Storylines In Review


The Liberating-Relationship Storyline: Case Study - The ‘Getting Intimate’ Scene, Part Onee
Storyline: The protagonist is liberated from inhibiting social conventions by a new relationship.

A key scene is where the protagonist begins to shed their inhibitions to engage in emotional or physical intimacy, in the bedroom or via a shared skinny-dip swim etc. (Note that this does not always equate to sex. Filmmakers often had to work around a censorship code.) Part One of our case-study feature covers the b&w film, which generally died out in the 60s. It traces the development of the scene from the early silent films on through the 50s and 60s, when the old censorship rules supporting conventional morality were finally breached.

Left: Clark Gable demonstrates his lack of inhibition to Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, 1934.

The Early Silent Era

The Kiss (1896)
This was one of the first films shown, and one of the most popular.
(It was the subject of a recent news story, here.) It was actually a promo short, running 18 seconds, re-enacting the final kissing scene between the lead actors in a current stage musical, The Widow Jones. (It actually shows the couple nuzzling rather than a passionate kiss.) It was a succes de scandale, cf Wikipedia:
The film contained the very first kiss on film, with a close-up of a nuzzling couple followed by a short peck on the lips ("the mysteries of the kiss revealed"). The kissing scene was denounced as shocking and obscene to early moviegoers and caused the Roman Catholic Church to call for censorship and moral reform - because kissing in public at the time could lead to prosecution. The film caused a scandalized uproar and occasioned disapproving newspaper editorials and calls for police action in many places where it was shown. One contemporary critic wrote, "The spectacle of the prolonged pasturing on each other's lips was beastly enough in life size on the stage but magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting."

It was followed by a series of imitations over the next few years.The 'final fadeout kiss' would remain the expected finale of romantic dramas.

The Kiss was filmed at at the Edison Studios in New Jersey, evidently more than once.
(Compare the 2 images above - mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)  Their catalog summarises it: "They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time. 50 feet."  

The 1920s

Though feature-length productions became common after WWI, the decade did not show much development in this regard, no doubt due to silent cinema's lack of dialogue beyond a few intertitles. Talkies arrived in 1928-9 and allowed the development of the so-called 'screwball' comedy, where a shy, inhibited protagonist is freed from impending or ongoing domestic confinement by the sudden arrival of an anarchic co-protagonist. An earlier setup was the 'captivity narrative' melodrama where a female protagonist is carried off by an outlaw (pirate, Mexican bandit, desert sheik etc) to his lair, established by the 1921 hit The Sheik.
Left- The Sheik - An Englishwoman abroad taken captive by a handsome desert sheik develops a romantic relationship with him. This captivity narrative from the Edith M. Hull novel was a major hit for star Rudolph Valentino, and he would appear in the sequel The Son Of The Sheik (1926). Despite the various publicity stills, the tent flap closes on the consummation scene, but was recreated as an iconic pose for the Ken Russell 1997 biopic Valentino, below left.

Son Of The Sheik, 1926 (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)
The Taming Of The Shrew (1929)
The controversial Shakespeare comedy has fortune-hunting Petruchio breaking down the barriers between himself and his reluctant bride, the headstrong Kate, by acting the wildman ("being mad herself, she's madly mated").
This adaptation by director Sam Taylor was the first sound adaptation, re-dubbed and re-cut for a 1966 tv release to tie in with the new Taylor-Burton version. The two leads, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, were themselves married at the time.

The turnaround scene is the bridal night, where Kate becomes aware of his madman gamesmanship and determines to play him at his own game. There is no physical intimacy in the bridal-night scene, only the breakdown of emotional barriers.   

The 1930s  

The advent of the talkies saw the rise of the screwball comedy, as well as films based on stage plays. The introduction of Hollywood's self-censorship Production Code in mid-1934 meant that only the first few years produced uncensored scenes.  

Left: An example of 'pre-Code' license - Myrna Loy, who played vamp characters before getting the role of Nora in the Thin man series, gives a 'come hither' look from her petal-bestrewn ornate bathtub.

The Hays Office Production Code stipulated that "Sexual relations outside of marriage could not be portrayed as attractive and beautiful, presented in a way that might arouse passion, nor be made to seem right and permissible." [Wikipedia]

Red Dust (1932)
Adapted by John Mahin from the stage play by Wilson Collison, this drama about a rubber planter dealing with two women of very different natures was a hit. The story has a playgirl stranded at Clark Gable's upcountry house. It included scenes of physical intimacy that would be forbidden two years later.  

