Portrait of America: Survey Graphic in the ThirtiesHomeIntroductionEditor's NotesArticlesFurther Reading
Minds Made by the Movies

Arthur Kellogg

Managing Editor of Survey Graphic

May 1933

1 2 3 4 5 6

Professor Blumer made a list of thirty-one such specific bits of training in burglary which young fellows in prison told him they had learned from watching gangster pictures. A number of boys, now serving sentences, relate how they not only got the idea and the technique of robbery from a picture, but were so fired by what they had seen that they went out at the end of the performance and tried it on a neighborhood store.

Of 110 young men in a prison, 49 percent said that the movies had first created in them the desire to carry a gun, 28 percent a desire to pull off a hold-up, 21 percent on how to fool the police, 12 percent that a picture of a successful "job" at once stirred them to do it too. A study made in a polyglot high-delinquency area of New York City by Prof. Frederic M. Thrasher of New York University throws many of these points into high relief. Among children with a tendency toward crime, the gangster pictures act like gasoline poured on a smoldering log. The boys make heroes of the "Big Shots" on the screen and swagger through the crowded streets dressed like James Cagney, or demand that their friends call them "Little Caesar" after the gang play by that name.

Garbo and Gilbert
"Say, have you seen John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Love? Why when he kissed her I was so thrilled I almost passed out. Oh for a man like that!" This chatter in a group of office girls was matched by school children and college youths

The studies of movies and sex can be only referred to here. John Galsworthy once said that sex is such powerful stuff it must be used in writing only in minute doses lest it throw everything else out of perspective. The movies have learned that lesson—and use it in reverse. Testimony from boys and girls of every class is overwhelming. A highschool girl states: "The only benefit I ever got from the movies was in learning to love and a knowledge of sex. When I was about twelve years old I started browsing around and I remember I used to advantage my knowledge of how to love, to be loved, and how to respond." A college boy of twenty: "Heated love scenes like those that took place between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo led indirectly in association with my own sexual cravings to my first visit to a 'sport' woman."

Another college student: " When I see John Gilbert making love to Greta Garbo I observe, and when I have a girl of my own there is no doubt that I make use of his technique in playing with her. What is more, I think girls copy movie actresses in the same manner." Heard in a group of office girls: "Say, have you seen John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Love? Why when he kissed her I was so thrilled I almost passed out. Oh for a man like that!" In a group of sorority girls: "Without him [a French count] even saying a word, you could tell by the expression on his face what he thought. Boy, he certainly could love. I would like to have him for a fellow for just one night."

One of Professor Thrasher's investigators copied this poster:

Married Just Enough to Make Her Interesting! It's New! It's Original! It's Different! It starts with a bang as Madame loses her dress! It leaps into high as her lover hires a sin-thetic wife! It reaches an amazing height amid the love gondolas of Venice! It's peppery in Paris! It's intimate in Italy! Which all means that it's Hot-Cha in good old U. S. A. Snappy as a French magazine.

IT must appear from even this brief sampling that the Motion Picture Research Council has ventilated scientifically and inexorably one of the major educational problems of our time. It makes us realize that the youngsters in the seats down front see things that we miss and carry away things which we had wiped out with an "adult discourit." It announces that after the completion of the studies and the publication of the results it will "make recommendations in connection with the use of the film art."

Nothing tried thus far National Board of Review, state censorships, laws barring children from theaters has accomplished the Committee's purpose. The spirit of the times and of the courts is distinctly away from legal censorship. The obvious plan, of keeping children away from films that might injure them, does not work in crowded city neighborhoods where driven tenement mothers have little control over their children. There remains the possibility of public pressure on the movie producers to play the game with the parents of America, to have a heart for the children. To such appeals they might more readily give ear in a time of dwindling audiences and of receiverships than they did at the crest of their gilded wave. In hard times, with the need of getting new ticket buyers in their seats, it might seem to them good sense to reach out for public approval and for films that would interest distinctive groups.

Now there are at least three kinds of films: films intrinsically suited to children, to adults with child-minds, to true adults. The third group goes only rarely to the movies; it does not begin to live up to the Payne Committee's average attendance of three quarters of a movie per person per week; it has been figured in another connection that there are fifty to sixty million grown-ups who go seldom if ever. And the chief reason that they do not go is that the movies bore them to the verge of tears. Yet if they were offered something interesting, they would go to the movies, with discrimination, as they go to the theater and buy books. And the films they would go to see surely would be more suitable for children than the sex and gangster plays that cater to child-minded adults.

If the Motion Picture Research Council can work out a program, it may find unexpected public support from those who not only deplore the evil effects of movies upon youth with its mind in the process of making, but resent the boredom to grown-ups with rninds already made and made up to go to the movies or to stay home according to the table of contents.

Motion Pictures and Youth

The Payne Fund Studies

THE first thorough-going study of the effects of motion pictures on youth has been carried on during the past four years by the Educational Research Committee of the Payne Fund of which the chairman is Prof. W. W. Charters, Director of educational research at Ohio State University. The study was undertaken at the instance of the Motion Picture Research Council, 366 Madison Avenue, New York City, of which the chairman is John Grier Hibben, president-emeritus of Princeton University, and the Director, William H. Short.

First fruit of the research to be published will be a popular summary volume, Our Movie-Made ChilJren, by Henry James Forman (Macmillan, probable publication late May, probable price $2).

Following this will be nine research volumes, written by the eighteen psychologists and sociologists who make up the Educational Research Committee. All will be published by the Macmillan Company at the dates tentatively given after each volume:

Motion Pictures and Youth: An Introduction, by W. W. Charters, Director, Bureau of Educational Research, Ohio State University, combined with Motion Pictures and Mores, by Charles C. Peters, professor of education, Pennsylvania State College. Probable date September.

The Content of Motion Pictures, combined with Children's Attendance at Motion Pictures, both by Edgar Dale, research associate, Bureau of Educational Research, Ohio State University. Probably July or August.

Getting Ideas from the Movies, by P. W. Holaday, Director of research, Indianapolis Public Schools, and George D. Stoddard Director, lowa Child Welfare Research Station. Probably July or August.

Children's Sleep, by Samuel Renshaw, Vernon A. Miller and Dorothy Marquis, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, combined with Emotional Responses of Children to the Motion Picture Situation, by W. S. Dysinger and Christian A. Ruckmick, Department of Psychology, State University of lowa. Probably June.

Motion Pictures and the Social Attitudes of Children, by Ruth C. Peterson and L. L. Thurstone, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, combined with The Relationship of Moving Pictures to the Character and Attitudes of Children, by Mark A. May, Institute of Human Relations, Yale University, and Frank A. Shudleworth, State University of lowa. Probably July.

Movies and Conduct, by Herbert Blumer, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago. Probably June.

Movies, Delinquency and Crime, by Herbert Blumer and Philip M. Hauser, Department of Sociology, Univenity of Chicago. Probably June.

Boys, Movies and City Streets, by Paul G. Cressey and FreJeric M. Thrasher, School of Education, New York University. Probably July or August.

How to Appreciate Motion Pictures, by Edgar Dale, research associate, Bureau of Educational Research, Ohio State University. Probably July or August.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003