Sex, Drugs and Vintage Movie Posters

The conventional wisdom states that films prior to the mid 1960’s did not feature sex or drug use (unless it was alcohol). Also the violence was done either in the shadow or done without the viewer seeing the after affects.

Well, as is the case many times, the conventional wisdom is wrong. There were films prior to the mid 1960’s that dealt with sex, drugs and violence. The producers and directors of these films were able to get around the Production Code*, by depicting these subjects as a cautionary tale, as in see what happens when you (insert forbidden action here).

I bring this up because I read of an exhibit of vintage movie posters, called Thrills That Kill: Morals and Movie Posters that took place in Montreal a few weeks ago. This exhibit did not feature movie posters from classic films like Casablanca or Citizen Kane. Rather, it featured movie posters from films such as Cocaine, Story of a Junkie and Skid Row. (See examples below.)

While they weren’t blockbusters of the time, these movies are a window into the time when they were made. As the youth culture took hold in the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were those that felt it necessary to warn parents about the evils of illegal drugs or prostitution, so that they could in turn warn their teenage children.

This exhibit was organized by Montreal resident, cartoonist for the Montreal Mirror and owner of the vintage movie poster website Posteropolis, Dave Rosen. “I put this together because I thought this is something nobody has ever done before,” said Rosen. “To show specifically this kind of exploitation poster, for the cautionary tale films.”

Of course, despite the efforts of cautionary tale filmmakers, there still are illegal drugs, prostitution and other evils. The way I see it, the trouble was not with the teens. Instead, it was with members of the adult audience, since quite a few were mostly likely indulging in three or four martini lunches, popping prescription pills like candy and having an affair with a secretary or a boss.  How come there were no films made such as Death by Prescription or The Boss Likes To Keep Busy?

I must admit, though, that I like these posters for their kitsch value even though the films they were promoting were preachy and finger waggers. It is always easy to point the finger at others or make a film that points the finger at others. The hard part is to look at our lives for ways to do better. As Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves…”

Note: The movie poster website was mentioned for informational purposes. It is not an endorsement of the website or its products.


*After a number of scandals hit Hollywood in the late 1920’s, the Production Code was established in 1930 by the studios in order to prevent government intervention. They were a set of standards, such as no depictions of nudity or illegal drug use, killings could not be shown in detail and many offensive words and phrases were banned from being spoken in a film.


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2 Responses to “Sex, Drugs and Vintage Movie Posters”

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