Jeffrey Richards / “7. Censorship in Operation: Foreign Policy” / The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930-1939 / 1984Posted: July 18, 2012
POLITICAL FILM CENSORSHIP and FOREIGN POLICY. The Board banned “subjects which are calculated to wound the susceptibilities of foreign peoples.” What would the Chinese, the Tibetans, the Turks think? Approved The Last Barricade, a “quite harmless love story. The setting, though purporting to be Spain, might just as well be Ruritania [LINK], for all the political significance it possesses.” Re Balkan espionage drama The Chinese Fish: “Quite harmless melodrama, with no flavor of real politics or identification with any state.” The Forty Days of Musa Dagh banned because it graphically depicted 1915 Armenian genocide. Censor Colonel Hanna: “Personally I think there is nothing to be said in favour of trying to revive all the horrors of a particularly ugly page in history. There are many hardships, many horrors, many grievous errors in war but a merciful providence in time softens one’s recollections of these things and it is not kind to arouse old animosities.” [See Blight on memory, Race and Reunion] Antiwar and pacifist films regularly banned. Portrayals of fictional arms dealers, with unnamed countries, sometimes made it through. After 1937, no more pacifist film projects.
POLITICAL FILM CENSORSHIP, HITLER and the NAZIS. No overtly anti-Nazi films permitted. Infamous appeasement. 1933, Hitler comes to power-> burst of anti-Nazi proposals. A German Tragedy, about a Jewish doctor in Germany who loses job and family because of anti-Jewish persecution. Colonel Hanna: “In my opinion the public exhibition of this picture in England would give very grave offence to a nation with whom we are on terms of friendship and which it would be impolitic to offend […] The cinemagoing public in England seek amusement, not political guidance from the screen.”
DISTURBANCES. 1938 newsreels saw political disturbances in the cinema. 1938 Parliamentary debate on censorship, Edgar Granville (Liberal National, Suffolk, Eye): he had visited cinemas to see Germany newsreels, and, in one cinema, “the first 20 rows were packed with Nazis and the back rows were packed with oppositionists, and it became a shouting match. I wanted to hear the news film but I had no opportunity of doing so.”
WAR CHANGED LIMITS on REPRESENTING the ENEMY. Oct. 6, 1939, first anti-Nazi project, Liberty Radio, released as Freedom Radio, 1941.
RUSSIA? Britain resumed diplomatic relations, 1929. Russia admitted to League of Nations 1934. Still, films critical of Russia regularly banned by BBFC (9 were submitted). Red Square, proposed 1934, story of rise of fictional Russian revolutionary leader. Censor comment: “The bulk of the story consists of scenes showing Bolshevist activities and counterplots against them… the whole film reeks of blood, hate and lust in the most sordid settings.” [Note “blood,” see This Happy Breed, re “Lean Cuts” article.] Colonel Hanna on A Soviet Marriage (novel published 1931): “The language is very outspoken on the subject of sex and full of swearwords, especially the word ‘bloody’ which is freely used by all the characters, especially the women. The character of Boris is a most unpleasant one. Sensuality and animal passion are the dominating characterizations.” [Note “blood,” see This Happy Breed, re “Lean Cuts” article.] Re adaptation of The Elephant Never Forgets, about Englishwoman’s adventures in Russia, censor Miss Shortt: “The Soviet authorities may object to the unpleasant portrayal of the Russian characters.” Colonel Hanna: “the outspoken language of the Russian proletariat should be softened.”