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The Moon Is Blue (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Moon Is Blue
Theatrical release poster
Directed byOtto Preminger
Screenplay byF. Hugh Herbert
Based onThe Moon Is Blue
by F. Hugh Herbert
Produced byOtto Preminger
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byOtto Ludwig
Music byHerschel Burke Gilbert
Otto Preminger Films (uncredited)
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • June 22, 1953 (1953-06-22) (Woods Theatre, Chicago)[1]
  • July 8, 1953 (1953-07-08) (USA)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.5 million (US and Canada rentals)[3]

The Moon Is Blue is a 1953 American romantic comedy film produced and directed by Otto Preminger and starring William Holden, David Niven, and Maggie McNamara. Written by F. Hugh Herbert and based on his 1951 play of the same title, the film is about a young woman who meets an architect on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and quickly turns his life upside down. Herbert's play had also been a huge success in Germany, and Preminger decided to simultaneously film in English and German, using the same sets but different casts. The German-language film version is Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach.

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  • The moon is blue (Fanvid)



A comedy of manners, the film centers on virtuous actress Patty O'Neill, who meets playboy architect Donald Gresham on the top of the Empire State Building and accepts his invitation to join him for drinks and dinner in his apartment. There she meets Donald's upstairs neighbors, his ex-fiancée Cynthia and her father, roguish David Slater.[4]

Both men are determined to seduce the young woman, but they quickly discover that Patty is more interested in engaging in spirited discussions about the pressing moral and sexual issues of the day than in surrendering her virginity to either of them. After resisting their amorous advances throughout the night, Patty leaves. The next day she returns to the Empire State Building, where she finds Donald, who has missed her and worried all night about her. He declares his love for her and proposes marriage to her.


Hardy Krüger and Johanna Matz, the stars of the German version, appear as the young tourist couple waiting to use the coin-operated telescope at the top of the Empire State Building, cameo roles which Holden and McNamara play in the German version.


Otto Preminger had staged the 1951 Broadway production[5] of F. Hugh Herbert's play[6] at Henry Miller's Theatre,[7][8] with Barbara Bel Geddes, Donald Cook, and Barry Nelson[9] in the lead roles.[10] It had a successful run of 924 performances, from March 8, 1951 (almost the worst year on record for the Broadway stage, according to The Billboard) until May 30, 1953.

A third, West Coast, touring company announced shows at the La Jolla Playhouse from July 1 through July 6, 1952, starring David Niven and Diana Lynn, and continuing on a tour scheduled to include Los Angeles (Biltmore), San Bernardino, San Francisco, and other cities[11] joining the Chicago touring company.

On July 8, 1952, producer/director Otto Preminger opened the West Coast production at the United Nations Theater in San Francisco for a three-month run, with David Niven as David Slater, Diana Lynn as Patty O'Neill, and Scott Brady as Donald Gresham in the lead roles.[12][13][14][15]


Preminger contracted with United Artists to finance and distribute a screen adaptation over which he would have complete control. Preminger cast David Niven over the objection of studio executives, who felt that the actor's career was in decline. He deferred his producer's and director's salaries in exchange for 75% of the film's profits.[16][17]

Maggie McNamara, who appeared as Patty O'Neill in the Chicago production of the play, and briefly in New York, received her first screen role and the film's last casting.[17][18][4]

Herbert's play had been a huge success in Germany, and Preminger decided to film simultaneously in English and German, using the same sets but different casts. The director estimated this method would increase the filming schedule by only eight to ten days and production costs by only 10 to 15 percent. The budget for both films was $373,445.[19] It is estimated that deferred costs came to nearly $500,000 but in return United Artists gave the producers Herbert and Preminger 75% of the profits, 20% of which they gave to William Holden.[2][20]

Motion Picture Production Code objections

Herbert's play was first submitted to the MPAA/PCA for approval by Paramount Pictures in 1951, with Samuel J. Briskin as producer.[4] On June 26, 1951, the office of MPAA censor Joseph Breen sent a letter back, stating that the script was unacceptable under the Motion Picture Production Code.[4] Later,[4] on July 13, 1951, the office of Joseph Breen contacted Herbert and advised him his screenplay was in violation of the Production Code because of its "light and gay treatment of the subject of illicit sex and seduction." On December 26, Preminger submitted a revised draft of the script which, due to numerous lines of dialogue exhibiting "an unacceptably light attitude towards seduction, illicit sex, chastity, and virginity", was rejected on January 2, 1952. Contrary to later legend, the words "virgin", "mistress", and "pregnant", all of which had been in the original play's dialogue, were not singled out as objectionable. On January 6, Preminger and Herbert advised the Breen office they disagreed with its decision and would film the screenplay without further changes.[21][4]

In a display of solidarity, United Artists heads Arthur B. Krim and Robert S. Benjamin amended their contract with Preminger and deleted the clause requiring him to deliver a film that would be granted a Production Code seal of approval. After ten days of rehearsals for each of his casts, Preminger began principal photography of both English- and German-language versions of the film on January 21, filming an English scene and then its German equivalent in quick succession. Preminger later stated he much preferred The Moon Is Blue to Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach because he felt that the psychology of the plot did not translate well. Filming was completed in twenty-four days and it previewed in Pasadena on April 8. Two days later, Breen notified Preminger the film would not be approved. Outraged at Breen's "unwarranted and unjustified attack" on "a harmless story", the director joined forces with UA executives to appeal the decision with the MPAA board of directors, who ruled against them.[22]


United Artists decided to release the film without the PCA seal of approval, the first major American film to do so,[4][23] initially in major urban markets where they hoped its success would encourage exhibitors in rural areas to book the film. The film premiered for an "adults only" audience at the Woods Theatre in Chicago on June 22 and opened at the United Nations Theater in San Francisco on June 25.[24] On June 30, Variety reported that three major nationwide theater chains were willing to exhibit the film, and it went into general release on July 8, and was in the top five box-office successes of that week.[4] (In its year-end report, Variety said the film had ranked #15 at the box office with a gross of $3.5 million.)[25][3]

It was banned in Jersey City, New Jersey as "indecent and obscene".[26][27][28][29] Theaters in many small towns in the United States restricted audiences to men or women separately.[4] Kansas, Ohio, and Maryland also banned the film, and Preminger and United Artists decided to bring suit in a Maryland court. On December 7, 1953, Judge Herman Moser reversed the State Censor Board. In his ruling, he called the film "a light comedy telling a tale of wide-eyed, brash, puppy-like innocence." Preminger and UA then appealed in Kansas (Holmby Productions, Inc. v. Vaughn), but the Supreme Court of Kansas upheld the state board of review's decision to ban the film. Determined to win, the director and studio took their case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which overturned the finding of the Kansas Supreme Court[30] on October 24, 1955.[31]

"the question here is neither one of great art nor even of particularly good taste. It is rather a question of whether American movies are continually to be hamstrung by rules that confine picture themes, picture morals, and picture language to what is deemed fit for children, or for childlike mentalities.
Saturday Review, 27 June 1953."[4]

The film's success was instrumental in weakening the influence of the Production Code. On June 27, 1961, the PCA granted both The Moon Is Blue and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Preminger's similarly controversial release, the seals of approval they initially withheld.[32]

Critical reception

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times observed it "is not outstanding, either as a romance or as film. The wit of Mr. Herbert . . . is turned almost wholly on his freeness with the startling idea or phrase, as glibly tossed off (for the most part) by a young lady who appears a wide-eyed child. And Otto Preminger's lifting of the play from the stage to the screen is much too rigidly respectful of its conversational form. As a consequence, the movement is restricted and the talk is exceedingly long. At times, it gets awfully tedious, considering its limited range."[33] Variety called it "an entertaining adult comedy", which "constantly reminds of its origin, being more a filmed play than a motion picture. But it's still entertaining theatre, whether behind the footlights or on celluloid."[34] Harrison's Reports called it "vastly amusing adult entertainment", adding that "even though the material is spicy and has its delicate moments, it has been handled so adroitly that it is always amusing without ever becoming offensive."[35] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it "Flip, frolicsome fun", adding, "Otto Preminger's direction of Herbert's own screen play follows the stage action fairly closely, resulting in occasionally static splotches but the feel of flip sophistication is achieved."[36] Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "this film is likely to induce a goodly share of laughter and have a special appeal to feminine audiences", but thought it "talks too much for complete satisfaction as a picture."[37] The Chicago Tribune wrote that the film was "deftly constructed and moves along at a bright, brisk pace, peppered with some remarkably funny dialog, which sends audiences into such guffaws that some of the best lines are drowned in a sea of laughter."[38] John McCarten of The New Yorker faulted the film for "all sorts of slowdowns ... to permit the principals to give out with their views on life, love and so on. However, as the photograph of a pleasant little comedy, the picture has some merit."[39] The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "quite pleasant entertainment;"[40] Time magazine also found the film to be pleasant.[41]

