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The Hayes Code and Subtext

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    Shaula Evans

    In the discussion on All About Eve, Holly Bell asks:

    After watching [All About Eve], I was asking my self this question: Is subtext in the dialogue of older movies much different than today? In the movie some things are implied in the dialogue or something like Eve’s and Lloyd’s affair. It’s never explicit, but I think if it was filmed today the filmmakers would address these issues more directly.

    What are your opinions about this? Do you think that the old Hollywood Production Code/censorship worked to films advantage? Disadvantage?

    Great question, Holly.

    I am an opponent of censorship but a great advocate of artistic constraints, and therein lies the hidden blessing of the Hays Code (or the film censors in Occupied France).

    I love the dialogue and racy subtext in production code-era films so much more than the explicitness of films today: because the best films of that era were intelligent and ambitious and at the same time really fun. When it comes to dialogue, give me Joseph L. Mankiewicz any day.

    I’d say that a number of outstanding screenwriters managed to work within (or against, or around) the Hays Code to their own advantage and to the delight of the audience.

    For a comparable example of “working around the censors” from Occupied France, I recommend Le Corbeau, written by Louis Chavance and Henri-Georges Clouzot.

    Any writers who want a better understanding of subtext would do well to study the great films of that era–and All About Eve is a great place to start.

    What do the rest of you have to say?

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