Last week, being the week in which alert guardians of public morality succeeded in barring children from witnessing Thoroughbred racing in New York State, seemed to be a good time to look around at some other influences from which the kiddies are not being protected presently. It was not necessary to look far. The exhibits on this page are to be found on the home television screen, the book shelves of the corner drugstore, the neighborhood record shop and movie theaters.
But first, as the television announcer says before the gunplay of the Western or the screams of the horror movie begin, a word from the sponsors of the resolution that led Governor Averell Harriman to "suggest" that the New York Racing Association think twice about permitting entire families, kids and all, to come to the races. The resolution, introduced by New York City Council President Abe Stark, cited the "danger that gambling syndicates might be organized to victimize school children who witness betting at the track...." (P.S. This is the same Abe Stark who once had to explain away the fact that he had been renting the loft over his Brooklyn clothing store to a notorious bookie for 21 years.)
By this same reasoning, it is not difficult to imagine that one of these days the small fry who are witnessing television violence will suddenly rush from their homes and begin shooting up the neighborhood with real guns instead of the realistic-looking toys they now pack.
A ridiculous idea, the television people would say, and in this view they would certainly be joined by Hollywood. In Hollywood, the problem has been how to tickle an alleged appetite for violence of movie patrons who get so much of it through television for free. The solution has been found: make Westerns with a new gimmick. In other words, combine the Western technique with the horror technique and produce the horrible Western.
One such enterprise is ready for national release. It is called The Fiend Who Walked the West. Actually, this is a Western remake of an old gangster film, Kiss of Death, which starred Richard Widmark.
According to the show business paper Variety, Kiss of Death has been gimmicked up in the following manner:
"Film stars [Robert] Evans as the Killer. Where in Kiss of Death Widmark kicked the old lady in the wheelchair down a flight of stairs, in this one he shoots an arrow into her, all very vivid and in closeup. There are also some brutal beatings, a rape, etc."
When this film was previewed for the sales staff of the producing company, 20th Century-Fox, the reaction was so enthusiastic that, Variety says, "plans for its release were completely revamped to give it more prominent handling."
And so, in the state of New York, the kids have been saved from a day at the races with the family (and in the open air, yet) and left with leisure time for the gimmickry of bigger and better fiends.