History of Sex in Cinema:
|Movie Title/Year and Film/Scene Description|
Brief Encounter (1945, UK)
Director David Lean's romantic tearjerker Brief Encounter (1945) was a simple but realistically-honest, unsentimental, self-told social melodrama of the quiet desperation involved in an illicit, extra-marital love affair between two married, middle-class individuals over seven weekly meetings, mostly against the backdrop of a railway station.
The two lovers were:
They never consummated their romantic involvement by sexual relations in the bedroom (at least on-screen), although there were many erotically-charged moments:
In the second scene, set in the dark, shadowy underground subway tunnel-passage of the train station, she succumbed to their first kiss (after he told her: "I love you so"). As they passionately kissed for the first time, two large, long shadows of approaching passengers darkened the tunnel's wall behind them, a newspaper swirled in front of them, and the roar of the approaching train was heard. The forceful speed of the noisy train represented their passion rising and crashing through the silence.
Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) with Laura
Mom and Dad (1945) (aka The Family Story, UK)
Producer/promoter Kroger Babb's (self-dubbed as "America's Fearless Young Showman") low-budget, heavily-promoted 'educational' film soon became one of the most successful exploitation films of all time - it was the third highest grossing film during the 1940s (and easily recouped its $62,000 in expenses).
Banners and ads cried out:
Besides being socially-significant as a sex (or personal-hygiene) film about female anatomy, the 'birds and the bees,' the dangers of venereal disease and the disastrous results of premarital sex, prints of this black and white feature drama were made and road-showed for more than two decades, with screenings divided by gender. Each showing included a traveling lecturer named Elliot Forbes -- an "eminent sexual hygiene commentator" -- (and two assisting nurses) who promoted the film's "educational" value, lectured during intermission about the importance of contraception ("The Secrets of Sensible Sex"). They also profitably sold two sex-ed manuals in the theaters, both written by Babb's wife, and Mom and Dad co-screen-writer, Mildred Horn:
Each print showed innocent (virginal) young Joan Blake (June Carlson) deflowered ("going all the way") and becoming pregnant (without displaying nudity or sex of any kind), and then becoming an unwed mother when the father-pilot Jack Griffith (Bob Lowell) subsequently died in a plane crash. Her neglectful parents, especially her mother Sarah (Lois Austin) had not instructed her in any way about the facts of life, and faced the disastrous results. Joan suffered an off-screen suicide attempt, but eventually traveled by train to Boston with her mother to live out the pregnancy in secret under a doctor's care.
The film also featured the introduction to a sex-education curriculum, including three films within-a-film:
The ending of the film varied, depending upon the venue - either Joan's baby was stillborn, or put up for adoption.
The Big Sleep (1946)
Howard Hawks' definitive detective noir The Big Sleep (1946) faced condemnation by the Production Code of the time. It wouldn't have condoned the exposition of explicit details of portions of the depraved plot, so they were presented in disguised fashion:
It opened with a scene of young, leggy, and provocative Carmen (Martha Vickers) as she first met detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) by attempting to sit in his lap while he was standing up.
The film noir also featured an interlude sex scene in which Marlowe convinced an aggressive book salesgirl (Dorothy Malone) to share a drink of rye with him during a wet and hard rainstorm! She quickly lowered the shades, coyly removed her eyeglasses and the barette from her hair, and conveniently brought out two cups. After a fadeout, Bogart left the shop many minutes later (their long dalliance was signaled by the end of the rain).
Also, the film included the famous scene of a slyly flirtatious, sexy horse-race conversation ("who's in the saddle") between Marlowe and Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall). At one point, she rated him as a potential lover, using a horse analogy to talk in a veiled way about her feelings toward men and sexual intercourse. The dialogue was a classic of sharp-edged wit, double entendre and sexual innuendo, communicating their real feelings for each other in race-track and poker-game terms with outrageously-suggestive and metaphorical language:
Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) with Carmen
Horse-Race Dialogue with Vivian (Lauren Bacall)
Duel in the Sun (1946)
Producer/writer David O. Selznick and director King Vidor teamed to present this epic western Duel in the Sun (1946) (nicknamed "Lust in the Dust"), a sexually-frank production. It was a lustful and grandiose motion picture featuring two loving combatants:
It included numerous scenes of the over-sexed, wild-living Lewt ravishing the hot-blooded, sex-pot peasant girl Pearl. He spied on her when she took a provocative, sexy nude swim at the sump.
Earlier scenes also showed Lewt forcefully kissing a resistant Pearl. It was a passionate love-making scene accompanied by thunder and bolts of lightning, and kisses for the "bob-tailed little treecat." After she fought him off, he told her:
A final notorious, and infamous show-down scene at the film's end was the 'orgasmic' climax of all the confrontations between the two of them. In the rocks, they both shot at each other to end their passionate love-hate affair, and both suffered serious wounds. He was wounded in the leg, and she was shot in the chest. Satisfied that he had killed her, he said to himself: "I guess that does it," but then felt twinges of regret that he had shot his beloved, calling out "Pearl, hey Pearl!"
The ex-lovers continued their bloody shoot-out in the hot desert sun and Lewt was shot in the stomach, and he told her: "I can't shoot no more, honey. Honest." Seriously wounded, she dragged herself over the rocks and up the side of the mountain toward her dying lover, while spouting blood and shouting threats ("I'm not scared of you. I'm coming up after you"). Dying, Lewt asked Pearl:
In their final moments, she cried out for him: "Lewt, hold on Lewt, Hold on. Wait for me, Lewt," and lustfully crawled toward him, as she slid back with her grasp of sand. When she finally reached him, they stretched their hands out toward each other:
They bloodily and passionately embraced and died in the dust in each other's arms. As they died, the camera pulled back until they were lost in the landscape under the blazing, hot sun, under the massive face of Squaw's Head Rock.
(Jennifer Jones) with
Lewt (Gregory Peck)
The Final Shootout
The noirish film Gilda (1946) was a complex, eccentric, cynical tale that told of a menage a trois (between husband, wife, and lover) - with homo-erotic overtones. The film's tagline proclaimed: "There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!" It starred the title heroine Gilda (WWII's GI "love goddess," the beautiful, alluring, and provocative, red-haired pin-up Rita Hayworth) who made a memorable entrance by throwing her hair back and claiming that she was "decent."
In one of the film's earliest scenes, there were homoerotic tensions in the first meeting between:
Mundson saved Farrell during a crooked game of dice with his ebony cane and its protruding stiletto dagger (a perverse, compensating Freudian phallic substitute):
The film was most notorious for Gilda's sexy, but minimal, black-gloved "Put the Blame on Mame" seductive burlesque strip tease in a strapless black gown, in which she only removed long black satin gloves from her arms and tossed them into the audience.
As she proceeded to further undress ("I'm not very good at zippers, but maybe if I had some help"), she was dragged from the stage. One of her most notorious lines of dialogue was: "If I'd been a ranch, they would have named me the Bar Nothing."
In another scene, Gilda asked expectantly of Johnny: "Got a light?" - he turned and stood there with the lighter flame burning for her.
Johnny and Ballin
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
RKO's and director Frank Capra's film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) remains a beloved, tearjerking Christmas tale (adapted from Philip Van Doren Stern's "The Greatest Gift").
It included an intense, fully-suggestive 'telephone' scene between two of its main characters:
Earlier in the film, George was having a phone conversation with friend Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) while Mary was also squeezed together next to him to share the same earpiece extension. As they were listening and talking on the same phone, his romantic attraction to her was undeniable with this close proximity, but such an admission would mean remaining in Bedford Falls, where he had been forced to stay against his will and give up his other dreams.
