Let’s consider a hypothetical and unlikely situation. An up-and-coming actress is faced with a choice of two jobs. One is a stage play, and the other is a movie. Apart from the medium, everything is equal: the pay, the length of the initial engagement, the size of her part. In fact, the two roles are so similar that they both call for the actress to be the horizontal component of a spanking scene. So which job should she choose: cinema or live theater?
You might think that’s a no-brainer. In the theater, the actors must repeat their performances afresh for each new audience, sometimes with inevitable slight variations, whereas every movie audience sees exactly the same set of performances, which have been recorded and are repeated by means of mechanical reproduction rather than human labor. So it would seem that the choice facing our imaginary actress is between being spanked eight times a week, including matinees, for however long the play runs, or being spanked just once for the movie camera.
Actually, it’s not nearly so simple.
Most acting performances are the end product of a process of rehearsal: the actors and director run through the scenes over and over again, refining them and trying out different ways of doing things. So our actress will also be spanked in rehearsal, probably several times, before a theater audience or a movie camera first get a look at the scene. The difference is that, in the theater, rehearsals take place on a daily basis over a period of weeks before the show opens, whereas in the movies, the cast will rehearse a scene and then shoot it straight away. And that starts to even the score between the two media…
Instead of a hypothetical actress, let’s talk about a real one, Paulette Goddard. Here she is playing society beauty Loxi Claiborne in her 1942 film Reap the Wild Wind…
… in which she had this scene with Ray Milland:
A visitor to the set that day described what happened. Naturally they started with a rehearsal. Milland turned Paulette over his knee, and her period hoop skirt tilted right up, presenting him with her lower half in long, frilly pantalettes, which he proceeded to spank – hard! Paulette wasn’t expecting that, and she responded to the full force of his performance with an almighty ‘Hey!’ The director, Cecil B. DeMille, intervened to point out that her line was actually ‘Stop it! How dare you? Stop it, I say!’, and that ‘Hey!’ was perhaps a little out of period. ‘Well, he doesn’t have to give me a real spanking in a mere rehearsal, does he?’ replied Paulette; ‘I wasn’t even prepared.’ And Milland apologised for getting carried away.
So what Paulette was expecting of the rehearsal was a simple run-through of the moves, with a more authentic performance reserved for when the camera was rolling.
Or so she said. But was that what usually happened? We might expect Paulette to know, because Reap the Wild Wind wasn’t her first experience of a movie spanking scene. Time for a change of costume, Paulette…
Now she’s dressed up for her role as wild girl Louvette Corbeau in DeMille’s 1940 epic North West Mounted Police, in which she had this scene with Lynne Overman:
For this one we don’t have an eye-witness report from the set, but we do have photographic evidence that the rehearsal of the spanking scene wasn’t entirely straightforward. Evidently Lynne Overman didn’t at first give DeMille what he wanted, because the director found it necessary to step in and show him what was required:
That picture tells us two things. Firstly, it means we can reasonably infer that Paulette Goddard was spanked a minimum of three times in that rehearsal: at least once, unsatisfactorily, by Overman, then once by DeMille for purposes of demonstration, and at least once by Overman again, presumably leaving DeMille happier by the time they were ready to shoot the scene. Whether Paulette was quite so happy is another matter…
Because the other thing the photo tells us is what the issue was. You will have noticed that the demonstration doesn’t match the actual movie scene. DeMille didn’t take the time to put Paulette across his knee: he just concentrated on the thing he wanted to demonstrate – and the motion blur on his right hand shows what that was. What he wanted from his actor was evidently a vigor of the kind that, in their next movie together, Paulette Goddard would disingenuously suggest was unnecessary in ‘a mere rehearsal’.
It wasn’t uncommon for a spanking scene to have more than one rehearsal before it was ready to go before the camera. After all, what are rehearsals for? Time to introduce another actress. This is Ellen Drew in the 1941 comedy Our Wife:
This is what happened to her on Columbia’s Stage 2 on Day 46 of shooting:
And by the time the cameras rolled for the first take, she had already been spanked nine times in rehearsal!
