Made by the Movies
Managing Editor of Survey Graphic
Peterson, the distinguished neurologist of New York City, made
the following comment to Henry James Forman, the author of the
general volume, when asked how injurious he thought scenes of
horror and tense excitement might be:
If sufficiently strong they have
an effect very similar to shellshock such as soldiers received
in war. A healthy child seeing a picture once in a while will
suffer no harm. But repeating the stimulation often amounts to
emotional debauch. Stimulation, when often repeated, is cumulative.
Scenes causing horror and fright are sowing the seeds in the system
for future neuroses and psychosesnervous disorders.
These tests were made with quite ordinary
films such as run nightly in neighborhood playhouses. No accurate
tests were made on the thrillers, but the Committee gives the
first-hand testimony of a mature woman (a registered nurse, the
widow of a pediatrician who had herself read some medicine) who
has charge of children's playrooms and first-aid rooms in a string
of theaters in Chicago. While Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera
was running there were so many faintings and hysterical collapses
that the ushers were specially drilled in handling them. Throughout
the run there was an average of four faintings a day; on one day
eleven people fainted, four of them men. One woman had a miscarriage.
Children became hysterical: "I have had as many as three in my
arms at once and it required an hour or more to quiet them. They
were generally children six to eight years old." Wild West and
war films often had a similar effect, she testified; during The
Dawn Patrol she saw children leap from their seats and scream
Prof. Herbert Blumer of Chicago collected a great
number of individual cases of horror and shock. Out of 458 highschool
autobiographies, 61 percent stated that they had at some time been
terrified by a scene in a movie. Ninetythree percent of 237 younger
school children answered "yes" when asked if they had ever been
terrified. A girl of nineteen related how she was taken shrieking
from her first movie, as a small child, and did not get over it
for years. A college girl of twenty still can describe vividly her
childish impression of "a horrible hairy ape with a habit of breaking
into people's houses." A child of eight had nightmares for a month
after seeing Tarzan of the Apes. A girl of fourteen "was so frightened
by The Phantom of the Opera I could not scream.... I could not move
for two or three minutes." A college youth reported that it was
two or three years before he got over a fear of dark places inspired
by a boyhood viewing of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A young woman of
twenty was so upset by seeing a presentation of Dante's Inferno
that she did not enter a theater again for several years.
Tarzan of the Apes
terror jumps over the footlights to some hysterical
children. During the run of one famous thriller
children leaped from their seats and screamed
Edward G. Robinson as Little
me Little Caesar!"
a budding ganster demanded.
Out of a class of fortyfour students, thirty-eight told of being
frightened and thirty-one of these went back for more punishmentthey
liked it. Of his highschool students, 64 percent reported "irresistible
weeping" at pictures such as The Singing Fool, Beau Geste, Over
the Hill and Coquette. One could go on indefinitely quoting Dr.
Blumer's stories. Unusually interesting measurements of changes
in social attitudes were made by Prof. L. I. Thurstone of the Uni-
versity of Chicago and his assistant, Ruth C. Peterson. They found
a Midwestern community of 5700 people, all whites; a town where
almost no child had even seen a Negro. They tested the school children
and found them practically without race prejudice. Then they arranged
that the anti- Negro film, The Birth of a Nation, which has been
revived with sound, should be shown in the town, and tested them
again. Race prejudice had grown like a weed. Five months later,
without a second showing of the film, 62 percent of the prejudice
remained and it was still markedly present after eight months.
The film Four Sons, which is anti-war and friendly
to the German people, completely changed the attitude toward Germans
held by junior and senior highschool pupils tested before and after
seeing it. The change persisted at another test five months later.
A Chinese film, Son of the Gods, had a similar effect on 117 highschool
children in another town. Five hundred children who saw The Valiant,
which opposed capital punishment, promptly reacted against the death
sentence. The Criminal Code gave other children a more lenient attitude
toward the punishment of crime and All Quiet on the Western Front
registered strongly anti-war. Two films on similar themes, for instance
The Big House and Numbered Men, were found to have more effect than
one; and three films more than twoa distinctly cumulative
Evidence of the effects of the movies on juvenile
behavior is clear, both statistically and in the poignant statements
made to Professor Blumer by children from many social groups;
from neighborhoods rated as good, fair and of high delinquency;
from children in public schools, detention homes and prisons.
There is unquestionable evidence that some movies have a "good"
effect, as in the case of the girl who saw Over the Hill and vowed
she would see to it that her mother should never go to the poorhouse,
or the boys who got a vision of service from seeing Ben Hur or
Sorrell and Son. But for children already breaking away from home
restraints the "good" impressions were short-lived; on the average,
they lasted about a month. Schoolgirls who had already had sex
experience usually kept new "good" resolves only until they next
met an attractive boy who "propositioned" them.
James Cagney in Public Enemy
"When I would
see a picture like this I would go wild and say that some
day I would be a "Big Shot" that everyone would
be afraid of. Live like a king
The desire to be a Robin Hood, robbing the
rich and giving to the poor, seems to move many schoolboys, and
the desire to make easy money stirred one fifth of the boys in
a good neighborhood. This desire, specifically stated by many
boys, leads Professor Blumer to comment: "The creation of desires
for riches and suggestions for easily realizing them may dispose
many and lead some to criminal behavior." The gist of the "good"
and the "bad" in the way of suggestion seems to be that the good
is infrequent and fleeting, the bad (easy money, incitement to
crime, and glorification of crime) constant, cumulative and to
some children almost irresistible.
A boy convicted of robbery said: "As I became older the luxuries
of life showed in the movies, partly, made me want to possess
them. I could not on the salary I was earning." Another: "The
ideas I got from the movies about easy money were from watching
pictures where the hero never worked but seemed always to have
lots of money to spend....I thought it would be great to live
that kind of life." In a group of truants and boys with behavior
problems, 55 percent said that pictures of gangsters stirred them
to want to go and do likewise.
A boy of
eighteen, sentenced to a reformatory for robbery and rape, made
would see in a picture the "Big Shot" come in a cabaret. Everyone
would greet him with a smile. The girls would all crowd around
him. He would order wine and food for the girls. Tip the waiter
350 or more. After dining and dancing he would give the girls
diamond bracelets, rings and fur coats. Then he would leave
and go to meet his gang. They would all bow down to him and
give him the dough that was taken from different rackets. When
I would see pictures like this I would go wild and say that
some day I would be a "Big Shot" that everyone would be afraid
of, and have big dough. Live like a king without doing any work.
suggestion inherent in the plots, the gangster pictures show
boys who want to learn how to do criminal things. Consider these
sentences from different boys and young men:
Movies have shown me the way of stealing
automobiles, the charge for which I am now serving sentence.
the movies I saw showed me how to jimmy a door or window.
We learned from the movies how to use a glass cutter and master
from the movies the scientific way of pulling jobs leave no
fingerprints or telltale marks.
stick-up I ever saw was in a movie and I seen how it was done.
I learned something from The Gateway to Hell. It is a gangster
picture. It shows how to drown out shots from a gun by backfiring