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The French Line

The French Line(1954)

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Although this film was first released in 3-D, the viewed print was in standard format. Although Son of Sinbad marked Kim Novak's first screen assignment, The French Line was her first released picture. She was billed under her real name, Marilyn Novak. After appearing for several years under the name Steve Flagg, actor Michael St. Angel returned to using his real name in The French Line. Although Robert Neil is listed in Hollywood Reporter production charts as a cast member, his appearance in the completed film is doubtful. Hollywood Reporter news items add Caryl Lincoln, Harold Wolverton, Barry Norton, Philo McCullough and Sally McClosky to the cast, but the appearance of these actors in the final film has not been confirmed. According to the Variety review, a tenth song, "The French Line," was written for the film, but was cut from the final version.
       After its world premiere in St. Louis, MO, on December 29, 1953, The French Line came under attack by the PCA and the Legion of Decency. According to correspondence in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen had approved the film's script with only minor objections and cautions. The completed picture, however, was deemed in violation of the Code and was not issued a Code certificate. Specifically, Breen, in a letter to RKO president James R. Grainger, complained about Jane Russell's dancing costumes, which in his opinion, created "indecent and undue exposure" of her breasts. The Variety reviewer described the offending outfit as "a bikini affair" photographed with "an inquiring camera thrusting inquisitive lenses forward at...strategic angles." According to a November 30, 1953 Daily Variety news item, RKO re-edited and resubmitted the picture to the PCA, after being advised that without a seal, the picture could not be shown on the Interstate Circuit in Texas, as the studio had planned. Although the re-edited film was denied a certificate in early December 1953, RKO chose to release the picture in St. Louis. In her autobiography, Russell stated that she strongly objected to the dance's original costume design, which she described as a silver-beaded bikini, and refused to shoot the scene until the costume was modified. The final costume was in one piece, but with "holes below and above the waist."
       The screening, as well as the film's advertising, caused an immediate uproar among Catholic religious leaders, and was scrutinized by the local police department's "morality squad." The Legion of Decency gave the picture a "C" or condemned rating, complaining that it contained "grossly obscene, suggestive and indecent action, costuming and dialogue." In addition, as Breen stated in a January 6, 1954 letter to Grainger, because RKO had screened the film publicly without a certificate, the studio was obliged to pay a $25,000 fine, as stipulated in the membership by-laws of the MPAA. According to a December 1953 Hollywood Citizen-News news item, Russell cancelled her personal appearance tour, declaring that she did not want to be "associated with any movie denied a seal of approval." News items claim that RKO re-cut the picture in January 1954 and promised to pull the film from the St. Louis theater after its scheduled two-week run. When the PCA again denied the film a certificate in mid-January 1954, however, the studio decided to extend the picture's St. Louis run in its original form.
       Despite the Catholic Church's condemnations, over 60,000 tickets were sold during the first five days of the film's St. Louis engagement, according to a January 1954 Hollywood Reporter item. Catholics in Los Angeles were also warned against seeing the picture, and William H. Mooring, the motion picture editor of The Tidings, a Los Angeles based Catholic newspaper, denounced RKO head Howard Hughes for foisting "upon prurient-minded patrons an inferior movie." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, in early March 1954, RKO filed a lawsuit against the mayor and police commissioner of Chicago as well as the Woods Theatre, after the city banned The French Line from being screened there. In late March 1954, Daily Variety reported that RKO was seeking a legal injunction to restrain Chicago's police commissioner, Timothy O'Connor, from outlawing the picture. Pressured by Catholic groups, O'Connor had overruled the city's Police Censor Board, which had approved the film's release. The final disposition of these lawsuits has not been discovered.
       On March 24, 1955, more than a year after the film's initial release, the PCA granted The French Line a certificate on the understanding that all prints released would be exactly as re-reviewed by the PCA. Only the province of British Columbia rejected the picture "in toto"; a few other states required minor eliminations before approving its release. The French Line was the last film of long-time director Lloyd Bacon, who died in 1955.