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Movie Censors

Best Theater, TopekaEven though All Quiet on the Western Front earned Academy Awards for best director and best picture in 1929, it failed to gain support from Kansas censors.  A state board of review, appointed to protect all Kansans from obscenity and other evil influences, deleted from the popular movie a scene that showed a boy being paddled by his teacher.  In 1927 Emil Jannings won an Oscar for best actor in The Way of All Flesh but lost out with the review board.  Two scenes containing the sign "Adulterer" and three bedroom shots were eliminated.

For nearly half a century, the board met each day in the basement of the Kansas City, Kansas, city hall recording comments on film review cards.  Although a national censorship board had been established, Kansans, involved in prohibition and progressive movements, wanted more restrictions on films.  The board, formed in 1917, usually was composed of women with family ties to prominent politicians.  They considered lust, crime, violence, racial inferiority, and alcohol consumption unwholesome viewing for Kansas audiences.

Although critically acclaimed, the committee caused D.W. Griffith's epic film The Birth of a Nation to be banned from 1915 until 1923 for promoting racism and historical inaccuracies.  The board slashed scenes with diaper changing, a man in his underwear, and suggestive dancing.  Tarzan, hanging by his feet in the 1922 film The Adventures of Tarzan, was considered too revealing.

Drops of blood on the snow from the 1927 movie The Bells was judged too violent. Scenes of a safecracker working a combination on Below the Dead Line in 1929 and the sound of an execution in the 1928 film Across to Singapore were also unsuitable. The 1929 films The Alibi, showing a man thumbing his nose at an officer, and Affairs of a Rogue with a German actress speaking the words "My God," were considered antisocial.

Decisions by the U.S. and Kansas Supreme Courts brought an end to state censorship in 1966.  The State Archives holds the film review cards and other related documents from the Review Board and its predecessor, the Moving Picture Censorship Committee.  The collection comprises 80,000 cards that are preserved in 68 shoe box sized acid-free containers.  The Kansas State Board of Review finding aid and an index to the movies reviewed are available online.

Entry: Movie Censors

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2009

Date Modified: July 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.