Sentinel Production

What Becomes Of The Children? (1936)

Courtesy of the Tony Nourmand Collection

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Damaged Goods (1937)

Courtesy of the Tony Nourmand Collection

In the early twentieth century, a significant percentage of America's population was sufferin from venereal disease. Although effective medic treatment for syphilis became available from 1909, open discussion of the subject was taboo. As a result there was little or no information available to the public, a state of affairs that was sometimes defended on the grounds that an awareness of effective treatments for syphilis would lead to greater promiscuity.

The first play brave enough to address the problem openly was Eugene Brieux's Damaged Goods, which premiered in 1913. Surprisingly, it was a hit with audiences, critics and censors alik Its success was due to the fact that the play remained very 'clean' and was seen to reinforce, rather than undermine, the prevailing morals of the day. Brieux took the 'Progressive' view that the spread of syphilis could be laid fairly and squarely at the doors of the lower and immigran classes. As they 'infiltrated' into established American society they introduced this dreadful disease into the hitherto unsullied and innocent ranks of the middle and upper classes.

Damaged Goods was made into a film in 1914 and the next four years saw a huge rise in simila movies about the same subject. Meanwhile, public awareness of the scourge of venereal disease was also increasing. Towards the end of the First World War, a series of documentary filnr dealing with syphilis, originally made for the US Army, were released to the general public. These created a massive backlash and caused a sea change in the opinion of critics and censors. The problem was not so much that the films were overtly graphic, but that they stressed that everyone, irrespective of nationality, class or creed, was at risk of contracting the disease. The implication that the ruling classes were as likely as the lower orders to put themselves at risk by engaging in illicit sexual activity was considered outrageous and the censors reacted by indiscriminately banning all films related to venereal disease. Before long, a small group of men saw the business potential of screening sucl movies without official sanction. Thus, the exploitation industry was born and the next twenty years saw a flood of films with titles like Wild Oats.

By the 30s, public attitudes towards the probler had changed and a national campaign, supportec by both rich and poor, was launched to stamp ou the disease. The savvy exploitation roadshow men took advantage of this changed atmosphere to release a remake of Brieux's Damaged Goods.

Wild Oats (c.1920s)

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