The Third Wave

by Chris A. Blair, Ph.D.

King of KingsThe third wave in the cycle for motion pictures would climax during the late twenties, when several controversial films tore apart the weak alliance between the MPPDA and religious and reform organizations. At the same time, the stock market crash of 1929 forced Hollywood to fall under the control of Wall Street investors (Shindler, 1996). Films such as Cecil B. deMille’s King of Kings (1927) offended many of the religious leaders, while an MGM comedy, The Callahans and the Murphys (1927), caused Irish-Catholics to protest the negative, stereotypical portrayal of Irish immigrants (Couvares, 1996a; Miller, F., 1994). In addition, the connection between movies and juvenile delinquency began to be articulated in the late twenties, as shown in Robert Lynd’s study, Middletown:

One working-class mother frankly welcomes the movies as an aid in child-rearing, saying, “I send my daughter because a girl has to learn the ways of the world some how and the movies are a good safe way.” The judge of the juvenile court lists the movies as one of the “big four” causes of local juvenile delinquency, believing that the disregard of group mores by the young is definitely related to witnessing week after week of fictitious behavior sequences that habitually link the taking of long chances and the happy ending. (Jowett, 1976, p. 142)

Strained relations prompted Hays to investigate the implementation of stricter guidelines than his “Hays Formula.” After gathering information on what type of material local and state censors cut most often, Hays drafted a “Purity Code,” most often referred to as the “don’ts and be carefuls” (Cook, D. A., 1990; Miller, F., 1994). The list of eleven subjects to avoid and twenty-five subjects to treat with caution was stricter than the previous guidelines. Hays, however, had little success in implementing the new code throughout the industry.

Production CodeThe Purity Code was ineffective and short lived, as the pressure mounted against the movie industry and the MPPDA. In late 1929, shortly after the stock market crash, Hays enlisted the aid of Martin Quigley, Motion Picture Herald publisher and devout Catholic, to draft a new comprehensive code that focused less on negative things to avoid—like the list of “don’ts and be carefuls”—and more on an overall statement about what messages the movies should be sending its audiences (Miller, F., 1994). The generic statement later became the introduction to the Production Code. But Hays needed something concrete that could be enforced fairly and consistently. Hays worked with Father Daniel A. Lord from Saint Louis University to draft what later became known as the Production Code. The MPPDA adopted the Code on February 17, 1930, but industry-wide implementation of the Code would not happen for four years, when yet again cries against the effects of movies—most notably the results of the Payne Fund Studies—and the threat of federal censorship prodded the industry to yield to the Code and hire Joseph I. Breen, a Catholic businessman, to enforce it (Cook, D. A., 1990; Jowett, et al., 1996).


Cook, D. A. (1990). A history of narrative film (2nd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Couvares, F. G. (1996a). Hollywood, main street, and the church. In F. G. Couvares (Ed.), Movie censorship and American culture (pp. 129–158). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Jowett, G. S. (1976). Film: The democratic art. Boston: Little and Brown.

Jowett, G. S., Jarvie, I. C., & Fuller, K. H. (1996). Children and the movies: Media influence and the Payne Fund controversy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, F. (1994). Censored Hollywood: Sex, sin & violence on screen. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc.