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The Moon Is Blue

The Moon Is Blue(1953)

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With the exception of the title and names, opening credits were in lowercase letters. The onscreen credit for F. Hugh Herbert's play reads as follows: "written for the screen by F. Hugh Herbert, from his stage play The Moon Is Blue, produced on Broadway by Otto Preminger and presented by Richard Aldrich & Richard Myers in association with Julius Fleischmann." The song credit reads as follows: "Song: lyric by Sylvia Fine, presentation by The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra." The Moon Is Blue was shot simultaneously in German and English. The German release was titled Die Jungfrau auf dem Bach (The Virgin on the Roof), and shared cast and crew with the exception of Johannes Heesters as "David Slater," Johanna Matz as "Patty O'Neill" and Hardy Krger as "Donald Gresham." It does not appear that the German version was ever released in the U.S. Matz and Krger appeared briefly in the English-language version as tourists on the Empire State Building's observation deck. According to an article in Los Angeles Times dated January 18, 1953, Krger portrayed Donald in a German production of the play. In addition, Maggie McNamara, who was on loan from Twentieth Century-Fox for the film, appeared as Patty O'Neill in a Chicago production of the play, and David Niven performed his same role in the West Coast production.
       Rehearsals for both English and German versions of the film began on January 13, 1953, according to a news item in Hollywood Citizen-News. A January 27, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that producer-director Otto Preminger appears in a scene with Matz in the German version. Modern sources add the following about the two productions: McNamara appears as a tourist in the German version, Carl Zuckmayer is credited with the dialogue for Die Jungfrau auf dem Bach and Preminger reportedly dubbed in his own voice in German to replace that of Gregory Ratoff, who played the taxicab driver.
       The Moon Is Blue was denied a seal of approval from the PCA because of its frank depiction of verbal sexual foreplay. Preminger and co-producer F. Hugh Herbert were incensed by the PCA's rejection and waged a public campaign against what they deemed to be unfair censorship. As a result, The Moon Is Blue was the first major American film to have been successfully released without the PCA's approval. According to correspondence in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Herbert's play was first submitted to the MPAA/PCA for approval by Paramount Pictures Corp. in 1951, with Samuel J. Briskin attached as producer of a potential film production. The PCA's Joseph I. Breen responded in a letter dated June 26, 1951 that the script was unacceptable under the Production Code. In addition to other concerns, Breen outlined the following: "This unacceptability arises from the fact that the humor in this play stems, almost entirely, from a light and gay treatment of the subject of illicit sex and seduction. While there is no actual seduction in the story, the general attitude towards illicit sex seems to violate that Code clause which states: `Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.'" Breen duplicated this reply in letters to other interested parties later, including Herbert himself in July 1951, Jack Warner of Warner Bros. in December 1951, as well as Preminger, who first submitted a script based on the play in December 1952. In a January 2, 1953 letter to Preminger, Breen concluded that the film script was "unapprovable," and added that it reflected an "unacceptably light attitude towards seduction, illicit sex, chastity and virginity," among other things.
       A PCA memo dated January 6, 1953 indicated that Preminger and Herbert then met with PCA staff for a conference. The producers maintained that they would continue production, despite the PCA's disapproval, as Herbert's play had encountered no public resistance to the subject matter during a lengthy national road tour. In a January 26, 1953 letter to a publisher, Breen referred to United Artists president Arthur Krim, noting that Krim was misguided in his reported belief that the film's "questionable dialogue" could be shot appropriately to pass muster with the PCA. Following completion of the film, Breen wrote to Preminger on April 10, 1953, informing him that the picture had been reviewed and that the PCA would not grant a certificate of approval. [A letter in the files dated April 12, 1953 indicates that the PCA's Geoffrey M. Shurlock made the initial determination, although Breen noted in an April 1953 letter that the entire staff was in "unanimous" agreement.]
       In his written response dated April 13, 1953, Preminger expressed his dismay with the PCA's decision. He pointed out that the production had implemented the PCA's suggested revisions by clarifying Donald's and Patty's stance against illicit relationships and moral corruption as embodied in the character of David. In addition, Preminger defended his reputation, which he felt had been attacked in Breen's earlier letter of January 2, 1953, by noting that neither he nor his partners had ever "been connected with anything shady, dishonorable, salacious or illicit" in their careers. As further proof of the film's "harmless story of a very virtuous girl," Preminger cited quotations from the film as well as the responses of preview audiences in Pasadena and Westwood, CA, noting that "not one objected to the morality of the picture. On the contrary, a goodly number expressed the hope that the picture would not be ruined by censorship." Breen acknowledged Preminger's letter on April 16, 1953, and recommended that the producers appeal to the Motion Picture Association board of directors if they wished to protest further; however, a meeting held on May 15, 1953 before the board proved futile, as they upheld the action of the PCA.
       In addition to the PCA's disapproval, the film received public condemnation from the National Catholic Legion of Decency and the Catholic Parent-Teacher League. Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York exhorted his flock to avoid the film and dubbed it "an occasion of sin" in a public letter printed in newspapers. James Francis Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles, CA, wrote a letter to be read at all masses urging Catholics to avoid the film. According to an article in Variety dated July 1, 1953, the National Council on Freedom from Censorship, which was affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, responded to Spellman's attack by stating that his request that the film be boycotted was "contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution. Despite the condemnation from religious groups, Preminger and Herbert proceeded with the film's release.
       A Variety article dated June 10, 1953 reported Preminger's public statements about the furor over The Moon Is Blue, including his challenge to the MPAA to allow the public to see the film first before passing judgment. The article noted that Preminger "emphasize[d] the ban [was] particularly unfair in view of [the film's] approval from the National Board of Review and censorship boards in New York, Pennyslvania, Illinois and Massachusetts." Furthermore, the article reported, Preminger urged the Breen office to advocate self-regulation in the film industry rather than censorship. In light of the controversy, the June 27, 1953 Saturday Review (of Literature) included a lengthy article that briefly reviewed the history of the PCA, noting that only a couple of foreign films had dared to oppose the administration's rulings. Saturday Review (of Literature) predicted that The Moon Is Blue would be a "sterner test" to the strength of the Code, noting that "[c]ertainly, this picture does violate the puritanical spirit of the Code, if not the letter," and citing the film's use of such taboo words as "seduce" and "pregnant." The article further reflected that "the question here is neither one of great art nor even of particularly good taste. It is rather a question of whether American movies are continually to be hamstrung by rules that confine picture themes, picture morals, and picture language to what is deemed fit for children-or for childlike mentalities." The article concluded by suggesting that the furor over The Moon Is Blue might lead to "some revision, some relaxation of the Code's more rigid restrictions."
       A review of the film in Newsweek also noted that The Moon Is Blue represented "the first major challenge to the MPAA in years." The review quoted Preminger as saying that "[w]e are not going to change one line or one word. Not anybody in the world has a right to tell the American people what to see and what not to see," and added Preminger's observation that the PCA had recently approved several films that might be considered "more objectionable." In a letter dated July 20, 1953, New York-based MPAA vice-president Ralph Hetzel wrote to Shurlock at the MPAA in Los Angeles that Variety had been requesting the MPAA's comments about The Moon Is Blue, but the administration had refused to respond. However, Hetzel acknowledged that he was unofficially considering the possibility of an adult "category" or rating for certain films.
