Back in the 1910s, there was no central body for judging a film’s suitability for audiences. As a result, state and city boards of censors took up the slack and one of the most famous was the board working in the city of Chicago.
Let’s travel back in time 100 years to see what changes this board demanded in films released in 1918. If the film survives, I will be sure to mention it.
“Selfish Yates” (Artcraft) — Additional elimination in reel 5, subtitle: “I don’t care what the H-ll he wants. Riley has got to die.”
William S. Hart’s films usually had quite a bit of real, implied and censored strong language for the time. Selfish Yates survives in the MoMA collection but is not yet on home video.
“Ace High” (Fox) — Reel 2, three holdup scenes; subtitle: “If I ever get Revard without his gun, I’ll send him to hell.” Reel 4, shooting man from horse. Reel 5, attack on and muffling of girl; striking man on head with bottle; reduce fight scenes in saloon by half.
Ooo, another cowboy in trouble for his language. I wonder why half a saloon fight was seen as moral and proper and right but a whole one was sinful. Ace High survives in the Lobster Films archives.
“His Bitter Half” (W. II. Prod.) — Reel 1, woman throwing herself back on bed and exposing her underwear. Reel 2, scene of man tying pajamas; colored man jumping into bed with girls.
Apparently a reissue of the 1915 Keystone comedy Those College Girls (let me know if you have seen it and if these scenes were present). This is interesting because it shows the racist aspect of censorship. In addition to reducing sex, violence and language, censors throughout the first half of the twentieth century were obsessed with eliminating any hint of “miscegenation” or romance between races.
“The Ordeal of Rosetta” (Select) — Reel 1, entire scene of artist opening girl’s waist and pulling it from her shoulders, to include artist reaching toward girl and girl fastening waist. Reel 3, same cutouts as in preceding reel. Reel 4, newspaper notice of man’s engagement; letter to be eliminated and one inserted to establish a marriage between man and woman. Reel 5, girl’s dream is to be ended directly after drunken girl is seen standing on table, to include carrying drunken girl from room, locking door, Lola telephoning girl’s brother, arrival of brother, men listening at door, holding up key and giving it to man; shooting woman.
The “waist” referred to here would have meant shirtwaist, the full-sleeved blouse that was popular in the 1910s. This was a pretty wild melodrama from the looks of it but, alas, it is considered a lost film.
“A Desert Wooing” (Paramount) — Reel 3, subtitle “You may be mad but you must pay”; first two choking scenes; closeup of man looking at woman through window; all scenes of woman in bed up to time she appears with robe on, after man enters room.
First two choking scenes? How many choking scenes total? Was this a thing? A Desert Wooing stars Jack Holt and Enid Bennett and is available on DVD.
“Old Wives for New” (Artcraft) — Adult only permit — Reel 1, subtitle “A shrewd sensualist,” etc. Reel 3, subtitles “With a ribbon and feather Berkeley pays his debts”; “Suppose he didn’t get you the ermine?” Incident of Mrs. Murdock pointing to place near her in bed. Reel 4, subtitle “No, I cant forget. I’ll take you only to your apartment”; all scenes of girl in man’s arms on chair. Reel 5, all scenes of girl in man’s arms on chair; girl shooting man; all scenes of girl on floor after shooting; subtitles “I killed him; he was a beast”; “We’ve got to get him to his hotel”; “Hushing it up”; “I won’t turn you over to the police yet.”
Cecil B. DeMille’s issues with censor boards are pretty famous (if you haven’t heard of them, check out The Sign of the Cross) but this is early-ish of the problem. Old Wives for New was one of DeMille’s early dramedies of marriage and divorce and it’s available on DVD.
“The Beloved Blackmailer” (World) — Reel 5, man locking bedroom door.
“Riddle Gawne” (Artcraft) — Reel 1, scene of woman at bar. Reel 2, two scenes of woman at bar; scene of Hart shooting man in back; subtitle: “Blanche Dillon, former dance hall girl, now Bozzam’s ‘housekeeper,’ ” and all scenes of girl in Bozzam’s house; scene of Bozzam slugging Cass with gun. Reel 3, man shooting Hart from horse; subtitle: “She may be a good nurse, but she ain’t the sort of woman I want, etc.” Reel 5, Bozzam shooting girl’s father; shooting Hart; shooting of Gawne’s brother in vision scene.
This is a tantalizing peek at a mostly-lost film (a fragment survives) that is especially tantalizing because while William S. Hart plays the hero, Gawne, the villain Bozzam is played by none other than Lon Chaney! Curse you, lost films!
“Shifting Sands” (Triangle) — Reel 1, three scenes of man bending woman over table and forcibly kissing her.
What was it with tables in this movie? The film stars Gloria Swanson and is available on DVD.
“Salome” (Fox) — Reel 5, closeup of Salome in litter where she raises arm and exposes breast. Reel 6, scene of executioner’s sword descending. Reel 8, in two scenes where Salome is shown bending over dungeon, eliminate those portions of the film where her breasts are exposed.
It wouldn’t be a censorship piece without at least one Theda Bara picture on the crosshairs. Like so many of her films, this one is missing and presumed lost. Sounds spicy.
“The Riders of the Purple Sage” (Fox) — Reel 3, man falling after Lassiter shoots. Reel 6, subtitle: “He made me — I can’t tell you — I can’t — “; shooting Oldring. Reel 7, last shooting scene in which Mormon is killed.
80% of all cuts in Chicago seem to be aimed at westerns, serials and Theda Bara films. This is one of the silent films I still own on VHS so let me know if you hear about a digital release.
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