To my understanding, like with the Volstead Act, you have a battle between two groups (name any), like the National Legion of Decency and the Motion Picture Association for instance. On one side, what one claims to be education, decency, moral values and more, and on the other side, business and money. At the end, it all comes down to: "where do we draw the line so that we can carry on?". This debate still goes on decades after decades in Hollywood and the US. With its ups and downs and with more or less noise, including free speech.
There are so many guidelines and bullet-points in that guide/code that 95% of movies could not be aired if they were to be followed. Many states had censorship boards than didn't agree with the National Board of Review and many movies were blacklisted.
I think you base your understanding of the code and your question upon this statement:
I had the impression that crime could never pay.
From the Hays Code:
All criminal action had to be punished, and neither the crime nor the criminal could elicit sympathy from the audience, or the audience must at least be aware that such behavior is wrong, usually through "compensating moral value".
The financial success of both films1 became deciding factors in the weakening of the Code in the late 1940s. Hollywood continued to work within the confines of the Production Code throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, but during this time, the film industry was faced with very serious competitive threats. The first threat came from television, a new technology that did not require Americans to leave their houses to see motion pictures. Hollywood needed to offer the public something it could not get on television, which itself was under an even more restrictive censorship code.2
In the "Dark Passage", the hero isn't guilty, but is escaping prison. He's involved in two more deaths, but did he really killed? My reading of the story is similar to what many people think: fight for your rights and freedom. And it's still within their guidelines, as he's still guilty at the end. How far can a person go to prove itself innocent when the system is wrong and grinds you? What would the English think of the Boston Tea Party? What did the Americans think when they did that?
Certification: (source: IMDB)
- United States:Passed (National Board of Review)
- United States:Approved (pca #12248)
- United States:TV-PG (TV Rating)
1. The Outlaw and Duel in the Sun
2. The Hays Code