In October of 2015 Gambit Magazine posted a list of its top 15 films that were still considered “lost” at the time. The list contained many of the usual suspect such as London at Midnight, but it also highlighted some obscurities such as a Filipino parody Batman Fights Dracula and one I’d really love to see: a 1933 version of The Monkey’s Paw directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Also on the list was a 1962 PSA-style short (it runs just under 30 minutes) titled Pages of Death.
Well, thanks to the work of the Oregon Historical Society, this is one that can now be struck from the list.
I’ll let the OHS take up the story and film description from here, courtesy of their posting of the film on YouTube:
Considered a “lost film” as of early 2016, a faded 16mm print was discovered in the Moving Image collection at the Oregon Historical Society in 2015. Created in 1962 the film was recently ranked #14 in Gambit Magazine’s list of 15 Films Lost to Time.
An anti-pornography and pro censorship film running 27 minutes in length, Pages of Death was produced by the Hour of St. Francis radio program and distributed by the Citizens for Decent Literature (Cincinnati, Ohio) which was affiliated with the Roman Catholic anti-pornography campaigner, Charles Keating.
Charles Keating is probably best remembered as an overzealous and nearly rabid campaigner against pornography in the 50s and 60s, including leadership on the 1969 President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Later, as a corrupt and criminal banker in the 80s, he ran the American Continental Corporation and the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which so exploited the banking deregulations under Reagan that it led to the complete collapse of the Savings and Loan industry, not to mention investigations of the “Keating Five,” which included the current Senator John McCain.
Tom Harmon, the narrator of the film, was married to actress Elyse Knox whose career include being a WWII pin up girl, which landed her similar roles in quite a few films. In 1962 when Pages of Death was produced, he was a well-known sportscaster at CBS and delivered the nightly sports report on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Late in 1962, he joined the sports staff at the ABC radio network, produced his own show and eventually created his own production company. The actor Mark Harmon (Summer School) is the youngest of his three children.
Pages of Death stars John Larch, Vivi Janiss and Paul Picerni.
Considering its origins as an anti-pornography propaganda film, Pages of Death actually plays as a pretty decent take on, say, an episode of Dragnet, which was often as moralizing as this. No, the acting isn’t great, but it’s as good as it needs to be in order to get its point across. Especially when taken in comparison to much of the similar work that was being produced before and around this time, it’s not bad at all.
I suppose I can’t really conclude this without taking a moment to talk about the actual content of the film itself, so I’ll just throw up a quick ***Spoiler Warning*** though what happens really should be obvious. When young Karen Fleming doesn’t come home from school in time for dinner, her parents begin to worry. After checking with neighbors and friends they call in the police, who soon track her to her last known whereabouts, Baker’s drug store. Upon questioning Baker, they find that an older boy, Paul Halliday was also in the store at the time. Though Paul initially denies having had any contact with Karen, or even noticing that she was in the store, further investigation leads the police to discover that Karen is indeed dead (and though it’s never straight-out stated, probably sexually assaulted) and they once again go to question Paul.
During this part of their investigation, the policemen not only turn up enough evidence to finger Paul and get him to confess, they find a number of pornographic magazines, books, films, and slides, enough to indict not just Paul, but the porn industry as the culprit behind the young girl’s death. A final epilogue returns the police to Baker’s store, where he defends himself only by saying that the boy could have picked up the offending magazines at “10 or 12 places around town”.
All of this is wrapped around by a narration by Tom Harmon further indicting the porn industry and those who make this kind of material available to youths as just as responsible for Paul’s actions as he himself.
No matter how you feel about the subject matter of Pages of Death -the actual assertions made or the indictment of pornographic magazines as responsible for Paul’s actions – it’s always exciting when another of these “lost films” is resurrected and made available for viewers today, so thanks have to be given to the Oregon Historical Society for their efforts to bring back this seemingly gone forever treasure.
Now let’s just hope that discoveries like this will help us mark a few more off that list. Especially that version of The Monkey’s Paw.
Here’s the film: