Charles Higham and the Fate of the 1965 Bulletin Ban List

(I submitted this one to a few magazines last year. Not a single reply. So, I'll start throwing this stuff up here, on my blog, for all to read. Why did they say no? Beats me. Ask them.)

---------------------------------------

Charles Higham and the Fate of the 1965 Bulletin Ban List

Horror movies were formally banned in Australia in mid-1948. This ban wasn’t announced with any great fanfare, rather it was a subdued series of articles in newspapers and tabloid magazines that stated the premise of the ban – all horror films from 1949 onwards would be subject to an instant ban, with no exceptions. Films already in the country, which had been passed by the censor and dated pre-1948, would be exempt from the ban. Thus the status quo was established, and it remained this way for over twenty years.


Distributors and production companies soon found ways around the bans. What was once classified as horror, and indeed, still classified as horror in other countries, was soon classified as ‘mystery’, ‘suspense’, science fiction’ and ‘thriller’. Classic examples to illustrate this include Universal’s Creature From The Black Lagoon series, which were classified as ‘science fiction’. Hammer’s first Mummy movie was ‘suspense’. Other films, notably the atomic age giant insects and animals, also made their way into the country and were shown at cinemas and drive-ins.

But straight horror was never getting in. Any movie with the words ‘Dracula’ or ‘Frankenstein’ in the titles were automatically rejected. The Film Censorship Board and Australian federal government justified the ban by claiming that horror films corrupted the youth.

And there might have been something in that argument. In the early 1950s, midnight showings of old Universal horror movies often led to riots in the streets. The fact that other films had the same effect upon young people, such as Rock Around The Clock, didn’t factor into those community groups and politicians decrying the riots. The cause was horror films, and that was it.

In the mid-1960s, the ban began to be challenged. Intellectuals began to organise film festivals and were dismayed to discover that more than just horror was on the instant rejection pile. Efforts to get a list of the films on the ban list from the Film Censorship Board proved fruitless. Whereas some films were notorious enough to warrant newspaper articles announcing their ban (such as 1956’s The Black Sleep, which was banned due to a youth having a heart attack and dying while watching it in America), other films were silently banned without the public ever knowing. In some cases, the public were not aware of their existence.

Enter Charles Higham and The Bulletin.

The Bulletin was founded in 1880 and, over the years, became a politicalised weekly magazine, which promoted literature and the arts[1]. Through political commentary, it’s uses of hyperbole when it came to reporting the news of the day and a penchant of challenging authority at every turn, The Bulletin became a highly influential magazine read by a large portion of the population. In the 1960s it’s power to affect change was still in effect.

Charles Higham[2] had been writing for The Bulletin since his arrival in Australia in 1954. He specialised in reviewing and writing about literature and cinema. He began to write about film censorship in the early 1960s, and by 1965 he was ready to properly unleash on what he considered to be ‘faceless’ film censors.

However it was Bulletin writer Desmond O’Grady who fired the first shots. In June 1962, O’Grady penned an article titled ‘Paid To Have A Dirty Mind?[3]’ in which he began to reveal the Film Censors identity. This article was more about the censorship of sex in cinema and detailed the processes of film censorship. This was the first real in-depth article about film censorship in Australia and people took note. Horror was first mentioned in a letter responding to the article. Written by John Reid, in his position as a member of the International Cinematographic Association based in Sydney, the letter pointed out that while William Castle’s 13 Ghosts had been banned, other horror films such as Terror in the Midnight Sun and Dr Blood's Coffin had been passed after appeal to the Film Censor.

“Surely the most ridiculous aspect of Australian censorship is the outright banning of all new horror films,” wrote Reid[4]. “Only censors and neurotics find anything objectionable in these films. Any sane, normal person regards them as ‘good fun’. You would need to be abnormally impressionable to be really frightened. After all, it's only a film! The position is rendered more absurd by the fact that a number of old horror films are still in circulation.[5]

In late April 1965, in order to foster better relations with the media, the Chief Censor, Dick Prowse, invited representatives of newspapers and magazines to attend a function at the Censorship Boards Sydney headquarters[6]. A dozen journalists responded to the invitation, no doubt the promise of free booze and the opportunity to see something controversial was an incentive. One of these journalists was Charles Higham. One who wasn’t invited was law Professor Harry Whitmore, who had just published a book on civil liberties[7] and had detailed the inner workings of the censorship board.

After being welcomed to the premises, the journalists were shown a twenty-minute showcase reel of censored scenes, consisting mainly of sex scenes, women’s breasts and ladies stripping off. This was followed by another reel showing violence, floggings, strangling’s, rape and other horrors. Another room was busily showing confiscated ‘stag’ films, the contents of which were described as being pornographic[8].

Prowse explained the journalists, as they drank Scotch, that the Board consisted of four male and three female members, that they’d seen every single film brought into the country and, out of 20,000,000 feet of film, had censored only 1,105 feet. What Higham knew was that this was a deceptive figure to report. The censors had indeed only cut a small amount of film out of what had been released, but they also rejected 148 films outright in 1963-64, including 29 films which had been made for television and screened without issue in America and England[9].

The original ad for the first television screening of King Kong in Australia (Melbourne) 10 June 1965

Things then came to a head when the Film Censorship Board banned King Kong from being screened on television. The film was due to be screened in Melbourne on 10 June 1965, but the censor pulled it one the day of its screening and slapped a blanket ban upon it. Strangely enough the same board passed Son of Kong for television in October of the same year[10].

And the response? Pulled at the last second.

The Kong ban made headlines, and The Bulletin covered it with a scathing editorial in which the sheer insanity of the ban was challenged[11]. But this was just a teaser for what was to come.

The November 10, 1965, edition of The Bulletin carried a bombshell article for the day. Titled ‘Faces On The Cutting Room Floor’, Higham let loose on the Film Censorship Board, it’s double standards and seemingly random approach to censoring. The upshot of the article, which not only contained an interview with Dick Prowse, but also named the other censors for the first time in print, was that the approach to film censorship in Australia was out of touch with other countries. Films that were banned and chopped for release in Australia were readily accessible in the UK, America and other parts of the world, including Australia’s closest neighbours New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Higham had asked for, and been given access, to a list of films officially banned. In publishing this list of 139 films, which Higham admitted was partial and nowhere near complete, the public finally had the opportunity to see what titles had been banned and the reasons why. On the list were films such Of Mice And Men (sex and violence), Love On The Dole (realistic details of poverty), Les Liaisons Dangereuses (indecency), The White-Haired Girl (communism) and 1928’s Dawn: The Story of Edith Cavell which was banned for its criticism of Germany.

Also on the list were 42 horror films, 36 of them banned since the 1948 ban had come into effect, finally named and with reasons given. Out of the 42, 40 were banned for horror, Mr. Sardonicus was banned for violence and Die, Die My Darling[12] was banned for blasphemy and horror.

Higham was ruthless in his criticism of the censor, in particular David Prowse. He began with asking why films weren’t allowed in for film festivals and for film society screenings. “You must remember a film festival is not just for a small section of the community,” Prowse explained. “It is open to all sections. Many thousands of people go to these festivals. And many of the films are of a type which can be shown commercially. I don't think the public would like it if a film could be shown to one section of the community and not another. We can't make a double rule, you see.”

Higham jumped immediately on that double rule that the list had shown. Why ban some horror films when others were allowed into the country unscathed? “We don't like them (horror films) at all. I think the complete banning of them has taken place since about 1956[13]. The then Chief Censor made inquiries from several people including the heads of the various motion picture companies - and an agreement was drawn up between all concerned indicating that it would be better if this kind of thing were kept out of the country.”

This was a broad understanding of the reasons for the 1948 horror ban. Universal Australia, for one, opposed the ban, but the Government went ahead with it regardless. Higham pressed the issue, asking for the regulation was that provided for the horror ban. “Undesirable in the public interest,” was the reply. In fact, as Higham and Prowse both knew, there was no special clause in any regulation that accounted for the banning of horror films. “The then Minister for Customs simply agreed to this banning being done.”

This was the first time since the ban that it had been challenged in such a public way. As far as the public were aware, the ban was officially regulated by the Australian government, written into some obscure customs regulation. The truth was the ban was not official, it lay with the Mini9ster of Customs, who could rescind it at any time he or she wanted to.

The 1948 ban had been instigated by then Chief Censor John Alexander who made no bones about his dislike for horror films. “Horror films are neither entertaining nor cultural,” he stated at the time. “They cater only for a small minority of the moronic type.” Alexander also objected to bikinis, kissing on the neck and had famously censored the Queen Mother, removing the word ‘too’ from a quote made by Her Majesty while looking at a Red Cross silk shawl for poor children in a wartime film. “It is really too beautiful,” the Queen Mother had said. In justifying his stance, Alexander stated, “We eliminated the word to avoid the impression on some minds with an exaggerated social outlook that the Queen's remark suggested the shawl was too good for a working-man's child.”

If Alexander had no qualms about censoring the Queen Mother, horror films were a cinch.

What follows is the list of the 42 banned horror films:

Title

Director

Country

Original Studio

Island of Lost Souls; The

Erle C. Kenton

USA

Paramount Pictures

Freaks

Tod Browning

USA

MGM

Men Without Souls

Nick Grinde

USA

Columbia Pictures

Invisible Ghost

Joseph H. Lewis

USA

Monogram Pictures Corporation

Monster and The Girl; The

Stuart Heisler

USA

Paramount Pictures

Man With Two Lives; The

Phil Rosen

USA

A.W. Hackel Productions

Creature With The Atom Brain

Edward L. Cahn

USA

Clover Productions

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll; The

Edgar G. Ulmer

USA

Allied Artists Pictures Corporation

Revenge of Frankenstein; The

Terence Fisher

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

Fly; The

Kurt Neumann

USA

Universal-International Pictures Inc.

Frankenstein 1970

Howard W. Koch

USA

Allied Artists Pictures Corporation

Thing That Couldn't Die; The

Will Cowan

USA

Universal-International Pictures Inc.

Return of Dracula; The

Paul Landres

USA

Gramercy Pictures

Bride of the Beast

Ed Wood

USA

Allied Artists Pictures Corporation

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Nathan Hertz

USA

Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc.

Colossus of New York

Eugene Lourie

USA

William Alland Productions

Jack The Ripper

Robert S Baker

UK

Midcentury

Return of the Fly

Edward Bernds

USA

20th Century Fox

Alligator People; The

Roy Del Ruth

USA

20th Century Fox

Curse of the Undead

Edward Dein

USA

Universal-International Pictures Inc.

Flesh and the Fiends; The

John Gilling

UK

Regal Film Distributors

Brides of Dracula; The

Terence Fisher

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

City of The Dead; The

John Llewellyn Moxey

UK

Vulcan

Pit And The Pendulum; The

Roger Corman

USA

American International Pictures

Mr. Sardonicus

William Castle

USA

Columbia Pictures

Curse of The Werewolf; The

Terence Fisher

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

Konga

John Lemont

UK

Anglo-Amalgamated Films

Mask; The

Julian Roffman

Canada

Warner Brothers

Premature Burial; The

Roger Corman

USA

American International Pictures

Hand Of Death; The

Gene Nelson

USA

Associated Producers Inc

Black Zoo

Robert Gordon

USA

Eastmancolour

Kiss of The Vampire; The

Don Sharp

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

Virgin of Nuremberg; The

Antonio Margheriti

Italy

Atlantica Cinematografica

Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

Michael Carreras

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

Last Man on Earth; The

Ubaldo Ragona

Italy

Associated Producers International

Evil of Frankenstein; The

Freddie Francis

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

Witchcraft

Don Sharp

UK

Fox

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

Freddie Francis

UK

Amicus Productions

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

Robert Gaffney

USA

Futurama Entertainment Corp

Curse of the Fly

Don Sharp

UK

Fox

Fanatic

Silvio Narizzano

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

Nightmare

Freddie Francis

UK

Hammer Film Productions Ltd

 

What became of the 42 horror films? Island Of Lost Souls was only banned for television. The bans that were eventually rescinded, for cinema release at least (the years of their cinema debuts in Australia are given after the titles), were The Revenge of Frankenstein (1969), The Pit And The Pendulum, The Premature Burial (both 1971), Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Mr. Sardonicus, Creature With The Atom Brain (both 1972), The Curse of The Werewolf, Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (both 1973), Freaks (1976), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1987), Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1988), The Fly, The Return of the Fly, The Curse of the Fly (all 1991) and Bride of the Beast (1995).

