Record #1210

Date:
22/04/1940
Record Type:
Memo
Reel:
Reel 12
Frame Start:
12-1979
Frame End:
12-2002
Legacy ID:
1221
Legacy Year:
1939
Legacy Index:
Production Code

"A Review of the Development and a Statement of the Industry Policy Relative to Propaganda and "Hate" Pictures." Also, a supplement to the memo recommending that, as a matter of industry policy, suggestive titles should be balanced by thoroughly Code-safe content and advertisements, while risky content should have safe titles and ads, etc. Statement of the industry's initial policy relating to propaganda after the start of World War II.

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Long Description:

A Review of the Development and a Statement of the Industry Policy Relative to Propaganda and "Hate" Pictures. The President of the Association with his Executive Assistant, Mr. Harmon, was enroute to Hollywood when war was declared, and the subject became the first order of business during that visit. It was believed necessary to develop a clear declaration on the part of the organized motion picture industry of its determination to avoid a situation which could warrant any charge that the industry was guilty of warmongering, stirring up animosities international or racial, creating a 'hate' psychology or an hysteria for American participation. The entire matter was discussed with leaders in Hollywood and thoroughly at a Board meeting of the California Association, where the proposed statement of position of the industry was outlined, and there was unanimous agreement as to the importance of the position and a prompt public understanding of it. "The epitomization of that position, as read to the Board meeting of the California Association and used publicly, was as follows: "Those of us in the motion picture art-industry do, indeed, realize full well the significance of our trusteeship of this essential enterprise at this particular time. "Today, with European nations once more at each other's throats, an important element of the American motion picture industry's trusteeship is to keep the stream of genuine screen entertainment flowing - undeflected by wartime propaganda, unpolluted by poisonous animosities. "'Hate' pictures have no place on America's amusement screen. Ministries of propaganda and public enlightenment may subject hapless populations abroad to such corrosive influences. Military censorships may use the cinemas within their control for their own ends. But the organized industry in the United States will continue to concentrate on entertainment - the most interesting and amusing and inspiring entertainment of which this recognized art for is capable. By so doing - and only thus, can we fulfil our trusteeship. "Despite serious loss of foreign markets, and all the other problems which a world war entails, our industry will uninterruptedly continue to provide this stream of world entertainment. It is the industry's duty and every business does well today to think primarily of its duties and responsibilities. Protection of rights and enjoyment of privileges will follow in due course. "Also, 15 September 1939 Hays letter to all production heads: "... Consideration has been given to the effect of Federal neutrality statutes on any picture content and it is believed that there is no Federal authority or any other law to control what and American motion picture producer may put in his picture having to do with this general subject matter. The fact that there is no law covering it immeasurably increases our responsibility. ... There is no such legislative establishment capable of curtailing the free expression because the industry's conduct has been such as to make no such legislative machinery necessary." "'HATE' PICTURES DEFINED AND DIFFERENTIATED"... Applications for reissues of All Quiet on the Western Front and certain other similar pictures were regarded favorably on the theory that these were historical portrayals of the previous conflict in which this country was engaged, probably unobjectionable on a historical basis. ... Films which drew a careful distinction between different points of view within Germany itself - the heroes and heavies both being German, with each group struggling to capture the allegiance of the younger generation [were acceptable] ... Films depending for plot motivation upon confinement of sympathetic characters in concentration camps. In these films, while the Nazi regime was dealt with unsympathetically, it could not be said that the section of the Production Code was violated which requires that 'the history, institutions prominent people and citizenry of other nations be represented fairly.' In other words, both the heroes and the heavies in this category were also Germans, but the portrayals of the heavies were in line with established facts even though unsympathetic. "Films in which all of the unsympathetic characters were Germans and all of the sympathetic characters were non-Germans. Such films seem to violate Edmund Burke's famous dictum that 'you cannot indict a whole nation.' For this reason this classification was considered to come within the 'hate' category. One member of the Association, for example, proposed to remake a silent film of the World War period in which an American vessel was captured by a German submarine. The Captain of the American vessel and his wife, who happened to be on board the merchantman with him, were made prisoners by the submarine commander, who raped the wife of the American captain, causing her later to commit suicide in despair. Whereupon the American captain escaped, and the entire story thereafter was devoted to his successful efforts to wreck vengeance upon the German officer involved. The whole story was one calculated to inflame the public mind, and upon our advice, the company contemplating its remake abandoned the project. "(It is to be noted that throughout the intervening period efforts have been made to adhere to the distinctions thus listed, with the additional provision that even where the story could not reasonably be considered in the 'hate' category, it has been considered important that the title, the advertising, and exploitation should be handled with unusual caution, (1) in order not to add to the burdens of the State Department which is most cooperative, and (2) in order to fulfil our public responsibility as an important medium of expression in a time of national emergency and international hate and distrust." A Senate bill to censor films with war themes was abandoned "upon the industry's promise to exercise the proper care and protect against the worries which he [Senator Elmer Thomas, D. Okla] had expressed in his proposed bill. - 10-11-1939. Also correspondence about an independent production, Hitler - Beast of Berlin, aka Beast of Berlin, aka Beasts of Berlin aka Goose Step - together with protests from the German embassy and press comment. This policy was reviewed at Board of Directors meeting, 22 April 1940. "Concurrently thought has been given to a phase of title and advertising care, which is indicated in connection with certain pictures; and position and purpose in that regard was outlined at the meeting on April 26th, as follows. Executive STATEMENT OF INDUSTRY POLICY "Worries inevitably recur in an industry which deals so constantly with life situations, controversial themes, temperamental artists, and a product dependent upon nation-wide advertising and exploitation. "It is a tribute to the efficacy and efficiency of our self-regulatory machinery, and to the right thinking of more and more members of the industry that our difficulties over titles, picture content and advertising, are relatively so few. "Today when economic pressure is great and legislative and court action urgent and immediate, it is especially necessary that care be exercised in avoiding or minimizing that which can reasonably be termed 'objectionable,' either in title, content or advertising. "... It is suggested, therefore, that the following be accepted as a general principle of company and industry policy: "a. When a title which required careful exploitation is finally approved, then as a matter of policy the picture content should be brought WELL WITHIN the provisions of the Production Code and the advertising and exploitation should NOT STRAIN the good taste provision of the Advertising Code. [cites Bachelor Mother and Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet as good examples] "b. When pictorial theme or treatment - that is, the picture itself, is only brought into technical conformity with the Code through use of the Code machinery as 'a fumigating plant into which material tainted in essence is put,' to use the language of the Annual Report, and the picture contains still some elements which substantial public groups are likely to regard as objectionable, THEN the title selected should not be of doubtful propriety and none of the advertising or exploitation should be such as to fan into flame the latent objections to the story itself. [Grapes of Wrath cited as a good example] "c. Even though 'stills' or individual advertisements have been approved before worries as to title or picture treatment become serious, propriety dictates avoidance of use of such 'stills' to individual advertisements, as far as possible, which unduly accentuate elements of a dangerous nature which have subsequently developed or are inherent."

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