Movie Sense and Sensibilities
The current hullaballoo precipitated by attempts of assorted self-appointed guardians of public morals to cut parts of "Duel in the Sun" and "The Outlaw" raises some questions about the entire question of film censorship. If box office receipts are a good criterion, the public rushes to see any movie given the thumbs-down treatment by the women's downtown sewing club. The numerous amateur and state boards of review create delightful confusion, all the while playing into the hands of the film press agent.
Not three decades ago, Hollywood, suffering economically from boycotts raised against certain of its products by religious, business, and other organized groups, reached down into its grab-bag and came up with Czar of all the movies Will Hays and his code of ethics. Purely a device for self-protection, the Hays Office eliminated "offensive matter" before a film was released, established the five-second sanitary kiss and Sunday school dialogue, and--eliminated harmful boycotts.
But manners and morals change. Today, the public expects damn and not darn when the hero mans damn. And the Johnson Office, carrying forward the late Hays Office white mantle of purity, has eased up along the line, permitting an occasional breath of life to creep into a picture. Unfortunately, Girl Scouts and ex-ward bosses have crawled back into the censorship field and take pot shots at anything coming out of Hollywood in a two piece bathing suit. Significantly, the old adage about the cure being worse than the disease applies here. Witness "Duel in the Sun." Selnick's horse opera attained a thirty percent box office edge over other films once criticism had been levelled at it. Had "Duel's" standards of decency been left to the Johnson Office, and its artistic merits to the gentle handling of the critics, almost assuredly no issue would have been raised and certainly no one's morals corrupted.
It should be evident that non-professional censors, despite their good intentions, have neither the personal experience nor critical understanding with which to pass intelligently upon matters of public entertainment. And psychologists tell us that people actively concerned with the morals of others usually live in subconscious glass houses all their own. The state boards of reviews, rather than serving any real purpose, merely provide sinecure for devoted elderly politicians. If, as it is generally agreed, some overall non-public form of film review is needed, it would be best to leave it solely in the hands of one professional group, the Johnson Office, working close to the source of the film. Our newspaper critics can be relied upon to hold up their end.
Finally, the film industry must itself raise the standard of film advertising. In most cases, cinema publicity is far more offensive than any film would dare to be. No sooner do Hollywood publicity departments concoct an advance campaign built about the usual theme, sex, than the self-chosen censors catch the scent, and like a pack of bewildered blood-hounds, bay along the trail straight into the press agent's trap. Some taste must be applied to film advertising if the scope of film censorship is not to grow. The motion picture industry must play a responsible role and clean up this wing of its house if it expects film censorship to grow up.