Back in the days of silent films, packed picture houses enjoyed the latest offerings of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd to the accompaniment of suitable piano music. At one screening, a stereotypical villain, dressed in top hat and cape, strokes his moustache and then points a finger skyward as though a thought has struck him. The audience are told what this thought is in the form of a caption which reads: “I’m gonna nail that motherf—“. Cut.
Of course, this never really happened, because, for one thing I’m not sure how popular the ‘melon farmer’ word was back in those days (although it is said that the word can be lip-read, drowned out by a honking horn in the 1936 Fred Astaire film, Swing Time), and for another there was to be no mainstream on-screen swearing for many years to come.
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