Red Dust (1932): A hit for studio MGM, who would remake it in 1953, again with Gable, as Mogambo. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)   
Bird Of Paradise (1932)
Based on the 1912 play by Richard Walton Tully, this seems to have been the first of the 'South Seas' dramas where the American or British protagonist succumbs to the siren call of a Polynesian maiden. The key scene or sequence here is where the couple run off to a deserted island to live in a grass shack on the beach, an idyll cut short by a volcanic eruption.
Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
MGM's hit seafaring drama is worth noting here, for its background of 'liberated' relationships in the form of available Polynesian women, a culture-shock temptation which was likely the real cause of the mutiny, here presented (perhaps for censorship reasons) as a revolt against a tyrannical captain.
Exstase / Ekstase / Ecstasy / Symphonie der Liebe (1933)

This Czech-Austrian lyrical drama co-written by its director Gustav Machatý and filmed with its few lines of dialogue in 3 languages, was a censorship cause celebre, and was largely shown in a censored version originally titled Symphonie der Liebe. Consisting mainly of montages of 'allusive' shots, it would be the classic arthouse picture.
Ekstase opens with an unconsummated wedding night. The breakthrough scene comes midway, when the protagonist goes for a nude dip and her horse bolts with her dress on its back. She is rescued by an engineer working on a nearby road, and later they consummate their affair in a scene concentrating exclusively on her face. The actress later said the director jabbed her with a pin to make her simulate an orgasm.

The Private Life Of Henry VIII (1933)
This was a popular influential fim which opened up the way cinema portrayed historical figures. It covers a series of failures by the protagonist to establish or maintain a happy marital relationship. One scene, 54 mins in, fits the profile here best. It covers Henry first meeting Anne Of Cleves on his wedding day (it’s a ‘diplomatic’ marriage) in the bridal chamber and deciding he wants to change his mind. The two actors were married in real life at the time.
Right: the 'bridal night' with Anne Of Cleves. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.) 


Tarzan And His Mate (1934)
This 2nd MGM Tarzan film has a nude-swim scene where Jane is disrobed by Tarzan and flung into his swimming hole. The pair then swim together for over a minute in an 'underwater-ballet' synchronised-swimming scene. (The actress's body double was an Olympic swimming champion.)
At the time, Hollywood was just bringing in its Production (ie censorship) Code and the scene was deleted from most prints. Unseen for years, it resurfaced in retrospective documentaries, restored DVD prints and standalone on YouTube.

It Happened One Night (1934)
Scripted by Robert Riskin from a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams, this comedy about a runaway heiress and the reporter accompanying her cross-country has a key scene known as the 'Walls of Jericho' scene. Forced by lack of funds to share a motel room, Clark Gable demonstrates how a man undresses, until Claudette Colbert flees to her side of the room, separated by an improvised hanging blanket Gable compares to the Biblical walls of Jericho. Gable wore no vest under his shirt, and there is a claim sales of men's undervests fell 17% due to that scene as they became less fashionable overnight.

Right: The famous 'Walls of Jericho' scene. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.) 

The Thin Man (1934)
Adapted from Dashiell Hammett's final novel, the story setup for this influential film differs from the standard one in that the protagonists, Nick and Nora, are already married. The film's innovation was to treat their alcoho-fueled marriage as fun. One theory is that Dashiell Hammett based the Nick-Nora relationship on his own with Lillian Hellman. The scriptwriters, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, were also married, and the onscreen relationship is explained in their script:
"There is a warm understanding relationship between them. They are really crazy about each other, but undemonstrative and humorous in their companionship. They are tolerant, easy-going, taking drink for drink, and battling their way together with a dry humor."
A key moment is when Nora discovers Nick in a clinch with a younger woman. Usually this would lead to recrimination scenes, but here they simply make faces at each other. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)
As the characters are married, bedroom scenes were allowed, and this provides the final moment of humour (when their dog Asta puts his paws over his eyes). The couple would appear in 6 'Thin Man' features, 1936-47.  

The 39 Steps (1935)
When Charles Bennett adapted John Buchan's 1916 spy novel for Hitchcock, he changed the agent who gets Hannay involved with the spy ring to a female. She insists on coming home with him to spend the night, but is murdered in his flat by enemy agents. Another addition to the novel is Hannay's being handcuffed to a teacher the agents suspect has been told the secret. The pair escape and, posing as a runaway couple, spend the night in a Highland hotel, where in a famous scene, the handcuffs cause some inadvertent physical intimacy.
(Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)     

Secret Agent (1936)
Scenes of faux intimacy preceding the developing of a genuine one would characterise Hitchcock's next effort, again added to the original story. The screenplay, by Charles Bennett, Alma Reville, Ian Hay, was based on a stage play loosely adapted by Campbell Dixon from 2 stories in Somerset Maugham’s autobiographical WWI-set Ashenden: Or The British Agent. It has Ashenden given a companion agent posing as his wife at a Swiss hotel, where a German spy is operating. They initially share a hotel suite but not a bed, but soon progress from playacting for appearances' sake to a romantic entanglement which complicates then endangers their mission.

Pygmalion (1938) 
George Bernard Shaw's satire on the English class system, which would provide the basis for the musical My Fair Lady, was adapted by a team of writers for director David Lean. A Cockney flower girl adopted for a wager by an irascible phonetics expert goes to live with him as a protege, so throughout, there are scenes of Eliza and Higgins in domestic circumstances. But because of the way Shaw characterised Higgins, any romantic development seems unlikely. However he did agree to an altered ending of reconciliation rather than angry separation, with Higgins realising he misses her when she leaves, and her returning rather than marrying a foolish young man ignorant of her background.

Right: Eliza is despatched for her first hot bath, and [mouse over] Higgins pops marbles into her mouth as a speech training exercise.


The 1940s

The war created a general social upheaval, throwing together people who would often never have met, and film writers were quick to take advantage of this.

Left: I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Its background characterised by its author as 'the sight of the privileged enjoying their privileges', Philip Barry''s filmed play throws together a mixed group for a wedding weekend at the Phildelphia mansion owned by a high-society family. A reporter and photographer, who represent the voice of the working class, are smuggled in as house guests to gain an expose, and the bride has a drunken heart-to-heart (and midnight dip) with the reporter, who is also a budding poet.
The incident helps liberate her from an unwise re-marriage, and get her back together with her onetime alcoholic but now sober first husband.

The More The Merrier [1943]
Written by Richard Flournoy, Lewis R. Foster, Robert Russell and Frank Ross [then co-star Jean Arthur's husband], this comedy romance is another attempt to use the wartime accommodation squeeze to throw a couple together domestically. An eccentric older man brokers a deal to share the apartment of a young woman, and, playing matchmaker, with a young soldier about to be posted abroad. To save her from marrying a stuffy Washington bureacrat, he helps concoct a scandal, so that the pair have to get married supposedly for appearances' sake.
On Approval (1944) 
This was a popular stage comedy of its time, about two unmarried upper-class English couples who spend their days together for a month at a remote Scottish island lodge to discover if they are really compatible for marriage. (To "
spend a month alone together as married people" is how the aristocratic lodge owner puts it in her proposal to her suitor.) The two men have to return by boat every evening to protect the ladies' reputation, but the servants are still scandalised and the four have to manage without them.
Adapted (as a Victorian period piece) by producer-director and co-star Clive Brook, this was not the first film of Frederick Lonsdale's 1926 play, but the 1930 version seems unavailable on home media. (There are at least 5 screen versions, including another 2 b&w productions made for UK tv.) It's difficult to select a single key scene, as the characters spend the entire play getting acquainted domestically. Much of it is to do with the English class system, and the two put-upon characters eventually turn the tables on the two snootier ones, who must then come to terms with their own selfishness.


The Clock (UK title Under The Clock) [1945]
Scripted by Robert Nathan and Joseph Schrank from an unpublished short story by Paul and Pauline Gallico, this tale of a rushed wartime romance (a soldier on 48-hour leave) has a key, penultimate scene when the pair, married in a hasty civil ceremony, reaffirm their vows in a church before spending the night together.

'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945)
Co-scripted by Emeric Pressburger and director Michael Powell, this cult film offers a variant on the couple-thrown-together-by-wartime setup. A self-possessed young Englishwoman en route to a Hebridean isle to marry a middle-aged industrialist is stranded on the neighbouring isle with the local laird, a naval officer on leave. While the proprieties are maintained at her insistence, she finds herself drawn to the laird and his un-materialistic social world, starting when she attends a local céilidh.
Brief Encounter (1945)

Two strangers meet by chance on a grimy railway platform and rendezvous each week on their afternoon off in town, visiting cafes, the cinema, a concert, a boating lake. Adapted by co-producers Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame and director David Lean from a one-act prewar Noël Coward play, this is perhaps the famously chaste romance set in modern times.
When the possibility of an illicit rendezvous later arrives, it ends abruptly with the return of the disapproving flat owner. It ends up as an ‘almost affair’, recalled during a Rachmaninoff concert on the radio.

