An opinion piece for the New York Times set in 1951 and shortly after the release of A Streetcar Named Desire.
SEP. 27. 1951
The film adaptation of William Tennessee’s A Streetcar Named Desire has recently come out and is nothing short of disappointing. Anybody who has ever seen William Tennessee’s play will notice differences between the two versions. I too along with almost everybody in the theatre was surprised at how much was changed. As a film director it was glaringly obvious as to how the film was heavily cut. Dialogue felt out of place and it didn’t even feel like the same play. Censorship is dangerous and can destroy creativity and art.
The censorship of A Streetcar Named Desire was obviously due to The Catholic Legion of Decency. People go unpunished for crime all the time and yet The Catholic Legion of Decency attempts to censor films which go against their own narrow beliefs such as unpunished crime and threaten movie producers with condemnation of their films. Not only is censorship unnecessary it is only used for personal gain and is highly exploitable. The Catholic Legion of Decency believe that many great films such as The Dolly Sisters, West of the Divide and now A Streetcar Named Desire are unacceptable and are either condemned or forced to make heavy cuts.
The Hays Code and Catholic Legion of Decency forced A Streetcar Named Desire into completely changing the ending and cutting out many lines of dialogue. This destroyed all the impact and creative ideas of the original play. Instead of Stella returning to her husband Stanley and raising questions about if we are so dependent on males in our society Stella leaves him never to return and the ending becomes cliché and ordinary. Music played when Stella walks down a staircase was also changed from sensuous to mournful. This is a shocking change as the meaning of the scene becomes completely different. Stella being portrayed as strongly attracted to Stanley in the original now makes her appear sad which is wrong. Instead of respecting the creative thoughts, ideas and music behind the original play they paid no respect to the creator’s thoughts and simply forced producers to censor the film heavily against their free will; something that Christians believe to be of utmost importance. I wonder why their God does not interfere with a criminal’s free will but can’t allow film directors to film what they want.
Censorship is another way for people such as the Catholic Legion of Decency to achieve their goals of spreading their beliefs. Much of the censorship of A Streetcar Named Desire was because of contradictions between themes of the play and Christian beliefs. They foolishly believe that unpunished crimes are unacceptable disregarding the fact that these are present in our everyday lives. Much like in many totalitarian regimes the Catholics are using the method of censoring texts and films in an attempt to control what we think. By burning books in Hitler’s Nazi Germany the public were only able to access a limited amount of information. This is a repeat of the same situation. By censoring what they disapprove of the public can slowly be turned to believe their gospel.
The films that we make are being torn apart by people who know nothing of film. Are we really going to sit back, relax and let our precious work be destroyed? Censorship can remove all meaning from our films and we are allowing it. We are not prisoners and this is not our imprisonment. We are the directors and this is our freedom. The Legion of Decency does not control what we film. We control what we film. We can’t allow the Legion of Decency to sit back and command us. The Legion of Decency must go.