Movies: When Bare Breasts Are Decent

The Hays Office, and the Hollywood Production Code it used to administer, are institutions as quaint and dated as Busby Berkeley musicals and brown-and-white shoes. Yet their demise and the present attempt to replace them tell a good deal about American show business—and therefore about American mores.

The code was designed in 1930 to keep actors and actresses out of bed—on the screen. It seemed like a good idea at the time, for movies were as sex-conscious as the films coming out of Sweden today. But the production code launched an era of...

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