What’s more, Cecil B. DeMille wasn’t the only director who found it necessary to take an active hand. For our next example, allow me to introduce June Haver, seen here getting into costume for a scene in her 1949 movie Look For the Silver Lining, directed by David Butler:
One of the highlights of the film, as you probably know, is her energetic performance in this scene with Gordon MacRae:
Here they are rehearsing the scene:
But David Butler wasn’t satisfied with what he first saw. So he called them over to the side of the set and illustrated precisely how Gordon should hold June and where his spanking hand should fall:
So once again, the actress was spanked at least three consecutive times in rehearsal, before going on to be spanked on camera shortly afterwards.
One reason why this was necessary is that, like Lynne Overman and unlike Ray Milland, some actors in spanking scenes were at first reluctant to give their performances the authenticity the director wanted, and had to be coaxed in rehearsal. It has a lot to do with old-fashioned conceptions of gentlemanliness, as well as professional etiquette towards their female colleagues: one 1940s actress arrived at the studio on the day she was to shoot a spanking scene, and found in her dressing room a large bouquet of roses from her co-star and a note that read, ‘Let these remind you that I really hate to do today’s scenes – they’re going to hurt me a lot more than you.’
But others carried their gallantry further. Time to meet Claudette Colbert, who was due to have her bottom soundly spanked by Gary Cooper in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938). Here they are together in an earlier scene:
But on the day of shooting, Cooper just couldn’t bring himself to strike a woman, and no amount of rational persuasion, by Claudette as well as director Ernst Lubitsch, could make him change his mind and play the scene. Then Claudette tried a different approach, and slapped his face hard. ‘Turnabout is fair play,’ she said. ‘Now maybe Gary will agree to give me that spanking.’ Whereupon Cooper withdrew his objections: ‘It will be a great pleasure,’ said he.
The irony is that, in giving half-hearted performances in rehearsal, these polite, reticent actors only prolonged things for the co-stars whose feelings they were instinctively trying to spare!
When, eventually, the director and actors knew what was required and how they were going to achieve it, it would be time to go for a take. For an example of this process in action, let’s return to the set of North West Mounted Police, where Lynne Overman is putting Paulette Goddard across his knee, watched by none other than Gary Cooper, owner of the brown boots on the right of the shot.
He gives her a single smack, and then she’s saved by the intervention of a Mountie.
That’s what they filmed, but it’s not what you see in the movie, in which the spanking weighs in at a more substantial, albeit still relatively slight, five smacks. The reason is that the scene is mostly made up of insert shots that were filmed separately. The spanking begins and ends with the ‘master’ shot showing the whole tableau, but then it cuts to a series of close-ups of the participants and the amused onlookers. We are shown the top half of Lynne Overman, spanking away, with Paulette Goddard nowhere in frame because, obviously, she wasn’t across his lap at the time. And we see a head-and-shoulders shot of the horizontal Paulette, reacting vocally to what’s supposed to be happening out of frame (but isn’t really):
Just look at where her body is relative to his plaid breeches in that shot, and compare it with her position in the master shot: these are obviously completely different and somewhat discontinuous camera set-ups.
The big point I’m making here is that, in the movies, scenes aren’t played completely in real time, and this can be manipulated to the advantage of the actress who has to be spanked. The spanking in North West Mounted Police was created more in the editing room by film editor Anne Bauchens than it was by the actors on set, where Paulette Goddard only got the absolute minimum necessary to establish what was happening.
Before we move on, though, we’d better dispense with an urban legend. Some people have claimed that Paulette didn’t even get the one smack we see land – that the scene was done by a body double. This is an inference from the way that Paulette puts her hands to the back of her head so that you can’t see her face for much of the master shot. That’s just what a stunt double would do, to be sure, but you have to remember that this master shot was done as a single set-up and only split into two separate shots when the inserts were put in. We see Louvette going across the irascible Scotsman’s knee, and we can clearly see that it is Paulette Goddard:
As you can see there, her hands are already behind her head, but the reason isn’t to obscure her face. On the contrary, she’s putting her arms out of the way so that when she has her close-up, you will be able to see her face!
And, holding the same pose, she also made absolutely sure the stills photographer could see it was her:
So let’s forget this nonsense about a body double and simply register that the spanking is, mostly, a cleverly constructed fake.
Back now to the set of Reap the Wild Wind. The story so far… Paulette has already been soundly spanked once that day for the rehearsal, and she’s not happy about it. While she’s at the wardrobe department for some minor adjustments before the take, let’s think about a few ways in which this spanking scene is going to be different from what she experienced a few years earlier on North West Mounted Police.
The most important one, in terms of how the scene will end up in the finished movie, is that the spanking takes place in an entirely different context. Whereas Louvette is spanked in public, with a crowd looking on, the scene with Loxi is essentially private: to be sure, she’s on a balcony next to a ballroom, but the partygoers think the man with her is about to be announced as her fiancé, so they aren’t going to barge in and disturb her at this intimate moment. This has two consequences for the spanking. Firstly, since only the two participants are there, nobody will intervene to put a stop to it, so this is going to be a longer spanking than the interrupted one Paulette got in North West Mounted Police. And secondly, the cinematography will have to be different, because with no onlookers there are fewer options for relevant inserts to break up the master shot. A lot more of this spanking will be done in real time, and a lot less of it will be pieced together in the editing room by the redoubtable Anne Bauchens.
Let’s look at it in detail. Here’s the master shot, in which progressive layers of Loxi’s dress tumble down to reveal her elaborately frilly petticoats.
The petticoats are as far as we are allowed to go: the angle of the shot was obviously chosen to avoid revealing the even more intimate apparel beneath. But that means there is only one possible insert shot. There’s no point in having a close-up of Loxi’s facial reaction, because that’s already taken care of in the master. So most of the spanking – seven smacks, to be precise – has to happen in this shot.
The insert accounts for the other two smacks of a nine-smack spanking, and is of course a close-up of Ray Milland as he spanks. But again, what was possible in North West Mounted Police was out of the question this time, thanks to Paulette’s costume.
Because the crinoline is, in effect, a self-raising skirt, it will be in shot for Milland’s close-up. And because Paulette is still wearing the costume (ready for the next component shot), there’s no alternative: she must still be across Milland’s knee, even though all we can see of her is her skirt and petticoat!
And finally, the last part of the spanking to be filmed was the first part of it seen in the edited movie, the lead-up sequence that ends with Milland putting her across his knee:
So this spanking scene was inherently a much more perilous prospect for Paulette Goddard than the desultory single smack she received over Lynne Overman’s knee. And let’s not forget, either, the differences in her costumes. As Louvette, she was equipped with a sturdy buckskin skirt, worn over regular modern panties, as you can just about see here:
For Reap the Wild Wind, in contrast, it might look as if she was well protected by the fripperies of Victorian high fashion…
… but the reality was that she was going to get a spanking on her underwear. And she’d already had a taste of the likely intensity of that spanking in the ‘mere rehearsal’ at which Milland got carried away with his performance.
Hence her trip to wardrobe…
The take was approaching. DeMille asked the actors if they were ready. ‘Any time,’ said the seated Milland, as Paulette began to lay herself over his lap. Then she paused. ‘Oh, just a minute,’ she said, ‘I almost forgot. You’d better go easy this time for your own good. I’ve got a board in there.’
The camera couldn’t see the temporarily less than shapely seat of Paulette’s pantalettes, but it was obvious to everybody on the other side of the set that Milland carefully avoided any impact of his hand on her bottom! The sound of the smacks was put on the soundtrack later by the foley artist.
So the import of what we have seen so far is that the artificiality of the cinema medium gives movie makers a whole range of tricks that can save an actress from having to undergo the discomfort of being soundly spanked. In fact, variants of the technique used by DeMille in North West Mounted Police were used in some other movies, notably for the first spanking in Dos Pistolas Gemelas (1966).
A more complicated case is John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven (1958):
Huston didn’t include, or shoot, a master shot like that picture, which is understandable because, despite the way the lady’s decorously hanging onto the hem of her skirt there, in the film it’s raised. The implication is that the spanking is as described in the original 1956 novel by Romain Gary, which refers to the ‘quite unforgettable sight’ of ‘little Annette Challut wagging her naked bottom in the air under the patriarch’s blows’. Not that there’s anything little about the equivalent lady in the film:
By contrast, the master shot is all we get in The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957), with a single smack landing and no cutaways:
The scene was considered important enough to be separately posed for capture by the stills photographer…
… but the movie was shot on a tight schedule, little more than a one-month turnaround, and they never got around to filming the close-up inserts of Audie Murphy spanking and Kathryn Grant screaming and struggling. And the inevitable result was a perfunctory scene that occupies a somewhat lowly place in the annals of cinema spanking:
But it helpfully illustrates the kind of thing that Paulette Goddard got in 1940, and was perhaps expecting, or hoping, to get once again in Reap the Wild Wind.
In fact, DeMille’s North West Mounted Police technique used to be taught to budding cinematographers as the standard way to shoot a spanking scene. The textbook, however, used an even more recent example by way of illustration:
Shot 1 establishes that the lady is about to be spanked.
But by cutting to close-up when the man’s arm is halfway down, the actual moment of contact is avoided. With the lady out of harm’s way, the spanking action can now continue in Shot 2.
A cut to another close-up, showing the victim’s anguished reaction (Shot 3), adds to the effect while allowing the audience to imagine that the action is still going on outside the frame area.
Finally the illusion is completed by cutting back to a re-establishing shot (Shot 4) of the whole scene when the man’s arm is traveling up.
Now, you may rightly point out that this bears absolutely no relation to the way the spanking scene in McLintock! is actually presented in the film.
Yes, there are some cutaway shots, but the director and star do not seem to have given a very high priority to sparing Maureen O’Hara from the need to suffer for her art.
A good six smacks are seen to land on target, and Maureen later remarked, ‘He really spanked me! You can’t cheat on a scene like that. My bottom was black and blue for weeks!’
So what this really tells us is that you can’t generalize. Some productions certainly were organized with a modicum of concern for the spanked actress’s comfort. Others seem to have treated such scenes as just one of the less agreeable parts of her regular professional responsibilities. And from time to time, things may have been a little more personal.
So rather than generalizing, let’s particularize. Here’s Susanna Foster:
At the time she made There’s Magic in Music in 1941, she was still in her mid-teens, not very experienced on movie sets and, it seems, perhaps a little lacking in the professional discipline that her co-stars took for granted. At least, when Allan Jones was doing scenes dressed in a snug devil’s outfit, she took delight in pinging him in the rear with a rubber band. Jones solemnly reminded her about an upcoming scene in which…
Came the day, began the rehearsal. And the first rehearsal ended after just one smack. ‘I can’t play the scene this way,’ insisted Jones. ‘It isn’t realistic: Miss Foster is padded.’ She had indeed taken such precautions, and work on the scene resumed after the removal of the extraneous excelsior – whereupon Allan Jones got his revenge!
And it does seem to have been widely agreed that, whatever tricks might be pulled by the film editor afterwards, actual onscreen spanking action needed to be authentic. After filming this scene in The Female Animal (1957)…
… Jane Powell told a reporter that her tears were real, ‘and I won’t be able to sit down for a week’. That, of course, is why full-on performances sometimes needed to be coaxed out of reluctant actors. Even Paulette Goddard seems at first to have accepted that she was going to get ‘a real spanking’ when it came to a take, at least until Ray Milland used up the professional goodwill on that ‘mere rehearsal’.
So when a director decides a spanking scene needs to consist of more than one shot, it’s not necessarily good news for the actress, because the additional shots aren’t necessarily going to be the kind of crowd reaction shots or close-ups that extend the scene without extending her ordeal.
To illustrate that, we’ll go back to the set of Look for the Silver Lining, in which the future Broadway star Marilyn Miller, as played by June Haver, is offered the title role in Florenz Ziegfeld’s musical Sally, but makes a snap decision to turn it down. When her husband Frank tries to convince her otherwise, she slaps his face, and he responds with a more forceful kind of persuasion:
This isn’t an unimportant moment in the overall story of the film. Being stuck in a biopic of her own life and unable to predict the future, Marilyn doesn’t know that Sally is the show that is going to make her name. But the audience can see that she is about to turn her back on success, so the spanking that changes her mind is a moment of historic destiny. It is, in fact, the reason why there can even be a biopic of the life of Marilyn Miller! That begins to explain why it’s a sequence that needed to be carry some weight, why it’s not only an exciting spanking scene but also, by Hollywood standards, a relatively long one amounting to eleven smacks – which is nearly double the onscreen hit rate for McLintock!
And it’s not only quite a long scene but also a complex one, in that the focus changes halfway though – which means it has to be presented across two different shots. For the first five smacks, our attention is exclusively on the husband and wife and the climax of their marital spat:
The remaining six smacks are seen from a new angle that widens the focus to take in the door behind them, through which the maid enters bearing Ziegfeld’s renewed offer for Sally:
And that interruption saves both Marilyn’s bottom and her career: Frank has to stop spanking her so that the maid can deliver the message, but she’s still over his knee and he makes it very clear that she’ll be getting some more if she doesn’t send back the right answer. And so she sobs, ‘I’m going to do Sally,’ and her future is assured.
The point I’m making is that there are often good artistic and technical reasons to change the shot while the spanking is going on, but they have nothing to do with the comfort and convenience of the actress. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because each time there’s a new shot, the camera has to be set up again in its new position, and the set has to be relit accordingly. There’s bound to be a delay – and then, maybe half an hour later, the actors start again. So when a spanking is done across two shots, from the actress’s point of view it’s more like getting two spankings, one on top of the other. And that’s not counting the rehearsals!
And there’s another factor we haven’t considered yet. When Ellen Drew started work on Our Wife, a reporter got wind that she was going to be spanked in the final scene, and remembered that the movie’s director, John M. Stahl, had the reputation of being a perfectionist. Such a perfectionist, in fact, that if he wasn’t satisfied with a scene, he’d go on shooting even if it took until Take 75.
In the event, it didn’t go anywhere near that far. The nine rehearsals of the spanking scene were followed by four takes, meaning that Ellen was spanked, and spanked hard, a total of thirteen times in the course of an hour and a half.
According to an eye witness, she had tears in her eyes by the end. ‘Honestly,’ whispered Melvyn Douglas to her, ‘this hurt me more than it did you.’ She obviously looked rather tired, so Stahl told her to go and sit down. ‘If you don’t mind,’ she replied, ‘I believe I’d rather stand.’
Ellen’s experience was far from unique. According to a report from the set of Look for the Silver Lining:
‘MacRae held Miss Haver across his manly lap for nearly three solid hours, while he tried to spank her to the artistic satisfaction of director David Butler.’
And there are more instances – lots more. Here’s Ann Sheridan, who plays the title role in The Footloose Heiress (1937):
She had to do several takes of this scene,
and, according to the press, ‘The fair Miss Sheridan did not forget it for a week.’
Now meet Rita Gam.
The newspapers reported that she got ‘an eight-hour spanking’ in Sign of the Pagan (1954). Unfortunately that’s not really a shining example of accurate journalism: yes, the scene took eight hours to shoot, but no, it wasn’t a spanking in the strictest sense of the word. It’s actually a fight scene with Jeff Chandler, in which she gets periodically whacked on the bottom with the flat of his sword, then thrown over his shoulders and carried away with her legs aflutter.
Even though it’s not a proper spanking scene, it’s enjoyable to watch (you can do so here). But it was a grueling day’s work for Rita: she told an interviewer that she could only sleep that night after taking two hot baths, and was black and blue for days. Just watching the scene made her feel the sting in her derriere all over again!
Someone who really did spend an entire day being spanked was Martha O’Driscoll.
It happened when she was making this scene in the 1945 comedy-thriller Shady Lady:
And as take followed take, Martha got sorer and sorer, until it became necessary to fix her up with an ice-bag bustle to wear between shots.
Jenny Maxwell could possibly count herself just a little more fortunate than Martha. Here she is meeting the star of Blue Hawaii (1961), lucky girl:
She stayed relatively lucky in the fact that this scene didn’t take all day.
