My wife and I usually go to movies on weekday afternoons. Not so crowded and you can get to the snack bar in a reasonable amount of time. Last week we saw “Flight” with Denzel Washington. Pretty good movie, we both like him.

As I was sitting there, waiting for the movie to start enduring the endless previews of things to come, I thought back to movies when I was a kid growing up in Illinois. One of the memories that lured me to Montana was watching those old western serials that used to play on Saturday afternoon. Movies were the cheapest baby sitter my family could ever ask for. A quarter would send you to places and adventures more vivid than your imagination. Tarzan wrestling lions, Roy Rogers vanquishing the evil land barons. You got a coke, in a glass bottle, and a bag of popcorn for a dime.

The Golden Age of Cinema

The golden age of cinema was from the beginning of talking movies in the 1920’s to the late 1940’s. No I’m not going to bore you with names of famous legends you never heard of. Movies told stories. Amazingly, they did it without a lot of special effects, nudity or profanity. But in the late 50’s and early 60’s my generation came along and we changed everything.

Movies and The Censors

In the 1930’s Will H. Hays laid out the moral censorship guidelines that controlled what could and could not be shown in a motion picture. The Hays Code was adopted in 1930 and enforcement began in 1934. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Breen took over and he was even more ridged than Hays. The Hays code was strictly enforced until 1968 when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) decided it was outdated and replaced it with the rating system we are all familiar with today.

Some of Breen’s restrictions: No double beds in the bedroom. Only twin beds would be allowed for the protection of moviegoers. If actors of the opposite sex were sitting together on a bed they both had to have at least one foot on the floor. And absolutely no profanity would be allowed in any film. However, there was one notable exception to that rule that took place in 1939. The Breen censors decided to leave it in since it was so powerful in the way it was used in the story line of the film. Audiences were shocked and some women nearly fainted when Clark Gable, in the movie “Gone With The Wind,” told Vivien Leigh, “Frankly my dear — I don’t give a damn!”

Movies Began to Push the Envelope

The first movie I was not allowed to see by the Hays system was, “The Bad Seed,” based on the novel by William March in 1954. The story was about a 10 year old girl who killed anyone who didn’t give her what she wanted. In the book the girl killed her mom but survived. But in the movie version, the Hays censors killed her. Crime could not pay. It was nominated for four Academy Awards. I guess censors felt children all over America would go home and kill their parents after seeing the movie.

The first nude scene, by a mainstream star in an American sound motion picture, was done by Jayne Mansfield in the movie, “Promises, Promises” in 1963. Audiences got a brief glimpse of her topless and lower, lower back. Years later she was decapitated in an automobile accident. If Marilyn Monroe had not died of a drug overdose before her nude scene that was scheduled in the 1962 movie “Something’s Got To Give,” she would have that honor. Ironically the movie was renamed “Move Over Darling” and Doris Day played the Monroe role fully clothed of course.

Over the years movies got more and more bold. What was R (Restricted) in the 50’s and 60’s would probably be PG (Parental Guidance) today. Language, violence and nudity were almost expected for mainstream movies to attract today’s more “sophisticated” audiences. You would expect these movies to make major bucks for their studio big shots but actually it’s the G rated cartoon type films that do much better at the box office. Why? Because mom and dad and the kids all show up together for “Toy Story,” or “Little Mermaid.”

Some Final Thoughts

Most moviegoers today didn’t live through that age of change. Most have never seen a black and white movie since many have been color enhanced for TV. That drives my wife crazy. It’s like changing the Mona Lisa to her. Some things are meant to be as the makers intended. The "Wizard of Oz" begins in black and white then switches to color when Dorothy arrives in Oz.

I do have to admit that the “Spiderman” series is pretty cool with all the special effects in those. So I guess I have to adapt since I have little say in what comes out of the former “tinsel town.” Some of us more experienced viewers would call it “tarnished town.” Got the day off tomorrow, so I think I’ll take my quarter down to the local movie house and see what’s on. Maybe that new James Bond flick.