The Catholic Legion of Decency gave the movie a "C", "Condemned" rating, despite giving the original play a milder "B", "Unobjectionable for adults" rating.[41] The Catholic Parent-Teacher League condemned the movie.[4] Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and James Francis Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles urged Catholics to avoid the film.[4]

Cardinal Spellman denounced the film on 24 June 1953 as "an occasion of sin" violating "standards of morality and decency." He said, "This picture was avowedly produced in defiance of the system of self-regulation which the motion picture industry itself has maintained for more than two decades. The producer refused to make any revision of the film and openly spurns the code of the American motion picture industry. I call the attention of Catholics to the pledge of the Legion of Decency, which emphasizes the obligation to avoid attendance at theatres that flaunt indecency by exhibiting such a picture."[42]

In 1992 Pacific Film Archive called it "An innocuous sex comedy that talks about bedding down but never turns a sheet"[43] And observed: "the furor surrounding the film leaves the impression that a full-scale orgy had occurred."

In his review of the DVD release of the film, Tim Purtell of Entertainment Weekly called the film a "trifle" that "seems overly talky and slight".[44][when?][dead link]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 46% rating based on nine reviews.[45]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actress Maggie McNamara Nominated [46]
Best Film Editing Otto Ludwig Nominated
Best Song "The Moon Is Blue"
Music by Herschel Burke Gilbert;
Lyrics Sylvia Fine
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source Nominated [47]
Most Promising Newcomer to Film Maggie McNamara Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy David Niven Won [48]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Comedy F. Hugh Herbert Nominated [49]


The Academy Film Archive preserved The Moon Is Blue in 2006.[50]

In popular culture

In 1982, the film was the focus of the M*A*S*H episode, "The Moon Is Not Blue". Having heard of the film's controversy, Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt attempt to get a copy of the film shipped to the 4077th in Korea. But when they finally see the film, Hawkeye and B.J. are greatly let down by its lack of promised sexually-explicit content. Hawkeye complains that he's never seen a cleaner movie in his life, and when Father Mulcahy points out that one of the characters did say "virgin", Hawkeye responds, "That's because everyone was!" [51]

Otto Preminger's brother Ingo Preminger was producer of the theatrical version of MASH. The Moon Is Blue was released nineteen days before the armistice for the Korean War was signed.

Further reading

  • Lev, Peter, "Censorship and self regulation." In: The Fifties: Transforming the Screen, 1950–1959. University of California Press, 2006. ISBN 0-520-24966-6. pp. 89–90.[52]
  • Butters, Gerald R. Jr. "Moon Is Blue Over Kansas." In: Banned in Kansas : motion picture censorship, 1915–1966 Columbia : University of Missouri Press, c2007.[52]
  • Harris, Albert W. Jr. "Movie Censorship and the Supreme Court: What Next?" California Law Review Vol. 42, No. 1 (Spring, 1954), pp. 122–138[52]
  • Leff, Leonard J. "The Moon Is Blue and The French Line." In: The Dame in the Kimono : Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, c2001.[52]


  1. ^ "'Moon Is Blue,' Here June 22, Filmed in 2 Languages". Chicago Sunday Tribune. Part 7, p. 2. June 14, 1953.
  2. ^ a b Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 65
  3. ^ a b "Top Grossers of 1953". Variety. November 13, 1954. p. 10.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "The Moon Is Blue (1953)". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  5. ^ "The Moon Is Blue – Broadway Play – Original". Retrieved 11 August 2020. 924 performances
  6. ^ "F. Hugh Herbert". Playbill.
  7. ^ "The Moon Is Blue Broadway @ Henry Miller's Theatre – Tickets and Discounts". Playbill. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  8. ^ "American Theatre Playbills Collection 1871-2014". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Barry Nelson". Playbill. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  10. ^ Myers, Richard (1964). "Papers, 1928-1962". Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved 12 August 2020. Myers, Richard, 1901–1977. Papers of a composer and producer of Broadway plays most prominently known for his collaboration with Richard Aldrich and Julius Fleischmann. Although best on the financial aspects of theatrical production, the papers also contain information on casting, costuming, lighting and direction for the plays which Myers produced. In addition to financial records, the collection is comprised of contracts, correspondence, clippings, and some photographs and scripts. Documentation concerns The Moon Is Blue (1951), Goodbye, My Fancy (1949), The Innocents (1950), My Dear Children (1940), Plan M (1942), with Max Reinhardt and Norman Bel Geddes, and The Shrike (1952). Papers on the Cape Playhouse, which was operated by one of Myers' associates, are also present.
  11. ^ "The Moon Is Blue Starring Diana Lynn, To Be First La Jolla Summer Theater Production This Season". Journal-Compass. Vol. 39, no. 26. Coronado, California: Millen-Priddy. California Digital Newspaper Collection. 19 June 1952. p. 9. Retrieved 12 August 2020. presented by special arrangement with Richard Aldrich, Richard Myers and Otto Preminger
  12. ^ Fowler, Karin J. (1995). David Niven: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-313-28044-3. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  13. ^ Fowler, Karin J. (1995). David Niven: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-313-28044-3. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  14. ^ "Guide to the Samuel Stark theater program collection M1149". Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Stanford University. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  15. ^ "Moon Is Blue Theater Program, San Francisco". eBay. 1952. Archived from the original on 2020-08-11. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  16. ^ Fujiwara, Chris, The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. New York: Macmillan Publishers 2009. ISBN 0-86547-995-X, pp. 140–142
  17. ^ a b The World and Its Double, p. 142
  18. ^ "Miss McNamara to Sub For Miss Bel Geddes". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. April 26, 1952. p. 48. ISSN 0006-2510.
  19. ^ The World and Its Double, p. 143
  20. ^ Balio, Tino (8 April 2009). United Artists, Volume 2, 1951–1978: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. Univ of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299230135. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  21. ^ The World and Its Double, pp. 143–144
  22. ^ The World and Its Double, p. 145
  23. ^ "100 Most Controversial Films of All Time". AMC Network Entertainment LLC. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  24. ^ "Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco, CA". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  25. ^ The World and Its Double, p. 146
  26. ^ "JERSEY JUDGE SEES 'THE MOON IS BLUE'; Superior Court Jurist Says He Will Give Decision Today on Film Seized as 'Indecent'". The New York Times. 16 October 1953. p. 33. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  27. ^ "JUDGE BACKS BAN ON 'MOON IS BLUE'; Stanton Denies Application for Injunction by Jersey City House -- Compromise Fails". The New York Times. 17 October 1953. p. 10. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  28. ^ "'MOON' CHARGES TO JURY / Elizabeth Theatre Manager Released Pending Action". The New York Times. January 1, 1954. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  29. ^ "POLICE RAID HALTS 'THE MOON IS BLUE'; But Jersey City Authorities Sit Through Film Before Enforcing Their Ban". The New York Times. 7 January 1954. p. 26. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  30. ^ The decision in the appeal of the Kansas Supreme Court was issued by the US Supreme Court in Holmby Productions, Inc. v. Vaughn 350 U.S. 870, consisting of just two words, "Judgment reversed."
  31. ^ Hirsch, Foster, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-41373-5, p. 197
  32. ^ The World and Its Double, p. 147
  33. ^ Crowther, Bosley (9 July 1953). "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ' The Moon Is Blue,' Preminger's Film Version of Play, Opens at the Sutton and Victoria". The New York Times.
  34. ^ "The Moon Is Blue". Variety: 6. June 3, 1953.
  35. ^ "'The Moon Is Blue' with William Holden, David Niven and Maggie McNamara". Harrison's Reports: 90. June 6, 1953.
  36. ^ Coe, Richard L. (July 16, 1953). "'The Moon Is Blue' As Breezy as Play". The Washington Post. p. 29.
  37. ^ Schallert, Edwin (July 2, 1953). "Stage Quips Still Life Of 'Moon Film'". Los Angeles Times. Part III, p. 9.
  38. ^ "'The Moon Is Blue' Makes a Merry Movie". Chicago Daily Tribune: Part 2, p2. June 23, 1953.
  39. ^ McCarten, John (July 18, 1953). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 62.
  40. ^ "The Moon Is Blue". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 21 (241): 21. February 1954.
  41. ^ a b "Cinema: The New Pictures, July 6, 1953"
  42. ^ "Spellman Censures ‘Moon is Blue’ Film."|work=New York Times|date=June 25, 1953|, 24.
  43. ^ "The Moon Is Blue". Pacific Film Archive. 1992-12-04. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  44. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  45. ^ "The Moon is Blue | Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.
  46. ^ "The 26th Academy Awards (1954) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  47. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1955". BAFTA. 1955. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  48. ^ "The Moon Is Blue – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  49. ^ "Writers Guild of America archives". Archived from the original on 2010-11-30.
  50. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  51. ^ "M*A*S*H episode recap". Archived from the original on 2008-03-15. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
  52. ^ a b c d "The Moon Is Blue (1953)". UC Berkeley Library. Retrieved 11 August 2020.

External links

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