In late 1955 and early 1956, the citizens of Boise, Idaho believed there was a menace in their midst. On Halloween, investigators arrested three men on charges of having sex with teenage ... See full summary »
In late 1955 and early 1956, the citizens of Boise, Idaho believed there was a menace in their midst. On Halloween, investigators arrested three men on charges of having sex with teenage boys. The investigators claimed the arrests were just the tip of the iceberg-they said hundreds of boys were being abused as part of a child sex ring. There was no such ring, but the result was a widespread investigation which some people consider a witch hunt. By the time the investigation ended, 16 men were charged. Countless other lives were also touched.In some cases, men implicated fled the area. At least one actually left the country. The investigation attracted attention in newspapers across the nation, including Time Magazine. The "Morals Drive" left scars which remain to this day. Written by
Flawed account of an important story about anti-gay prejudice
Documentary recounting the homosexual scandal enveloping the city of Boise, Idaho, in the autumn of 1955. A local probation officer got the idea that one or more men in the town were arranging sexual contacts with several teen boys. He was brushed aside by higher ups (and eventually demoted for his troubles), but he persisted. The major newspaper in the state, The Idaho Statesman, got hold of the story and began a sensational press campaign to dramatize and exaggerate the matter. Rumors grew to suggest that the ring included many men and "hundreds" of male youths. A witch hunt of sorts unfolded over the next couple of months.
In all, 16 men were indicted, only one of whom successfully challenged the charges and was acquitted. A majority of the others, including a few prominent men in town, went to prison. Others left town, some never to return, including one of the most popular men in town, whose family ran a drive-in restaurant, and the son of a councilman, who was exposed as one of the boys who had participated. As a result, he left West Point in disgrace and killed himself the following year.
This film panders to shopworn stereotypes: homosexual men as simply predators upon the young, or such predation being the "cause" of homosexuality. There is no effort to link this story to any of the well recognized circumstances that involve anti-gay prejudices in America today. Indeed, in his recent interview for this film, Dr. Jack Butler, a psychiatrist who was brought in to advise Boise city fathers in the midst of the 1955 upheaval, states that this sort of hysteria would not occur today, implying that our culture has matured in its attitudes toward homosexuality.
Well, yes, there is some evidence to suggest that this is true. Walking around downtown Boise these days, you can see ads for an upcoming local Gay & Lesbian film festival, and a tavern not far from the state capitol states on its marquee that it is "Straight Friendly." But with all due respect for Jack Butler, who is my esteemed colleague and friend in Portland nowadays, I cannot agree with him that stigmatization of gays has eased all that much.
Nationwide, homophobic hate crimes are more common today than they were 10 or 20 years ago, even in the face of a general decline in violent crime. And anti-gay sentiment is evidenced in the widespread opposition to gay conjugal unions. Most importantly, sexual predation on teens, regardless of gender orientation, invariably, and rightly, evokes strong public outrage in any era. By not making any effort to generalize, either to the present day or to other locales, this film pigeonholes its story, isolating it in both time and place.
Beyond that, with few exceptions, this movie is poorly crafted. Monotonous, self conscious, vividly colored computer graphic images of stylized autumn leaves and fancy opening titles do little to set the stage for the somber, largely black and white, archival material that follows. Much of the film stock - scenes of the town in the 1950s is of poor quality. Sound is also variable, occasionally not audible.
The recent interviews with Dr. Butler and with Alty Travelstead, the late son of the restaurant owner who left town in 1955, are well done, really the best elements in the film. Travelstead's sense of having no home, after being uprooted as a young boy and drifting with his family from place to place, is poignantly told. By and large, though, this film is an amateurish effort. Possibly a good film could be made from this material, but it will take a more mature talent for screen writing and editing to produce a decent product. My grades: 6/10 (B-) (Seen at the Idaho International Film Festival, 09/30/06)
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