Sep 19, 2023

Celebrating a Century of Banned Films

As the IFCO turns 100, Sarah Murnane shares her pick of the best censored films

Sarah MurnaneTV and Film Editor

The Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) is having its centenary celebrations this year. The office was originally founded in 1923 and played a major role in the national censorship of films and media. This year the IFCO has undergone a rebrand, with swanky new graphics, competitions and even an event which gives an audience the chance to rate a film. It only seems fair that while the IFCO goes into the future, we take a look at their past. Historically, they were not so forward facing. Between 1920 and 1980 they banned 11,000 films from being shown in Ireland. This article will consider the best five films that the IFCO banned. Bear in mind that the list has also been influenced by the best reasons films were banned.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, the first film on the list is Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932). The predecessor of the 80s remake, the original Scarface is a dark and edgy movie that remains watchable and enjoyable to this day. Starring Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak, it created the structure and tone of the modern gangster movie that remains observable in films produced today. The film was banned for its violent undertones and implicit sensationalising of the gangster lifestyle. Not the most exciting reason to ban a movie, but definitely a notable mention.

Best banned film number two is Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979). A cult classic for a reason, The Life of Brian is one of the greatest comedy films ever made from one of the finest comedy groups in history. The movie follows a man called Brian who is born one stable down on the same night as Jesus. Brian is then mistakenly presumed to be the Messiah and the Pythons continue the hilarity from there. The Life of Brian was banned for disobeying blasphemy laws in Ireland at the time and outlawed in other countries for the same reason. Not the most exciting banning, but definitely one of the best films on the list.  


Film number three may come as a surprise: Disney’s Fantasia (Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, 1940). Including this film on the list is slightly cheating: it was not completely banned in Ireland, but it did go through extensive cuts. Sections of the film were removed as they presented a “materialistic” view on the beginning of life, according to Dr Richard Hayes. Not only does this film make it on the list for its strangely vague banning reason, but also as arguably one of the most remarkable animation films of all time.

The fourth film is the classic Casablanca (Micheal Curtiz, 1942). The IFCO decided that Casablanca’s stance on World War II portraying the Nazi’s in a “sinister light” was against Ireland’s policy of neutrality, therefore it was banned for political reasons. The ban was raised in 1945 but some cuts to the film remained. Casablanca is perhaps the most egregious banning on this list, due to its undisputed place in cinematic history. 

To conclude with an unconventional pick: the film Monkey Business (1931, Norman Z. McLeod). It is the third Marx brothers film and follows the four brothers as stowaways on a ship. The IFCO decided that it would “provoke the Irish to anarchy”, resulting in its prohibition. If that doesn’t convince you to watch this film, I honestly don’t know what will.

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