Breaking the Code reveals the efforts of director-producer Otto Preminger to bring his aesthetic vision to the screen even if it meant challenging the Production Code, a system of self-censorship that shaped the movies during the four decades it was in force. Along the way, Preminger sent shock waves through Hollywood and a network of exhibitors, publishers, and religious leaders who had personal, and even financial, stakes in the repression of artistic freedom.
The process of telling this story began in 2003 when Arnie Reisman and Nat Segaloff thought it might be interesting to write a play about Preminger's efforts to get a Code seal for his 1954 romantic comedy The Moon is Blue, based on F. Hugh Herbert's 1951 play. In those days, no film could be shown that did not receive authorization from the Production Code Administration, and his film was deemed too "adult" for even adults to see. Preminger was met with opposition from administrator, Joseph Breen, who was prepared to go to war to save the rest of the country from its sensibilities.
Along with their play Code Blue, which dramatizes the clash between these two evenly matched but wildly disparate titans, Breaking the Code chronicles the battle between Otto Preminger and the Code. Between 1953 and 1962, he fought the censorship of The Moon Is Blue, The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, and Advise and Consent. The details of each skirmish vary, but they cover the same issues: art versus commerce, freedom of speech versus censorship, and money versus principle.
Times may have changed, but these battles continue. Breaking the Code is an attempt to go back and see how the walls can be made to crumble.
Nat Segaloff is a writer-producer-journalist and author of fourteen books.
“An insightful and informative book that also includes Segaloff and Arnie Reisman’s two-act comedy Code Blue!, a witty wordplay on the battle between Preminger and Breen.”