A Catholic backlash to Norma Shearer’s free love frolics and Mae West’s wicked double entendres finally forced strict compliance with the infamous studio production code in 1934.
But ironically, those censorious rules launched Hollywood’s supreme era, when sex had to be conveyed by suggestion and innuendo, swept by thrilling surges of romantic music.
The witty, stylish, emancipated women of 1930s and ’40s movies liked and admired men and did not denigrate them. Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Lena Horne, Rosalind Russell and Ingrid Bergman had it all together onscreen in ways that make today’s sermonizing women stars seem taut and strident. In the 1950s and ’60s, austere European art films attained a stunning sexual sophistication via magnetic stars like Jeanne Moreau, Delphine Seyrig and Catherine Deneuve. (…)
But movies are receding. Many young people, locked to their miniaturized cellphones, no longer value patient scrutiny of a colossal projected image. Furthermore, as texting has become the default discourse for an entire generation, the ability to read real-life facial expressions and body language is alarmingly atrophying.