Re: RARA-AVIS: Gunsel (Re:Hammett & Chandler & Burroughs/Black Mask Hard Boiled)

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 14 Apr 2000

Frank Miller (not the comic guy) includes a brief discussion of The Maltese Falcon in his book Censored Hollywood. He credits John Huston with knowing how to write around the Code, being able to hint at things without saying them explicitly enough to require changes. Still, Joe Breen asked for changes, some focusing on the homosexual element, but no mention was made of the word "gunsel."

George Gardner's The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters from the Hays Office 1934 to 1968 contains some direct quotes from Breen's letters dictating changes to be made. Again, the depiction of homosexuality was a concern: "We cannot approve the characterization of Cairo as a pansy, indicated by the lavender perfume, high-pitched voice, and other accoutrements. In line with this, we refer you to page 48, where Cairo tries to put his arm around the boy's shoulder and is struck by the boy."

Given that Breen was also concerned that Gutman's repeated use of the phrase "By Gad" might be too close to blasphemy, I think he simply didn't understand the homosexual connotations of the word "gunsel," assumed it to be criminal slang for gunman, as so many have since.

This reminds me of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." Many radio stations cut the word "colored," from the line "and the colored girls sing," as possibly offensive, but they all left "even when he was giving head"-- evidently that phrase was not well understood at the time.


ps -- I was amused to find that gunsel is in my spell-check.

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