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The following pictures were reviewed and rejected:
Hold Back Tomorrow---
Several of the films that appear in the following discussion do not appear on this list, as they were given code approval prior to January 1, 1955, but were not released until recently. (The original correspondence on many of the films began in early 1954.) It should be pointed out that the following films were not the only ones studied by the subcommittee during its investigation nor should they be considered the worst. They were chosen because they represented violations of different sections of the Motion Picture Production Code. As stated previously, the subcommittee has been aware for quite some time of the increasing criticism of a certain type of motion picture which seems to contain excessive amounts of brutality, violence, sadism, and illicit sex. Upon investigation of the motion-picture industry's own periodicals, such as the Hollywood Reporter, the Motion Picture Herald, and the Motion Picture Association's own advisory group, the Estimates of Current Motion Pictures, the Green Sheet, it was found that members of the motion-picture industry were extremely critical of a portion of their own group of producers who put an emphasis on this type of film.
The subcommittee would like to refer to the Code To Govern the Making of Motion Pictures and the section therein entitled "Special Regulations on Crime in Motion Pictures." 33 Regulation 1 reads:
Details of crime must never be shown and care should be exercised at all times in discussing such details.
The film, Five Against the House, has already been discussed, and it was indicated that this film presents a pattern of crime and explains the commission of the crime in detail. Upon questioning, Mr. Shurlock stated that the accusation that the film portrays a perfect crime is in error, that the crime is not perfect and that it is not successful. However, upon viewing the film, the subcommittee found that in actuality the perfect crime is committed, the robbery is enacted without a flaw in the plans, and it is not until the robbery has been successfully completed that members of the group turn on the individual who forced them into the crime and (1) report the crime to the police; and (2) corner and subdue that member of the group.
Mr. Shurlock stated that the Code Administration has been guided since 1936 by an interview with a crime expert, Auguste Baumer, who was at that time a professor of criminology at Berkeley. He advised the Production Code staff that-
the more involved the crime, the more easy it is for the police to come upon a clue and for the criminal to make a slip.
Mr. Baumer encouraged the staff to believe that rather involved crimes would not cause any serious social damage. He further stated that the thing to watch out for is a simple way of committing a crime. It is readily obvious to anyone that the crime depicted in the picture is much too complicated, if only to the extent that this is probably the only place in the world where the crime could possibly be committed. However, it is not the pattern of the crime that is objectionable, but the fact that the characters are easily identifiable and therefore may
33 See appendix.
inspire others to imitation which is also contrary to the Motion Picture Production Code.
As far as simplicity of presentation of crime goes, reference may be made to the film, Black Tuesday, in which a simple method of concealing a gun is portrayed. (Special Regulation 7 expressly forbids this, it reads: There must be no new, unique, or trick methods shown for concealing guns.) Black Tuesday also offers a perfect pattern for crime, i. e., escape from just process of the law which is also expressly forbidden by the Production Code. The motion picture, Violent Sunday, also portrays and explains in detail a method for setting up a town for the robbing of its bank. Once again, it is fair to say that while the exact crime portrayed in the film may be out of the sphere of juveniles, there still exists the danger of "excitement to imitation."
Special Regulation 2 reads:
Action suggestive of wholesale slaughter of human beings either by criminals in conflict with the police, or as between warring factions of criminals or in public disorder of any kind, will not be allowed.
In the January 29, 1955, issue of the Motion Picture Herald, an industry journal, a review of the motion picture Ten Wanted Men, released through Columbia Pictures, Inc., reads:
There appears to this observer to have been growing up in recent months among the producers of westerns, a propensity for over-much bloodshed, even to the point of a sort of cinematic sadism. It apparently has become almost axiomatic that it must be gory to be good.
That does not mean that Ten Wanted Men is not a good, or a satisfactory western, or that it will not be successful of its type in almost any situation, for it is good. It is merely that this film is a case in point and could have been just as good, just as successful, and just as active and lively a western without carrying the killings as far as it does.
In discussing the film further the reviewer finishes by saying:
There is, however, en route to that conclusion (of the film) much killing which seems unnecessary for story purposes, beating and lashing which is not all vital to the narrative.
Upon viewing the motion picture, it is found that this is not at all an unfair description. There can be counted a total of 17 personalized killings throughout the running of the film. Mr. Harry Joe Brown, one of the coproducers of Ten Wanted Men, stated at the hearings that there are only 5 or 6 killings in this picture, and each one contained a moral and gave a good example to American children. He did admit that the scene wherein a character in the film was shot first in the hand, then in the upper arm, and then apparently in the chest as he sat in a horse-drawn buggy was subject to some criticism. He did feel, however, that this scene provided a good example to children; i. e., the love of a father for his son. (This scene was an attempt by outlaws to derive information as to the whereabouts of the man's son. He preferred, however, to be systematically shot to death rather than reveal the information.)
Mr. Shurlock was also questioned about this picture. If 24 personalized killings, as originally existed in the script of the film Fort Yuma, had to be reduced to 10 in order to receive a code seal of approval, and Ten Wanted Men was released with a total of 17 personalized killings, what criteria are used to determine the number of
Review of Ten Wanted Men, in Motion Picture Herald, vol. 198, No. 5, January 29, 1955, p. 305.
killings that can be portrayed in any one film. Mr. Shurlock felt that this was a good indication of the change in motion-picture content, as Ten Wanted Men had been produced 6 months earlier and the decisions on Fort Yuma were relatively recent.
While the actual wording of the Regulation on Crime in Motion Pictures refers to criminals in conflict with police or between warring factions of criminals, many producers obviously feel that this does not apply to western films. In fact, western films are usually treated as something apart and different from other films depicting brutality and violence. However, the characters in westerns are easily identifiable in terms of the child audience. This is obvious by the current fad of many young children who imitate or identify with characters, such as Davy Crockett or Hopalong Cassidy. Crime, murder, brutality, and violence remain just that whether portrayed in western or in modern-day settings. Although the adult mind may be able to differentiate between violence and brutality portrayed in westerns or portrayed in modern criminal drama, there are indications that the juvenile mind many times generalizes from certain scenes and is intellectually unable to give these scenes proper perspective.
Other films felt to be in violation of the Special Regulations Regarding Crime in Motion Pictures include Black Tuesday in which there are many people killed including criminals and law-enforcement officers. The two films Big House, USA, and Crashout also portray the massive slaughter of human beings. The motion picture Kiss Me Deadly combines excessive killings with increasing emphasis on the brutal nature in which the various characters meet their deaths. Special Regulation 3 on Crime in Motion Pictures, reads:
There must be no suggestion at any time of excessive brutality. Special Regulation 4 reads:
Because of the increase in the number of films in which murder is frequently committed, action showing the taking of human life even in the mystery stories is to be cut to the minimum. These frequent presentations of murder can lessen the sacred regard for human life.
The subcommittee feels that there can be no misinterpretation of this section with regard to the following motion pictures and that they violate one or the other or both of these sections of the code. Special notice has been made of these films not only by interested people and by the subcommittee, but also by members of the motionpicture industry and industry reviewers of these films. The following is the Green Sheet rating of the film Black Tuesday released through United Artists. The estimates agree that:
Black Tuesday is the day when condemned men walk to the electric chair. This melodrama is a revolting shocker filled from beginning to end with startling venom, cruelty, violence, and gunfire. Edward G. Robinson, more seamy-faced than ever, plays the merciless racket king to the hilt. In the interim between escape and capture, he, his mistress, henchmen, a murderer, and six hostages including a priest and a doctor, are cornered by police in a warehouse. One by one, murdered bodies are defiantly thrown to the police below. The picture stretches suspense to the breaking point. Its very power in showing gangster attitudes makes it indelible, a film better forgotten. The force of Mr. Robinson's acting makes his inhuman role altogether too much of a bad thing.
35 Joint Estimates of Current Entertainment Films, January 15, 1955.
Mr. Shurlock stated that he had never seen the picture Black Tuesday. He stated that it was probably passed in the usual routine of the Production Code staff office. Two staff members read the script and reviewed the film who did not see fit to tell Mr. Shurlock of the nature of the picture. Upon viewing the picture, the subcommittee feels that all the accusations made against the film are valid. These include: (1) Brutal killings; (2) portrayal of a method of concealing a gun; (3) a perfect pattern for crime; and (4) excessive brutality. The next film discussed was Big House, USA, released through United Artists. The Green Sheet's description of this film reads as follows:
This tense, grim melodrama revolving about a kidnaping case from the files of the FBI, offers some fine incidental photography of the Royal Gorge country. An unexpected plot twist opens up some grimly brutal situations. We see, for example, the extortionist throwing the dead body of the kidnaped boy over a cliff; a convict left to die in a steam boiler; two convicts killed with a sledge hammer; and still another mutilated beyond recognition with a blowtorch. For those who are impressed by sensational violence.
Under questioning, Mr. Shurlock did state that he knew something of this picture although he did not see all of it. He reviewed some sections of it which seemed to be excessively brutal and in discussing it with the producer, agreed that there should be some eliminations made. He did not know anything about the discussion at the script level on the basic story and felt that the accusation that the story portrayed a kidnaping was completely in error. Admittedly speaking without having seen the picture, Mr. Shurlock said that they agreed with the producer that a change in the script, which altered the kidnaping to a chance finding of the child with a resulting extortion attempt, would make the story theme permissible. Mr. Shurlock stated that
the child is not kidnaped. That the criminals have no kidnaping plans at all. And that the child was held for ransom which was never paid."
Regulation 11 in Special Regulations on Crime in Motion Pictures
With special reference to the crime of kidnaping-or illegal abduction—such stories are acceptable under the code only when (a) the kidnaping or abduction is not the main theme of the story; (b) the person kidnaped is not a child; (c) there are no details of the crime or kidnaping; (d) no profit accrues to the abductors or kidnapers; (e) where the kidnapers are punished. It is understood and agreed that the word "kidnaping" as used in paragraph 11 of these regulations is intended to mean abduction, or illegal detention in modern times by criminals for ransom.
Upon viewing the motion picture, it was found that with reference to subsection (a) of section 11, the kidnaping is the main theme of the motion picture-in fact, the main story line is a step-by-step account of how the FBI proves that the kidnaper did not accidentally come across the child in the woods, but that from the beginning the kidnaping had been planned. And, at the end of the film it was definitely established that the kidnaper had an accomplice who aided him in kidnaping the child. With reference to subsection (b) of section 11, the person kidnaped was a child. With reference to subsection (c) of section 11, the entire plan of the kidnaping is presented in detail. With
Joint Estimates of Current Entertainment Films, April 1, 1955.
reference to subsection (d) of section 11, the kidnaper was paid a sum of $200,000 by the child's father which is delivered to him and which he has in his possession in the picture. In fact, the kidnaper, himself, is forced to escape from prison by a group of prisoners who intend to use the $200,000 that he has hidden to aid in their escape. Subsection (e) of section 11 is adhered to as we are told that the kidnaper is exe
cuted at the end of the film.
The Production Code Administration staff made a cursory attempt to disguise the kidnaping as an extortion. Although the narrative describing the kidnaping appears to have been deleted at the beginning of the picture, approximately the first 5 or 10 minutes, from that point on the crime is referred to time and again as a kidnaping.
On viewing the film, Big House, USA, there can be no doubt that the film contains scenes of excessive brutality in violation of the Production Code. One scene depicts the kidnaper throwing the child into a ravine in a heartless, cold-blooded manner. Another scene shows the closeup of the face of a convict caught in a steampipe screaming wildly as he is about to be scalded to death. In what is probably one of the most morbid scenes that has ever been shown in motion pictures, the following sequence of scenes appeared: After having successfully escaped from prison by swimming underwater aided by breathing devices that had been smuggled into prison, five convicts reach a boat in the middle of the bay. The "kidnaper" has been forced to escape with the prisoners in order to get the $200,000 he received in ransom money. In an attempt to throw the police off the track, the leader of the gang, played by Broderick Crawford, orders one of the members of the gang murdered, his hands and face mutilated, and the clothes and other identifying articles of the "kidnaper" put on the body. This is done in hopes that the police will think the "kidnaper" is dead and will no longer wait for him in the area where the ransom money is hidden. Despite the fact that he has just been saved from drowning by one of the convicts, the leader of the gang orders him killed. The executioner is shown as he raises the hammer to bring it down on the head of the convict who has fallen asleep on the floor of the boat, exhausted from his exertions. The executioner is then ordered to take a blow-torch and mutilate the face and hands of the dead convict. The next few seconds are devoted to the awakening of the other convicts to the odor of burning flesh. The men operating the boat in the forward cabin also look out of the window, sniffing the air to see where the odor is coming from. The last to awaken is Lon Chaney, Jr., another member of the gang and friend of the criminal who is being mutilated. He goes berserk and attempts to attack the leader of the gang and, as the camera pulls back slightly, we see the dead man lying on the floor of the boat, his head and his hands the color of charcoal. The leader of the gang then proceeds to shoot Lon Chaney, Jr., several times in the chest. He staggers back against the side of the boat, with fluid oozing from his chest. He is then shoved into the sea. The next scene shows the remaining gangsters calmly fishing off the side of the boat. The final scene is an extensive gun battle between the remaining convicts and the forces of the law. One of the convicts is apparently blasted to death with the entire magazine from a carbine.