The Voice Of The Turtle / One For The Book [1947]
This was a postwar adaptation, by John Van Druten and Charles Hoffman, of Van Druten's hit 1943 stage play, filmed when it was ending its 4 year run. It has a soldier on leave in NYC stood up by his girlfriend and left with her roommate to look after for the weekend. Though each has been hurt by a previous relationship, they slowly get to know each other. This being wartime, when censorship was even stricter, there is no sex, only some pointed discussion of related issues, a dress-unzipping scene, and one involving setting up a foldout spare bed. Generally, the setup allows the characters to 'play house' for the weekend, before any decision has to be made re the future.

Right: Sally explains to Bill she's given up 'that sort of thing' - pointing to the sofa-bed. Later on, when her dress comes off [mouse over to see 2nd image], it's purely a stuck-zipper accident of the sort that only happens in romcoms.

 The 1950s

The 1950s saw cinema deal more directly with what we now call mature themes, though for censorship reasons, the camera would pan away from intimate scenes, tilting up to the sky, or the treetops while the orchestral score surged. The rise of independent productions based in NYC meant more mature themes could be dealt with in realist treatments, though these were overshadowed by the rise of Swedish cinema under directors like Bergman, and then the Nouvelle Vague or New Wave in France.

Left: the key scene in Marty, 1955.

Hon Dansade En Sommar / One Summer Of Happiness (1951)
Scripted by Volodja Semitjov and Olle Hellbom from Per Olof Ekström’s 1949 novel Sommardansen (Summer Dance), this dramatises a shortlived summer-affair between two first-time lovers.
Wikipedia: "It was the first Swedish film to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival. Today, the film is mainly known for its nude scenes, which caused much controversy at the time and, together with Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika (1953), spread the image of Swedish "free love" around the world".
Its US release was held up for censorship reasons for 4 years, by which time two respected Ingmar Bergman films [left] featuring young lovers having summer affairs had been released - see details below.
Sommarlek / Summer Interlude (1951)
In Ingmar Bergman's first summer-affair film, co-written by him with Herbert Grevenius, the protagonist is unable to recover from the memory of a summer affair which ended tragically. It has no nude scenes, instead focusing on the developing emotional intimacy of a first-love situation.
Sommaren med Monika / Summer With Monika (1953)
The 2nd of Ingmar Bergman's tales of short-lived summer affairs was adapted by him from Per Anders Fogelström's 1951 novel. A young couple run away for the summer to the Stockholm Archipelago and survive by plundering vacant summer homes.
 Because it contained nude scenes (then forbidden by US censors), it was cut down and released in the US on the exploitation circuit as Monika, The Story Of A Bad Girl.
On Dangerous Ground (1951)

In this postwar ‘sleeper’ drama, scripted by A. I. Bezzerides and director Nicholas Ray from Gerald Butler’s 1946 novel Mad With Much Heart, a burnt-out city detective gets sent 'to Siberia' for being overly violent. Upstate, in the snowbound mountains, he shelters at the farmhouse of a blind woman, and finds himself drawn to her. Despite the studio holding the film back for a year while it was recut, the way it manages to change gears from crime drama to redemptive tender romance has made it a cult film.
Hobson's Choice (1954)

This adaptation by director David Lean, Norman Spencer, and Wynyard Browne of the 1915 Harold Brighouse play (still a popular stage repertory-company item) has a spinster take a talented but illiterate bootmaker in hand as her partner in both senses. The wedding-night scene ends outside the bedroom door but leaves the viewer in no doubt the marriage of Maggie and Willie is a success.
Marty (1955)

Paddy Chayefsky’s original 1953 tv play was remade, incorporating new scenes, with Ernest Borgnine rather than Rod Steiger in the title role. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.) A pair of plain-looking lonelyhearts New Yorkers get together at a dance. The key scene occurs when Marty follows Clara out onto the ballroom roof, where she is crying after she overhears her blind date rejecting her as a ‘dog.’ They wind up talking half the night away.
The 50s British War Film:

The dominant genre of 50s British cinema - the British WW2 drama - sometimes incorporated romantic relationships. Above: Ice Cold In Alex and [mouse over image] The Key. Both films had censorship trouble in 1958-9 because of these intimate scenes.
Room At The Top (1958) - screenplay by Neil Paterson from the novel by John Braine

Set in a northern mill town, this realist British drama about a town-hall clerk having a passionate affair with a councillor's wife before deliberately seducing the mill boss's daughter was considered the most sensational of the cycle of 'Angry Young Man' films which appeared after 1956. There a number of intimate scenes, but the key one here is probably the holiday to Dorset, where the pair can induldge in some off-season nude bathing, away (they think) from prying eyes.