Films that never received a cinema release but were shown on television were: The Man With Two Lives, Jack The Ripper (both 1967), The Return of Dracula; The Last Man on Earth, The Flesh and the Fiends (all 1973); Frankenstein 1970, The Alligator People (both 1976), Nightmare (1978), The Evil of Frankenstein (1985), The Brides of Dracula (1987).

The remaining movies were never shown on television or at cinemas. Most, if not all, have since been released on video or other rental/purchasable media.

In August 1967, film historian John Baxter updated the list in Film Digest #25, this time providing a list of films that had been allowed into the country, albeit cut. This list included The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, which had its violent scenes removed. Even films as seemingly innocuous as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy were cut by the censor, often rendering the films non-sensical at times. Sadly, any cut made by the censor to a film for cinema release remained with the film when it was shown on television. Even worse an already cut film would be cut again to suit programming needs. At times Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was reduced to a 50-minute film, sans commercials, when screened on television.

However the article by Higham in The Bulletin marked the beginning of the end of the ban on horror films in Australia. A new wave of filmgoers was wondering why they couldn’t see films that were widely available elsewhere. A review in the aforementioned edition of Film Digest of Freaks emphasised this problem. The movie had been cleared for screening in the United Kingdom in 1963. The same film was still banned in Australia.

Between 1948 to 1967 a total of 353 horror films are known to have been banned from exhibition in Australia. This list includes almost all of the Hammer Horrors, Kaiju, Poverty Row, all of Ed Woods output and low budget horrors. The list includes classics such as Hammer’s Dracula to Godzilla through to Hillbillys in a Haunted House and Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla.

Charles Higham might not have struck the first blow in getting the 1948 ban lifted, but he did strike the most important. His excellent article and summation of what was then wrong with film censorship in Australia was widely read and quoted in media and other film related publications across Australia.



[1] Contributors included artists Jimmy Bancks, Norman and Lionel Lindsay, Alex Gurney, David Low, Norm Rice and Larry Pickering, writers included Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, Banjo Patterson, C.J. Dennis, Steele Rudd and Edward Dyson.

[2] 18 February 1931 – 21 April 2012

[3] The Bulletin, June 16, 1962, pgs. 12 to 15

[4] Reid would go to write and edit several books, most notably his series of Film Indexes.

[5] ‘Film Censorship’. Letter to the Editor, The Bulletin July 14, 1962, pg. 33

[6] Located on Bligh Street

[7] Freedom in Australia/ Enid Campbell and Harry Whitmore. City of Sydney Archives, 1966.

[8] ‘On The Cutting Room Floor’. The Bulletin, May 1, 1965, pg. 9

[9] ‘The Horrors’. The Bulletin February 10, 1965, pg. 9

[10] The King Kong censorship saga was covered in Monster! #20, August 2015.

[11] ‘The Agony of King Kong’, The Bulletin, July 3, 1965, pg. 21

[12] Known in Australia as Fanatic.

[13] The ban was enacted in 1948.


Comments

B Smith said…
Hang on - I saw Curse Of The Werewolf back in 1973 on a double bill at the Metro Cinema down Hindley St - are you telling me I saw it on its FIRST RUN?

Good grief.

And The Mask got a release around 1973/74 - the Hectorville Starline did boffo box office running it, complete with giveaway 3D glasses.

Previous Posts!

Show more

Popular posts from this blog

MARVEL COMICS DEMANDS $17,000 from BROKE CREATOR of GHOST RIDER! The Shame Of Marvel...Part II

New York Scam: A Serious Warning For All Travellers

Yogi Bear's Sexuality Explained