BOOTLEG FILES 248: “Perversion for Profit” (1964 short film designed to save America from pornographic reading material).
LAST SEEN: It is available on several online sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Public domain oddity.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Without copyright protection, no official commercial release is possible.
In the course of the ongoing presidential campaign, you should be hearing the name Charles Keating pop up. He was the banker at the center of the 1980s savings and loan scandal that nearly derailed John McCain’s career. But before he was having fun with other people’s money, Keating was using his money to prevent other people from having fun.
Back in 1964, Keating founded something called Citizens for Decent Literature Inc. (CDL). While its name might suggest an advocacy group to encourage the bibliographic pursuit of the classics, the CDL was actually concerned with stamping out the proliferation of magazines and paperbacks that dared to challenge the American public with erotic imagery.
To keep the bookshelves and magazine stands clean, CDL created a half-hour film called “Perversion for Profit.” Keating brought in George Putnam, who is billed as an “outstanding news reporter,” to serve as the host/narrator of this endeavor.
Putnam was obviously influenced by the performance given by the flamboyant psychic Criswell in “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” as he reads his lines with a grandiloquent boom that one associates with end-of-world pronouncements. And, indeed, “Perversion for Profit” believed the world was coming to a close – or at least American morals were in danger.
“A flood tide of filth is engulfing our country in the form of newsstand obscenity,” Putnam declares, adding that “once a person is perverted, it is virtually impossible for that person to adjust to normal attitudes in regard to sex.”
In the course of the film, Putnam stands in what appears to be the front of a high school history class, complete with a faded U.S. map and various old books scattered about. But no one came to see him – it’s the smut that is the selling point here, of course. “Perversion for Profit” has no shortage of “stark nudity on slick paper,” as Putnam notes. However, the material is strictly suggestive and not explicit. Fans of good ol’ 69 won’t see any vigorous in-and-out photos here, sadly.
But what is on display is quite fun. Of course, the self-censoring CDL put rectangular blocks across the eyes and the naughty bits of the various gals on display. But Putnam gladly explains what you are not able to see – even if his interpretation is a bit off. For a woman who is lying with her back to the camera, Putnam notes this is an “appeal to the sodomist with a play upon the buttocks.” For a woman lying on a bale of hay in a barnyard where a goat is walking by, Putnam sneers at the “overtones of b********y” (never mind that the goat is a good 15 feet from the woman and doesn’t even seem to notice she’s there).
Of course, it would be unfair to leave out our gay male friends from the fun. Granted, gay porn was not openly sold in 1964. However, Keating and Putnam could recognize the lavender hue on sight: the “so-called physique” magazines, the forerunners of today’s bodybuilding publications, were called to task here. Putnam claims the magazines, with their endless photos of muscular men posing in skimpy tongs, could (upon prolonged exposure) turn a happy hetero into a “sex deviant.”
So what exactly is the problem here? Well, the film’s title clearly disapproves of the financial gains being enjoyed by the publication and sale of these magazines. Putnam throws out a $2 billion figure for the annual income generated by the smut publishers, and that figure is illustrated by a cartoon of a bald fat man at a table who has his arms around towers of coins.
But before you can say “Ayn Rand,” the film quickly shifts from the capitalist aspects of this industry to socio-political concerns. For starters, the film insists that pornographic literature will “weaken our defenses to the Communist masters of deceit.” Clearly, there was no skin magazine trade behind the Iron Curtain, and Keating must have felt the Russkies could conquer the free world while the Americans were reading Playboy.
Even more pressing was the effect of smut on kids. Putnam declares that 75 to 90 percent of pornographic publications wound up in the hands of children (again, no source is cited). He also charts a rise in juvenile crime, and even notes a Philadelphia case where a boy accused of murder claimed that he was hexed by reading a nudist magazine.
“Perversion for Profit” also includes a re-enactment of a court case against an alleged smut peddler. Needless to say, it ain’t “Judgment at Nuremberg.”
“Perversion for Profit” was shot in 16mm and was intended only for non-theatrical release to community and church groups. CDL was primarily focused in the Cincinnati area, so it is not clear if the film was shown locally or if it played beyond Ohio. Archivist Rick Prelinger, in his landmark “The Field Guide to Sponsored Films,” states the film was produced by The Christophers, a lay Catholic advocacy group. However, The Christophers are not cited in the titles of the print I saw, and the film’s inane stridency is not in keeping with The Christophers output I know.
No copyright was filed on this title, thus opening it for public domain duping. Prelinger scooped up a rare print for his Internet Archive site, where it is supposedly the second most downloaded title (“Duck and Cover” has more hits). Someone has sliced and diced this title into a pro-pornography offering called “Come Join the Fun!” and Prelinger has that title online, too. Other video web sites also offer dupes of this title for viewing.
I can’t say that “Perversion for Profits” is a so-bad-it’s-good title of the “Plan 9″ or “Reefer Madness” ilk. Yes, it is ghastly and clueless. But it is also a bit boring. After a few minutes, you realize that Keating and Putnam are stuck on a shrill carousel ride: how many times can you hear “smut is bad” before wanting to vomit?
As a curio for the ill-fated efforts to shape the moral fiber of America, “Perversion for Profits” is a mild diversion. Beyond that, it has as much appeal as a used condom.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!