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Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday(1933)

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According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter on May 24, 1933, Universal studios, which was shut down because of financial troubles, reopened with this film and was forced to enact wage cuts for its personnel. The World War I footage in this film was taken from Lewis Milestone's 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0094). As reported in Hollywood Reporter on May 19, 1933, Isabel Jewell and Minna Gombel were considered for feature roles in this film. According to Daily Variety, Baby McLean, who was ten days old when he worked (for a reported one hour and fifteen minutes) on this film, was the youngest actor ever used by Universal to that time.
       According to MPPDA files, in Jun, 1932 Universal approached the Hays Office about adapting the book Only Yesterday for the screen and received a favorable response. In Jan, 1933, a rough draft script was submitted to the Hays Office, and Dr. James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office, AMPP, wrote to Carl Laemmle on January 3, 1933 informing him of Office objections. They included the uses of profanity such as "God almighty," "My God" and "Mrs. Richbitch," as well as two speeches made by masculine looking women which ended with: "And my dear, when I say nothing, I mean nothing-if you follow me" and the reply, "I follow you, my dear." In Wingate's words, the Office was of the opinion that the speeches were "rubbing the implication of Lesbianism in to the point where it would be contrary to the Code....We feel that your point is amply gotten over by the preceding two speeches." It is unclear what message the speeches were intended to relate. Wingate also stated that, although "the two main sex situations have been handled with great delicacy and discretion," for "Mary" and "Jim's" New Year's Eve rendezvous, the Hays Office advised that "Jim" not be in his robe, but completely dressed following the fade out because some more stringent censor boards might object to "even a slight change of costume as being a visual indication that an affair had taken place." Laemmle agreed to eliminate all the Code objections from the script and take advantage of Wingate's censorship advice if the sequence containing the robe could "still be clearly gotten over." Production did not begin until the last week of May 1933, and on 24 May, Wingate wrote to Universal Assistant General Manager Harry Zehner stating that because of the increased tightening of censorship since Jan, the Office suggested the studio tone down "Julia's" reference to "pregnancy" to a mention of "biological events." The final line read, "It's just another of those biological events."
       In a memo from Wingate to Hays dated May 26, 1933, Wingate reports that Universal intended to cast Irene Dunne and John Boles because of the success of Back Street, but Margaret Sullavan was cast instead of Dunne, and made her screen debut. A review in the Hollywood Reporter calls Sullavan "an astonishingly clever actress" who takes the film and "wraps it up and carts it away in her little side pocket and is now begging for new and more important roles to conquer." When the Hays Office finally reviewed the finished film, it objected to both "Mary" and "Jim" emerging from the bedroom on New Year's Eve, claiming that the sequence was not in the submitted script. The emergence of both of the lovers from the bedroom, May have been Laemmle's compensation for the Hays Office's objection to "Jim" emerging wearing a robe. The indication of lesbianism was still objectionable, as was a scene in which a dog wets his owner's dress, and the scene in which "Mary" and "Jim" emerge from the garden having made love and he says, "I guess I tied your sash wrong." By October 28, 1933, the Hays Office finally approved the film on condition that the lesbian inference be cut, as well as an off-stage click of a door in the New Year's Eve scene.
       On September 24, 1936, Vincent G. Hart, assistant to Hays Office director Joseph I. Breen, wrote to Breen that an exhibitor opening a revival house wanted to screen Only Yesterday. At the same time, Universal was considering re-issuing the film, but on 30 Sep, Breen wrote to Zehner that the Hays Office viewed four reels of the film and deemed it in violation of the Production Code and suggested Universal withdraw its application for re-issue approval. Breen writes, "The specific Code violation in this story is pointed up by the fact that the hero is shown as an immoral man, who engages, with the heroine, in an illicit sex relationship, out of which comes an illegitimate child. This situation is condoned by at least two of the characters, and it is not definitely shown to be wrong, but rather made a romantic thing, and there is a complete absence of anything suggestive of compensating moral values." Pencilled notes (adjacent to a copy of Breen's letter of 30 September in the MPPDA files), which state that the Hays Office reviewer stopped after reel four, delineate many of the same Code violations that the Hays Office warned Universal about in 1933. They include: Edna Mae Oliver's utterance of "My God," the sequence in which a dog wets his owner, which includes the dialogue, "Mercy. Somebody's spilled a cocktail," and the action of a woman holding the dog away from her, the "business of tying belt" (apparently a reference to "Jim" having tied "Mary's" sash in the garden scene), Sullavan's line "I'm not ashamed-I suppose I ought to be-but I'm not," and Burke's "speech of condonation" of "Mary's" pregnancy in which she states "It's just another of those biological events." Upon release in 1933, various territories had eliminated the cocktail line, the use of "God almighty" and the line "I should be ashamed...." Shanghai, China censors eliminated a reference to an Allied advance against the enemy in Argonne. The objectionable phrase (in italics) read, "Well, the Allies will tire them out first and then wipe them out when they're ready." By October 2, 1936, Breen had learned that the revival house to which Hart referred was in Washington and he wrote to Hays that "re-issue at this time might spell disaster." In May 1937, Universal again inquired about the possibility of re-issue and Breen wrote to Sid Singerman, Assistant to Sales Manager at Universal, on May 4, 1937 stating that the September 1936 decision against re-issue still held.
       On September 11, 1945, in an inter-office memo, Breen recorded a meeting he had with producer Felix Jackson regarding a proposed re-make of Only Yestersay. Breen wrote that he informed Jackson that the 1933 picture was approved before the organization of the Production Code and was a "thoroughly unacceptable screenplay, viewed in the light of the Production Code" because it was the story of "illicit sex and adultery, without sufficient compensating moral values." Breen further advised that a remake of the film would not be allowed without "considerable revamping of both its basic structure and its details." The memo further states that Jackson wanted to set the picture in 1941, ending in 1951, and that Breen wanted to insert the so-called "compensating moral values" absent from the screenplay. Breen's suggestions included making the woman from a wealthy family in the South, whom she leaves to go to New York while keeping her pregnancy a secret. Instead of the woman's aunt welcoming her, Breen proposed she be forced to live in a cheap boardinghouse and only after the baby is born in a general hospital in New York, would the aunt (who lives in moderate circumstances instead of what Breen termed the "lap of luxury") take in the woman and the baby and give her a job in her specialty shop, where she would be "really made to earn her keep." The story would then continue as usual, except that the woman would not sleep with the man a second time and when united with his son, the man would be broke and given "a new lease on life by way of the love and companionship of the boy." At the end of the film, the father would refrain from taking the boy in his arms and would walk out of the picture without telling the boy he is his father. Jackson was reportedly not impressed with Breen's suggestions, and the film apparently was never made.
       Stefan Zweig's novel was first filmed in German by Alfred Abel as Narkose (Narcosis) for G. P. Films. It opened in Berlin on September 9, 1929. Zweig's novel was remade in 1948 by Universal as Letter from an Unknown Woman, directed by Max Ophuls and starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan.