary exploitation film better known as Sex Madness.
The Pace That Kills – a cocaine exploitation film.
The Wages of Sin – more prostitution exploitation.
The Human Beast – a retitling of Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine
Le Jour Se Lève
Smashing the Rackets
With a Smile
Hôtel du Nord – a film by Marcel Carné.
The Kiss of Fire Lash of the Penitentes – possibly a little close to home, as this wild exploitation film covers the Catholic Penitentes and their bizarre self-flagellation rituals.
The Merry Wives
Pépé le Moko
Souls in Pawn
Stolen Paradise – condemned under the title Adolescence.
Strange Cargo – Originally condemned, then approved in a cut version.
This Thing Called Love – later approved after fifteen lines of dialogue that “failed to reflect Christian concept of marriage” were removed.
Time in the Sun – a documentary compiled from Sergei Eisenstein footage, condemned for being Marxist.
City of Sin
Fighting the White Slave Trade
The Girl from Maxim’s
No Greater Sin
Two-Faced Woman – Greta Garbo’s last film; initially condemned for “immoral and un-Christian attitude toward marriage and its obligations; impudently suggestive scenes, dialogue, and situations; and suggestive costumes.” The film was subsequently edited and approved.
¡Ay qué tiempos señor don Simón!
Child Bride – the infamous exploitation film about underage marriage.
Confessions of a Vice Baron
The Outlaw – condemnation by the Catholics was probably the least of the censorship worries for this Howard Hughes film. But after revisions, it met with approval.
The Dolly Sisters
Mom and Dad – Kroger Babb’s pioneering sex education film was never likely to meet with approval.
– the forbidden desires of nuns. Not something Catholics would approve of. Later passed with ‘revisions’.
Forever Amber – 20th Century Fox finally persuaded the League to call off its protestors after adding a prologue and making “a humiliating public apology”.
Devil in the Flesh
The Genius and the Nightingale
The Room Upstairs
Sins of the Fathers
Three Daring Daughters
Torment – Ingmar Bergamn’s reputation had no sway with the Board.
When Love Calls
The Devil’s Sleep
Germany, Year Zero – Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece not impressing the Legion.
Just a Big Simple Girl Rozina, the Love Child
The Story of Bob and Sally
Bitter Rice – Italian neo-realism proved too much until it was edited for the US market.
The Blue Angel – a re-release of the Marlene Dietrich 1930 film.
Bullet for Stefano
Flesh Will Surrender
Hoboes in Paradise
Jungle Stampede – a documentary that the Legion objected to because of its portrayal of “native customs and habits”.
Lovers of Verona
No Orchids for Miss Blandish – the notorious British crime film.
Los Olvidados – Luis Bunuel was never the sort of director to win Catholic approval, and this is the first of many Condemned films from the director.
The Paris Waltz
A Royal Affair
Scandals of Clochemerle
Behind Closed Shutters
French White Cargo
It’s Forever Springtime
Latuko – another anthropological documentary
A Lover’s Return
M – Joseph Losey’s remake of the Fritz Lang original
La Marie du port
She Shoulda Said No! – a notorious marijuana warning exploitation movie, also known as The Devil’s Weed.
The Ways of Love – an umbrella title for four European films being distributed together. These were not sleazy trash: Roberto Rossellini’s The Miracle and The Human Voice, plus Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country and Marcel Pagnol’s Jofroi.
Of Love and Bandits
The Savage Triangle The Strollers The Thrill That Kills – an Italian movie also known as Cocaine.
Women Without Names
Girls Marked Danger
The Moon Is Blue – Otto Preminger’s film was also released without Production Code approval.
Le Plaisir – the classic Max Ophüls film.
The Seven Deadly Sins
Three Forbidden Stories
Times Gone By
The French Line – The 3D musical starring Jane Russell, which the Legion claimed was “grossly obscene, suggestive and indecent action, costuming and dialogue”.
Garden of Eden – the pioneering nudist camp film that opened the nudie floodgates.
Illicit Interlude – more Bergman.
Karamoja – Kroger Babb’s Mondo-style documentary.
One Summer of Happiness – Ingmar Bergman once again upsetting the Catholics.
We Want a Child!
