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Banned in the U.S.A.

Wednesday, November 11, 1992
Damaged Lives
Edgar G. Ulmer, USA, 1933

Known for such distinctive films as The Black Cat, Detour and The Man from Planet X, Edgar Ulmer began his directorial career with the educational oddity Damaged Lives. This updated "hygiene" reeler was produced by the Canadian Social Health Council with Columbia Pictures as the designated studio. In 1937, a New York Times reviewer noted that Damaged Lives was "the decisive stroke in the struggle to free discussion of venereal disease," typically a hushed subject. The medical melodrama follows the momentary folly of a shipping tycoon who contracts syphilis and unwittingly infects his wife. Their lives are a shambles as they quake under the weight of ignorance and resort to quack remedies. Originally, Ulmer's film had an epilogue that consisted of a fact-filled lecture by Dr. Leonard, actor/medical specialist. The film's candid concern for sex education, complete with charts and diagrams, was too much for the New York State Board of Censors, who banned the film from public exhibition.

• Written by Ulmer, Donald Davis. Photographed by Al Siegler. With Diane Sinclair, Lyman Williams, George Irving, Almeda Fowler. (70 mins, B&W, 35mm, From UCLA Film and Television Archive, permission National Film Archives of Canada)