Watch our TCM Special: “The Hays Gaze” airing in July!

Tara McNamara on The Hays Gaze, Mondays in July on TCM

Before there was G, PG and R, and definitely before PG-13, there was The Production Code. Willam H. Hays was hired by the studios collectively to create and administer a system of rules that would dictate appropriate film content, and the studios agreed to monitor themselves in an effort to avoid local censor boards making their own edits to prints and to deter government regulation. The creators behind what came to be called The Hays Code were 1920s-era studio executives like Irving Thalberg, entertainment industry magazine publisher and Catholic layman Martin Quigley, and Jesuit priest Daniel A. Lord. (While there were plenty of organizations that were concerned about the fact that anyone of any age could see what was going up on the screen, the Catholic Church was the largest, most organized, and the most vehement. Their power and control over their membership allowed them to get a seat at the table.)

The agreement to abide by these rules came months after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. While initially movies were a harbor for escape from the financial realities of The Depression, as times got tougher, moviegoers started to see a choice — see a movie or eat. Studios were desperate to sell tickets, and they began making more provocative content.

The leaders in the Catholic Church felt they’d been betrayed. Fed up with Hollywood saying one thing and doing another when it came to questionable content, they initiated a nationwide protest, telling their members that their mortal souls were in danger if they went to see a movie — any movie. Five days later, the studios agreed to abide by The Production Code, and put enforcement in the hands of hard-nosed Joseph Breen, a Hays administrator and Catholic who had proven to the leaders that he was their ally. The enforcement began on July 1, 1934 — 90 years ago this month.

Every Monday night in July,’s Tara McNamara will join Dave Karger on TCM in “The Hays Gaze,” a limited series examining how Hollywood’s begrudging self-censorship through the Hays Office impacted filmmaking and society’s attitudes and behaviors. McNamara is the guest programmer of the series, and selected “Pre-Code” and “Post-Code” films that show the stark contrast in how taboo topics were depicted once Breen had the control over the words, actions, and situations that could be presented in film.

As 80sMovieGuide encourages movie lovers to think about why they love movies from 1980s, but also what messages we were taking in as kids and teens, it’s all the more fascinating to think about how these films impacted the generations before us. When we wax poetic about the 1950s, was it as wholesome as we think? Or was that was shown to us on screen? Or, was it more wholesome than the 1970s and beyond because audiences of the era were presented a sanitized world, and then, they replicated what they saw on screen? (“We are what we watch,” a wise man named Mr. Rogers once said.)

For those who love movies of the 1980s, beyond, and before, please join us every Monday night in July (July 8, 15, 22, and 29) at 8p ET/5p PT. Note that in programming guides, TCM doesn’t list under “The Hays Gaze” spotlight title, instead, listing each of the four movies we cover. The two films that follow do not have hosted wraps, but follow the theme — all very much worth watching as well! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the month (Times written for EST):

Monday, July 8 

Crime and Gangsters

  8:00 PM             Scarface (1932)

  9:45 PM             The Roaring Twenties (1939)

Illegitimate Children

11:45 PM            The Bachelor Father (1931)

  1:30 AM             Bachelor Mother (1939)

Overnight Features

  3:00 AM             The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

  4:15 AM             That Certain Woman (1937)

Monday, July 15

Con Artists

  8:00 PM             Trouble in Paradise (1932)

  9:30 PM             The Lady Eve (1941)

Social Climbers

11:15 PM            Red-Headed Woman (1932)

12:45 AM            Stella Dallas (1937)

Overnight Features

  2:45 AM             The Divorcee (1930)

  4:15 AM             The Gay Divorcee (1934)

Monday, July 22


  8:00 PM             The Miracle Woman (1931)

  9:45 PM             Boys Town (1938)

Sex & Violence

11:30 PM            Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

  1:15 AM             Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Overnight Features

  3:30 AM             The Office Wife (1930)

  4:30 AM             Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

Monday, July 29


  8:00 PM             Night Nurse (1931)

  9:30 PM             The Lost Weekend (1945)

Gangster Molls

11:30 PM            Midnight Mary (1933)

  1:00 AM             Marked Woman (1937)

Overnight Features

  2:45 AM             Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

  4:45 AM             Tarzan Escapes (1936)