Monday, November 24, 2014

Movie censorship around the world 1910s-1950s

Film Censorship Japan, France, Britain, more

What did countries such as Japan and France think of American movies? How did they censor their own films and imports? When did the British Board of Film Censors appear? And much later, in 1979 did the members of Monty Python have to deal with audience uproar and what did Cary Grant say about his experiences?
Jack Pickford becomes a motion picture censor
for the US government
Jack Pickford, Movie Censor: In 1918, Mr. Pickford was given advance screenings of all pictures scheduled to appear on Universal's Screen Magazine and Universal's Current Events. Whatever scenes showing war-like preparations were eliminated from prints to be exported. 

"He said this had nothing to do with prints to be used domestically. 

"Pickford recently enlisted in the navy and owing to his knowledge of motion pictures was immediately assigned to the Intelligence Department."

Pictured above: Olive Thomas (his wife), Jack, Mrs. Charlotte Pickford, Mary Pickford with her niece, Mary Jr. and Lottie Pickford. Jack Pickford is leaving for New York.  

By at least 1910 Canadians worried about pictures' not being up to their moral standard. The government would have to censor all films.

Film Censorship in Japan 1920s

"The fans of staid Pennsylvania are well off compared to those in Japan. Kissing scenes have long been taboo. 

"Hold-ups and ardent love scenes very often do not get by the censors who consider such acts injurious to public peace and morality. Views of revolutions, especially those of the overthrow of a crowned ruler are frowned upon by police. Yet with all these limitations and obstacles in its path the popularity of the movies grows rather than declines. ...

"Every motion picture house is divided into three sections -- one for men and

Kayoko Saijo "a popular Japanese actress in
American and Japanese dress"
boys, another for women and girls and the third for married couples. Police officers are assigned to each theater to see that regulations are observed. 

"Regardless of how crowded the men's section may be and how vacant the women's is, no male is permitted to sit in the enclosure reserved for ladies.  

"This was done some years ago to safeguard morals when it was discovered that love scenes on the screen caused the more emotional among the audience to behave improperly." Komako Sunada and Aiko Takashima were other favorite Japanese actresses mentioned.

"Recently the censors lifted the ban on kissing so far as American and European actors and actresses, and were concerned to see the effect this move toward Westernization would have on public morals."

"While on stage, the majority of feminine roles are played by men, women have from the very beginning established themselves firmly in motion pictures. At the Kabuki-za, the largest theater in Tokyo, no actresses are employed. On the other hand while there are only a handful of male film stars all studios are crowded with actresses." 

The total footage of film shown one that year was 4,135,801. But the proprietors of the movie theaters bought much than that. A substantial amount, 121,000 feet of film had been cut by censors, "for the public morals and protection of children" it was said. Those who made the pictures said that the highlights of the movies and scenes integral to plot were cut. ...

The Katsuben or Benshi: 
Subtitle Readers-Translators
From one publication; "Subtitle readers are hired by the dozen by each theater to translate the titles as they appear and to shout their translations to the audience. There are more than eight thousand regularly paid subtitle readers in the country and a skillful interpreter increases the value of a picture to a great extent. Imagination is employed by some of the men who succeed frequently in altering a weak story."

The 1921 dressing room of these benshi is even fitted with electric lights
From a different publication (a few years earlier); "The Japanese censor does not stop with the surgical operations of films. He gets at the public through katsuben, also. The katsuben or benshi as he or she is sometimes called is a sort of animated caption. They are of both sexes for girls are quite as active in the profession as men. He explains the picture, he makes the silent drama vocal."

The censors recruited, hired and carefully trained those who would act as benshi. It was said that moviegoers in big and small towns in Japan wrote letters to newspapers complaining that the censorship of movies was too harsh.

"The moral influences of these explainers of pictures over the audience is
Sessue Hayakawa 1918
thought to be great. At least that is the opinion of the Japanese censor. Therefore next to the editing of the films, he turns his best attentions to the expurgation of the benshi. The benshi is not permitted to earn his bread by the sear of his artistic sense unless he is armed with a declaration from the censor, on the impeccability of his ethical character."

-- From articles dated 1921-1926

One article claimed that Sessue Hayakawa, a popular Japanese actor living and working in the US, "is extremely unpopular in his native country because of the parts he plays in motion pictures."

There were, of course artists, writers, technicians, etc. who came to work in the US movie business from all different parts of the world. I found The Japanese American Film Company and The Mandarin Film Company both independent studios in California in the 1910s begun by actors and other creative people from Japan and China.  

England 1913 Clean & Wholesome...

British Board of Film Censors certificate 1913
"No film subject will be passed that is not clean and wholesome and absolutely above suspicion but those passed for universal exhibition are especially recommended for children's matinees." 

