Record #1208

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Reel 12
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Production Code

General alarm about the increasing number of movies featuring crime, horror, and violence generally. Analysis of this trend during 1938, including film lists, noting censorship in France, Canada, Jamaica, India, Dutch East Indies. Includes figures for 1935.


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Memos on growing number of crime and horror films15 June 1938 Harmon to Hays: "Crime and horror pictures have increased from previous 15% of total number of feature pictures clearing through Production Code Administration, to 23% of entire volume. ... Mr. Breen's study indicates that no less than 138 'Crime and Horror' pictures were dealt with in some form, by Production Code Administration during year ending April 1. ... 'Westerns' and similar 'action' pictures account for 31% of total output of feature pictures of members and non-members clearing through PCA during 1937. While the social problems are not so serious, most of these contain killings or other acts of violence. "... Each of these types of picture [crime and westerns] are 'cut to pattern' (though of course there are exceptions.) Often, however, the same title would fit equally well any one of a dozen and more and more former customers are remarking : 'When you have seen one, you have seen nearly all of them'; "For several months now, the Production Code Administration has been keeping 'analysis charts' of feature pictures reviewed. Charts of 36 features reviewed during recent weeks (of which 23 are definitely in the 'Crime' category), contained 60 killings of which 17 were definitely murders. There were 25 additional instances of violence ... portrayals of 21 different types of criminals ... A similar study of the analysis charts of 31 'Westerns' reveals 55 killings, 8 cases of robbery, 13 cases of cattle rustling, and 17 other miscellaneous acts of violence. ... While these areas of human tragedy, in common with other areas of human activity, are proper fields for motion picture plots, do not these data indicate that the present 'cycle' has gone too far for the good of the public, the producers, and the box office?5 August 1939 Breen to Hays -- more figures: in 1935 70 Crime-Horror, 1935, 83; 1936, 106; 1937, 91; 1938, 104. Currently 28% of the output is in this category -- which included only films which "deal basically, and importantly, with Crime. Pictures in which the basic story does not deal with Crime, but which may deal incidentally with some form of phase of Crime, and not classified in the Crime-Horror category," nor are Westerns, which almost all have crime in them. "A number of political censor boards, both in this country and abroad, have expressed themselves as definitely opposed to the approval of such pictures. In recent weeks, a number of these Crime pictures have been rejected in toto by political censor boards, both in this country and abroad." Mentions BBFC, France, Canada, Jamaica, India, Dutch East Indies.7 August 1939 memo, Breen to Hays: "You and I were worried about the situation when I left you on Saturday, but since we finished our discussion, I have read, among others, six Crime pictures, five of which upset me more than anything I have read in a long while. All five, as now written, cannot be approved, because each violates either the Code, or the Regulations adopted for a clearer and more exact interpretation of the Code, or the Special Agreement adopted in September, 1931, against the production of gangster pictures."the 5 include The Roaring Twenties: "This is a typical gangster picture, and in its basic story violates he industry's agreement of September, 1931. It is a story in which the leading characters are members of gangs of bootleggers who engage in high crime, and finally wipe out one another after a vicious gang battle in which everybody is killed. There is one scene in this picture in an Italian restaurant, in which 8 or 10 people are slaughtered, as part of a gang fight; at the end of the picture there is another intra-gang battle in which all the important characters of the story are killed, the main character dying on the steps of a church on Christmas Eve. The story not only is definitely in conflict with the Agreement of the industry in 1931, to keep away from gangster pictures, but it also violates our Regulations for the treatment of Crime, in that it depicts 'action suggestive of whole-sale slaughter of human beings ... between warring factions of criminals.'"6 September 1939 Breen to Hays: Crime films now up to 53% of production.09-16-1938 Hays to Board of Directors: "In Hollywood on September 8th this matter [the 1938 Crime situation] was the subject of special discussion with two or three of the principals from each studio and several lawyers. I made an earnest presentation of the necessity of care in connection with Crime Pictures. -- reports Harmon memo, etc., and Breen memo breaking this down by studio.09-08-1939 Breen to Hays: "It is also interesting to note that none of the above pictures are actually 'horror' pictures, as we understand that term, [i.e. none of them are pictures like Frankenstein, Dracula etc.] Because of the refusal of the British Board of Censors in London to approve, for exhibition in the British Isles, pictures classified as 'horror' pictures, we seem to have discontinued the production of these, so-called 'horror' pictures."

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