United Artists Corp. v. Maryland State Bd. of Censors, No. 40

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBefore BRUNE; DELAPLAINE
PartiesUNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION and Carlyle Productions, Inc., v. MARYLAND STATE BOARD OF CENSORS. ,
Decision Date01 October 1956
Docket NumberNo. 40

Page 586

210 Md. 586
124 A.2d 292
UNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION and Carlyle Productions, Inc.,
v.
MARYLAND STATE BOARD OF CENSORS.
No. 40, Oct. Term, 1956.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
July 13, 1956.

Page 588

Franklin G. Allen and William L. Marbury, Baltimore (Piper & Marbury, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellants.

C. Ferdinand Sybert, Atty. Gen. (Norman P. Ramsey, Deputy Atty. Gen., on the brief), for appellee.

Before BRUNE, C. J., and DELAPLAINE, HENDERSON and HAMMOND, JJ.

DELAPLAINE, Judge.

This appeal is from an order of the Baltimore City Court affirming an order of the Maryland State Board of Censors eliminating a scene from the motion picture named 'The Man with the Golden Arm.' The appeal was taken by United Artists Corporation, the distributor of the film, and Carlyle Productions, Inc., the producer.

The original Act providing for censorship of motion pictures in Maryland was [124 A.2d 293] passed by the Legislature forty years ago. That Act provided that the Maryland State Board of Censors shall consist of three members, who shall be appointed by the Governor by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. It directed that the Board 'shall approve such films, reels or views which are moral and proper, and shall disapprove such as are sacrilegious, obscene, indecent, or immoral, or such as tend, in the judgment of the Board, to debase or corrupt morals.' Laws 1916, ch. 209.

It was originally held by the United States Supreme Court in 1915 in Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230, 35 S.Ct. 387, 59 L.Ed. 552, that freedom of speech and publication was not violated by an Ohio statute which provided for the creation of a Board of Censors to approve only such films as are of a moral, educational, or amusing and harmless character. But in 1952 the Court in Joseph Burstyn, Inc., v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, 72 S.Ct.

Page 589

777, 96 L.Ed. 1098, held that the New York statute which permitted the banning of motion picture films on the ground that they are 'sacrilegious' was invalid as an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech and free press as applied to the banning of the motion picture 'The Miracle.' Again in 1952 the Court held that a municipal ordinance which authorized a local Board of Censors to deny a license for the showing of a motion picture which the Board is of the opinion is 'of such character as to be prejudicial to the best interests of the people' offended the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. Gelling v. State of Texas, 343 U.S. 960, 72 S.Ct. 1002, 96 L.Ed. 1359.

In 1955 the Court in Holmby Productions, Inc. v. Vaughn, 350 U.S. 870, 76 S.Ct. 117, 100 L.Ed. ----; Id., 350 U.S. 919, 76 S.Ct. 193, held that the Kansas statute authorizing the Board of Censors to disapprove of such motion picture films as are 'cruel, obscene, indecent or immoral, or such as tend to debase or corrupt morals', G.S.1949 Kan. 51-103, was unconstitutional as applied to that case.

In 1955 the Legislature amended the statute by striking out the word 'sacrilegious' and stating more specifically what types of films the Board must disapprove. The new law, Laws 1955, ch. 201, Code Supp.1955, art. 66A, § 6, provides as follows:

'(a) The Board shall examine or supervise the examination of all films or views to be exhibited or used in the State of Maryland and shall approve and license such films or views which are moral and proper, and shall disapprove such as are obscene, or such as tend, in the judgment of the Board, to debase or corrupt morals or incite to crimes. All films exclusively portraying current events or pictorial news of the day, commonly called news reels, may be exhibited without examination and no license or fees shall be required therefor.

'(b) For the purposes of this Article, a motion picture film or view shall be considered to be obscene if, when considered as a whole, its calculated purpose or dominant effect is substantially to arouse

Page 590

sexual desires, and if the probability of this effect is so great as to outweigh whatever other merits the film may possess.

'(c) For the purposes of this Article, a motion picture film or view shall be considered to be of such a character that its exhibition would tend to debase or corrupt morals if its dominant purpose or effect is erotic or pornographic; or if it portrays acts of sexual immorality, lust or lewdness, or if it expressly or impliedly presents such acts as desirable, acceptable or proper patterns of behavior. [124 A.2d 294]

'(d) For the purposes of this Article, a motion picture film or view shall be considered of such a character that its exhibition would tend to incite to crime if the theme or the manner of its presentation presents the commission of criminal acts or contempt for law as constituting profitable, desirable, acceptable, respectable or commonly accepted behavior, or if it advocates or teaches the use of, or the methods of use of, narcotics or habit-forming drugs.'

The 1955 Act also gives to any person submitting a film to the Board for examination the right to take an appeal not only to the Baltimore City Court, but also from a decision of the Baltimore City Court to the Court of Appeals of Maryland. Laws 1955, ch. 201, Code Supp.1955, art. 66A, § 19. This is the first appeal that has been brought to the Court of Appeals under this statute.

Appellants submitted the film to the State Board of Censors for approval and license, and the Board found that one of the scenes violates the statute. This scene, which runs less than two minutes, shows Frankie Machine, a young Chicago tought, played by Frank Sinatra, taking a narcotic after six months in the United States Public Health Service Hospital for Drug Addicts at Lexington, Kentucky. Ostensibly he was cured, but all the pressures were there waiting for him. The scene shows him rolling up his sleeve, and tying a necktie around the upper arm, while a dope 'pusher' prepares the drug for injection. While the particular kind of narcotic is not named,

Page 591

the picture shows the powdered narcotic, the liquid solution, the spoon, and the hypodermic needle. The 'pusher' takes the filled needle and advances toward Frankie. The actual injection is not shown, but the viewer sees the needle being removed from the arm. Just before the needle is pulled out, Frankie indicates by a facial twitch that he felt a slight pain...

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1 practice notes
  • Freedman v. State of Maryland, No. 69
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 1, 1965
    ...four months and final vindication of the film on appellate review, six months. United Artists Corp. v. Maryland State Board of Censors, 210 Md. 586, 124 A.2d 292. In the light of the difference between the issues presented here and n Times Film, the Court of Appeals erred in saying that, si......
1 cases
  • Freedman v. State of Maryland, No. 69
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 1, 1965
    ...four months and final vindication of the film on appellate review, six months. United Artists Corp. v. Maryland State Board of Censors, 210 Md. 586, 124 A.2d 292. In the light of the difference between the issues presented here and n Times Film, the Court of Appeals erred in saying that, si......

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