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Motion Picture Daily (16/May/1935) - British Take Critical View of Code Talks



Critical View of Code Talks

Some Editors Satirical On U. S. Film Morals

London, May 9. — Varied reactions in the press greeted the arrival of Carl E. Milliken of the Hays office and Martin Quigley for the purpose of explaining the American Production Code Administration to the film section of the British Federation of Industries.

Comment varied from satirical references to American moral standards and censorship to open resentment over restrictions placed on U. S. showings of "Brewster's Millions," "Nell Gwyn" and, in some spots, "The Scarlet Pimpernel."

Some editors made it plain that if Queen Victoria wore low-necked evening gowns—and she did—that made them all right for films, and if King Charles wanted Nell Gwyn taken care of after his death—well, what about it?—it was history.

A few editors and persons connected with the industry expressed the view that the conferences would be helpful, and that if the British industry desired to make expensive pictures it would have to cater to the idiosyncrasies of the American market.

Industry leaders regarded the conferences as the most important industry happenings since British producers decided to seek outlets in the American market.

Cites His Experience Here

The Daily Mail quoted from its film correspondent, Seton Margrave, who in turn quoted Capt. Richard Norton of B. & D., saying:

"My experience in New York in getting certificates for 'Nell Gwyn' and 'Brewster's Millions' taught me that there is a real difference in outlook as between British and American censorship. Therefore, I welcome any such discussion.

"It is impossible for British producers to make expensive pictures without having access to the American market, so that a discussion of the problem of American censorship may be said to be essential to the future of the British film industry."

Jympson Harman, in the London Evening News, was not quite so friendly. Among other things he wrote:

"Two wise men from the west will arrive in London to tell us exactly what is wrong with the morals of our films. They will explain whv the good folk of Oshkosh may not be allowed to know the truth about Nell Gwyn and what was wrong with the frocks worn by the ladies when the Prince Regent made merry.

Quotes Michael Balcon

"Michael Balcon, the Gaumont British production chief, who has just returned from a triumphant visit to Hollywood, tells me that these gentlemen have done a great thing for the cinema. Films were getting so near the knuckle that there seemed to be no limit to what they might do. Moral opinion against Hollywood became so strong that the whole business was in danger of being wrecked.

"This situation has been met and counteracted by the producers' own efforts, forced out of them at great financial cost by their self-appointed censors. Our coming visitors are two of the chief moral advisors.

"Their chief trouble is that they take films too seriously; they want to uplift them too much."

In the Evening News an article was headed "Clothes and the Man."

After mentioning objections to "historical" films produced in England the article went on: "In the matter of morals we have taken it for granted that, both in regard to things seen and things said, British and American films are much of a muchness. Possibly some of the American films produced here are bowdlerized for American consumption. As to that we are quite willing that the League of Purity should wave its big stick at the Hollywood producers.

"We do not suggest that British films do not occasionally err on the side of vulgarity and bad taste. On the other hand, we have a decent respect for historical accuracy, and we shall never blush at our grandmothers' evening gowns or feel it necessary to suppress the fact that the lamentable Nell Gwyn did not come to a bad end."

The People, a Sunday paper, was strong in its criticism. It said: "One would almost think that the Americans, our breezy trans-Atlantic cousins, have no sense of humor when one reads of their film purity campaign. But this is not so. They have merely learned to keep expressionless poker faces when they are putting up their most audacious bluffs.

Calls Attitude Inconsistent

"Two ambassadors from Hollywood are corning over here to tell us how to keep our films clean. Think of some of the American talkies you have seen and heard and try to laugh that off!"

In the Daily Express the heading was "Purity Men from U. S. to Talk Over Our Film Morals." Among other things the Express film correspondent, Paul Holt, wrote: "The visit is an outcome of the recent protests through the British ambassador in Washington against the banning of British pictures throughout America on moral grounds.

"The visit is intended to clear up the vexed question of what is—and what is not—moral on the screen."

The Glasgow Daily Record was more sympathetic in its attitude.

"Film censorship in America," the paper stated, "undoubtedly presents many anomalies—and incidentally a good many hypocrisies; the necessary moral twist given to immoral situations not infrequently leaves a nastier taste than an honest treatment of the same situation would do. However, that is primarily America's affair. British producers will undoubtedly benefit from the visit of Mr. Hays' representatives, and as a quid pro quo they might tell their visitors what's wrong with many of the films that come here from Hollywood. But perhaps that would take too long."

Visit Called "Good News"

In the Liverpool Post the visit was described as "good news."

"Ever since British films became exportable," the comment read, "there have been undefined but real difficulties in the way of their full exploitation in the United States. The fault has not rested wholly on the other side of the Atlantic. Lack of full knowledge at this end of American box-office appeal, and of the rules and regulations governing the cinema industry have also played their part. It is therefore good news that two leading American authorities chosen by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Ass'n., at the invitation of British industrialists, are arriving here for discussion with our own producers."

The Era indulged in satirical references to the conferences by saying: "Government of Hollywood, by Hollywood for Hollywood, and the rest may perish from the earth."

John Bull asked: "Is it merely a coincidence that Mr. Will H. Hays has acquired doubts regarding the good taste of British films just when American film-goers have discovered their entertainment value?"

Northern Whig of Belfast suggested "There has been more than a suspicion of vindictiveness about some of the decisions against British pictures in the past year, when one takes into consideration the type of film which is still arriving here from America. In short, Elstree thinks that America's New Deal smacks of a raw one from their point of view."

Film Weekly suggested that Milliken and Quigley were "going to 'explain' to British producers the peculiar standard's of screen morality demanded by the United States film code."