Many credit Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot with effectually ending the era of the Hays Code. The Hays Code, also known as the Motion Picture Production Code, was a set of guidelines sanctioned in the film industry for keeping films above a certain moral threshold. It was established in 1927 by Will H. Hays, a "Presbyterian elder" tasked with fixing the moral dilemmas faced by Hollywood after a series of risqué films were released and a number of film stars faced personal scandals. The code included a list of 11 subjects to be avoided altogether and 26 topics to be handled with care. The list of subjects to avoid included profanity, nudity (even its suggestion), illegal drugs, sex perversion, white slavery, interracial relationships, the topic of sex hygiene, scenes of childbirth, children's sex organs, ridicule of the clergy, and willful offense to any nation, race, or creed. Some Like it Hot, with its exploration of gender, sexuality, and marriage, bucked these censorships, but was still a huge success at the box office, so is thought by many to have played a part in discrediting the Hays Code and ushering in a new era in American film.
While most critics today see the Hays Code as a Puritanical form of censorship, there are some who defend it for what it did to redirecting and influencing the treatment of women in film and creating new genres and forms. In an article in The New Yorker, critic David Denby writes, "The “morals” embedded in the Code were foolish and hypocritical, yet these semi-inane standards had an extraordinary effect. Producers, directors, and writers were forced to create sex without sex, to produce sexual tension by working around the prohibitions, extending every manner of preliminary to sex. In effect, censorship created plot, and in the process yielded one of the greatest of American film genres: thirties romantic comedy, including the dizzier versions celebrated as screwball comedy." He points out that, in lieu of certain subject matters, filmmakers had to be more creative, and references to sexuality needed to be more indirect and less expected.
While this is true, most critics take the Hays Code to have been a repressive one, moralistic and bigoted, completely erasing sexuality as well as a number of human realities from the screen. Such a constrictive code was not able to survive long, and soon enough audiences were flocking to movies that pushed the boundaries. Some Like it Hot was one such movie, one which did exceedingly well at the box office, but didn't meet Code standards. In an article for NPR, Bob Mondello writes, "When Monroe's Sugar Kane Kowalczyk climbed into a train berth with Jack Lemmon's "Daphne," there was no longer a hanging blanket to separate them—and when Sugar's breathless, dingbat recollections of bedtime games with her sister inspired a strangled, hormonal snort from Lemmon—the code was dead, whether Hollywood admitted it or not. And judging from attendance at the nation's theaters, it was not much missed." The Hays Code's restrictions were not strong enough to keep a lid on good movie-making, and Some Like it Hot proves that censorship couldn't keep audiences happy for long.