Pawnbroker, The (1965): Production Code Controversy

Production Code Controversy

The film was controversial on initial release for depicting nude scenes in which actresses Linda Geiser and Thelma Oliver fully exposed their breasts.

The scene with Oliver, who played a prostitute, was intercut with a flashback to the concentration camp, in which Nazerman is forced to see his wife (Geiser) forced into prostitution.

The nudity resulted in a “C” (condemned) rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency. The Legion felt “that a condemnation is necessary in order to put a very definite halt to the effort by producers to introduce nudity into American films.”

The Legion of Decency’s stance was opposed by some Catholic groups, and the National Council of Churches gave the film an award for best picture of the year.

The scenes resulted in conflict with the Motion Picture Association of America, which administered the Motion Picture Production Code. The Association initially rejected the scenes showing bare breasts and a sex scene between Sanchez and Oliver, which it described as “unacceptably sex suggestive and lustful.”

Despite the rejection, Landau arranged for Allied Artists to release the film without the Production Code seal, and New York censors licensed The Pawnbroker without the cuts demanded by Code administrators.

On a 6-3 vote, the Motion Picture Association of America granted the film an “exception” conditional on “reduction in the length of the scenes which the Production Code Administration found unapprovable.” The exception to the code was granted as a “special and unique case,” and was described by The New York Times at the time as “an unprecedented move that will not, however, set a precedent.”

The requested reductions of nudity were minimal, and the outcome was viewed in the media as a victory for the film’s producers.

Some Jewish groups urged a boycott of the film, fearing that its presentation of a Jewish pawnbroker would encourage anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, black groups felt it might encourage or reinforce racial stereotypes of the inner-city residents as pimps, prostitutes or drug addicts.