Montgomery, James (1870–1943), filmcensor, was born 8 October 1870 in Dublin, son of Thomas Montgomery and Mary Montgomery (née Dempsey), of Lime St., Dublin. Educated at CBS, Westland Row, he worked on the engineering staff of the Alliance and Dublin Consumers' Gas Co. till 1923, when ill-health forced his resignation. Although he held nationalist sympathies he was not actively involved in politics during the revolutionary period, but his appointment as censor appears to have owed something to his support for Cumann na nGaedheal; among those lobbying for his appointment was Annie, wife of Ernest Blythe (qv). His appointment as the first film censor of the Irish Free State by Kevin O'Higgins (qv) in 1923 made him one of the first official film censors to be appointed by any state. Admitting that he had no qualifications for the job, he later stated that the two things he kept in mind when deciding whether or not to reject films were the ten commandments and Aesop's fable about a man who tried to please everybody but succeeded in pleasing nobody. This attitude led to disputes with the film renters who objected to his harshness, complaining that he rejected too many films, disregarded public taste for episodes of natural human interest, made unjustifiable inferences, and was not sufficiently broadminded on subjects that occurred in everyday life. His strongest objections were to partial nudity, stage-Irishness, drunkenness, sensuality, anticatholicism, un-Christian ideas such as reincarnation, hula dancing, kissing, the portrayal of co-education in American films, bigamy, vulgarity, and violence. Taking a very broad interpretation of the Censorship of Films Act, 1923, which authorised the rejection of films ‘subversive of public morality’, he used this to ban films such as Beau Geste and Charlie Chaplin's Shoulder arms as insulting to friendly nations – ‘holding a nation up to ridicule is subversive of public morality’ (NAI, FCO2 98/27/1) – and films portraying aspects of life that were illegal in Ireland – on rejecting My husband's wives (1925), he stated: ‘Since remarriage of divorced people is illegal in Saorstát Éireann I consider it ``subversive of public morality'' to allow exhibition of it’ (NAI, FCO4 98/29/1). In similar vein he objected to The garden of Allah (1928), because ‘the story of a priest who has broken his vows is not a desirable subject for exhibition in Ireland’ (NAI, FCO2 98/27/2). Although empowered by legislation to issue limited ‘adults only’ certificates for certain films adjudged unsuitable for juvenile audiences, he never availed of this opportunity, fearing that such restrictions ‘might arouse the curiosity of adolescents. . . and tempt them to gain admission to a picture house under false pretences – thus fostering a contempt for the law’ (Studies (Dec. 1942), 422). Thus, the suitability of films for exhibition to children was another criterion in vetting them: ‘I have constantly in my mind when dealing with underworld films the memory of the crowd of children from the neighbouring slums attending the picture house in Pearse St.’ (NAI, FCO4 98/29/2). The Hollywood film industry was a particular target of his ire: in 1942 he published an article in Studies entitled ‘The menace of Hollywood’; he often expressed the view that Ireland was in less danger from anglicisation than from ‘Los Angelesation’, and believed that the introduction of ‘talkies’ had retarded the development of the film medium. One of the most famous victims of his rigorous interpretation of his duties was Gone with the wind (1939); he demanded so many cuts – including the removal of a scene depicting childbirth – that the distributors initially withdrew the film. In November 1940 he retired as censor and was replaced by the even stricter Dr Richard Hayes (qv).
A close friend of Arthur Griffith (qv), Oliver St John Gogarty (qv), and James Stephens (qv), he was renowned for his wit – examples of which can be seen in his comments on films – and was described by Gogarty as ‘the greatest Dubliner of them all’ (O'Connor, 140). He lived at 132 Rock Road, