The Midnight Choker

The website of Dan Erdman

“…as a film fan and not as a smut investigator…”


In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson commissioned a study on pornography. Sexually explicit media of all types had come to enjoy increasing social and legal tolerance, and the main mission of the assembled committee was to determine whether any significant harm might come to American society as a result of this. They concluded, in a ten-volume report released 1970, that there was little to fear in this regard, dismissing any significant connection between pornography and crime, juvenile delinquency or other anti-social behavior. (This was to the chagrin of by-then-President Nixon, who said “I have evaluated the report and categorically reject its morally bankrupt conclusions and major recommendations…Smut should not be simply contained…it should be outlawed in every State in the Union.”)

The report itself is not hard to get ahold of, but those who would like a peek behind the curtain are directed to the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in the fine city of Austin, Texas*, where the complete paper record of the committee’s research can be found in the archives. Among the 136 boxes and 64 linear feet of material is this interesting letter by “Jack,” who typically signed letters under his given name, John J. Sampson**. Sampson was one of the committee’s researchers, charged with investigating the production and distribution of the various types of adult movies that existed back then, from one-reel stags to tamer exploitation fare. It was in the course of this work that he got in touch with the great producer David F. Friedman.


Sampson’s correspondence with his various informants is uniformly friendly – he was, I think, primarily and genuinely motivated by a desire to produce an objective report, not instigate a witch hunt – but his letters to Friedman are remarkable in their collegiality. This is my favorite of the bunch, referring to a preview screening of Trader Hornee which the producer had (evidently) arranged for him. It seems that Friedman asked Sampson for his take on the new film, and he not only gave his honest opinion but apparently agonized for a few days afterward over whether or not he had made himself entirely clear. I’m touched by the fact that he took both Friedman and his work this seriously, and admire his tenacity in making the effort to clarify his critical impressions. If only more film critics and historians would follow his example!

Dear Dave,

I want to enclose a personnal [sic] note regarding my comments on Trader Hornee. In thinking about our conversation, I feel I may have offended you. After all, it is not considered good manners to point out the defects of a baby to a new father.

As I said, I felt that the film was somewhere between fair and good. I said that I felt there were come very funny bits in the film and that overall it was quite enjoyable. I also said that it just missed for several reasons: mainly the quality of some of the actors and a somewhat uneven pace. Please understand that I made my judgement in comparison to all films, not just to skin flicks. It seemed to me that the quality of Trader Hornee demanded that it be so compared.

This is what I mean. I, as a film fan and not as a smut investigator, cannot talk about Vixen as a film. Vixen can be discussed as erotic stimulus; except for prosecutors, defense lawyers, and witnesses, it is really impossible to talk about it as a “film.” On the other hand, I Am Curious (Yellow) can only be discussed as a film; as a skin flick or as sexual stimulus, it’s a bust (not a pun). The sexual segments in Curious, [sic] can be discussed of course, but only in the context of the whole film (bad or good). I think Trader Hornee falls in this same classification. Whether one is interested in the nude and sex action or not, my overall impression was one of a legitimate attempt at satire (Or perhaps camp comedy). In this I felt the great potential was almost brought off.

If Trader Hornee is compared only against skin movies (most of which are schlock), anyone with a sense of filmmaking must agree that it technically towers above the vast majority; except, possibly, in eroticism.

In any event, I did enjoy the movie. I thank you very much for your courtesy. I apologize if I gave offense where none was intended.


* If any friends from Austin are reading, please accept profuse bowing and scraping on my part for not getting in touch. I only had a few days in town and spent the most part of each at the Library. I hope to return soon, and for a visit which is both longer and less densely-packed. I’ll call you.

** Apologies again, this time to the general reader. Having just now gotten back home from Texas, I haven’t had time to properly organize my research notes, so there’s a good chance that there might be a few factual whoppers in the details of this post. I’ll strike and make note of any idiotic mistakes as I find them.



This entry was posted on July 14, 2015 by in Essays.