That Time the Supreme Court Unanimously Ruled Films Were Not Protected By the First Amendment

Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio (1915) was a Supreme Court decision that shows just how far we’ve come with protections for free speech in the intervening years and the risks entailed in any backsliding on free speech rights.

Mutual Film Corporation was a conglomerate that produced movies during the early 20th century. In 1913, Ohio enacted a law creating a censorship board that had the power to ban films.

Mutual Film Corporation filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio, and lost. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that films were not protected by the First Amendment.

The exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit like other spectacles, and not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion within the meaning of freedom of speech and publication guaranteed by the Constitution of Ohio.

Of particular interest is that a major part of the Court’s reasoning was that the act of showing a film was purely commercial speech,

The exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit like other spectacles, and not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion within the meaning of freedom of speech and publication guaranteed by the Constitution of Ohio.

The Baron of Arizona

The Baron of ArizonaThrough an odd series of coincidences the other day, I ended up watching Sam Fuller’s excellent 1950 film The Baron of Arizona — a movie that I’d never even heard of until a couple weeks ago. The movie stars Vincent Price as the “baron” in the title, and Price really shows off his acting skills as opposed to his ability to vamp with that incredible voice.

But it is the story itself which is fascinating. The movie is based on the real-life exploits conman James Reavis, who went to fairly elaborate lengths to try to establish a false title to pretty much all of Arizona (under the treaty that gave Arizona to the United States, the U.S. had to recognize Spanish land grants).

Price’s Reavis is a heavily romanticized version of the real Reavis, and the ending is a little too typically 1950s in having everything wrapped up very neatly and creepily romantically. The real Reavis apparently became a drifter for the last couple decades of his life after being exposed as a fraud.

The Baron of Arizona is certainly not some unheralded masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but its a fairly decent, tight film that is occasionally captivating.

Captain America: The Movie?

Marvel Universe - Captain AmericaSuperhero Times has a plot synopsis of the Captain America movie currently in preproduction but scheduled for May 2011 ahead of The Avengers movie currently slated for July 2011.

Born during the Great Depression, Steve Rogers grew up a frail youth in a poor family. Horrified by the newsreel footage of the Nazis in Europe, Rogers was inspired to enlist in the army. However, because of his frailty and sickness, he was rejected. Overhearing the boy’s earnest plea, General Chester Phillips offered Rogers the opportunity to take part in a special experiment… Operation: Rebirth. After weeks of tests, Rogers was at last administered the ‘Super-Soldier Serum’ and bombarded by ‘vita-rays.’ Steve Rogers emerged from the treatment with a body as perfect as a body can be and still be human. Rogers was then put through an intensive physical and tactical training program. Three months later, he was given his first assignment as Captain America. Armed with his indestructible shield and and battle savvy, Captain America has continued his war against evil both as a sentinel of liberty and leader of the Avengers.

Marvel’s done a fair job with Spider-Man, and knocked it out of the park with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk so maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I can’t imagine them seriously pulling off a Captain America film. Frankly, the character’s a bit goofy — definitely a creature of its time. I fear the movie will be less like Iron Man and more like The Punisher (another character that on its face simply will never work — and hasn’t — on film).

Part of the problem is we’ve already had badass superpatriots with bulging muscle movies. After all a character like Rambo is simply Captain America minus the goofy costume and shield.

On the other hand you can’t do an Avengers film without Cap so it