SIN AND CENSORSHIP: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry by Frank Walsh

SIN AND CENSORSHIP: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry

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A humorous but critical portrayal of the Catholic Church's censorship of Hollywood movies from WW I to the present. Walsh (History/Univ. of Mass., Lowell) traces the formation and activities of the Legion of Decency, the powerful film review board that rose within American Catholic ranks in the 1930s. One of Walsh's primary contributions is to demonstrate that the Legion did not, as it seemed at the time, burst out of nowhere in 1931 to become a prime mover in Hollywood. American Catholics had been flexing their censorship muscles ever since WW I, when two public health shorts about venereal disease sparked serious controversy. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Legion of Decency reigned as the studios' most influential censor, seeking to eliminate nearly all film references to pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and even divorce. Walsh tells this story in an engaging, often sardonic fashion, a kind of behind-the-scenes romp through the cutting floors of Hollywood history. He paints vivid portraits of the legendary studio executives, directors, and producers, as well as the lesser-known censors of the Legion and other review boards. But the book's most obvious fault lies with its subjectivity: Walsh admits that he is very reluctant to endorse any ecclesiastically motivated censorship. This honesty is refreshing, but it does little to mitigate the sometimes harsh tone of the narrative. Walsh has a tendency to see the Catholic Church as a monolithic and institutionally static entity during the decades in question, although he quite ably documents Catholic demographic changes that led to the Legion's demise in the 1960s. Walsh dramatically highlights tensions between Catholic dogma and Hollywood glitter, but greater insight into the Church would have given this study more weight.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 424pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.