Printed Poison – Mid-Sixties Moral Panic From The Citizens For Decent Literature

More 1960s anti-smut hysteria from notorious fraudster Charles Keating.

You are, no doubt, familiar with the legendary mid-1960s anti-porn propaganda film Perversion for Profit, a hysterical (in all senses of the word) scare movie that has been re-edited, used and abused extensively over the years – its endlessly quotable dialogue, homophobia and hand-wringing nonsense have proved irresistible to satirists, samplers and cut-up artists. We’ve already written extensively about that film and the notorious fraudster Charles Keating, who set up the Citizens for Decent Literature and railed against the evils of pornography even as he was fleecing customers of his Savings and Loan business – you can read the whole sordid story here.

But Perversion for Profit was not the only CDL film raging against the dangers of pornography. A year after that film was released, the organisation produced Printed Poison, which is very much the same sort of thing but in a slightly slicker format. here, we start off with our unidentified host waxing lyrical about his home town – or at least an idealised, wholesome version of it. But things are not well in middle America, and almost immediately we are plunged into an image of fetid rot – “the soul-searing bacterias of a new disease” – in a moment that may well have inspired the opening scenes of David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet. It’s dramatic stuff to be sure, and viewers unfamiliar with the CDL’s obsessions might have wondered with this printed poison was that could corrupt an entire town from within. No need to guess for long though, as we are taken to the most minimalist bookshop imaginable – seriously, it’s like a surreal dream as men and boys stand dotted around an almost empty space staring unemotionally at girlie magazines while the evil proprietor guards his till. It’s a bit like a strange dream rather than the nightmare that the producers are aiming for and quickly becomes comedic as the host angrily confronts the shop owner, who seems to be a bit nonplussed by the whole thing.

Unlike fearless news reporter George Putnam who presented Perversion for Profit in an even tone of indignation throughout, the presenter of this film goes from folksy conversation to seemingly wanting to fight someone – anyone – at the prop of a hat. He probably needs to unwind with a bit of porn.

It’s worth remembering that all this hysteria is about magazines that feature nothing more outrageous than photos of naked women (or, worse still, naked men), with legs clamped firmly together. All Keating’s obsessions (“all the abnormal perversions”) are here to be condemned – lesbianism, homosexuality, transvestism, sodomy, sadism, masochism and – ahem – ‘bestiality’, which – as in the earlier film – seems a bit of a reach for a photo of a naked woman stroking a dog’s head.

Unlike Perversion for Profit, this movie tries to create a dramatic narrative – will our heroic host be able to bring down the filthy bookseller despite the system being against him? It’s essentially a masturbatory fantasy in which decent God-fearing characters like Keating (and, by inference, the film’s viewer) can force reluctant police forces and district attorneys to prosecute the degenerates who sell books like Sexpot and College for Sinners (two novels helpfully plugged here) – and will win in court. Decency shall prevail!

The unidentified cast included Anthony Eisley – better known for his roles in the likes of The Doll Squad, Navy vs The Night Monster, Dracula vs Frankenstein and The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals – and Alan Reed, the voice of Fred Flintstone. As with the earlier film, the descriptions of the magazines and books, the synopses given and the quotes read often feel as though there is some secret excitement at play behind the indignation – certainly, someone has pored over a lot of ‘porn’ to find so much to be upset by and like many a moral campaigner, you have to wonder if they perhaps protest a bit too much…

We can laugh at films like this now – but little has changed in the way anti-porn propaganda is presented. While I probably don’t have to convince Reprobate readers of this, it’s worth remembering that every argument in this film is effectively the same as those made today, and while people laugh at this, we should be reminding them that it’s the same people with the same religious moral certainty that are spreading similar stories – lacking evidence for their claims – about modern adult entertainment.

Anyway, here’s the squalid little film – more diseased and dirty than anything it campaigns against.


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