In fact, it was all over in four takes. But even so, four takes meant four spankings, which Jenny didn’t think was all that lucky:
‘He had to make it look good, but my skimpy costume was wet and there wasn’t much between Elvis and what he was spanking, and it just stung like anything.’
She couldn’t sit down afterwards. And that’s where her luck really ran out. If it had taken a whole day of spanking, she wouldn’t have been required to go straight on to the next scene on the shooting schedule… and spend the next three hours riding on horseback!
But that pales in comparison to what happened, also in four takes, to an otherwise unknown blonde actress using the name Tanya Zhivago – which is obviously a pseudonym compiled from two of the major characters in the 1965 David Lean film Doctor Zhivago. Her only screen credit is for a 1968 movie that is almost as obscure as she is, entitled We a Family.
Tanya played the part of Betty, who is spanked by the butler, a role credited to one Steve Goodwyn but actually played by veteran Irish actor Keith McConnell. Why all these pseudonyms? Well, just possibly because of the type of film it was…
The 1960s saw the decline of the spanking scene in mainstream American cinema, but also the rise of the low-budget exploitation film, of which We a Family was an example. Now, I haven’t seen this film and to be honest I don’t particularly want to: the spankings in this genre are usually pointless and tawdry. They are also usually on the bare bottom, and this is what lends a certain piquant interest to the fact that the director only called ‘print’ after the fourth take… by which time, we are told, Tanya Zhivago had a very red bottom indeed!
I don’t know whether we can be said to be moving on to more wholesome fare now, given that our next example is the deep-dyed conservatism of Public Deb No. 1, which mainly comes across as an embarrassment several generations later. But at least it’s a film with a spanking scene so prominent and extensive that publicists treated it as the main selling point:
‘The world’s richest girl Gets Spanked!’
Playing the world’s richest girl is Brenda Joyce, though I suspect that may not be why she’s jumping for joy here:
Her character is a soup heiress who is flirting with communist ideas, and George Murphy plays a waiter in an expensive Russian restaurant she visits. She engages him in a political debate, thinking he’s bound to be left-leaning, and doesn’t like it when she discovers that actually he’s a believer in capitalism and American democracy. She likes it even less when he tells her that she needs a spanking, so she calls the manager and gets him fired – whereupon he gives her that spanking, at very great length, in front of the other diners, to the raucous tune of Tararaboomdiay. The manager, scenting publicity, calls in the photographers:
The studio commissioned a caricature painting of the scene for use in publicity.
And versions of it appeared in various permutations on posters and advertisements. For example:
‘Is her face red?’ Yes, and so are her political opinions. And so, probably, is something else. Because it required seven takes to get the spanking scene right.
This was another case where the problem lay in an incompatibility between director Gregory Ratoff’s desire for realism and gentleman George Murphy’s instinct not to hurt his co-star too much. Brenda Joyce told what is by now a familiar story:
‘George Murphy did the spanking, but he couldn’t seem to get it right. So Gregory Ratoff, the director, demonstrated. Between spankings and demonstrations, I sort of took it.’
By the final take, reported one newspaper, ‘Brenda didn’t have to do much acting to suggest a thoroughly spanked young woman.’ Another named her as ‘the most spanked player in Hollywood’.
But she didn’t keep that title for long. The following year, Susanna Foster, after being deprived of her foam-rubber bustle, had to play her There’s Magic in Music spanking scene for a staggering 21 takes before director Andrew L. Stone was satisfied!
One of the dumber things that tends to be said about this kind of situation, generally by spanking enthusiasts whose interest in the subject outstrips their common sense, is that the leading actor must have arranged for these retakes to be necessary in order to maximize a spanking opportunity. It’s an idea that might have some currency in the world of 1950s risqué cartoons, full of uncommonly lascivious men and unrealistically naive girls:
It has nothing at all to do with the real world of professional movie-making, where the actors doing the spanking were often, as we have seen, more reluctant than eager. The fact is that every retake cost the production money, measured not just in wasted film stock but in everybody’s time and the knock-on effect on the rest of the picture. To get an idea of the impact on a budget, here’s the quoted cost of the seven takes of the spanking scene in Public Deb No. 1:
If you were to gratify yourself by deliberately doing your job badly, and consequently cost your employer more than a quarter of a million dollars (the modern equivalent of $16,000 in 1940), then you would deserve to be called unprofessional. In reality, the need for a large number of spanking retakes doesn’t show that the cast or crew particularly enjoyed doing them. What it shows is just how difficult it was to get a spanking scene right.
