Censor Joseph Breen took issue with Ellen Berent, the lead character in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), terminating her pregnancy by dramatically throwing herself down a flight of stairs, even though the Production Code would not explicitly forbid on-screen abortions until 1951. Yet the abortion ultimately made it into the final print because, by Breen’s logic, an abortion is unrecognizable as such so long as it is not named. However, archival research suggests that Breen was wrong on both counts. Considering a wide array of archival records—Production Code Administration files and correspondence, early script drafts, audience preview screening responses, reviews, and more—this article argues that the discrepancies between Leave Her to Heaven’s censorship history and its reception illustrate popular morality eclipsing prescribed morality. The film was both a catalyst of the 1951 Code amendment banning abortion and an early harbinger of the dissolution of the PCA’s stranglehold over abortion as taboo.
Abortion’s Coded Visibility: The Failed Censorship and Box Office Success of Leave Her to Heaven
Megan Minarich is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio & Tutoring Services at Vanderbilt University, where she also teaches in Cinema & Media Arts. Her article on the aesthetic of the cinema of attractions in Arnold Bennett’s fiction appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Studies in the Novel, and her article on the 1934 film Men in White and contemporary feminism was published as part of a modernist #MeToo cluster in the October 2019 issue of Feminist Modernist Studies. She is currently at work on a book-length study of censorship and representations of women’s reproductive choice in Hollywood cinema between 1915 and 1968.
- Views Icon Views
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Megan Minarich; Abortion’s Coded Visibility: The Failed Censorship and Box Office Success of Leave Her to Heaven. Feminist Media Histories 20 October 2020; 6 (4): 121–150. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2020.6.4.121
Download citation file: