Daniel Biltereyst

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In the mid-1950s, the gradual relaxation of the Hollywood Production Code and the growth of independent filmmaking brought to the forefront a whole series of American movies which openly explored taboo-breaking subjects around sexuality, crime, and the use of drugs. One strand of movies causing a heated public controversy dealt with the social problem of juvenile delinquency. Films like The Wild One (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) directly confronted the issue of postwar youngsters' crime and gang life, initiating cycles of teenpic exploitation films often called juvenile delinquency movies (Gilbert, 178-195; Doherty, 1-18; Shary 2002, 82).

In the U.S., these successful film cycles about the "misbehavior" of rebellious ''GI baby boomers" sparked a wider controversy about the increase in juvenile crime, the failing educational system, and the loss of family values in American society. The movies only increased, as Thomas Doherty (51) notes, the ''anxious inquiries from concerned clergymen, baffled parents, tireless social scientists, and an alarmed Congress.'' What is so interesting about these 1950s juvenile delinquency movies is that they could stir up such a heated debate across various groups and organizations. Everyone from the average audience to the U.S. Senate—including leading journalists, intellectuals, politicians, and religious leaders—was moved to raise their voices about these movies' effects on ''endangered'' core social values. This situation, where various ''moral guardians'' express their concern over key values, often signals a societywide moral panic.

The controversy and moral panic were not restricted to the U.S. In the U.K. and other European countries, a wider public debate addressed juvenile delinquency and the influence of imported American movies. In the U.K.,

10 rebellion and resistance for instance, The Wild One was the only movie of the 1950s to be denied a censorship certificate. Many other juvenile delinquency pictures from the other side of the ocean had great difficulties with local European censors, while film critics often expressed their disbelief about the growing openness of the American censorship system.

However, looking more closely at the historical reception and censorship of these movies, we should acknowledge very different positions, including a growing respect for the refreshing audacity of these imported movies. Especially leftist intellectuals and film critics soon started to glorify the critical tone of these movies. In France, for instance, independent producers and filmmakers such as Richard Brooks, Stanley Kramer, and Nicholas Ray were increasingly praised by young film critics, who claimed that these new American auteurs were showing the right direction for contemporary cinema.

This article examines how these controversial movies were received outside the U.S., concentrating on the censorship and reception of The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, and Rebel Without a Cause in various European countries, with a special focus upon the U.K. and France. I rely upon original film censorship files, censors' internal correspondence, and religious (Catholic) classification sources, supplemented with other contemporary sources such as reviews in journals and articles in the press.

juvenile delinquency movies, moral panic, and the censors

In 1954, when European censors, critics, and audiences first saw the motorcycle gang movie The Wild One, the issue of youth crime and the influence of cinema had been a hot item for a long time. The metaphor of cinema as a dangerous school of crime went back to the very beginning of motion pictures, but it was still vibrantly present in public debates after the war. In the immediate postwar years, many major European cities were confronted by poverty, a large number of orphans, and a spectacular increase in juvenile delinquency. Cinema attendance rose as never before, while film theater screens were almost completely filled with Hollywood's imagery. The issue of cinema and youth delinquency was a regular item, not only in the popular press, but also in social science, law, and criminology journals (Decharneux).

European politicians, like those in the U.S., put the issue high on the agenda. As early as 1948, for instance, a special committee on children and cinema was installed by the Home Office in the U.K., presenting its report in May 1950 to Parliament.1 For critics the report was too tame, mainly be cause it concluded that the ''criminogenic action'' of motion pictures was not proven. The British inquiry reflected a more nuanced view of juvenile delinquency and film consumption. It followed sociopsychological research, which at the time considered personality traits and social context to be more relevant than movie content. Motion pictures, so the committee claimed, were only effective in some very particular cases, but mostly they were harmless. By the end of the 1940s, also, social welfare programs had succeeded in curbing youth crime in many parts of Europe, while the introduction of television slowly took attention away from the influence of motion pictures.

However, this didn't mean that the media's appetite for juvenile delinquency diminished. The continuing interest correlated with the new phenomenon of rebellious youth subcultures in the 1950s. Originating in the U.K. and the U.S., youth cultures such as the (working-class oriented) teddy boys, mods, and later rockers were increasingly associated with street crime and gang life. Not only in the U.K., but soon also in France, Germany, and other Western European countries, young people adopted these new subcul-tural ways of life. Music and movies were symbolic spearheads in spreading models for these subcultural codes of conduct.

The popular media devoted much space to these youth subcultures, mainly through stigmatization and by focusing upon criminal outbursts. Following critical sociological literature, this selective construction of youth cultures as dangerous and deviant is often associated with a conservative moral backlash in society or with a moral panic. The latter deals with a shared feeling held by a substantial number of people that society and moral order are threatened by the deviant behavior of particular groups in society (such as mods or rockers). It refers to a spiraling debate and a dramatic over-reaction whereby the media function as a catalyst in whipping up the debate. This may ultimately lead to an overreaction by ''moral guardians,'' or even to a restrictive action by police or other law or morality enforcers. From this perspective it is not difficult to see censorship boards as institutional moral guardians.

This context of overreaction to youth subcultural violence might help explain why some film censors and critics reacted so severely when The Wild One and other American juvenile delinquent movies appeared from 1954 onward. It wasn't that the topic of juvenile delinquency was new; the issue of juvenile crime had been picked up by European film directors before. Inspired by a critical social naturalism, directors such as de Sica (Sciuscia, 1946), Fellini (I Vitelloni, 1953), and Cayatte (Avant le Déluge, 1953) had already explored youth violence. But these movies did not spark controversy.

The Wild One Gang
Marlon Brando (center) and his motorcycle gang in The Wild One (1953) seem to ooze menace.

In these movies, the young deviants were often portrayed as victims of a society reproducing class inequalities, and class conflicts seemed to motivate their mode of conduct.

American juvenile delinquency movies, though, were rather quickly perceived as part of a wider flow of highly confrontational, more violent, and openly antisocial movies that either reflected a dangerous social reality or were thought to stimulate the same. The Wild One is a landmark movie in this respect. The film showed Marlon Brando as the charismatic leader of the Black Rebels, a gang terrorizing a small, quiet California town. Brando's image as a biker in leather jacket and jeans became an icon for the age. The Wild One, which was inspired by real events, cultivated the image of young motorcyclists as outlaws, underlining the controversial character of drag racing. The movie was realistic in its portrayal of crime and gang life, while it contained lots of rough language.

When the movie had to face Hollywood's internal censorship system, it was clear that severe concessions would have to be made in order to get the Production Code Administration's approval. In a letter to the production team, the PCA director, Joseph Breen, wrote that the movie contained ''very dangerous elements'' suggesting that youngsters might ''get away with hood-lumism, if they [would] only organize into bands'' (Lewis 2000, 108). Breen and the PCA feared that the movie might lead to an imitation of crime. Besides some minor changes, the negotiation between the PCA, producer Kramer, and Columbia led to the inclusion of a public warning at the beginning and the end of The Wild One. The film opened with the announcement that ''this is a shocking story,'' followed by, ''it could never take place in most American towns—but it did in this one. It is a public challenge not to let it happen again.'' In his comment on the PCA's impact on the movie, Jon Lewis (2000,110) underlines The Wild One's ambiguity and irony: the moral lesson the PCA had in mind was completely counter to the audience's identification with and the implied sympathy for Brando's character in the movie.

The Wild One's success inspired a couple of teenpics such as Motorcycle Gang (1957), but it was mainly Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause which set the model for juvenile delinquency movies (Doherty). Brooks' 1955 Blackboard Jungle was an MGM production, with Glenn Ford in the role of English literature teacher Richard Dadier, who's new to a difficult urban high school. Dadier is confronted by the students' disobedience, hostility, and rough physical violence. Brooks, who previously had been a screenwriter for movies such as John Huston's Key Largo (1948), did not hesitate to include some real tough scenes in his movie. In Jungle we see how a student tries to rape a female schoolteacher, followed by Dadier's heavy-handed intervention. Later in the movie, Dadier himself is nearly killed by some of his students in a back alley attack. The use of Bill Haley's song ''Rock Around the Clock'' only increased the movie's potential for controversy.

Blackboard Jungle was a shocking film for its time. This was also the analysis of the PCA and its new chief censor, Geoffrey Shurlock, who declared that with Blackboard Jungle he was ''confronted with a situation that could make a joke of the censorship code sections on violence and brutality'' (Schumach, 176). He asked Brooks and MGM to tone down the brutality in the movie, but Brooks practically refused. The movie was released in March 1955. The day before its premiere in New York, a Bronx high school teacher was stabbed to death by a student, an incident that only fueled the controversy around Jungle. The world press caught the dramatic coincidence between the movie's content and the killing, and in many countries the movie would have to undergo major changes before it could be screened.

On the domestic front, several cities, including Atlanta, banned the movie, while educational groups severely denounced it. The influential Catholic Legion of Decency decided to put the movie firmly into its B-classi-fication code, reserved for ''morally objectionable movies.'' The Legion ar-

Daniel Biltereyst
This Mexican lobby card from The Blackboard Jungle (1955) illustrates the sensational marketing of the film's violence and sexuality.

gued that Brooks' movie was courageous in treating a ''sociological problem of our times,'' but that ''its treatment contains morally objectionable elements (brutality, violence, disrespect for lawful authority) and tends to negate any constructive conclusion.''2 The controversy around the movie's frankness only increased its success among young adolescents.

Intense negative reaction to the movie would explode once again at the Venice Film Festival in late October 1955. Mrs. Claire Booth-Luce, then ambassador to Italy, became so angered by Jungle's portrayal of violent American adults that she forced the picture's withdrawal from the festival. The ambassador's action, which was fully covered by the world press, again increased the controversy surrounding Jungle. The movie was also mentioned during a Senate committee's work on delinquency and the motion pictures, which started in June 1955 and was presided over by Senator Estes Kefauver. In its 1956 report, the committee recognized the artistic value of the movie but concluded that ''the film will have effects on youth other than the beneficial ones described by its producers'' (in Doherty, 118).

MGM, quick to discern the value of controversies, started to use the international diplomatic incident in its publicity material. Blackboard Jungle quickly became the most widely publicized film on the worldwide market, soon inspiring exploitation movies on the theme. Movies with titles such as Juvenile Jungle (1958) and High School Confidential (1958) were clearly inspired by Brooks' success.

The third milestone movie, Rebel Without a Cause, was also released in 1955, by Warner Bros. More even than The Wild One and Jungle, Nicolas Ray's movie would soon grow into a generation's cult movie. Rebel tells the story of Jim Stark (James Dean), an upper-middle-class young man with a troubled past who comes to a new town and struggles as much with his new school environment and its youth gangs as with himself and his parents. With this movie, Ray succeeded in giving Dean's character a deeper structure, trying to "explain" youngsters' rebellion in a more psychological manner. While gang life and youth violence in Wild One and Jungle are mainly explained by arguments on the juveniles' social background, Rebel offers a more universally identifiable adolescent role model. Adolescents' rebellion was part of''identity politics,'' or the search for one's true nature. This search for autonomy and difference included a hybrid relation with parent culture. This (revolutionary) shift in dealing with adolescents and youth crime helps to explain why the controversy around Rebel, certainly in Europe, had less to do with youngsters' hooliganism and violence, and more to do with the rough portrayal of traditional parental culture values.

In its original script version, however, Rebel contained more potentially controversial material than the movie as Ray finally made it. In a series of meetings with Ray and the producers, Shurlock showed a great sensitivity toward the public debate in the U.S. around juvenile delinquency. This awareness strongly influenced the final changes in the script. PCA's concerns included vulgar language, a possible suggestion of the use of drugs, and some scenes of violence and rebelliousness. Shurlock's list of difficulties also dealt with the suggestion of sexual intimacy between Jim and his teenage neighbor, Judy, played by Natalie Wood (Simmons 1995).

The Hollywood censorship system ensured that Rebel would not run into problems with local censors; in fact, only one board, in Memphis, banned the movie. Even the Legion of Decency was rather mild in terms of its condemnation of violent scenes. Putting Rebel in the ''acceptable'' A category, though only for adults, the Legion still argued that ''[this] study of juvenile delinquency from the viewpoint of typically maladjusted youth results in a film as depressing as it is disturbing.'' For the Legion's reviewer, the movie ''indicts contributory causes such as divorce, disharmony and poor parental example, without a single whisper against lack of sound moral and religious training in school and home.''3

16 rebellion and resistance

Rebel was released soon after James Dean's dramatic and widely publicized death (September 30,1955). Not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and elsewhere, the movie soon grew into one of the most successful and influential pictures of the 1950s. Rebel and Dean's angst-laden performance became a touchstone for a whole generation of teenagers, while for the film industry it worked as a catalyst for exploring younger audiences. This process of ''progressive juvenilization'' resulted in the production of an unprecedented wave of teenpics, especially juvenile delinquency and rock 'n' roll movies.

In the U.S. market, most of these exploitation movies encountered few difficulties. Referring to a certain timidity of teenpics, Thomas Doherty (186) claims that ''despite a reputation for daring, taboo-breaking subject matter . . . exploitation moviemakers who specialized in teenpics were a conservative and timorous lot.'' Despite this timidity and the stringent internal censorship system, many of these American pictures ran into problems when they crossed the ocean. Especially in the U.K., by far the most important nondomestic market for Hollywood, imported juvenile delinquency movies caught the censors' eye.

the british board of film censorship's battle against unbridled, revolting hooliganism

The British film censorship system has the reputation of being among the toughest in Europe. After the Second World War, the British Board of Film Censorship, which is an independent nonprofit body, continued its work under the main principles of protecting moral standards against the movies' harmful effects on reasonably minded audiences. At the beginning of the 1950s, the BBFC's leading figures, Secretary Arthur Watkins and President Sidney Harris, both originating from the Foreign Office, were confronted with new challenges. The arrival of more sexually explicit movies, mainly from the Continent, was one such challenge; the increasing number of movies containing antisocial and rebellious behavior was another.

In order to avoid the outright ban of these types of movies, the Board decided in 1951 to adopt the X certificate. This category excluded children and young adolescents, but made it possible that ''good'' adult entertainment would be allowed without many cuttings (Matthews, 125-126). However, in order to avoid the R (refusal) category and to place the difficult movies into the new X category, more frequent and extensive editing became a BBFC standard practice. A very special case in this respect was the swelling number of imported juvenile delinquency movies—starting with The Wild One, directed by Hungarian László Benedek. In the background of the public de bate and moral panic on youngsters' hooliganism in the U.K., these American pictures grew into a symbolic battlefield for the BBFC standards.

In the U.K., Benedek's motorcycle picture was rejected several times. Referring to the ''present widespread concern about the increase in juvenile crime,'' the Board claimed in January 1954 that they did not want to pass The Wild One, "even with an 'X' certificate," given its ''unbridled hooliganism."4 Columbia's London office offered a new, heavily recut version of the movie, but The Wild One was banned twice in 1955 and once more in 1959. Several teddy-boy incidents gave the BBFC reviewers the impression that their decision was justified. Only in November of 1967 did the BBFC finally agree to award an X certificate to the movie. The new BBFC secretary, the more liberal John Trevelyan, then argued that The Wild One had become a ''period piece'' (Matthews, 130). In the meantime, the juvenile delinquency movie cycle from the U.S. had increased with dozens of other titles, while in the U.K. violent incidents committed by adolescent gangs were receiving more publicity than ever.

The worldwide negative publicity about Blackboard Jungle in 1955 functioned as the backdrop for BBFC reception of Brooks' movie, and in March 1955, the BBFC rejected the film, claiming that this ''spectacle of youth out of control'' would ''have the most damaging and harmful effect on such young people.''5 In the same letter to the London-based MGM subsidiary, BBFC secretary Watkins referred to ''the widespread concern which is felt by responsible people throughout this country about the behavior of some of the younger elements in our population.'' He was sure that ''Blackboard Jungle, filled as it is with scenes of unbridled, revolting hooliganism, would, if shown in this country, provoke the strongest criticism from parents and all citizens concerned with the welfare of our young people.''

On MGM's request, new negotiations and viewing sessions were organized and cuttings made, but the BBFC continued to be extremely sensitive to the negative publicity around the movie. The British popular press closely followed public reactions against Jungle in the U.S. The Daily Mail characterized Senator Kefauver, who chaired the Senate committee on juvenile delinquency and movies, as a ''crime-busting politician'' who ''opened a campaign to stem the recent spate of sex and sadism in Hollywood films, already sharply criticized by Britain's film censors.''6

After additional cuttings proposed by the Board, the movie finally received an X certificate in August 1955. When Jungle was finally shown in British theaters, the press again highlighted stories about the euphoric and cynical reception of the picture by local teddy boys. Now that the BBFC had granted the movie a certificate, the censors had to defend their decision (and the movie). In several letters to the public, civic organizations, and local licensing committees, Watkins claimed that ''the main theme of the film is the master's unwavering belief that the boys can be won over,'' and also that ''the Company [MGM] made the cuts to our satisfaction."7 John Trevelyan, who was one of the examiners at the time, wrote in his memoirs that ''eventually we passed [Jungle], although we were nervous about it" (1973, 157).

This tumultuous censorship process explains why the British censors were on their guard in October 1955 when Warners presented Rebel Without a Cause. Watching Ray's movie for the first time, the BBFC wrote in an internal note that this ''is another story involving delinquency in an American high school, this time with the accent on the sins of neglectful and quarrelling parents.''8 In the same note, examiner Audrey Field reported that she ''did not like the film on censorship grounds and thought it would be no loss from the artistic point of view,'' but she also wrote that ''it was not thought practicable to reject it in view of the action which we [finally took] on Blackboard Jungle—a better, but also more violent film.''

The Board, however, decided to reject Rebel unless Warner Bros. agreed to heavily edit the movie. Referring again to the ''widespread public anxiety about juvenile delinquency,'' Watkins argued that ''the moral values [should be] sufficiently firmly presented to outweigh any harmful influence which the film might otherwise have on young and impressionable members of the cinema audience.''9 Watkins included a long list of cuts to be made, including the suggestion to remove the (now classic) knife fight outside the planetarium. Also, the historical cliff-top sequence was to be reduced to a minimum, since ''the less we have of this unpleasant idea of young people [meeting] together to witness a contest which could end in the death of one of the participants, the better.''10

In the following months, a series of negotiations and letters were organized between the BBFC and Warners representatives. The latter tried to please the censors by cutting deeply into several key scenes, including the car race, and by completely removing other scenes, such as the one where Jim tries to throttle his father. In November 1955, the BBFC agreed to issue an X certificate,11 but now Warner Bros. asked the Board to reconsider the classification and to grant an A certificate so that Rebel could ''be seen by people accompanied by their parents.''12 Clearly targeting the lucrative younger audience, Warners argued that it wanted to avoid ''the morbid element of the population by branding [the movie] with an X.'' Defending an A certificate, Warners' managing director Arthur S. Abeles underlined that his company agreed not only to fulfill all requests, but even to put in something praiseworthy, which should lift the film out of the X category (''a line

Corey Allen
The knife fight between Buzz (Corey Allen) and Jim (James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) was problematic to European censors.

of dialogue in which the hero refuses to fight with knives''). In order to resolve the British problems with Rebel, Warners even asked Nicholas Ray to go to London and cut certain scenes to make his picture acceptable.13

The BBFC now reacted with feeling. Arguing that they were not impressed by Abeles' ''naive arguments,'' the BBFC examiners noted, in an internal document,14 that Rebel "is rubbish for adults but poisonous stuff for the teddy inclined adolescent.'' The BBFC examiners declared that they had the ''rather uncomfortable feeling that an 'X' may be heavy weather for this film as cut.'' Now, the BBFC again proposed a long list of nearly 20 additional cuts (e.g., the removal of complete scenes such as Jim's drunkenness scene, and the kiss between Jim and Judy).15 The British censors also claimed that the main ''obstacle is the behavior of the parents'' and that ''children, even accompanied, should not be allowed to witness the spectacle of ridiculous and ineffectual parents.''

For Warners' managing director, the weakness of the parents could not be removed from the movie because it was a key motivation for the unhappi-ness and loneliness of the adolescents. On December 1,1955, Rebel officially received its X certificate, but it had been cut so drastically that it was at times incomprehensible.

In the months and years after censoring Jungle and Rebel, the BBFC continued to cut hard into other American teenage exploitation movies. Motorcycle Gang (1957), reviewed in January 1958, was restricted to an adult audience, with nearly 10 scenes being removed or cut. The cuttings again included violent actions, fight scenes, and vulgar speech. Also Juvenile Jungle (1958), King Creole (1958), and Young and Wild (1958) were severely mutilated and restricted to adult audiences. The Beat Generation (1959), about the ''wild, weird, world of the Beatniks,'' received an X grade and had to be shortened by many cuttings. The censors' reception of Jack Arnold's High School Confidential (1958), with its tagline ''A teacher's nightmare!'' is comparable to The Wild One, Jungle, and Rebel. First rejected in June 1958, the movie finally received its X certificate after many cuttings in November 1958.16

In retrospect, the BBFC's attitude might easily be denounced as extremely reactionary and paternalist. But its reception of American delinquency movies in the 1950s must be understood as a reaction to a wider moral panic around a hot social issue. In the 1960s and 1970s, a more liberal attitude was adopted. In November 1967, The Wild One was finally granted a certificate. At the occasion of the rerelease of Jungle in 1996, the BBFC restricted the movie to 12-year-olds and up without any cuts. In April 1976, Rebel got a wide audience certificate and was rereleased without cuts. On this occasion, the BBFC examiners agreed that two decades previously the film had caused the censors ''some anxiety because of its apparent challenge to parental authority and its possible effect on the increase of juvenile delinquency.'' They concluded that ''re-viewing it all these years later, we felt that the story tells a moral tale.''17


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