       Censor boards in Maryland, Ohio and Kansas rejected The Moon Is Blue and, according to a August 30, 1953 Los Angeles Times news item, the film was banned by all branches of the military. As reported by Variety, the St. Paul city council contemplated banning the picture, but reconsidered after viewing it. A July 29, 1953 item in Variety reported that the film was shown in Birmingham, AL after police chief E. H. Brown cut the taxicab scene and required an age minimum of 21 for all patrons. However, Variety later reported on August 5, 1953 that the city formed a motion picture review board to oppose Brown's decision. Although numerous theater circuits refused to carry The Moon Is Blue, including Loew's and RKO in certain regions, the film was picked up by other chains, including United Paramount and Stanley Warner in New York and New Jersey. When the Fox West Coast theaters declined to run the film because of the Legion of Decency's "C" rating, the picture was instead picked up by a United Artists theater.
       Problems continued when, as reported by Daily Variety on October 19, 1953, New Jersey police in Jersey City confiscated a print of The Moon Is Blue from a local theater and arrested the theater's owner. Although the owner was released, a Superior Court judge upheld the police department's seizure. The December 9, 1953 Hollywood Reporter reported that the owner and theater company were vindicated when a jury failed to find "sufficient evidence to indict the company and manager on a charge of possessing an obscene film."
       In 1953, United Artists and Holmby Productions, Inc., which was comprised of business partners Preminger, Herbert, Noel Singer and A. Morgan Maree, filed lawsuits against the Maryland and Kansas state censor boards for blocking the film's release. In December 1953, a Baltimore court decreed that the action of the Maryland censor board must be reversed. A Hollywood Reporter news item included some of the judge's comments, such as his statement that "If the [MPAA's] production code were law, it would be plainly unconstitutional." In addition, as noted in a letter by Sidney Schreiber, the general attorney for the MPAA in New York, in July 1954 a Kansas judge held that the "Kansas censorship statute [was] unconstitutional as a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments," and overruled the board's "order refusing an exhibition license for the film." Following the court's decision, a Daily Variety news item reported that the film was scheduled to open in Kansas City on March 11, 1954. However, according to a Variety article dated March 17, 1954, Preminger and Herbert decided not to pursue legal matters in Jersey City where, despite the court's ruling in favor of the film, the police continued to threaten arrest or closure for any theater owner who might run The Moon Is Blue.
       Despite the controversy wrought by the PCA's initial decision, most reviewers reacted favorably to the film's tone. The Variety reviewer wrote that "[t]he amusing 99-minute conversation piece gains its shock value in dialog using such words as `virgin' and `seduce' in circumstances that go with the terms. Actually, the plot is an innocuous, even high-schoolish, affair in its sex play. The finale should find a viewer's morals still as intact as the heroine's professional virginity." Time magazine wrote that "[b]ut for all its naughty dialogue, The Moon Is Blue is a nice little picture. Its amorous skirmishes are verbal rather than real."
       The Moon Is Blue received a PCA seal of approval in 1961, along with another United Artists film, The Man with the Golden Arm, another Preminger-directed film, which had been refused a seal in 1955 due to its depiction of drug abuse. In a July 31, 1961 article in New York Times, Shurlock, then the head of the PCA, stated that the PCA had been mistaken in withholding its approval. [The MPAA/PCA file contains various 1953 news items and two letters, from the Maryland censor board and the Catholic Parent-Teacher League, indicating there were rumors that a PCA official had publicly admitted the film's rejection was an error as early as 1953. However, then-PCA director Breen responded in writing, refuting any knowledge of a report that the MPAA regretted its action.] A August 1, 1961 Hollywood Reporter article also credited the reversal in the PCA's ruling to alterations made to the PCA code in 1956.
       A modern source credits Louis Loeffler as another film editor. Modern sources also add the following information about the PCA dispute: Shurlock had been sympathetic to Preminger and Herbert during their initial meeting, and Shurlock believed the film should be granted the Code's seal. When it was clear that the PCA was withholding approval, United Artists agreed to release the film without the seal. Despite the Catholic Church's admonitions to boycott the film, The Moon Is Blue was among the top five box-office successes the week it was formally released. The film received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Actress, Best Film Editing and Best Song. David Niven won a Golden Globe award for his performance.