2 April 2017

Nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie

Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959) was released at a time when the Production Code was slowly dying. In 1954, PCA's director Joseph Breen (a strict censor for two decades) had been replaced by his deputy director Geoffrey Shurlock who was far less strict than Breen, giving filmmakers room to be more creative. The Catholic Legion of Decency, however, strongly objected to Some Like it Hot, because of its subject matter of transvestism, hints at homosexuality and lesbianism, and double-entendre dialogue.

On 5 March 1959, Reverend Thomas F. Little of the Legion of Decency, wrote a letter to Geoffrey Shurlock, listing his objections to Some Like it Hot, which he felt "bordered on condemnation". Shurlock replied a few days later, apparently not agreeing with the Reverend, while referring to trade paper reviews which called the film "hilariously funny". Incidentally, both letters contradict some of the things I've read on the internet regarding Some Like it Hot. According to several sources, the Legion of Decency condemned the film giving it a C-rating, but Father Little's letter clearly shows that his rating was B (morally objectionable in part). Also, many sources say that Some Like it Hot was released without the approval of the PCA. However, Shurlock's letter (written before the film's actual release date) gives the impression that he didn't object to the film at all. 

The letters will be shown in transcript only
; click here for the original images.

Dressed in drag, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a publicity still for Some Like it Hot.

March 5, 1959
Mr. Geoffrey Shurlock,
Motion Picture Association of America
8480 Beverly Boulevard,
Hollywood 48, California.

Dear Geoff:

For your information and, I am sure, interested reaction the Legion on March 12 rated the United Artists film SOME LIKE IT HOT, starring Marilyn Monroe, as B (Morally Objectionable in Part for All), with the following objection noted:

¨This film, though it purports to be a comedy, contains screen material elements that are judged to be seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency. Furthermore, its treatment dwells almost without relief on gross suggestiveness in costuming, dialogue and  situations. ¨

Since the initiation of the triple A method of classifying films in December 1957, this film has given the Legion the greatest cause for concern in its evaluation of Code Seal pictures. As you can well imagine, it bordered on condemnation. The subject matter of ¨transvestism¨ naturally leads to complications; in this film there seemed to us to be clear inferences of homosexuality and lesbianism. The dialogue was not only ¨double entendre¨ but outright smut. The offense in costuming was obvious. 

In the present atmosphere of our society, which seems to be calling for censorship and controls, this picture will only add fuel to the fire. 

I thought that you would be sincerely interested in our observations. Perhaps they might act as a stop gap in future decisions with which you are faced. 

With best personal wishes to yourself and the staff, I remain

Cordially Yours,

Very Rev. Msgr. Thomas F. Little
Executive Secretary

March 18, 1959 
Very Rev. Msgr. T. F. Little
National Legion of Decency
453 Madison Avenue
New York 22, N.Y.

Geoffrey Shurlock
Dear Father Little,

In reply to yours of March 5th, we have been scanning very carefully the trade paper reviews of SOME LIKE IT HOT. To date we have received eight such reports, including two from Martin Quigley´s publications. 

Not a single reviewer has been in the slightest way critical of this film, or questioned either its morality or its taste. So far there is simply no adverse reaction at all; nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie. 

I am not suggesting, of course, that there are not dangers connected with a story of this type. But girls dressed as men, and occasionally men dressed as women for proper plot purposes, has been standard theatrical fare as far back as AS YOU LIKE IT and TWELFTH NIGHT, and perhaps further. The classic example of a man masquerading in woman´s clothes without offense is CHARLEY´S AUNT, which has been a hilarious hit for three-quarters of a century.

It seems to boil down to the fact that if this material is handled properly it can and will be accepted. Of course, if it is handled improperly it could be enormously objectionable. But as indicated, eight reviewers to date have seen this film and their consensus without reservation is that it has been treated acceptably.

We can only trust that the general public will be of the same mind, and that the alarm the Legion very understandably expressed may prove in the long run to be no worry at all. At any rate, that is the hope we are nourishing. 

We are of course not defending the two exaggerated costumes worn by the leading lady; but we gathered these were not your major concern.
With kindest regards from the staff,
I am,
Very sincerely yours, 

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