Corruption of morals

The People of the State of New York v. Harry C. Bohn and Samuel A. London, 04 March 1914 (Case 1847)
The film, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, a fictional account of the life of Anna Kline, a factory girl tricked into prostitution, was screened in New York at the Park Theatre on December 20, 1913. The screenwriter, Samuel London, and the producer, Harry Bohn, are indicted on a charge of presenting an obscene and indecent exhibition. Immediately following jury selection, the film was shown in the courtroom as evidence – thus setting a precedent in American legal history – and the assistant district attorney, William Hayward, provided a detailed synopsis of the film. A pimp, George Fisher, drugs Anna Kline before raping her. He promises to marry her but arranges a fraudulent marriage and forces her to work as a prostitute. He subsequently arranges for Anna to work in a brothel in New Orleans. She escapes and moves first to Denver and then to Houston and eventually returns to New York. Anna works as a shop-girl in a department store but her wages are insufficient and she again becomes a prostitute. John Stanchfield, the defense attorney, claims that London intended to employ the film to campaign against men who deceived young women into prostitution. London had campaigned for many years against white slavery and intended the film as a moral lesson to young women against the trickery of unscrupulous men. Stanchfield claims that there was nothing salacious or impure in the film, no nudity, and it accurately and truthfully portrayed real-life situations that occurred daily in the United States. London had charged admission, admittedly, but how else was he to pay for advertising and for the rental of the movie theatre? The prosecution appeals to the jury to convict, telling the jurors that the film would corrupt every young person who saw it. Would the jurymen allow their children to view a film that showed prostitutes living luxuriously? The legislature had passed laws to protect the most susceptible citizens, young people, and it was the jury’s duty to extend that protection. The jury returns a verdict of guilty with a recommendation for leniency of the court. The judge, after hearing London speak of his campaign against white slavery, informed him that he would suspend sentence and that he had not therefore been convicted of a crime. See also: “Hold London for Movies,” New York Times, January 15, 1914; “Moving Pictures Shown in Court,” New York Times, March 5, 1914.