TCM is highlighting this month films condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Every Thursday evening the obscene, the objectionable and just plain indecent will be highlighted. The special guest introducing the films is Sister Rose Pacatte, a Catholic nun. The cinematic quality of the films vary. But of course quality was not the point. It was more about the unsavory aspects; the lewdness, the immorality and suggestiveness. When you watch some of these films today you wonder what the big deal was.
Growing up Catholic I was affected by the Legion of Decency. Once a year in church, the mass would come to a halt and you were told you had to take an oath not to see any film that was on the list of condemned by the church. This affected me mostly during my early teen years. My God, it was a sin! This list though turned out to be my first rebellion against the church. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly a rebellion, I just refused to take the oath. Still, Catholic guilt can run deep.
The most memorable example for me, was Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid. The film was condemned and it was also attacked by film critics at the time as well. Billy had finally gone too far! Wilder was already, for me, one of the great writer/directors. I was pretty familiar with his work having already watched Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Lost Weekend and Irma La Douce. I wanted to go see Kiss Me, Stupid, but it came and went in theaters and I didn’t go. Though I did not take the pledge, that good old Catholic guilt that it was a sin got to me. A minor sin true and I probably had plenty of other minor sins on my record already but…
Let’s go forward to the 1990’s. I am now married and living in the Atlanta area. Kiss Me, Stupid finally gets a VHS video release. I buy it. With the tape in hand I’m walking out to the parking lot. The video in a plastic bag which I kept feeling should really have been in a brown paper bag so no one could see thru it! It still felt dirty! That guilt was still running deep! I finally watched the film in the privacy of my own home (like all dirty films should be) and was shocked! Just shocked! Well, no not really. It’s a mild comedy by today’s standards, but I could understand the Legion’s concerns at the time. I have watched Kiss Me, Stupid a few times since and as a film I think it has gotten better with age. Still, Catholic guilt does not die, if at all, easy. All these years later I’m still feelin’ the guilt whenever I watch it. A real guilty pleasure for sure.
That all said, TCM’s weekly broadcast of condemned films will be on my watch list, including my own infamous, Kiss Me, Stupid (March 17th – 9:45ET).
There are two films on tonight’s schedule that are included in my new e-book, Lessons in the Dark. Check out one of the seediest of pre-code films, The Story of Temple Drake at 8PM ET and William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road.