This is a look at CONVENTION CITY (1933). It is considered a  ‘lost film” due to its content. Film has been censored since it first began as a kinescope show for a nickel. There has always been some group or groups of people in society that wished to control the message, the images, and the depiction of what was acceptable.


CONVENTION CITY (1933) was directed by Archie Mayo with such stalwarts as Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Mary Astor, Guy Kibbee, Adolphe Menjou, and Grant Mitchell. It was deemed so notorious  by Warner Brothers that prints were ordered destroyed by Jack Warner.  Still pictures and art survive from this precode gem.




The plot revolves around the convention of the Honeywell Rubber Company in Atlantic  city.  Throughout the film, the employees of Honeywell Rubber are mainly concerned with drinking and sex. President J.B. Honeywell is to choose a new company sales manager.  The picture includes  seductions,  drinking, bribes, and scantily clad people. The position of sales manager is bestowed upon a drunken employee as a bribe.



Joan Blondell later said that during the making of CONVENTION CITY (1933) dialogue had double meanings.   For instance,  these bits of  dialogue:

“No, but it won’t be marriage. I’ll guarantee you that. A traveling salesman needs a wife like a baby needs a box of matches.”

“Now you take off that dress and I’ll take off my toupee, huh!”

Girl’s voice: “Listen, sister, if they tire you, you better leave town before the Hercules Tool Company gets here.”

Risque  material by the standards of the day.  Jack Warner demanded  Joan Blondel wear underwear for fear of  letting “those bulbs stick out.”

The large studios, in spite of their power to control lives, manipulate the newspapers, and in some cases even obscure criminal facts from the public, knuckled under to the code controllers by editing their pictures accordingly.  Many of the studios held previews in little known theaters and edited films or re-shot whole endings or added new sequences on the strength of printed reactions from the public. The famous MGM train that housed Irving Thalberg, Louis B Mayer and others comes to mind as they shifted through the audience reaction. If it was a good preview, it was a wonderful trip back, if poor then there was tension both creatively and literally.

The reason the studios capitulated was that they simply could not alienate a group of people such as Catholics. The church had tremendous power, lead by The Catholic Legion of Decency. When you were told not to go to a particular film, you did not go.  This brought about the slow demise of such people as Mae West, plus it also made what are now called Pre-code film for the 1920s to 1934 all the more interesting to watch today.  The studios could not afford to offend people of other countries in their depictions as the European market was a huge moneymaker. Many of the studio moguls were also originally from Europe or Canada and felt an obligation to their roots.

The danger today with the various media delivery systems that we have to homes, phones etc. can make something like that into a “must” see for people.  Audiences will want to see it simply because it is forbidden by a segment of our planet, and this can make for a cult film.

Our adoration process today can overshadow flaws in making something marginal into something that it is not.  I do not see why we make film that offends a section of the population.  Mind you, we still do it with persons with disabilities, women, minorities, religions in the media; yet we do not criticize them well, with respect for their traditions. We have lost the ability to produce satire or humor in the media without pushing buttons, causing fear, animosity and cruelty to those we aim our salvo. If we are clever in our approach to a story it is perceived as being ‘highbrow,’ where film for can only be entertainment. The offended groups often protest in media without effect and film as an industry continues to take liberties with them.  We continue to do what film has done on many levels and that is to appeal to the lowest denominator in society because it’s about money. The original moguls knew that right from Hollywood’s beginning.

The real shame is film is a wonderful medium for telling stories. It can criticize, illuminate parts of the human condition and our world in ways we have not thought of or used. The danger today is that we elevate so rapidly what we like or perceive that we should like, to heights undreamed. I cannot help but wonder if it is deserved.  Word of mouth, perceptions of the public are a massive force in film . Caveat emptor.



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