The Desperate Women
A Husband for Anna
I Am a Camera – from Christopher Isherwood’s writing that also later inspired Cabaret. Presumably the sexually provocative characters and hints at homosexuality condemned this.
The Game of Love
Rififi – Condemned, and then approved after extensive cuts.
Son of Sinbad – a juvenile fantasy that was, apparently, “a challenge to decent standards of theatrical entertainment”.
And God Created Woman – Vadim and Bardot’s unrepentant sex comedy was hardly likely to be approved.
Baby Doll – called “morally repellent both in theme and treatment”, this was one of the first films to make a virtue of being condemned in promotional material.
Bed of Grass
Female and the Flesh
Fruits of Summer
Letters from My Windmill
The Miller’s Beautiful Wife
The Naked Night – yet more Bergman.
Sins of the Borgias
Stain on the Snow
Woman of Rome
The Flesh is Weak – the pioneering British (nudity-free) sexploitation film.
Mademoiselle Striptease – Bardot and striptease were not going to be a Legion-friendly combination.
Maid in Paris
The Night Heaven Fell
Smiles of a Summer Night – yes, yet more Bergman.
Untamed Youth – the glorious juvenile delinquency classic with Mamie Van Doren.
Heroes and Sinners
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Liane, Jungle Goddess – the German ‘female Tarzan’ film with teasing nudity.
Love is My Profession
Lovers of Paris
A Question of Adultery – a British drama about artificial insemination.
Some Like It Hot – Marilyn gets the fuzzy end of the censorship lollipop.
The Third Sex
Breathless – Godard’s pop culture classic was too much.
Never on Sunday
Psycho – Transvestism, unmarried sex, naked showers – enough to cause Legion of Decency palpitations.
Spartacus – condemned, then approved after cuts
The Trials of Oscar Wilde – Oscar Wilde was gay, and so not approved
L’Avventura – Michelangelo Antonioni’s film was condemned as “grossly suggestive and pornographic in intent”.
A Cold Wind in August
Jules and Jim – New Wave French – and generally European – cinema would be increasingly problematic for Catholics in the 1960s.
Viridiana – Bunuel again causing problems.
Boccaccio ’70 – Fellini and others condemned (not for the last time) for “indecent costuming, situations and dialogue”.
Contempt – Godard’s Le Mepris, with the troublesome Miss Bardot again.
From Russia With Love – James Bond too much for the Legion.
Kiss Me, Stupid
Of Human Bondage
The Pawnbroker – Otto Preminger’s film also broke the restrictions on nudity on mainstream American cinema
Blowup – female frontal nudity did for this Antonioni classic.
Reflections in a Golden Eye
Valley of the Dolls
The Anniversary – cross-dressing probably did for this Hammer film.
Barbarella – The Board probably didn’t make it past Jane Fonda’s opening credits striptease…
Birds in Peru
The Boston Strangler
Dark of the Sun
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
If He Hollers, Let Him Go
Lady in Cement – to be fair, Raquel Welch herself was probably seen as sin personified…
The Legend of Lylah Clare
Prudence and the Pill
Rosemary’s Baby – well, obviously…
The Secret Life of an American Wife
The Sweet Ride
Weekend – more Godard controversy.
The April Fools
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice – the first film about wife swapping was never going to be approved.
I Am Curious (Yellow) – sexual exploration and explicit scenes probably caused palpitations.
The Killing of Sister George – lesbianism was certain to be frowned upon.
A Clockwork Orange
The Devils – well, yes.
The Last Picture Show
Sunday Bloody Sunday – homosexuality did for this British drama.
The Carey Treatment
Pink Flamingos – it’s impressive that the Board even sat through this, but there was never any doubt about the fact that it would be condemned.
The Exorcist – not really a surprise, even if the film is essentially affirming Catholic beliefs.
High Plains Drifter
Last Tango in Paris
Lemora – A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural
The Wicker Man – pagan beliefs and a flippant dismissal of Christianity was the issue here.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show – it’s hardly surprising that this pansexual celebration was condemned.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Dawn of the Dead
Same Time, Next Year
All That Jazz
Dressed to Kill
Friday the 13th
Those Lips, Those Eyes