Record #396

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Reel 4
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Caddo Film Co.

Large volume of material on two Caddo pictures, The Mating Call (about KKK) and The Racket. Hughes very reluctant to agree to eliminations, whether MPPDA regards them as "politic" or not. The required cuts are listed, as well as the specific censorship rulings in various states. Re Mating Call Trotti and Milliken concerned about the implications of the Klan theme, but censors more concerned with isolated details. Discussion of The Racket around concern that movies act as a school for criminals.


Censorship (112), Crime (24), Influence of the screen (12), Public relations (61) Show all keywords…


Long Description:

Documents on Caddo productions, indicating the scale of the problem with existing with Hughes from the outset of his productions.Chronologically, the stuff on The Racket comes first.July 31 1927 Hughes telegrammed MPPDA protesting the New York censor board's deletions of political references and the banning of the film in Portland, Oregon. Aug. 1 they viewed the film, and discovered three violations of the profanity Don'ts to be attended to. On Aug. 5 Milliken conferred with the play's author, Bartlett Cormack, on those and on making other eliminations as the MPPDA thought necessary -- part of the agreement involved getting Hughes to shut up about it on the West Coast. In what seems to be typical of the pattern of Hughes' negotiations, several days elapse at various points in this story in which it seems to have been impossible to get an answer out of Hughes.Aug. 8 Hays asked Kent to wire Hughes about the profanity eliminations, which he didn't want to make: "It is obvious, of course, that he [Hughes] has not been fully advised of the content of the agreements as to eliminations nor is he just in step with the whole purpose. We must assume, of course, that this comes from the fact that he is more or less new in the situation rather than from any desire to cause difficulties for himself or the industry." Kent sent a telegram more or less as Hays had suggested: "The titles in which profanity occurs involve not only good taste and censorship eliminations but also question producers and distributors keeping faith with each other the public and the government. In June 1927 it was agreed not to produce or distribute pictures containing profanity titles this agreement was again expressed and accepted by FTC last October. Am sure Hays organization desires to be helpful but obviously it is necessary at the outset in all prints to change these titles which violate our agreement that was given wide publicity during the Trade Practice Conference and as distributors we are in violation of this agreement. It is needless for us to argue the question of whether or not these profanity titles diminish the value of the drama. The fact is for the good of the industry we have gone on record that such titles will not be put in any picture and we are honor bound and under contract one with the other to the public and to the Government that this will be done. In view of this see no other action we can now take except to eliminate these things and not to put them in any picture released by us."Hughes is, from the outset, succeeding in involving two aspects of censorship which the MPPDA wishes to keep separate -- the question of profanity, sex scenes, etc. -- and political issues -- in both The Racket and The Mating Call. It's something that persists in all his productions in this period -- and we might try tracing the line in relation to the interaction of crime and politics through The Racket, The Front Page, and Scarface -- a line which seems like it diminishes in what Hughes expects to be able to get away with.Hughes' line was then that if he made the profanity eliminations he should be able to keep in the political stuff. DeBra was then involved in the conferences between Paramount's New York man Michael Lewis over what would be left in and what changed. The upshot of these negotiations was that Kussell of the Paramount New York office wrote to Kent -- at DeBra's suggestion -- so that Kent could send a copy of the letter to the MPPDA -- and also send one to Hughes -- about the problems created by the way Hughes had handled publicity on the film. -- Aug 13: "First of all, most of the eliminations made in the picture were subtitles either dealing with crime direct, or where the word "Hell" or "Damn" appeared. Other titles eliminated were made where there was reference to collusion between bootleggers and politicians. There were very few eliminations of action, and those made were justified, such as the gangster sitting in the undertaking parlor with guns under his hat; the offering of a bribe to a policeman; the actual scenes of reporters drinking whisky in the police station. Wherever a title was taken out that would destroy the continuity of the story I at least obtained a compromise with the Board by either inserting a new title, or leaving the original one in. ... I wish you could convey to the Hays organization the fact that the Censor Board here is very lenient with us, and also that the eliminations in The Racket, in the writer's opinion, were justified on the grounds that they warned me at the time that they permitted Underworld to get by, that if we would continue with underworld pictures, we would have to be very careful, not so much of the action, but of the titles, as in the action we can remove the objectionable part without destroying the continuity, but where they have titles that refer to collusion and thievery between politicians and crooks, they would eliminate them or reject the picture in its entirety, the same as the Chicago Board has done with both the show and the picture of The Racket. If we are to continue to make pictures glorifying crooks, and showing the collusion between crooks and politicians, we must expect some eliminations, and as I stated before, I think The Racket got by in a fairly good condition considering the type of story it is." NB that Kussell's negotiations were all done prior to Hughes' complaint, and prior to the news story that seems to have started all the fuss. His is also a pragmatic, New York attitude -- he's mainly concerned, as is DeBra, at he damage done to relations with the NY Board by the accusation that they are "political." The news story exists as a typed copy, with no date, and begins from a reviewing complaint "that audience might not be able to identify sufficiently such an influential crook as Nick Scarsi, nor understand the why and wherefore of his power in the community." This is followed by quoting from a letter from Cormack claiming that 20 of the 25 eliminations made in NY were political "inspired by the same protective and probably self-conscious indignant motives that succeeded in barring the stage play in Chicago. I suppose that, politicians being what they are, it is too much to expect them to allow the public to see a sub-title wherein a decayed District Attorney tells a gangster, 'We can't carry you and this election both,' or one in which the gangster, feeling his power, tells the D.A., 'Do you imagine I'd let any lousy politician who'd knock his own mother over the head for a vote tell me what to do?' But the whole meaning of The Racket is destroyed by the cutting of the gangster Scarsi's tirade against the D.A. and the political machine that is about to destroy him to save his own perspiring neck, and by cutting the reporter's explanation that the gangster was shot 'so that the government of the professionals, by the professionals, and for the professionals, shall not perish from the earth' This, presumably, must have been earlier than July 31, and appeared in the New York Evening Sun. By Aug. 14, they were beginning to worry in anticipation about The Mating Call, largely on the basis of Paramount's concern, and Hays' wire to Hughes saying that in their opinion the picture is undamaged by censorship cuts he mentions the problems the other film is likely to have. DeBra, on Aug. 30, wrote to Kussell enclosing an article from the Christian Index denouncing the movies: "In the first place, the statement, 'The movies, by showing with vivid pictures the lurid details of crime, fasten themselves in the minds of morons and the criminally inclined with the result that the average age of criminals is reduced,' is the judgment of another nearsighted clergyman who overlooks the inevitable denouement of every crook picture -- punishment of the offender. I have plenty of company among the most noted criminologists and alienists in the belief that aside from the direct positive moral of the crook pictures, they are serving the unsuspected purpose of supplying a vicarious outlet for criminal urges in these very morons or able minded individuals harboring antisocial tendencies. But then follows the indictment of our gang ruled political system. How sweet it would have been to point out to the Reverend T. Robertson that here in The Racket we have a picture that is carrying out the very gospel he is trying to preach. I still think that the New York board made a great mistake in eliminating from this picture the political subtitles and action and have been hoping that on its own motion it might decide to reinstate them." He suggests that Kussell share the article with Wingate.The Mating Call threw up unexpected problems in relation to its Ku Klux Klan theme.Trotti to Hays, Aug. 20 ?, 1927 "I have one big thought about The Mating Call -- that whatever we do is dangerous. As decent people, we cannot be allied with a picture which accepts, or at least condones lawlessness as this one certainly does. As business people, we can't properly afford to alienate a large group of citizens who thrive on attacks. The Klan developed, not through its friends, but through its enemies. One Congressional investigation gave it more members than all the pamphlets, speeches, and horse whippings ever launched by the order. If we did anything about this picture and it became known, probably there'd be a big increase in the sale of nightshirts to guard against this "Catholic-Jew controlled industry". If we didn't, we are like a man who while in a mob, protests he isn't of it, and yet stays on and does nothing to prevent its display of passion. ... It is too bad that when the backbone of that organization is about broken, that such a theme should be revived. I regret it for the same reason that I regretted Uncle Tom's Cabin, not because of anything I personally might feel, but because of the prejudices and hatred and horrors it could easily arouse if a fight over it should be precipitated." Argues that Paramount, rather than the MPPDA, should be involved in any action. This is actually an almost perfect summary of the problem in relation to socially aware or conscious movies -- the "as business people" line -- and, in a sense, it's hard to think of a potentially more difficult area for the MPPDA than the Klan, given the conflicting attitudes which they had to reconcile.Milliken to Hays, Aug. 24, 1927: "I am confident that a good deal of legislative trouble will result from the showing of the picture in jurisdictions where there is no censorship. In censorship states like Ohio and Pennsylvania it will probably be rejected entirely. Also many cities that have local censorship will reject it. This will obviously be very bad publicity for the industry and will give impetus to the movement for censorship in states and cities where it does not exist. The legislative danger is rendered more acute because this picture would be showing in the second run houses just about the time the legislatures are in session, next January, February and March." On the whole, it seems to have had fewer censorship problems than anticipated -- initially rejected in New York and banned outright in Chicago, then permitted with cuts, and the cuts in other states -- detailed in the document -- pertained to one or two sex scenes in the movie. Hays sought to have the film uniformly cut for exhibition in non-censorship territories, to minimize the dangers of the film compounding the two issues of breaches of the industry's self-regulation and the political problem. Hughes, however, objected to some of the deletions -- this all runs in late August to early Sept. Hays wired Hughes on Sept 11: "You understand of course that there will undoubtedly be considerable trouble caused by this picture on account of certain political features in story. From Association standpoint the responsibility is shared by you and Paramount. This situation however requires making certain that the picture in no way violates the obligation as to eliminations acted upon by the entire industry at the Trade Practice conference last October." -- interestingly suggesting that Hays was at least prepared to argue under certain circumstances that the Don'ts were binding. The result was a compromise -- most of the eliminations required were made. There's nothing here about any further trouble or any record of the political trouble the film might have caused.

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