The Breen Office and Noir

Laura (1944)

In the 1940’s the Breen Office rejected initial scripts (amongst many other films) for The Maltese Falcon (1941), Laura (1944), and Murder, My Sweet (aka Farewell, My Lovely 1944):

The Maltese Falcon… required the… following revisions: Joel Cairo should not be characterized as a ‘pansy type’; the ‘suggestion of illicit sex between Spade and Brigid’ should be eliminated; there should be less drinking; there should be no physical contact between Iva and Spade ‘other than that of decent sympathy’; Gutman should say ‘By Gad!’ less often; and ‘Spade’s speech about District Attorneys should be rewritten to get away from characterizing [them] as men who will do anything to further their careers.’ A similar pattern of objections can be seen in the Breen Office reports on other celebrated films noirs. A… review of Laura insisted that Waldo Lydecker must be portrayed as a ‘wit and debonair man-about-town’ and that ‘there can never be any suggestion that [he] and Laura have been more than friends’; meanwhile, scenes of police brutality had to be downplayed, along with the drinking at Laura’s apartment… [A] report on Farewell, My Lovely informed the producers that ‘there must, of course, be nothing of the ‘pansy’ characterization about Marriott’; by the same token, Mr. Grayle could not ‘escape punishment’ by committing suicide, and the scenes of pistol-whipping, drinking, and illicit sex would have to be reduced or treated indirectly.

– James Naremore, More Than Night – Film Noir In Its Contexts (UCLA Press 1998)

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