In 1913 The British Board of Film Censors showed off examples of their two certificates. They were to be used for every film examined and passed, be they for universal or public exhibition. There were two certificates for every film examined and passed, for universal or public exhibition. Copies of the certificates would be printed on films immediately following the main title. The board will appreciate a report as to any objectionable film that may be shown in your district, they said.

Certificate granted any to any Hall showing motion pictures

Also the Board issues a certificate, on vellum, for each hall becoming a party to the agreement. (above) The certificate remains property of the Board and is subject to be revoked at any time.

Friday Night, Saturday Morning The Life of Brian aka Monty Python's Life of Brian brought a lot of controversy in the UK, the US and elsewhere. It was said that in the US a senator who'd not even seen the film worked to have it banned. 

The film features Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Films, art, Free Speech, 1979 debate.

John Cleese would say that in this interview was one of the few times he ever saw Michael Palin angry.

1918 little rhyme about censors

The French & The Americans 1953

The Stowaway, Martine Carol
She is Colette, a night club singer who winds up in Tahiti

In 1953, Screenland magazine offered a discussion on movie censorship which featured quotes from French actors and directors such as Danielle Darrieux, Giselle Pascal and especially, Martine Carol and Christian-Jaque (Christian-Jacque in article). 

The focus was a comparison of censorship in France and America and consequently what they thought of the tastes in each country.

"Dozens of French films are turned out every year. Many are in very bad taste,

pictures about women of the streets, about menage a trois, you know a three-handed game of love, as well as many horrible crime pictures. They're dreadful, far worse than many of Hollywood's I assure you," said Martine Carol.

They shook their heads over The Moon Is Blue which received flack from censors. The movie was directed Otto Preminger and starred David Niven, William Holden, Maggie McNamara.

The Moon is Blue movie trailer

Giselle Pascal (Gisèle Pascal): "Films as an art for the masses need some kind of censorship. A man or woman who buys a book general has a good idea of what is being paid for. But movies are different. Much of your audience is totally unaware of the content of the product they are buying. I think it important for the heads of the French film industry to guard carefully against excesses of
Martine Carol
nudity and immorality and excesses, in my opinion, there have been." 

The trouble, if you can call it that, with the idea of censorship is that it's so subjective. Is it really in the eye of the beholder and as DW Griffith said, should be left up to parents, Mother and Father in the case of children and then up to each adult?

The article said that the singer and actress was working on a film, Horizons Without End. Either it was renamed or translated, Endless Horizons. Miss Pascal was also in the news thanks to rumors of a romance with American actor Gary Cooper.
The point was made that while intimacy and nudity were more acceptable in French cinema, "many American made scenes of violence mayhem murder and what some French critics call rank sadism are given the green light by our censors without the flicker of an eyelash while at the same time they are severely scissored and sometimes completely vetoed by French censors." 

Foreign Censors Cuts from American Films:
This included gangster pictures but also Westerns and other movies. They cut a scene from Calamity Jane with Doris Day and Howard Keel. Fernando Lamas' slap at Liz Taylor was too realistic in The Girl Who Had Everything. (right)

A scene in Cry of the Hunted a 1953 film noir with Vittorio Gassman, Polly Bergen and Barry Sullivan wasn't approved.

Foreign censors get their best licks in on the fight scenes. Violent romance in Wings of the Hawk with Van Heflin and Julie Adams was toned down.

Bob Mitchum and Jack Palance were too rough for the censors in a film they made with Linda Darnell, Second Chance. A deleted shot from The Golden Blade with Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie.

One of Martine Carol's films, Caprice of Caroline Cherie, got past censors but had trouble with segments of the audiences themselves in portions of France.

"Once they approve pictures for release, no individual or group in any part of France has the right to make additional cuts or to ban a showing. There is one exception however. Under the law, if a film is so controversial that it inflames the public and incites them to riot it can be what you call, yanked on the spot."

1953 More cuts even after approval by Breen office:
The reporter explained to Martine and Christian how the American censorship set-up differs from that in France. In the US, local, city and state censor boards could make cuts alterations, including banning films even though they had already received the seal of approval from the Breen office. In 1934 Joseph Breen had been appointed head of the new PCA, Production Code Administration.

They were somewhat surprised at this situation in the USA. Martine Carol said, "In general we have a sensible attitude. The board looks for things like extreme immorality, unusually brutal violence and  the re-enactment of crimes recently committed - cases where the individuals or families involved are still alive. They also have an eye open for unattractive portrayals of French nationals. And that's about it. 

"To show a tender and realistic bedroom scene or an intimate but humorous love scene is not considered immoral. It is assumed to be an accurate portrait of life.  I will never understand why in the United States certain cuts were ordered in the beautiful and sensitive The Devil in the Flesh."  .... 

"'On the other hand, chimed in Christian-Jaque, 'I can't understand why such a witty, amusing picture as La Ronde has been banned in New York. It's all tongue in cheek and certainly less harmful to the public than any dozen or more American gangster pictures I could name for you. It couldn't possibly offend anyone over sixteen.'"

Martine, the writer of the article notes she is 'blessed with a heavenly body,' said she feels much the same as Christian does. 

"We just don't consider that the sight of of a beautiful nude body is lewd. However we think it is vulgar to show complete nudity or to display extremely revealing clothes on cheap and unattractive women."

Christian-Jaque, it was reported would become Miss Carol's husband as soon as her divorce is final from Stephen Crane, Lana Turner's ex-spouse.

Martine Carol and Stephen Crane were married 1948-1953. You may recall that in April 1958, when she was 14 years old, Cheryl Crane, the daughter of Lana Turner and Stephen Crane killed Turner's boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. The stabbing was ruled self defense. Cheryl Crane wrote a book, Detour: a Hollywood Tragedy - My Life With Lana Turner, My Mother. This happened during the time that Martine Carol was married to Christian-Jaque.

Martine Carol was a big star in France, often called the French Marilyn Monroe. Christian-Jaque directed some of her films.  Martine Carol films DVD, streaming.

By the late 1950s, newcomer Brigitte Bardot came on the scene. Martine Carol was married to American Actor Stephen Crane, ex-husband of Lana Turner, 1948-1953. She was married to director Christian-Jaque 1954-1959.

While Man in the Dark and Detective Story were enjoyed by the public, the films had some difficulty with Gallic censors. Also according to the 1953 article, "In Switzerland youngsters under eighteen cannot even attend movies. In Spain kissing scenes are cut from films."
Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman
B&W Notorious 24X36 Poster
During the era of the Production Code, there was a three second time limit on screen kisses. Alfred Hitchcock was a director who was, uh, notorious for thinking of ways around such restrictions. He was one of the directors who used a train to say what he couldn't say any other way.

In his 1946 movie Notorious, where he worked around the rule of three-second-kissing only by having Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant break off every three seconds. The sequence lasts for two and a half minutes.

How do you think the work of this generation of actors and other artists in the industry may have been different without censorship?

In North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock deftly used the symbolism of a train speeding into a tunnel at the end of his film to represent what Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint could not show on screen in the 1960s.

In The Awful Truth "Leo McCarey cuts to the cuckoo clock chiming midnight. The male figurine turns on his heels and hungrily pursues the female through her doorway. The Breen office was amused and satisfied. 

"Breen had warned during the script review phase, 'Great care will be needed in shooting it to avoid the sex suggestiveness that might lead to censor deletions which could ruin the end of your picture.'  They warned 'The bedroom scene in the cabin could be possibly suggestive [but] only if it were not played in fine taste for delicate comedy.'" -- Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration

Cary Grant gave a newspaper interview in early 1986. He talked about restrictions he faced while making movies in the 1930s through the 1960s. He was in his eighties and people still begged him to act again or perhaps produce films. He continued to decline their offers. 

"The actors today are so much better than the ones in our day. I'm amazed at what Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson can do. 

"In my day, our work was incredibly confined because we were so hurt by censorship. We weren't allowed to show any passion. Whether or not the freedom is used wisely is another matter." 

A kiss to end this one.

More to come...

  • What if they censored Shakespeare's plays?!
  • What did Ed Sullivan say?
  • What were the stars' own taboos, No-Nos that were written into their contracts, self-censorship?

Related Pages, Books of Interest:

When is a train more than just a mode of transportation? Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint or William Powell and Myrna Loy could tell you...

Scenes removed by censors, intertitles, subtitles ordered changed

Dirty Business Film Censorship in the Early Days 1900s, 1910s, 1920s

Academy Award winning short films, foreign films

Laurel & Hardy Putting Pants on Philip

Join Amazon Prime (Free Month) Streaming Movies & TV Shipping Discounts and more - Watch Over 40,000 Movies, HBO shows & specials... Wide selection of new/old movies, foreign films and documentaries compared to other streaming video sites and the yearly price is about the same. It's our preference, many old and new TV shows and films are free with membership.

The Dragon Painter DVD 1919 English language silent film stars Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki

Sources not cited elsewhere
Cinema News and Property Gazette 1913
Dallas Morning News March 20, 1986
Motion Picture 1921
Motion Picture Classic 1926
Moving Picture World 1918 

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