Forbidden Hollywood tells its story in workmanlike prose with a few too many quotes from the appalled (and sometimes delighted) burghers of Tuna Fish, Iowa. The research is impeccable. The analysis is rarely more than adequate. Produced in co-operation with Turner Classic Movies, the book is, however, a gorgeous artefact that will grace any coffee table. There is a still on every second page and almost every one takes the breath away with its silvery indulgence.
A remarkable story unfolds between the snaps. “No one stopped to consider the significance of what had just occurred,” Vieira writes at the close. “A Catholic minority had wrested control of a Protestant market from a Jewish controlled industry.”
Censorship, which began to fizzle out with Breen's retirement in 1954, meant the removal from cinema of anything approaching the pungency of real life. If anything slipped through — for instance, Barbara Stanwyck in gossamer dresses and plunging necklines — 'people knock it, then come back and bring others to see it', said a theatre manager. In the #MeToo era, however, my guess is that the films in this book will be banned again, because in 2019, a line from 1931 such as: 'A pretty girl like you is just prey for men' does resonate somewhat sinisterly.
It is a confusing story about a time of nationwide puzzlement over America’s postwar wholesomeness or depravity. Take this letter, written to Warner Bros in1931 about The Public Enemy: “These gang pictures — that’s terrible kid stuff. They’re doing nothing but harm to the younger element of the country. I don’t blame the censors for trying to bar them.”
It was from Al Capone.