From 1934 to 1954 Joseph I. Breen, a media-savvy Victorian
Irishman, reigned over the Production Code Administration, the
Hollywood office tasked with censoring the American screen. Though
little known outside the ranks of the studio system, this former
journalist and public relations agent was one of the most powerful
men in the motion picture industry. As enforcer of the puritanical
Production Code, Breen dictated "final cut" over more movies than
anyone in the history of American cinema. His editorial decisions
profoundly influenced the images and values projected by Hollywood
during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War.
Cultural historian Thomas Doherty tells the absorbing story of
Breen's ascent to power and the widespread effects of his reign.
Breen vetted story lines, blue-penciled dialogue, and excised
footage (a process that came to be known as "Breening") to fit the
demands of his strict moral framework. Empowered by industry
insiders and millions of like-minded Catholics who supported his
missionary zeal, Breen strove to protect innocent souls from the
temptations beckoning from the motion picture screen.
There were few elements of cinematic production beyond Breen's
reach-he oversaw the editing of A-list feature films, low-budget B
movies, short subjects, previews of coming attractions, and even
cartoons. Populated by a colorful cast of characters, including
Catholic priests, Jewish moguls, visionary auteurs, hardnosed
journalists, and bluenose agitators, Doherty's insightful,
behind-the-scenes portrait brings a tumultuous era-and an
individual both feared and admired-to vivid life.
Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History
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