But on occasion the financial factor worked in the actress’s favor. Time now to meet the British movie star Jean Kent.
In 1949, she starred in the Anglo-Italian gangster comedy Her Favourite Husband, playing Dorothy Pellegrini, whose husband Antonio, a timid bank clerk, happens to have an exact double who is a mobster planning to rob the bank. Both Antonio and his doppelganger are played by Canadian actor Robert Beatty. In the course of the movie Dorothy finds that Antonio has undergone a radical change of personality, the cause of which is best described as spouse substitution skulduggery. And one thing she gets from her new, tough-guy Antonio is…
Unlike in Public Deb No. 1 or Look for the Silver Liming, the spanking isn’t a crucial part of the plot, but it was considered to be an important scene. It’s represented in the film’s opening titles:
And it also featured in the publicity:
So it was a blow when the British Board of Film Censors decreed that the ‘undignified and unbecoming’ spanking scene couldn’t be allowed as it stood. A planned screening for the trade, scheduled for November 8, was canceled while the producers had a rethink. The obvious solution was to recall the actors and reshoot the scene. Reports of the estimated cost of this ranged from a bare minimum of £400 up to £2000 (in modern terms, £13,000 to £64,000). The higher figure is much the likelier, because the film was made in Italy: the actors would have to be flown out for the reshoot, or (if it was done in England) a set would need to be designed and built to match the existing footage. And £2000 represented a not insignificant chunk of the film’s overall budget of £18,000.
The producers’ deliberations were reported in a somewhat confused article in the Daily Mirror:
The picture, described as a frame from the original spanking footage that was due to be replaced, ought to be a rarity. But now look at this frame from the film as it was finally issued in September 1950:
The two images are identical. So the scene was not reshot after all: the producers saved £2000 (or £400, take your pick), and Jean Kent was spared a second spanking. Further discussion with the censors established that the main objection was not to the visuals but the explosive sound of the six smacks landing on Dorothy’s bottom. So the sound men found a way of dampening down the soundtrack to the Board’s satisfaction – thankfully without overlaying the honking sound of a motor horn mooted in the Daily Mirror article!
We started out with a hypothetical actress having to choose between spanking scenes on stage and on screen. The theatrical option was always straightforward: she’d be spanked every time the play was performed. But what we’ve discovered is that the cinematic option is much more of a gamble. She might get away with being spanked just twice, once for rehearsal and once for a take – with the chance that her fellow actor might go easy for a ‘mere rehearsal’. She might even be allowed to install some protection for her nether regions. But equally, she might end up doing repeated, realistic rehearsals, with the further risk of having to do retakes. And if John M. Stahl was directing, and things didn’t go according to plan, she might even wind up getting spanked 75 times, all on the same day!
One actor well equipped to make the comparison between the two media was Owen Davis Jr, who made a few films in 1929-30, most notably All Quiet on the Western Front, but then returned to Broadway for five years. In 1936, he was wooed back to the movies to play the title role in Bunker Bean, the film version of a 1916 stage comedy about a man with an inferiority complex who discovers that he was Napoleon in a former life. His leading lady was Louise Latimer.
And making the picture, reported the fan magazine Modern Screen, ‘Everybody had a lovely time; that is, everybody but Louise Latimer.’ That was because of one particular scene that’s not in the original play, but was added for the movie. And it was because that scene tied the two actors up in retakes for the best part of a day. What they were doing, over and over again, was…
And that just happened to be the day when an interviewer asked Davis how the movies compared with the theater. His reply:
‘Hollywood is a little hard on the hand.’
But perhaps not quite as hard as it was on a different part of Louise Latimer.