Cast & Crew
On the main floor of the Empire State Building in New York City, architect Donald Gresham engages in a mild flirtation with talkative Patty O'Neill, an aspiring actress. Don follows Patty to the observation deck, where he gives her a tube of lipstick that she had been admiring. Patty is charmed and when a button falls off Don's suit, she accompanies him to his office to sew it back on. After Patty finds a framed photograph of Cynthia Slater in Don's desk drawer, Don describes Cynthia as having been more or less his fiancée. Patty then accepts Don's dinner invitation but in the taxi, discovers that they are headed for his apartment rather than a restaurant. When Don explains that he wants to change clothes as they were unable to repair his jacket, Patty surprises him by unabashedly asking if he plans to seduce her. After Don promises affection rather than passion, Patty agrees to accompany him to his apartment. Cynthia lives in the same building but refuses to acknowledge them when they meet at the elevator. Patty later inquires if Cynthia is Don's mistress, but Don dismisses this idea. When a rainstorm compels them to dine at the apartment, Don leaves to go to the store to buy groceries. After Don leaves, Patty has two visitors: the first is Cynthia, who departs wordlessly. The next is Cynthia's debonair but debauched father David, who engages Patty in conversation. David is taken aback by Patty's frankness and admits that he came over to "horse-whip" Don because he took advantage of Cynthia. When Don returns he is surprised to discover that Patty has invited David to join them for dinner. David then confronts Don, who observes that Cynthia feels humiliated because he did not seduce her. Don explains that he refrained from seducing Cynthia because he did not want to feel morally obligated to her. Don continues that Cynthia spent the night with him only because David had invited a younger woman to stay at their apartment. During their dinner, Cynthia spies on them from the window ledge, but assumes the worst when she sees Patty undressing and putting on Don's robe, unaware Patty is changing clothes because David spilled ketchup on her dress. When dinner resumes, David reveals that Cynthia's mother divorced him after he struck her on her backside with a muffin pan in a dispute over her popovers. After Cynthia telephones and threatens to drown herself in the bathtub, Don reluctantly agrees to meet her at a bar for a drink. David, meanwhile, becomes smitten by Patty and proposes to her. Patty lightly rejects him, and they are soon distracted by a leak caused by the overflow of Cynthia's bathtub in the apartment above. As Patty mops up in David's apartment, she declares him to be endearing but shallow and depraved. Out of affection for her, David offers the impoverished actress six hundred dollars he won in a card game. In return, David asks Patty to wait fifteen weeks before seeing another man, and Patty accepts after ensuring he has no other expectations of her. Don, meanwhile, rejects Cynthia's attempted seduction, and when they return to David's apartment and find Patty kissing David, they misinterpret the kiss. Although Patty attempts to explain that she was only thanking David, Don now believes Cynthia's assessment of Patty as a "professional virgin." While Patty is in Don's bedroom getting dressed, her policeman father arrives, having discovered her whereabouts from her roommate. Patty's father knocks out Don and takes his daughter home. Patty returns later that night and demands that Don explain Cynthia's insult. Don angrily reveals that a "professional virgin" is a woman who flaunts her virginity in order to get something. David then arrives and, after seeing her with Don, accuses Patty of failing to wait the agreed-upon fifteen weeks. A humbled Patty returns the six hundred dollars to David, after which Don insults her and retreats into his bedroom. The next day, Patty finds Don moping around the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Don, who has fallen in love with her, kisses Patty. However, she demands an old-fashioned proposal that includes the word "love." After Don complies, Patty dreams about bringing their children to the observation deck for their future wedding anniversaries.
Edward G. Boyle
Herschel Burke Gilbert
Herschel Burke Gilbert
F. Hugh Herbert
F. Hugh Herbert
Henry S. Kesler
The Moon is Blue
Writer F. Hugh Herbert had enjoyed a successful career both in Hollywood and on Broadway, bringing the prissy efficiency expert Mr. Belvedere (Clifton Webb) to the screen in Sitting Pretty (1948) and scoring a stage hit with the enterprising teenager Corliss Archer in Kiss and Tell, filmed with Shirley Temple in 1945. He took a more adult turn with The Moon Is Blue, which opened on Broadway in 1951. Charming audiences with its tale of Patty O'Neill, an aspiring actress who will gladly discuss sex but refuses to take part in it until after marriage, the play ran for over two years and established leading lady Barbara Bel Geddes as a light comedienne.
Having directed the stage version, Otto Preminger secured the film rights to The Moon Is Blue and cut a very advantageous deal with United Artists. He deferred his salary for producing and directing in return for 75 percent of the profits and total artistic control. The only limitation on him was the traditional clause requiring that the finished film pass Production Code scrutiny. He flexed his muscle immediately by insisting on casting David Niven in the second male lead, an aging roué intent on seducing Patty first. Studio executives thought Niven's career was fading, but Preminger fought for the actor, then put him in the play's West Coast company so he could craft and perfect his performance. For box-office insurance, he cast William Holden to star as the architect who develops more conventionally romantic feelings for Patty, offering the actor 20 percent of the profits. Although there were several up-and-coming film stars who would have been perfect for the female lead, Preminger opted for newcomer Maggie McNamara, who had played Patty in the play's Chicago company but had never made a film before.
