Artist: Mae West|
Confronting Bodies: Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association
Date of Action: 1935-1936
Specific Location: Hollywood, New York
Description of Artwork: Mae West's film "Klondike Annie" as described by Ramona Curry: "The film narrative opens in San Francisco's China town, where West's character is held captive as the mistress of a Chinese night club owner, Chan Lo. Doll escapes, killing Chan Lo in self-defense to do so, and embarks on a freight ship to Nome Alaska. En route, the captain of the ship, Bull Brackett (Victor McLaglen) becomes enamored of her. Doll initially shows little interest in Bull, but when he discovers her identity, Doll accepts his attentions in order to prevent his turning over to the authorities. To avoid being arrested by the police patrolling the Nome harbor, Doll assumes the guise of a pious settlement worker, Annie Alden, who has just died on board. In this masquerade, Doll packs the Nome settlement house and enlivens the services with rousing song and good-natured admonitions to the miners to give up drink and live right. The policeman assigned to watch for the wanted woman sees through Doll's disguise, but, fortunately for her, not before he falls hopelessly in love with her. Meanwhile, Bull threatens to kill Doll and the policeman if she doesn't come away with him. She eventually chooses to leave with Bull, but asks him too direct the ship not to the South Seas but back to San Francisco so that she can be legally cleared for having cleared Chan Lo in self- defense."
Description of Incident: The MPPDA was responsible for monitoring scripts before films went into production. The key sections of the Production Code the MPPDA used are "Law natural or human shall not be ridiculed, nor shall any sympathy be created for its violation," furthermore, "The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home should be upheld." Ramona Curry maps out the negotiation process between MPPDA and the producers of "Klondike Ann" in her article "Mae West as Censored Commodity: The case of "Klondike Annie", Cinema Journal 31, No. 1, Fall 1991. " ...The initial screening of "Klondike Annie" elicited rigorous monitoring from the PCA (Production Code Administration) for its implications of interracial sex, representations of torture and unpunished murder (which undermined the codes principle of 'compensating moral values'), and for casting West as a prostitute... " ...Concern about the sexual behavior of West's character emerges as a prime issue from the earliest correspondence. A letter at the outset of production to Paramount liaison John Hammell to Will Hays, then visiting in California promised, 'The ending of our story will be a romance between West and one of the characters in our picture, and it will indicate for the future a normal life and nothing that will bring condemnation from the most scrupulous.'(June 29, 1935) " ...Hay's response a week later expressed concern about the sexual morality of West's character: 'We assume that there will be no suspicion of loose or illicit sex relationships between Miss West and the Chinese gambler or any of the characters in your story; rather as is suggested in the discussion here, it will definitely be indicated that the woman whom Miss West represents is basically good.' (July 2, 1935) " ...In memos written between September and October 1935 (the film's production went from June to December 1935), Joseph Breen required a number of changes in the script and in song lyrics and repeatedly cautioned the studio about maintaining decency in costuming and camera framing and especially in West's style delivery in "Klondike Annie"... For example, West was prohibited from saying, 'I'm sorry I can't see you in private,' while looking the young detective (Phillip Reed) up and down; other West lines that Breen marked for deletion included 'Men are at their best when women are at their worst'... " ...Upon viewing the film, Breen called for several cuts in scenes implying sexual desire or activity between Brackett and Doll, but granted a PCA certificate of approval on 31 December 1935."
Results of Incident: "The controversy began immediately upon Hollywood previews of the film in early February, when Breen learned that Paramount was exhibiting a print containing material that had been deleted from the version of the film approved by the PCA. Breen immediately rescinded the Code seal and entered into into further negotiations with the studio which resulted in the elimination of 'love talk' and other implications of an 'illicit love affair,' before he agreed on 10 February 1936 to the film's release. "Klondike Annie" opened five days later in a special public preview in Miami and was released nationwide the following week."
Source: Ramona Curry, "Mae West as Censored Commodity: The Case of "Klondike Annie," Cinema Journal 31, No.1, Fall '91 Pg.57-85
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