Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the greatest directors to ever live. While he is known for his innovative film techniques, he was also the master of sidestepping The Motion Picture Production Code and successfully inserting forbidden sexual content into his films.
The Motion Picture Production Code, better known as The Hayes Code, was a set of very strict moral guidelines that films made in the United States had to adhere to. The Hayes Code was pretty stern on what little violence and romance would be shown in films. Nudity was out of the question, as was the sound of a toilet flushing, which was deemed inappropriate for entertainment. In 1934, The Production Code Administration was established to enforce The Hayes Code. The PCA would read every script and screen every film before a release. Any objections by the PCA had to be addressed before the release of the film. They were literally deciding what entertainment could be shown to the American public.
Hitchcock, king of thrillers, didn’t let The Hayes Code discourage him from making his films steamy and found clever ways to sneak sexuality into his films. At times, he used visual cues because imagery loaded with sexual symbolism was less likely to get an objection. He would also stack a film with superfluous material that would definitely get an objection (like nudity) in order to distract the PCA away from the envelope pushing material that he did in fact want in his film.
Here are the ten cleverest ways that Hitchcock sneaked sexual content into his films during The Hayes Code:
10. 39 Steps (1935) – The Handcuffed Couple
The Code was absolutely not down with cohabitation between unmarried couples. Unmarried couples were prohibited from sharing the same bed or even being shown in a bedroom together. The Code even insisted that married couples be shown sleeping in separate beds, which resulted in Lucy and Ricky sleeping in twin beds in the earlier seasons of I Love Lucy. Hitchcock danced around this stipulation by having Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat’s characters, who were unmarried, handcuffed together, thus forcing them to share a bed whether or not the PCA liked it.
9. Rebecca (1940) – Gay Subtext
If the PCA acted prudish towards heterosexual film plots, it acted even more prudish towards homosexual plots, which had to be layered deep within the story. Supposedly, the original screenplay for Rebecca strongly implied that the deceased Rebecca and her housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, had a homosexual relationship. The PCA was not pleased and asked for this plot to be taken out of the film. Hitchcock being Hitchcock took any sign of a homosexual relationship out of the screenplay but found his own way to insert it back into the movie while filming. Danvers can be seen caressing Rebecca’s lingerie and treating such things as her hairbrush or pillow with affection. Hitchcock succeeded in sneaking the homosexual relationship back into the film through visual cues.
8. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) – The Bathroom Scene
Admittedly, this one is not about Hitchcock sneaking sex into a film but rather just him pushing against something the PCA hated: toilets. The PCA did not feel that bathrooms or people using the bathroom were considered entertainment. For that reason, they usually asked for scenes in bathrooms to be set in other locations or omitted all together. They especially didn’t like the sound of a toilet flushing. In fact, Psycho, which was released twenty years after this film, is often credited as the first Hollywood film to show a flushing toilet. In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, three characters have a private conversation in an office bathroom. Not only does the conversation take place in a bathroom but Hitchcock also had it scripted so that the conversation would be repeatedly interrupted by the sound of the toilet one floor above flushing. This never even made it to the PCA office, as the production company urged Hitchcock to change the sound of the flushing toilet, noting that the PCA would undoubtedly object. Hitchcock changed the sound of the toilet above flushing to the sound of knocking pipes from above, losing this battle against The Hayes Code.
7. Notorious (1946) – The 2½ Minute Kiss
The Code was pretty much against anything sexual, including kissing that lasted too long. Too long, by their standards, was about three seconds. That’s right, as a rule of thumb, kisses could only last three seconds because otherwise, it was way too steamy to be shown as entertainment. In Notorious, Hitchcock directed Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman to break away from their kiss every three seconds but not from their embrace. The kiss is interrupted by nibbling on each others’ ears, kissing on their cheeks, sweet words to one another and even a telephone conversation, but always returning to the kiss. All in all, the kiss lasts for about two and a half minutes and because the kiss never at one time exceeded the three second rule of thumb, the censorship allowed it.
6. Rope (1948) – Gay Subtext (Again)
Hitchcock explored a homosexual relationship again but this time through the theme of an entire movie. This film is based off the Leopold and Loeb case from 1924, in which two University of Chicago students murdered a 14-year-old boy. The case also implied that the two students were in a homosexual relationship. While, of course, Hitchcock couldn’t really showcase their homosexual relationship in the film, he could make the whole film thematically about being a closeted gay man. This film begins with the murder and takes place as the two students host a dinner party. The entire film is about keeping the murder a secret from the guests of their dinner party. The theme of keeping a secret from society runs through this entire film, making it basically one big analogy for being in the closet.
5. Rear Window (1954) – The Topless Dancer
Hitchcock would often put unnecessary things in films that he knew would drive the PCA crazy. This would divert their attention away from the questionable content he really wanted in his films. For example, in Rear Window, Grace Kelly is seen in a nightgown and shares a slow, sensual kiss with Jimmy Stewart. In order to distract the PCA from objecting to these things that he wanted to keep in the film, Hitchcock submitted a cut of Rear Window featuring a topless “Miss Torso,” one of the neighbors that Jimmy Stewart’s character spies on. As Hitchcock planned, the PCA was so distraught by this that they didn’t raise objections to the kiss or Kelly’s nightgown. Hitchcock simply replaced the topless scene with a non-topless take of the scene.
4. To Catch a Thief (1955) – Fireworks
This film is another example of Hitchcock using superfluous material in order to distract the PCA. He added an unnecessary joke of the French policeman, who was tailing Grant’s character, looking at nude photographs on his breaks. Of course, the PCA objected to this, which was exactly what Hitchcock wanted. By distracting them with this superfluous scene, Hitchcock was able to sneak in the infamous fireworks scene, in which Grant and Kelly’s characters have a romantic moment in a hotel room. The scene ends with a shot of fireworks. Hitchcock used this visual trick to imply that the two characters had sex.
3. Vertigo (1958) – The Pounding Waves
After Kim Novak’s character leaps into the water, she is taken back to Jimmy Stewart’s character’s apartment. As the camera pans across the apartment, her drying clothes are visible, including a bra. The PCA was not down with showing bras so obviously objections were made. Hitchcock shot the scene again without the bra to appease the PCA, but kept the original scene showing the bra in the final film. Hitchcock also used a visual cue in this film to imply sex. When Novak and Stewart’s characters kiss, the camera pans over to the “pounding” waves, again implying sexual intercourse through the imagery.
2. North by Northwest (1959) – A Train Penetrating a Tunnel
The ending of North by Northwest is a perfect example of why you should never piss off Hitchcock. This was yet another film heavy with sexual innuendos and a seemingly sexual relationship between Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant’s characters. Due to the implied sexuality, the PCA forced Hitchcock to alter a scene at the end of the film implying that Grant and Saint’s character were married. Since he had to alter a scene in a manner that he had not wanted, Hitchcock took revenge. At the end of the film, after Saint and Grant’s characters kiss in a train car, it cuts to the image of the train entering a tunnel, an image looking quite similar to penetration during sex.
1. Psycho (1960) – The Shower Scene
Considering how much the PCA didn’t like bathrooms, one can assume that they weren’t too happy about the infamous shower scene. Upon seeing the screenplay, the PCA warned that the shower scene must be handled with the utmost tact, among many other objections. Hitchcock did treat the shower scene with tact by tactfully inserting a very quickly cut nude shot as Janet Leigh’s character grabs for the shower curtain. Since the scene was so quickly cut, the censors at the screening could not agree on whether they saw nudity. So it goes that this is how Hitchcock was finally able to sneak a bit of nudity into one of his most iconic scenes.