1920 December 6

Pennsylvania Bans Films Glorifying Crime, Criminals

 

Pennsylvania Board of Censors on this day banned movies that glorified crime and criminals. State and local censorship of the movies received legal justification when the Supreme Court ruled on February 23, 1915, in Mutual v. Ohio Industrial Commission, that movies were not a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court finally reversed itself in Burstyn v. Wilson on May 26, 1952, ruling the movies were a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.

Probably even more important than government censorship in the years between the two Supreme Court decisions was the practice of voluntary censorship by the Hollywood film producers. In the 1920s and early 1930s, there were several voluntary censorship codes. See especially, the list of “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” adopted on October 15, 1927. The notorious Motion Picture Production Code was adopted on June 13, 1934, and it exercised a heavy hand of censorship on American films through the 1960s. All of the various codes restricted the “glorification” of crime and criminals, as was the case in the Pennsylvania action on this day.

Learn more at a timeline on film censorship: https://www.aclu.org/files/multimedia/censorshiptimeline.html

Watch a short documentary on film censorship in the 1920s and 1930s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYOm6ar716w

Read: Leonard Leff and Jerold Simmons, The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code from the 1920s to the 1960s (1990)

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