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February 23, 2016

TCM to Air Movies 'Condemned' by Catholic Legion of Decency

JESUSLAND—Before Morality in Media, before the Family Research Council, before Focus on the Family, before pretty much all of the modern pro-censorship groups, there was the Catholic Legion of Decency. Founded in 1933 by Cincinnati Archbishop John T. McNicolas, the group (later known as the "National Legion of Decency" when it invited Protestant and Jewish clerics on board) was dedicated to identifying and combating what it deemed to be "objectionable content," from a Catholic point of view, in motion pictures. The Legion now rates movies as either "A" (morally unobjectionable), with four age-related subparts, or "O," "morally offensive"—there used to be a "B" category for movies that were "morally objectionable in part," but that rating got melded in with the "A" rating's subparts—and over the years, it's branded some 150 productions with that "O" rating. Those would include such well-respected and popular films as Some Like It Hot, Psycho, Spartacus, Jules & Jim, Boccaccio '70, 8-1/2, From Russia With Love, Valley of the Dolls, The Producers, A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show, Pink Flamingos, Last Tango in Paris, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Grease and All That Jazz. The Legion was most active in the early 1930s, when no less than 53 films were condemned. So what better venue for a study of some of those condemned films than Turner Classic Movies (TCM)? The cable channel has decided that each Thursday in March it will present "Condemned," a retrospective of 27 films that ran afoul of conservative religious values in some way. First up on March 3 is The Story of Temple Drake (1933), starring Miriam Hopkins (considered one of the wilder actresses of her day) as a sexy young thing from a prominent Mississippi family who's raped and forced into prostitution by her attacker, a backwoods moonshiner played by Jack LaRue. Also on tap for that first outing is Black Narcissus (1947), a story of a group of nuns tasked with setting up a school and hospital for the locals, only to be "seduced" by the beauty of their surroundings—and it doesn't help that the Mother Superior (Deborah Kerr) spends a few minutes remembering a past romance—a segment that the Legion got the studio to excise from all public showings of the film. Scheduled for the wee hours of March 4 will be Baby Face (1933), starring Barbara Stanwick—before she got respectable—as a speakeasy brat who leaves dad's illegal business because she gets tired of being forced to fuck some of his clientele, goes to the big city and fucks her way to the top of a banking empire, inspiring a couple of court trials and suicides along the way. Without going into too much detail, the festival will include And God Created Woman (1956), starring Brigitte Bardot as a good-time girl who spends a fair portion of the film naked; Baby Doll (1956), starring Kim Novak as an infantile 19-year-old virgin married to a cotton gin owner (Karl Malden) who just can't wait till her 20th birthday when, as he promnised her dad, he's allowed to fuck her finally; Blowup (1966), about a fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who spends a lot of time shooting nude women until he discovers a dead body "hidden" in one of his photos; and L'Amore (1948), the anthology movie whose segment "The Miracle," which has a a guy (Federico Fellini) posing as "Saint Joseph" so he can fuck a schizophrenic girl (Anna Magnani) who believes she's the Virgin Mary, became the first Supreme Court case to challenge the Legion's power to censor mainstream movies. The case, Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, began when New York's official censorship  organization, the State Board of Regents, revoked theaters' licenses to show the film because the Legion claimed it was anti-Catholic and sacrilegious. Burstyn, the film's distributor, took the case to the Supreme Court, which famously ruled that sacrilege was not a sufficient basis to overcome Burstyn's First Amendment right to display his "art" to the public. TMC's "Condemned" movie festival runs every Thursday in March through the 31st. For a full list of movies to be shown during the festival, click here.

 
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