The Hays Code Myth

Alex Cox, in his new book 10,000 Ways to Die, makes the familiar point that A Fistful of Dollars broke the Hays Code rule for Hollywood westerns by having shooter and victim in the same frame. But this happens frequently and explicitly in The Magnificent Seven, which was made four years earlier. So this self-censorship code, if it was ever adhered to, must have fallen out of use by 1960. Can anyone else think of other pre-Fistful examples?

Maybe they are only talking about this ego-shooter perspective with the hand and the gun big in the foreground.

I doubt that all the older films have all the shoot outs separated by cuts. I have to check it.

I remeber the first murder scene in Maltese Falcon had this frame.

Ha ha, just as I thought, absolute bullshit.

I have just checked the 1st US western I got in my hands from my collection. Ford’s Wagonmaster. In the final shoot-out (1st scene I checked) there is even this ego shooter perspective I mentioned. you see Ben Johnson’s arm and gun while he is shooting down a man in the backgound, who is also trying to shoot him. Very similar to Eastwood’s first killing in FoD.

So that’s a cinematic myth, which, despite the easily to verify fact that it’s obviously wrong, is reproduced again and again.

Still, is there an old Hollywood film in which you see a double bed? That’s probably a real Hays Code direction.
And tells you how censors think. Killing is ok, sex is immoral.

You might be right, Stanton. The Code was mostly about moral values, so a big part if the rules dealt with sexuality in films.

The article Extranjero talks about goes like this:

“the representation of crime in such a detailed way as may teach the methods of committing crime except of winning to the whole public…”

I remember that as well.

Hell, there are even squibs in pre-Fistful US Westerns. I remember one for sure in River of No Return, of all films, and possibly in the Elvis Presley vehicle Love me Tender.

I’m interested in this, because I came across an interview where Clint Eastwood himself mentioned the “no shooter and victim in the same frame” rule, but he referred it explicitly to his experience in Rawhide - perhaps they were more pedantic about it when it came to tv? ???

There was also a mercy killing in “The Third Man” right at the end.

That would make sense, but I’ll revisit some episodes on DVD over the weekend to check this out.

Well, I only checked two episodes from the first season at random but that was enough to dispprove the ‘Hays’ myth, at least as far as Rawhide goes.

I found at least two scenes where the shooter and victim were in the same frame. Of course, there were scenes where the editing separated the characters as well, but it shows that there was no blanket ban on same-frame shootings.

Thanks for clearing this up! Seems that Clint needs to have his facts checked ::slight_smile: