1950 December 12

“The Miracle” Film Opens in New York City; Heads to Supreme Court


The Italian film The Miracle, by the noted director Roberto Rossellini, opened at the Paris Theater in New York City on this day. The opening was uneventful, but local Catholic Church officials soon objected to its portrayal of the birth of Jesus. In response, the New York State Censorship Board revoked its license. The distributor then filed a challenge and, on May 26, 1952, in the case of Burstyn v. Wilson, the Supreme Court ruled that motion pictures were a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.

The Burstyn decision overturned the February 23, 1915, decision in Mutual v. Ohio, which held that motion pictures were articles of commerce not protected by the First Amendment. The landmark Burstyn decision marked the beginning of the end of film censorship in the U.S.

Between 1934 and the late 1960s, the most systematic form of movie censorship was not government action but the system of voluntary censorship by the major Hollywood studios under the notorious Motion Picture Production Code, adopted on June 13, 1934. The Code finally collapsed under the pressure of legal challenges, competition from more sexually explicit foreign films, flouting of the rules by major producers, and was replaced on November 1, 1968 by the rating system that is still in effect.

Learn About the film and the case: Laura Wittern-Keller and Raymond Haberski, The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court (2009)

Watch an excerpt from The Miracle [it is Part II of a trilogy, L’amore]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z8xTzea3XI

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

Read: Frank Walsh, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry (1996)

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