The Nouvelle Vague or French New Wave began to make an impact in 1958-9 after a group of film critics turned auteur filmmakers, and wrote and directed a cycle of films which rejected conventional 'bourgeouis' morality.
Above - stills from two early entries in the movement, both featuring Jeanne Moreau: Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Les Amants / The Lovers.
  The first treats physical seduction as a challenge, and the second, an affaire passionelle as beyond the conventional morality of marriage. Both feature bedroom scenes of the sort not seen in US films for another decade.

The 1960s
The 1960s saw subtitled European (usually Swedish or French) 'arthouse' pictures get mainstream distribution. These did not follow the strict US censorship code, and this system broke down by the end of the decade.


Left: A still from the Alain Resnais film La Guerre Est Finie.

Love With The Proper Stranger (1963)
This is a realist comedy-drama which is probably as close as US cinema got to European sophistication in this era. It avoided US censorship by working back from modern setup to an old-fashioned ending. From an original script by Arnold Schulman [who then wrote a novel from his screenplay], the protagonists have to team up to deal with the unwanted aftermath of their casual one-night stand: her pregnancy. (It was so casual he doesn't even remember her.) After he rejects an arranged backroom abortion at the last minute, they decide to start over and try to get to know each other the old-fashioned way, i.e. via a date which hopefully will lead to a permanent relationship. The climactic, penultimate scene is thus a 'first date.'
 Käre John / Dear John (1964)
The captain of a small boat romances a local single mother who works as a waitress in his stopover port. The key scene of them in bed talking in bed together is intercut throughout the first half of the film, the other scenes being flashbacks.
Adapted by director Lars-Magnus Lindgren from an Olle Länsberg novel, this production was Sweden's biggest international hit for several years, becoming a romantic 'date' movie for college students. As well as the extended post-coital bedroom conversation, there is the customary nude swim in the freezing Baltic (used as the DVD cover image).
Ostre sledovane vlaky / Closely Watched Trains (1966)  

Adapted by Czech New Wave director Jiri Menzel from an autobiographically-based 1965 novel by Bohumil Hrabal, this tragicomedy was a satiric offshoot of the Soviet-approved 'antifascist' WW2 drama. In German-occupied Czechoslovakia, a trainee station guard is mainly interested in losing his virginity, while the other station staff around him indulge their erotic interests by misusing the stationmaster's all-important rubber stamps. (Mouse over to see 2nd image.) After one failed attempt which leaves him suicidal, young Milos finally achieves his goal with the help of an older woman. (Despite - or perhaps because of - the film's international success, both the novelist and the director saw their careers stymied in the 1968 Soviet crackdown on the 'Prague Spring'.)
La Guerre Est Finie / The War Is Over (1966) 

This Alain Resnais film written by the Spanish political writer Jorge Semprún, about a world-weary exiled Spanish communist [Yves Montand], has him involved with two women: the young Nadine [Geneviève Bujold], who is part of his 'cover' and the older Marianne [Ingrid Thulin], to whom he returns after each courier mission.

The intimate scenes with each of the two women are shot in semi-abstract style almost unique in mainstream cinema.

Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult / I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) 
Written and directed by Vilgot Sjöman, this was the first (and better-known) part of a two-part project made as a radical political (antiwar etc) statement. It is a blend of documentary and drama and the intimate scenes for which it quickly became notorious are naturalistic.

The setup is that the filmmaker and his partner the actress and activist Lena Nyman are making a film in which they play characters based on themselves. No doubt by design, it is difficult at times to tell which scenes are meant to be the film-within-the-film.

Right: There are various intimate scenes between Lena and Borje/ Bill, and in the framework documentary enclosing the inner pscyhodrama, apparently between the 'real' Lena and the actor playing Borje/ Bill.


I Am Curious is considered a landmark film. Wikipedia:

"The film was very popular at the box office, earning an estimated $6.6 million in North American rentals. It was the 12th most popular film in the US in 1969. One of the main reasons for its box office success was that it was the first film with sexual acts performed onscreen that was not confined to the porn theaters on 42nd Street, New York City. Millions who had never seen a pornographic film flocked to safe neighborhood theaters to see what it was all about. ... The film ushered in a wave of nudity and sex never before shown to the general public, and it was the first shot fired in the revolution that was to begin in pushing the limits of films for the general public."

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