The Moon is Blue (1953)

The Moon is Blue
David Niven, Maggie McNamara and William Holden

'The Moon is Blue' is a romantic comedy movie made in 1953 and both produced and directed by Otto Preminger. It stars William Holden, David Niven, and Maggie McNamara and is based on the 1951 play "The Moon is Blue" written by F. Hugh Herbert. Otto Preminger had also directed the Broadway stage production which ran for 924 performances.

The film ranked fifteenth in popularity at the box office with a gross of $3.5 million and to this day has retained its warmth, humor and charm. It was selected for preservation by the Academy Film Archive in 2006.

Hays Code

The Hays Code, named after Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945, was a set of guidelines designed for the movie industry to censor itself against profanity, indecency, obscenity and realistic violence. Because of the code, 'The Moon Is Blue' was originally banned by many movie theaters and states, and the Catholic Parent-Teacher League condemned it. The play's dialogue deals with sexual matters and uses words like "virgin", "seduce", "aphrodisiac", and "mistress", which up to that time, were taboo. The movie undoubtedly contributed to the weakening and eventual demise of the code.


The plot centers on actress Patty O'Neill, played by Maggie McNamara, who meets playboy Donald Gresham, played by William Holden, on a visit to the Empire State Building. She joins him at his apartment where she meets Donald's ex-fiancée Cynthia and her father, the roguish David Slater, played to the hilt by David Niven.

We quickly learn that Patty is still a virgin and she successfully resists all seduction attempts. When she revisits the Empire State Building next day, she finds Donald who proposes marriage.


Maggie McNamara had previously played the role of Patty O'Neill on stage in Chicago and New York and this was her first film role.

Otto Preminger wanted to have complete control over the production and he declined his producer and director salaries in exchange for 75% of the film's profits.

Preminger cast David Niven despite the objections of studio executives, who felt the actor was past his best.

Preminger decided to film simultaneously in English and German as the stage play had been a huge success in Germany. He used different casts on the same sets and estimated that this would increase the filming schedule by only eight to ten days and production costs by only 10 to 15 percent. He later stated he much preferred the English to the German versions as the basic psychology of the plot did not translate well.

Each cast was rehearsed for ten days and principal photography of both versions began on January 21, 1953, filming each scene, first in English, then in German, in quick succession.

The stars of the German version were Hardy Krüger and Johanna Matz. They appear as the young tourist couple waiting to use the tourist telescope on the Empire State Building, roles which Holden and McNamara play in the German version.

Filming was completed in twenty-four days and after previewing in Pasadena Preminger was notified that the film would not be approved. United Artists decided to release the film anyway.

The success of the film was undoubtedly instrumental in weakening the influence of the Production Code.

In June, 1961, the PCA granted the seals of approval they initially withheld to both 'The Moon Is Blue' and 'The Man with the Golden Arm' (1955), Preminger's similarly controversial release. Common sense finally prevailed.

Main Cast

William Holden as Donald Gresham
David Niven as David Slater
Maggie McNamara ... Patty O'Neill
Tom Tully ... Michael O'Neill, Patty's father
Dawn Addams ... Cynthia Slater, David's daughter
Fortunio Bonanova ... Television Performer
Gregory Ratoff ... Taxi Driver


Director … Otto Preminger
Producer ... Otto Preminger
Screenplay ... F. Hugh Herbert
From the play by ... F. Hugh Herbert
Music ... Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cinematography ... Ernest Laszlo
Production Company … Otto Preminger Films
Distribution Co ... United Artists
Release date ... June 22, 1953
Running time ... 99 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... Maggie McNamara
Best Music, Original Song ... Herschel Burke Gilbert(music), Sylvia Fine
(lyrics) For the song "The Moon Is Blue"
Best Film Editing ... Otto Ludwig