- Leonard J. Leff. "The Breening of America." PMLA, Vol. 106, No. 3 (May, 1991), pp. 432-445 Published by: Modern Language Association
Leonard J. Leff’s article “The Breening of America” works to point out the fact that as head of the PCA Joseph Breen worked not only out of concern for upholding decency and morality, but at the same time he attempted to promote a political, profit-seeking agenda. The article indicates that many famed Hollywood directors including Charlie Chaplin shared the same contempt for certain aspects of American culture written about by famous authors such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck, but they did not have the same freedom in expressing it.
The article characterizes Joseph Breen, who had fully realized power in July 1934 when The MPPDA created the PCA and named him director. Breen is noted to be morally conservative, and at the same time to have tyrannical tendencies. Nevertheless, Breen is described most aptly in this article as a facilitator between social forces, and American filmmakers. He is attributed with both providing a staunch conservative influence on the social environment, and with maximizing the profitability of Hollywood by way of giving the American public precisely what they wanted to see.
This is a particularly interesting portrayal of an organization that was for all intents and purposes designed to provide censorship. A censor of the film industry cannot be arbitrarily lawless and continually maximize profitability. Joseph Breen realized this and therefore took on his aforementioned facilitator role. This applies directly to The Grapes of Wrath because it begs the question; would the film have been as profitable if it it’s thematic focus was more closely aligned with Steinbeck’s? Leff would contend that it probably would not have been as profitable. Needless to say however, the thematic focus of the film was tailored toward providing entertainment that was uplifting at least to some extent.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.5 .B49 1994
Hollywood Censored by Gregory D. Black details how the American film industry was very much impacted by the censorship of the PCA starting in the mid 1930s and moving onward into 1940. The main function of the self-censoring PCA was to ensure that racy political or sexual material was kept off the silver-screen. The primary reason that people should see movies in the eyes of the PCA was not to be enlightened, challenged, or changed but for the sole purpose of being passively entertained.
The PCA became increasingly effective at dealing with movies that had a deeper social or political subtext. Joseph Breen was the head of the PCA which began effectively enforcing its restrictions in 1934. There were a number of restrictions placed on the films. These included restrictions in the depiction of immoral behavior, nakedness, and of course attitudes toward religion and country.
It is seemingly no surprise then, that after five years of Breen leading the PCA, production companies were quite adept at submitting scripts that could get approval and begin making money at the box-office. In the case of The Grapes of Wrath, the harsh critique of the American political and economic system that was so much a part of Steinbeck’s original work had been written out of the script before even reaching Breen for approval. The story “was reduced to one family’s struggle in the face of exception events” (Black, 287).
It is important to realize that as a director, John Ford’s ability to be creative was very much curtailed by the social constraints of the time. Depicting overly simplified themes in accordance with traditional American moral values was a necessity for Ford. This is something that Dempsey fails to fully make note of in his criticism of Ford’s work.
As the title maintains, The Making of Casablanca details all of the behind the scenes drama that occurred during the making of the legendary work. This account relates the studio battles over Casablanca, the screenplay disasters, the arguments with the Production Code leader Joseph Breen, the influece of the OWI, the regfugee backstores of many of the minor characters, the racial debate surrounding Sam, and the impact that Casablanca has had on the last fifty years of film making. Containing many pictures and transcripts of production notes, The Making of Casablanca is the perfect overview for understanding how a studio film was made and what external forces (the Breen Office and OWI) affected film making during this time.