The Most Shocking Sex Documentary In American History

By Dustin Koski on Sunday, July 20, 2014
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“Coition is a slight attack of apoplexy. For man gushes forth from man, and is separated by being torn apart with a kind of blow.” —Democritus, in the fourth century B.C.

In A Nutshell

Mom and Dad was a 1945 sex docudrama by producer Kroger Babb. It claimed it had shocking content such as footage of a live birth. To make sure there was sufficient media chatter about the movie’s shocking and health-threatening qualities, a theater owner in Philadelphia interfered with the ventilation for the theater to help audience members to pass out. It subsequently became one of the most successful movies of all time.

The Whole Bushel

In 1945 America, a film exhibitor named Howard “Kroger” Babb released a film entitled Mom and Dad that attempted to sell audiences shocking sexual content with the legal defense that the film was both educational and moralistic. It was hardly a new concept. In the previous decade, figures like Dwain Esper had been producing movies like Sex Maniac, How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, and most notoriously Tell Your Children (better known as Reefer Madness today) in the hundreds. But with this film, Babb and his cronies were willing to go considerably farther than the competition would have dared.

Mom and Dad is mostly a melodrama about a young woman named Joan Blake who conceives and delivers a child out of wedlock with a pilot who perishes in a crash before the birth. The second half of the movie is devoted to documentary footage and information related to pregnancy, birth, and sexually transmitted diseases before concluding the story by having Joan survive but her baby die as a final punishment for her fornication. Leonard Maltin called it “a fascinating curio” which is a polite way of saying it is not very entertaining today on its own merits. That’s hardly surprising considering that it was directed by William “One Take” Beaudine, a director so sloppy that he would leave flubbed lines and actions in his movies. Most shockingly for the time, however, the movie included graphic footage of births. As one of the ads boasted, you got to see both “normal and caesarean!”

The movie needed to depend on a reputation for being truly too shocking for public consumption. To that end, a theater owner in Philadelphia hit upon a means of promotion as brilliant as it was unethical. During a screening, he interfered with the ventilation for the theater so that, inevitably, someone would faint. The newspapers would know what a potentially dangerous movie this was to see. Babb, to reinforce the notion that the film needed special procedures to be safely watched, had his audiences segregated by gender and required that they sing the national anthem before each showing. As a natural result of this chicanery, communities nationwide moved to ban screenings of the film, so much so that it was eventually involved in 400 court cases.

As a result of all this hoopla, the shocker became one of the highest-grossing movies of its year. It was screened theatrically well into the 1960s, and as a result it’s lifetime gross has been estimated at around $100 million (although part of its longevity seems to be related to the fact that later showings were accompanied by short films of nudist camps). When measuring production costs against eventual profit, Mom and Dad is among the most profitable films in the history of the industry. In 2005, the film entered the National Film Registry, meaning that tax dollars are being devoted to preserving this movie due to its cultural significance. Such is the power of wily publicity stunts.

Show Me The Proof

Turner Classic Movies: ‘Mom and Dad’ (1945)
The Guardian: Shot in glorious sexploitation
MUBI: William Beaudine
Reason: Kroger Babb’s Roadshow
Movie poster for Mom and Dad from the LA Times
Beyond Ballyhoo: Motion Picture Promotion and Gimmicks, by Mark Thomas McGee
Library of Congress: National Film Registry 2005

  • Nathaniel A.

    Sex sells.

    • Dustin Koski

      Oddly it was more like birth sells.

  • Hillyard

    ‘Banned in Boston’ was a sure way to get people to watch your movie. This was just another version of that. Good article.