Artist: Joseph von Sternberg
Confronting Bodies: Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association
Date of Action: 1932
Specific Location: Hollywood, New York
Description of Artwork: In the case of "Blonde Venus", written by Joseph von Sternberg, three scripts were written before one was approved by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA). The original was written by Joseph von Sternberg. The second was revised under the direction of the films producer at Paramount, B.P. Schulberg. The final version was the result of a compromise between Sternberg and Schulberg. "...In Sternberg's version of the script, Helen (Marlene Dietrich) gives up a glamorous career on the stage in Paris, and also her engagement to a millionaire, Nick (Cary Grant), in order to return to her relatively impoverished husband Ned (Herbert Marshall), and son, Johnny....
Description of Incident: The MPPDA was responsible for monitoring scripts before films went into production. The key sections of the Production Code the MPPDA used are "Law natural or human shall not be ridiculed, nor shall any sympathy be created for its violation," furthermore, "The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home should be upheld." "Blonde Venus" is paradigmatic of the complex combination of imposed and self-censorship, that accompanied the Production Code restrictions. In an effort to get the film produced, Sternberg was forced to revise the script three times. As a precautionary measure,the producers at Paramount, revised the original script to submit to the MPPDA. " Industry censors, however, object(ed) vociferously to the studio's ending. Lamar Trotti (the censor in charge of this project) writes: "It does not seem proper to have (Helen's) affair justified in the minds of the audience by tearing down the character of the husband, who, up to this point, has been a decent man who was deceived by his wife." Trotti complains about the way in which the studio's version undermines Ned, a character who for him, represents a moral position or point of view. This kind of reasoning is quite typical of industry censors, who routinely sought to justify what they deemed offensive material within a script on the basis of a moral that could be attributed to the ending. According to what was known as the rule of "compensating moral values," censors generally advocated the final punishment and suffering of "bad" characters or their regeneration. The problem with the studio's ending of "Blonde Venus", then, for Trotti is that of compensatory logic has gone askew.One act of adultery is balanced, "justified," by something still worse. That is Helen's affair, which is motivated at the beginning of the film in terms of financial need, as a sacrifice to have her ailing husband, is made to look good in relation to Ned's illicit liaison."
Results of Incident: "(The third script) reinstated much of the director's original script including the ending. Lamar Trotti ....found the first draft, written by Sternberg, "utterly impossible," but did not comment on this draft because the producer was already planning to ask for drastic revisions. Trotti found the second draft (the studio's) to be better then the first, but he was still concerned about how to represent the adulterous love affair (which is present in all three versions of the script) and the studio's version of the ending. Censors considered Sternberg's third draft an improvement upon the studio's version and approved it after minor revisions."
Source: Lea Jacobs, "The Censorship of the Blonde Venus...", Cinema Journal 27, No. , Spring 1988, pg. 21-31
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