The film was completed in a mere 24 days, despite the fact that Preminger simultaneously shot a version in German starting Hardy Kruger and Johanna Matz, who appeared in the English-language version as tourists. Holden and McNamara played the tourists in the German version. Preminger also played a small role in that version and dubbed Gregory Ratoff's lines as the taxi driver into German. In later years, he would state his preference for the English-language film, claiming the material had not translated well.
The censorship problems started long before the film began shooting. In fact, before Preminger had even bought the rights, Joe Breen, head of the Production Code Administration (PCA) had advised Warner Bros. and Paramount against acquiring the property. His objection was not just to the use of such hitherto forbidden words as "virgin," mistress" and "seduce," which he considered merely vulgar, but to the film's overall questionable tone. He felt the comic treatment of seduction created insurmountable problems for even though the leading man eventually proposes to the still-virginal leading lady, he soundly criticizes her moral pose, dubbing her a "professional virgin" and suggesting that "those who advertise usually have something to sell." In Breen's opinion, this violated the Code's prohibition against inferences that "low forms of sex relationships are accepted as common things."
Preminger knew of Breen's objections, of course, and decided to make The Moon Is Blue a test case. At first he refused to submit the script at all, but a copy got to Breen, who wrote objecting to the subject matter and insisting that there needed to be some condemnation of the Niven character's womanizing. Preminger agreed only to the latter, then set out to make the film in his own way. When it was finished, Breen denied it the Production Code's official Seal of Approval. Preminger appealed, but by that time the film had been condemned by the Legion of Decency (some have suggested they only did so in support of Breen). When the appeal was denied, UA dropped the contract clause requiring that Preminger deliver a film capable of passing the Production Code, quit the PCA's parent organization, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and distributed the film without the Code Seal. This was a landmark in the battle against censorship; no other major studio had ever dared release a film without the PCA Seal. Under the initial agreement with the MPAA, theatres owned by the studios were forbidden from showing films that did not bear the Seal. But with the court-mandated sale of the studio's theatre chains, the Code's hold on them had been weakened. Although some chains canceled their bookings of The Moon Is Blue, others picked it up, hoping the controversy would pay off at the box office.
It did. The film brought in $4 million domestically, suggesting that audiences were a mite more mature (or as gullible) than the censors had suspected. By year's end, The Moon Is Blue was the nation's 15th highest-grossing film. The advertising campaign, alluding to the film as "The picture everyone is talking about" and "Sensationally Funny -- For Adults Only," helped draw attention to the controversy. When it was banned in Boston and Memphis, patrons drove to theatres just outside of town to see what the fuss was all about. Bans in Maryland and Kansas were overturned by the courts. Ultimately, the controversy made the censors look bad. Many critics noted that for all the discussion of sex, nothing really happened. By the end, traditional values, although lightly satirized, had been upheld. When Birmingham, AL, censors tried to cut the film and restrict viewing to those over 21, local women's club members complained that the film provided "a good moral lesson to teenagers." Preminger seized the opportunity to lead a campaign for some kind of system for labeling mature but respectable films as "adults only" (the actual ratings system that replaced the PCA was still 15 years away), with even conservative commentators jumping on the bandwagon.
Hollywood showed its own support of the film. David Niven won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy, and Oscar® nominations went to Maggie McNamara, the editing and the title song. As a result, the move to liberalize the Production Code began gathering steam. By 1961, times had changed so much that a reissue of the film won the PCA Seal with no problems. It also became a lingering embarrassment for Breen, particularly since most coverage of the controversy charged him with banning the film simply because of its language. When asked about The Moon Is Blue in later years, all he could say was, "Well, we're entitled to one mistake every few years, aren't we?".
The Moon Is Blue's position as a part of U.S. cultural history was underlined in the '70s, when it became the subject of an episode of the popular sitcom M*A*S*H. After hearing the picture was banned in Boston, Hawkeye (Alan Alda) spends most of the episode trying to secure a print for screening to the 4077 (the film had also been banned by the military), only to find, when he finally sees it, that the movie is surprisingly tame. They had to use the word "virgin," he reasons, because "everyone in the movie was!"
Producer-Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: F. Hugh Herbert
Based on his play
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Score: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Art Direction: Nicolai Remisoff
Cast: William Holden (Donald Gresham), David Niven (David Slater), Maggie McNamara (Patty O'Neill), Tom Tully (Michael O'Neill), Dawn Addams (Cynthia Slater) Fortunio Bonanova (Television Performer), Gregory Ratoff (Taxi Driver), Hardy Kruger (Tourist).
by Frank Miller
Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Moon is Blue
First post-Hayes mainstream Hollywood film to use the word "virgin," after a battle with the official and unofficial censors. Also the first use of "seduce" and "mistress" (as a sexual partner).
Banned in Boston due to its "sexual explicitness."
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 Krüger as "Donald Gresham." It does not appear that the German version was ever released in the U.S. Matz and Krüger 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, Krüger 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.