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'Exorcist': No One Under 17 Admitted

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 1974


    The Exorcist Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) arrives at the Georgetown home of Chris MacNeil in "The Exorcist." (Warner Bros.)
Washington police have barred persons under the age of 17 from showings of "The Exorcist" here, even thought the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has rated the film "R" (Restricted-Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian").

Marvin Goldman, head of the KB Theater chain, which owns the Cinema Theater (now owned by Cineplex Odeon) where the movie is in its second week, said yesterday he will comply with the ruling because " I thoroughly agree with it. The movie should have been rated X (No one under 17 admitted) in the first place."

The film, from a novel by William Peter Blatty about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl, includes a bloody scene of masturbation with a crucifix; contains a large number of four-letter words; and sustains a traumatic intensity that has caused some adult patrons to faint or vomit.

Goldman said he was notified Tuesday by Lt. Charles Hershey of the morals division that no one under 17 could be admitted to "The Exorcist" in Washington.

Hershey, said Goldman, cited the D.C. Omnibus Crime Bill's obscenity clause in ruling the film unfit for young people. The clause specifies, among other things, that depictions of "sado-masochistic abuse" or "masturbation" not be shown to "minors" (under 17).

Hershey declined yesterday to make any comment at all on the ruling, including whether the crucifix scene was the reason for it, or what had prompted the police department to see the film.

Hershey referred all questions to the acting director of the morals division, Capt. Charles Light. Through a spokesman, Light said only, "There is some concern in regarding the movie, but the police department does not have a comment."

The spokesman said the only police officer who has officially seen the film is Inspector Robert Dollard, director of the morals division. Dollard, on vacation, was unavailable for comment.

However, Lt. William Tucker of police sub-station No. 2, which covers the area where the Cinema Theater is located, said he intends making "periodic" checks to assure the theater management is complying with the ban.

Tucker said "no one that I know of" had complained to the police about the film or the fact that minors accompanied by parents or guardians had been able to see it.

Jack J. Valenti, head of the MPAA, defended the film, which was shot largely in Georgetown, when he learned of the police department ruling yesterday. "The scene we had been worried about is the crucifix scene," said Valenti, "and it turns out that was handled very, very adroitly by the director, William Friedkin."

Valenti said the MPAA's original rating is the correct one. "The picture simply cannot be rated X under our rules," he said. "There is no X material in that film.

"There is no overtness in the film," said Valenti. "There is no sexual conduct, there is no excessive violence. The ratings board does not make value judgments on a film. It simply rates what it sees on the screen."

Valenti said the ruling will not do the rating system, a voluntary arrangement between theater owners and film distributors any good. "From the public's standpoint it does hurt the rating system," he said. "It makes us look like we don't know what the hell we're doing."

He conceded, however, that he would not let his children ("the oldest is 10") see the film "or any R-rated picture. We warn people that an R-rated film is an adult film," said Valenti. "If a parent takes a young child to see the film, he's being careless with his child."

A spokesman for Warner Bros. in New York said the company, which distributes "The Exorcist," had just learned of the decision and had no comment. The spokesman said the firm has heard of no similar decisions in any of the other cities where "The Exorcist" is playing.

Despite the restriction, Goldman predicted the film would still prove to be a gold mine. First-week grosses are said to be $94,000. Goldman would not confirm the figure but reported a house record for the theater had been broken, that all performances have been selling out, and that he expects a run of "at least six months."

There have been incidents of patrons fainting or vomiting during the film's showings here, he said, but "nothing more serious" than that.

Director Friedkin, interviewed in Hollywood by Bob Thomas of the Associated Press, said he was aware that some people were reacting to the film physically and with revulsion.

"I've heard reports of people fainting or throwing up during the picture," Friedkin said. "But I don't think there has been a significant number of such occurrence. What is encouraging to me is the fact that the audiences all over the country are staying to cheer and applaud the picture while the credits are running the screen."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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