In a long closeup of them ear to ear with the phone between them, they listened to Sam while George squirmed and tried to contain himself, standing so close that he could smell Mary's hair. She looked upward at him and with her lips almost on his lips reinforced what Sam has said in a whisper, but she was almost unable to say the words: "He says it's the chance of a lifetime."
The phone suddenly dropped to the floor, and instead of grabbing and embracing Mary with a kiss, George held her fiercely by the shoulders and violently started shaking her, passionately protesting that he didn't want to get married:
Then, he ran out of words. She responded by crying helplessly, silently, and then the conflicted George all of a sudden reversed himself and pulled Mary to himself in a fierce and passionate embrace. He overcame his resistance to her and started to kiss her all over her upturned face, holding her intensely. Their undeclared love for each other overwhelmed both of them.
After a quick cut, the next scene was in the hallway of the Bailey house and the sound of the Wedding March.
The Phone Call:
Mary (Donna Reed) and George (James Stewart)
The classic Hitchcock spy thriller Notorious (1946) included suspense, intrigue, plot twists, and also at the time of its production 'the longest kiss in film history.' It was able to cleverly circumvent censorship (no kiss could be longer than three seconds) by having the kisses composed of lots of pecks and necking, alternated and interspersed with whispers of discussion.
The famous marathon kissing scene, almost three minutes in length, was a romantic interlude between two of the film's main characters:
It began on a scenic Rio de Janeiro hotel balcony over the beach in Alicia's apartment, and was entirely shot in a tight closeup of their faces. They rapidly alternated passionate, clinging kisses and whispered endearments, and then continued with nibbling bites and nuzzling hugs as they walked from the balcony to the telephone (where he engaged in a conversation) and then to the front door.
During part of their conversation when he was dialing the telephone (calling his hotel for his messages), Alicia told him: "This is a very strange love affair" - and he asked why as she kissed him. Then she replied: "Maybe the fact that you don't love me."
The Record-Long Kiss:
Devlin (Cary Grant) and
Alicia (Ingrid Bergman)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
This 40s prototype of erotic thrillers of later years, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) based on James M. Cain's 1934 crime novel, told about how an adulterous sexual relationship would soon lead to a murder scheme. The two lovers were:
She plotted the elimination of her elderly husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway) after a long series of enticements toward Frank.
At first, she teasingly introduced herself to Frank by rolling a tube of lipstick down a cafe floor toward him. This was followed by the camera's pan up the length of her long and shapely legs. Then, there was a medium shot of Cora wearing a white-hot outfit (a revealing top and shorts) as she stood framed in a doorway. The neglected hamburger on the stove burned as Frank gawked at her.
After Cora's dramatic entrance into the cafe, she and hired worker Frank officially met and spoke for the first time. She began bossing and sizing him up while he made suggestive advances towards the untouchable yet glamorous woman. Suddenly, Frank grabbed her and planted a kiss on her lips. She reacted with great poise - she pulled out her vanity mirror, cleaned up the smudged lipstick on her lips, and then reapplied the lipstick before leaving - without a word.
Soon, after a moonlight swim, they would be sharing more furtive, passionate and intimate kisses.
Cora (Lana Turner) with
Frank (John Garfield)
Black Narcissus (1947, UK)
This Powell/Pressburger classic film was noted for its theme of repressed sexuality within a nun's mission (located in a former brothel with sensual murals on the walls), situated on the precipitous edge of a Himalayan mountainside.
The film was controversial for a number of scenes and plotlines:
The film concluded with Sister Ruth's climactic scene opposite devout and pious Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr). After renouncing her nunhood, Ruth wore a forbidden scarlet red dress and then applied bright red lipstick (symbolizing her complete break with the nunnery).
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
There was a non-sexual but extremely sensual, romantically sappy and transcendent ending to this film, which told about a creepy, haunted romance between:
He had been haunting her bedroom and thoughts in his non-flesh-and-blood format.
Recently-deceased, Lucy rose from her British seaside cottage's chair and - rejuvenated and young again - walked off, hand-in-hand with Daniel through the front door into the afterlife.
Lucy (Gene Tierney)
with Daniel Gregg
The Bicycle Thief (1948, It.)
Vittorio De Sica's neo-realistic Italian masterpiece (an Academy Award-winning "most outstanding foreign film" recognition) told the story of a father and son's search for a stolen bicycle (by a kid in a German military hat (Vittorio Antonucci)):
It contained two non-explicit scenes that were questioned by Hollywood's Production Code Administration (PCA):
Although the PCA was accused of petty demands, the film was the first to be successfully released and exhibited without a seal of approval.
Red River (1948)
The classic Howard Hawks' cattle drive western Red River (1948) had one notorious scene which was homosexually charged, with subtle references to their weapons.
Cherry Valance (John Ireland) and Matt Garth/Dunson (Montgomery Clift) discussed and showed off their guns. Cherry made covert advances toward Matt, while they both exhibited much symbolic macho posturing and sexual innuendo about their respective guns:
The scene was followed by their competitive target practice session with a tin can to demonstrate their shooting skills.
Showing Off Guns:
Cherry (John Ireland)
and Matt (Montgomery Clift)
Alfred Hitchcock's first color film was another of his suspenseful thrillers, noted for its many lengthy takes. It featured two gay villains in a plot that was loosely based upon the Leopold-Loeb murders. The two implicitly homosexual and psychopathic college buddies-lovers were:
The two thrill-killed (by rope strangulation) a third individual and then hid his body in a chest.
In one chilling, sexually-tinged scene, Shaw recounted his feelings about the murder to Morgan:
Phillip (Farley Granger)
and Brandon (John Dall)
Beyond the Forest (1949)
The melodramatic film Beyond the Forest (1949) from director King Vidor warned in its opening, necessary for code restrictions at the time, that it was salutory to view this "story of evil" in order to be delivered from it. It told the story of black-hearted wife Rosa Moline (Bette Davis).
Her many evil sins included:
In one of the film's final scenes, Rosa forced her husband Dr. Lewis Moline (Joseph Cotten) to stop the car so she could leap into a steep ravine embankment in a crazy attempt to force an injury and miscarriage of her unwanted pregnancy.
As the film concluded, she was found face-down and dead in the dirt after failing to reach the train station to escape her plight.
History Overview | Reference Intro | Pre-1920s | 1920-26 | 1927-29 | 1930-1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934-37 | 1938-39
1940-44 | 1945-49 | 1950-54 | 1955-56 | 1957-59 | 1960-61 | 1962-63 | 1964 | 1965-66 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969
1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989
1990 | 1991 | 1992-1 | 1992-2 | 1993 | 1994-1 | 1994-2 | 1995-1 | 1995-2 | 1996-1 | 1996-2 | 1997-1 | 1997-2 | 1998-1 | 1998-2 | 1999-1 | 1999-2
2000-1 | 2000-2 | 2001-1 | 2001-2 | 2002-1 | 2002-2 | 2003-1 | 2003-2 | 2004-1 | 2004-2 | 2005-1 | 2005-2 | 2006-1 | 2006-2
2007-1 | 2007-2 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012
Index to All Decades, Years and Features
- History of Sex in CinemaA year-by-year look at the films, scandals and changing laws
- History of Erotic FilmsEverything you ever wanted to know from the first sex symbol to the birth of porn
- Movies That Challenged RatingsA ranked movie list of 10 milestone sexy films that challenged the ratings
- Bombshells on the Big ScreenA look back at Hollywood's sirens including Monroe, Mansfield, and Mamie
- Top Ten NC-17 MoviesWhat's the best movie to get this controversial rating? Vote now!
- Top 10 Steamiest Sex ScenesWhat's the hottest movie scene ever? Vote now!