Made by the Movies
Managing Editor of Survey Graphic
The films they saw were what the rest of us see,
for practically no special films are made for children (there was
just one in 1930). What they pored over were films dealing chiefly
with romantic love, sex and crime; films that give a cock-eyed picture
of the world. Seventy-five percent of all the characters shown were
between nineteen and forty years of age, a full half of them under
thirty. Of the adult actors, only 15 percent were married (in the
plot) as against 60 percent in the general population. There are
no workers in this movie world, except the servants of the rich
and the cowboys in the Wild Westerns; no agriculture; no manufacturing;
no poverty. In a group of 115 films, 33 percent of the heroes, 44
percent of the heroines, 54 percent of the villains and 63 percent
of the female of that species were wealthy or ultra-wealthy. In
73 percent, formal dress figured heavily. Indeed there appears to
be a group of young men in Hollywood who have set out seriously
to "save" the high silk hat.
But with their sensitiveness to the moral
implications of their findings, the Committee has more to say
of habits than of habiliments. In this group of 115 films, 66
percent showed drinking, 43 percent intoxication and 78 percent
contained "liquor situations."
But again this is only the beginning of the
Committee's concern. In a study of 1500 films in three selected
years (500 each year), Prof. Edgar Dale, psychologist, of Ohio
State University, found that crime, sex and love were the subjects
of 82 percent of all feature films in 1920, 88 percent in 1925,
72 percent in 1930. But the falling off in 1930 was more apparent
than real for there was a new 9 percent on mystery and war in
which violence always and crime often appeared. So the child,
at his weekly average show, saw fifty-two feature films of which
thirty-nine were on these three subjects. Professors Charters
and Dale, writing together, point out:
Literally hundreds of times one notes
there a portrayal of character and conduct which gives a totally
erroneous notion of the situation or event as it actually occurs
in real life. A mature adult who has had a wide range of experience
can at once discount in some degree what he has seen on the screen.
Not so the children.
Professor Dale analyzed 115 films taken at
random. In them he counted seventy-one deaths in forty-five films,
21 percent of them caused by the hero, 40 percent by the villain,
the others accomplished in various ways. Only one was by a heroine.
For good measure there were thrown in fifty-nine cases of assault
and battery, seventeen hold-ups, twenty-one kidnappings; 406 crimes
were pulled off and 43 others were attempted a total of 449 crimes
in 115 films.
Such an orgy of battle, murder and sudden
death must have been exciting to every child. But not all of them
liked it. The Committee has collected a large number of replies
to the question asked of children, nine to thirteen, if they ever
disliked motion pictures and if so why. "Killing" held a prominent
place in the answers, such as the nine-year-old who wrote, "Killing
looks offel, scares me," and another, "Hate to see people killed;
makes me sick."
Much of the crime, of course, is no more than
a realistic reflection of our times. But it was not made unattractive.
On the contrary, some of the most winning actors were cast in
criminal parts: Jack Holt as the leader of a gang of outlaws;
Lawrence Tibbet out for private vengeance; Edmund Lowe as a gambler
and robber; Victor McLaglan, Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich
carrying on gaily and courageously outside the law.
And as to punishment for crime, Professor
Dale made a detailed analysis of forty pictures in which fifty-seven
criminals committed sixty-two crimes, with the following results:
Three of the fifty-seven were arrested
and held; four were arrested but releascd; seven were arrested
and their punishment w as inferred. In one group of five, three
were arrested, one gave himself up; another's arrest was inferred
and all were legally punished. Twenty-two criminals vvere punished
by what may be described as extralegal methodsby their own
henchmen, other gangsters and in a variety of ways in which the
law had nothing to do. In seventeen cases the punishment was primarily
accidental and fifteen crimes went wholly unpunished. Some of
the unpunished crimes were: murder by the hero, as in Rogue Song;
kidnapping by the hero, as in Devil May Care; kidnapping by the
villain, as in Along Came Youth; embezzlement by the hero, as
in Six-Cylinthe hero, as in Six-Cylinder Love; embezzlement by
the heroine, as in Miracle Woman, and housebreaking by the hero
in the same picture.... Surely children and youths need assistance
in interpreting such motion pictures. Many parents believe that
they should not be seen at all.
Nowhere was an attempt made to show the reaction
to environment, the attrition of evil companionship, the slow
cumulative process by which a criminal is made.
The goals pursued by the handsome young actors
were varied, but twelve goals accounted for 385 out of a total
of 574. In order of frequency they were: winning another's love,
marriage for love, professional success, revenge, crime for gain,
illicit love, thrills or excitement, conquering a rival, financial
success, enjoyment, concealment of guilt, marriage for money.
Only 9 percent of all goals seemed to Professor Dale tokbe socially
desirable in nature. He says:
It is apparent children will rarely secure
from the film's goals of the type that have animated men like
Jenner, Lister, Koch, Pasteur, Jesus Christ, Aristotle, Norman
Thomas, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plato, Socrates, Grenfell, Edison,
Noguchi, Lincoln, Washington and others; and women like Jane Addams,
Frances Willard, Susan B. Anthony, Grace Abbott, Madame Curie,
Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale and Dorothy Canfield Fisher....
We ought to expect the cinema to show a better
way of living than the average we find outside the cinema....We
need to see the screen portraying more of the type of social goals
which ought to be characteristic of a decent civilization. We
need more often to catch a glimpse of the immortality of great
characters who have sacrificed opportunities for personal aggrandizement
in order that the larger community might have a fuller measure