Moon Is Blue, The (1953): Preminger’s Audacious but Dull Comedy

This verbose and harmless comedy was one of the most controversial films of the 1950s, due to the fact that egomaniac director Otto Preminger decided to shoot the play as written, retaining such words as “virgin,” “seduce,” and “mistress” in the script.

At the center is a triangle: A young chaste TV-commercial actress named Patty O’Neill (Maggie McNamara) is romanced by a playboy architect, Don Gresham (William Holden), who’s twice her age. Despite temptations, Patty refuses the architect’s invitation to become his mistress, holding out for marriage–or nothing.

Meanwhile, another middle-aged rake, David Slater (David Niven), tries to move in on the girl himself, with an equal lack of success.

The Motion Picture Production Code refused to approve the film so long as those naughty words remained in the dialogue, motivating Preminger to release the picture without the Code’s seal of approval.

Preminger’s bold move resulted in a major commercial success, Oscar nominations, and the beginning of the end for the archaic Production Code. Significantly, The Moon Is Blue caused the PCA’s Joseph I. Breen to resign, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences played it both ways, giving Breen an Honorary Oscar for his “conscientious-minded and dignified management of the Motion Picture Production Code.”

Even so the Jersey City Municipal Court fined Alfred Manfredonia, manager of the Stanley Theatre, $100 for screening the film (declaring him guilty of violating a city ordinance), and a ban was imposed on the picture by the Maryland State Board of Motion Picture Censors.

For once the New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther, was right in dismissing the picture: “Aside from its audacity with the words, The Moon Is Blue is not outstanding, either as a romance or as film. The Moon Is Blue is not outstanding, either as a romance or as a film…at times, it gets awfully tedious.”

Oscar Nominations: 3

Actress: Maggie McNamara

Song: The Moon Is Blue

Film Editing: Otto Ludwig

 

Oscar Awards: None

The Best Actress winner was Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday.  The Song Award went to Secret Love from Calamity Jane.  William Lyon won the Editing Oscar for From Here to Eternity.

Credits

MPAA: PG

Running time: 95 minutes.

Directed by Otto Preminger.

Released: July 8, 1953

DVD: May 5, 2004

Warner Bros. Pictures