Review: ‘The Time Machine the Hollywood Censorship Wars’

VCRs should be humming all over Hollywood. This don't-miss ticket for your video library, rich in irony and movie history, is guaranteed to liven up the dullest industry party while documenting the town's Holy Wars.

VCRs should be humming all over Hollywood. This don’t-miss ticket for your video library, rich in irony and movie history, is guaranteed to liven up the dullest industry party while documenting the town’s Holy Wars.

True, you’ve heard it all before, and nothing may be new under the studio’s arc lamps. But wait until you see W.C. Fields aggressively mounting a brunette in a dental chair as she flings her long limbs around his waist and holds on for dear life in a pre-Will Hays outtake from “The Dentist” (1931).

Or catch Mae West’s lascivious innuendo –“I like it quick and slow”– as she purrs over the phone to an ingenuous Cary Grant in “I’m No Angel” (1933). That helped produce the Legion of Decency, “created to fight Mae West,” says host Jack Perkins.

Accompanied by sharp commentary from a host of guests (Roger Corman, Howard Koch, Chris Trumbo, Sam Marx, Hal Roach, Jack Valenti and the blacklisted Marsha Hunt and Paul Jarrico, among them), the sweep of Babylon has been crisply edited into a 48-minute (sans commercials) chronicle.

Of course, the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, Jane Russell’s slickly promoted cleavage in Howard Hughes’ “The Outlaw,” and the battle to salvage the “I don’t give a damn” exit line from “Gone With the Wind” are all here.

There are some surprises, too, such as the hush-hush, independent cautionary pic from the ’40s, “Reefer Madness,” and Sheree North’s absolutely hilarious, scantily-clad serpentine dance number from the officially condemned “Tiger Dance” (censored in 1956 under the Eric Johnston industry reign).

Film historians remind viewers that “The Birth of a Nation” was “the most censored film in history” and also “the largest-grossing movie of all time, $ 60 million, in terms of 1915 dollars” (translation: half a billion today).

Viewers learn that the early Betty Boop “really booped” before the censor’s ax fell (as the spec shows a pre-Production Code cartoon of Betty Boop pulling her dress up over her panties) and that czar Will Hays (who appears in newsreel clips like someone’s parody of a martinet) “ordered all of Wallace Reid’s movies destroyed” after Reid entered a sanitorium for drug addiction.

Issue of self-regulation in face of federal censorship is pointedly documented by an incisive, six-minute segment (program’s longest) devoted to the Hollywood Blacklist. Included is the notorious meeting of studio moguls in the infamous “Waldorf Conference” of 1947, which in turn spawned the blacklist and a pamphlet called Red Stars (producers Robb Weller, Gary Grossman and James Forsher neatly cut to published list of alleged screenland Commies).

Bringing threat of censorship up to the minute, the program describes the “new hot button — violence on TV,” with footage of recent congressional brouhaha.

The lingering death of the Hollywood Production Code in the late ’50s is observed via the impact of popular, controversial movies of the era, such as Mamie Van Doren casually flaunting her “bullet bra” in “High School Confidential” (1958).

Van Doren compares the “special (breast) equipment we wore to pyramid-effects.””Time Machine,” indeed.

The Time Machine the Hollywood Censorship Wars

(Fri. (7), 9-10 p.m., A&E)

Production

Filmed by Weller/Grosman Prods. in association with A&E. Exec producers, Robert Weller, Gary H. Grossman; producer, James Forsher; writers, Grossman, Forsher, Weller; segment producer, Dustin Nelson.

Crew

Editor, Mike Cole.

Cast

Host: Jack Perkins.
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