Puritanical Ireland’s great poster cover-up

They may appear like they’ve had the Fr Ted treatment, but some of these vintage movie posters are testament to the social censorship of 1950s and 1960s Ireland.

Puritanical Ireland’s great poster cover-up

They feature the rather unartistic painted additions to the costumes of scantily-clad movie stars of the era. In all cases, it was the ladies in the images who had their wardrobes hastily redesigned for Irish eyes.

Among the better-known risquée-in-their-day images to get the moralistic makeover was that of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt lifted by the hot air of a subway grate, from the 1955 release The Seven-Year Itch.

Rather than the suggestive picture that sent temperatures — and box-office sales — soaring around the globe, members of Irish society who did not have the brass (or the bottle) to venture into the cinema, got a much more modest view. What was once a pearly-white dress was instead transformed to a far-less revealing blue and pink number with all the hallmarks of an infant crayon-wielder.

Rather than official State censorship, Dublin auctioneer Ian Whyte explains it was the films’ distributors who ordered that paint be taken to these large posters.

“I think they were doing it because they were afraid the local parish priest would close it down, a bit like the Fr Ted situation,” he said, referring to the 1990s sitcom episode when the Craggy Island clerics picketed their local screening of the blasphemous Passion of St Tibulus.

The posters in question are among several hundred — from a private collection of thousands gathered from the 1930s to the 1980s — going under the hammer at Whyte’s auction rooms next Saturday.

A relative of the owner sourced them from Irish cinemas, where they travelled with the film reels from town to town in an age when it was very expensive to print colour in the 40-inch by 30-inch format of most of these vintage promotional posters.

Another glaring difference between original and Irish versions can be seen in a poster for A Very Private Affair, which features in the auction catalogue. Movie theatres around the world advertised the 1962 Louis Malle-directed French flick with an image of a reclining, bikini-clad Brigitte Bardot. But this lot, with an auction estimate of €100 to €150, has a black dress painted over the swimming costume in a fashion suggestive of a hand under the influence of more than just fear of the clergy.

Similarly, Anne Francis’s gold, figure-hugging, space-suit dress was extended with blue paint into a knee-length dress for a Forbidden Planet poster, in order to ensure public decency was maintained in 1956 Ireland.

The phrase The World’s Most Beautiful Animal! was painted over in white alongside Ava Gardner on a 1954 poster for The Barefoot Contessa, while her neck-kissing lover was also blended into the white background by the distributor.

Some better-known titles are likely to attract the strongest bidding in an event drawing online interest from the strong collectors’ market for movie memorabilia in the US, with an eternal appetite among aficionados for particular genres, such as Alfred Hitchcock, James Bond and science-fiction movies.

The estimated values range from as low as €100 to a €3,000-€5,000 guide on a rarely-seen poster for Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

The tagline for the 1954 suspense classic reads: “THEY STARED TOO LONG....saw too much!” Which is more than can be said for anyone who leers at some of the posters hanging alongside it.

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