Censorship files expose 1950s attitudes to LGBTQ cinema

Blog photo 4 - the third sex (2)

Amidst the LCC censorship papers for the 1957 German film ‘The Third Sex’, there is a list of proposed subtitles. These include:

  • ‘The frankest exposure of the age old problem Homosexuality’,
  • ‘Who are the members of this odd sect?’, and
  • ‘It could be the boy next door or your own son!!’ (Aaargh!).

The film was banned by the British Board of Film Censors but granted an X certificate in London, where the censors where a touch more liberal than their counterparts in the home counties.

As it turns out, the censorship files at LMA are a great resource for finding out about attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people around the middle of the twentieth century. They often contain press cuttings, poster designs, and letters from angry filmgoers.

‘The Third Sex’ was described in the press as a: ‘Homosexual melodrama, made in Germany. Briefly, it’s about a mother who pays a heavy price for rescuing her effeminate only son from a practicing pederast. The behaviour of “queer birds” is frankly revealed, but, oddly enough, they are let down lightly at the end […] It should, nevertheless, excite the curiosity of sensation seekers.’

The file also contains letters from concerned citizens wondering: ‘Why do the British authorities have to buy dirt from foreign countries?’ and ‘How can the youth of to-day become responsible citizens of to-morrow, when the example set by the authorities to-day encourages crime and vice?’.

A report from one of the LCC inspectors on a screening of the film reads: ‘The audience was composed mainly of men, and the house was less than one third full. The men were mixed, some being more interested in the posing sequences and some in the homosexual aspect.’ The question for me is: How did he know? Did he make them do vote? Or perhaps he lurked outside in the foyer afterwards and asked people individually why they had come to see the film? Maybe he simply had a strong belief in his ability to pick out the gay men in a crowd? Sometimes our collections throw up more questions than they answer.

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