Record #412

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Carl E. Milliken
Harry Wolz, Acting Mayor, Louisville
Reel 4
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It has been proposed that crime motion pictures be banned in Louisville. In a detailed letter, Milliken brings Wolz's attention to the opinions of "professional people" about the influences of motion pictures for both good and ill. He also emphasizes the improvements that have come about in cooperation with community interest groups.


Crime (24), Motion pictures and moral standards (13), Public relations (61) Show all keywords…


Long Description:

22 October 1928, Milliken wrote to the Mayor of Louisville about a proposed ordinance to censor crime pictures there -- but this looks as if it may have been a generally circulated form letter used in response to a variety of complaints about such movies. "it was probably the success of a picture called Underworld which brought in its enticing wake the production of a considerable number of pictures bearing on crime and underworld subjects. I do not need to call your attention to the fact that these subjects are legitimately displayed upon the front pages of our daily newspapers. ... That ... public taste in entertainment may not always be compatible with the best interest of the community, I am only willing to concede insofar as it is limited to epidemics of plays, novels, short stories, etc. Where a type of literature or drama survives the epidemic character, then I believe that its approval by the public will usually indicate that it not only has no seriously detrimental social influence, but a positive one for good."He then quotes Carleton Simon, "one of the best-known alienists of the East" and former psychiatrist to the New York Police dept: "Quite frankly, I do not believe that any legitimate melodrama of crime, any detective story or an motion picture dealing with the life of underworld characters has even been the sole incentive to or motivation of criminal behavior. That they may have contributed to a criminal's technique is another question with which we are not here concerned. I believe our judgement of the crook picture as entertainment and as a determiner of anti-social behavior should be sharply demarcated. But in rendering both, we should bear in mind that all drama consists of the presentation of conflict, the struggle between good and evil, and the resolution in favour, always of the former. It would be a sad commentary on American life if our picture public were satisfied with a negative denouement. The only difference between the crook picture and other silent drama is that it is elemental, direct drama in its simplest form." -- and he then expresses surprise that the movies took so long to adopt the form. Milliken also lists some of the "best minds" who like detective stories, and repeats allegations of the "flood" of crook pictures from a number of sources, comparing what local press, etc. said with reviewing groups' verdicts on the pictures shown in that community. "During the first six months of 1928 the members of the Association released approximately 300 feature pictures; of these only 29 could be considered "crook pictures" and of these 29, 14 were approved by such critical groups as the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), the International Federation of Catholic Alumni (IFCA), the Motion Picture Bureau of the DAR, etc. ... Whether the popularity of this type of picture has reached its peak, only our picture public can determine. It would not be wise, either for you or for us, to attempt to curb public taste for this type of entertainment. It is absolutely essential, however, that we guard these pictures that their influence be positive for social good."This attitude is in striking contrast with the kinds of attitude being expressed two or three years later, when the problem has grown more acute. The question is, why has the problem grown more acute? On the whole, I don't think that it's because the pictures have got any worse. If anything, they've got better -- at least in certain respects. What seems to be happening at the SRC is a steady development of mechanisms to cope with production difficulties, and to standardize procedures. That, at least, is the hypothesis I want to continue to develop at the moment. But it may be that the mere fact of the situation continuing without apparent solution would constitute an exacerbation of the problem. On the other hand, it seems more likely that changes in other, external circumstances are more likely to have effected change. Certain positions -- regardless of movie content, seem no longer to be sustainable -- and these represent changes in perception of the audience. One is that movies are basically made for adults. This position gets less and less sustainable -- or at least appears less and less in the argument, as does the whole tenor of Milliken's argument about suitable genres -- compare this to the internal discussions over horror pictures, for instance, and the much more general willingness, by 1931-2, to exercise a restraining force over production. Simon's comments on how awful it would be if the public wanted "a negative denouement" is also revealing about the extent of consensus, too.

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