1964 June 22

Pornography? Justice Stewart Knows It When He Sees It


In an important First Amendment case, the Supreme Court held in Jacobellis v. Ohio, that the French film, The Lovers (Les Amants, in French) was not obscene. The film had been seized by Ohio authorities at the Heights Art Theater in Cleveland Heights, Ohio on November 13, 1959.

For the Court, Justice William Brennan wrote: “We have viewed the film, in the light of the record made in the trial court, and we conclude that it is not obscene within the standards enunciated in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, which we reaffirm here.” He earlier noted that in fact “there is an explicit love scene in the last reel of the film, and the State’s objections are based almost entirely upon that scene.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Potter Stewart declined to define “hard core pornography,” but in what is the most famous quote from the case wrote: “But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Watch the trailer for The Lovers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0B8LqiReuQ

Learn more about the end of film censorship in the 1960s: http://moviehistory.us/the-end-of-movie-censorship.html

Learn more about the sexual revolution in the movies: Robert Hofler, Sexplosion: From Andy Warhold to A Clockwork Orange — How a Generation of Pop Rebels  Brake All the Taboos (2014)

Learn more about the director: Louis Malle, Malle on Malle (1992)

Learn more at the official Louis Malle website: http://www.louismalle.com/

Learn more about the myths and facts about pornography: Marcia Pally, Sense and Censorship: The Vanity of the Bonfires (1991), http://mediacoalition.org/files/Sense-and-Censorship.pdf


Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!