Cinema: Back to the Dirty '30s

New light on the first big ruckus over film ratings

America is rocked by social violence, and some people think Hollywood is to blame. They point to the sex and smutty talk, drug use and gun love onscreen. The moguls hide behind a rickety rating system that stokes more fury than it slakes. Church groups attack it as a sham; critics on the left complain that it eviscerates mature films. "The censors have spent all their time protecting children against adult movies," says The Nation. "They might better protect adults against childish movies."

As it is in the late 1990s, so it was in the early 1930s. The same clamor, with...

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