“Filmed in Portland… But Now Banned in Portland!” (9/18/1957) Movie poster for the cheesy low-budget crime potboiler “Portland Exposé”, which was filmed here and based loosely on a recent organized crime scandal that made for rather embarrassing national headlines.
The city’s experience with the film started off innocently enough; a March 13, 1957 article “Quiz of Rackets Basis of Movie” started off by marveling that Hollywood had discovered Portland. It mentions that some filming would take place in town, and the studio was trying to land someone named Barry Sullivan to star in the thing. Apparently that didn’t work out, as the immortal Ed Binns ended up with top billing. On April 5th, the paper published a photo of movie folks scouting locations, and a production photo appeared on June 6th, with cast and crew taking a break outside the old municipal auditorium. An April 6th blurb offered assurances from the screenwriter that the city would be shown as a “decent” place, and not the “sin city” the national media had made it out to be.
The first sign of trouble came on July 24th, seemingly out of nowhere, in a small item under “Wednesday Radio Highlights”, which read “4:30 PM (KGON) - Frank Faro interviews Portlanders for opinions on proposed banning of movie “Portland Exposé”. Clearly there was more of a controversy going on than the Oregonian elected to cover.
On August 8th, an article appeared titled “Portland Ban on ‘Expose’ Film Denied”. It seems that the filmmakers elected not to hold the grand world premiere here, causing a rumor that the film had been banned here. On the other hand, the article points out that the local distributor had decided on his own not to exhibit the movie here, citing its “controversial nature” and the fact that many court cases from the real-life scandal were still pending. So long story short, locals wouldn’t be able to see it, but technically it wasn’t the government’s doing. (Portland had mostly gotten out of the film censorship business in 1950 after a furor over the art film “The Bicycle Thief”.) In any case, the subtleties were lost on (or ignored by) the nation’s B-movie promoters, who saw dollar signs and ran with “banned”, as in the movie poster above.
Aaaand, that’s the last we hear of the film until October 2nd, when the paper’s DC correspondent noted with some satisfaction that “Empty Seats End ‘Portland Expose’ Run in Washington”, going on to point out how cheap and badly made the film was, and quoting some of the film’s poor reviews. So here’s at least one case where notoriety wasn’t quite a license to print money. In fairness, movies being banned in various places was pretty common back in 1957, so maybe moviegoers had gotten jaded about that. Dunno.
In any case, the film appears one more time in the paper’s archives, on 9/15/1983, when the Northwest Film Center finally gave “Portland Exposé” its local premiere, 26 years late. Ted Mahar spends much of the article pointing out that it’s a really crappy movie, only worth watching for the camp value, comparing it to the low-budget sci-fi and horror movies of the era. Which, if you’ve ever seen the film, is actually kind of an insult to 50s sci-fi and horror movies. The movie seems to have vanished from YouTube, but the trailer’s still available here, if you’re curious. It’s also out on DVD, if you’re still into the whole physical media thing.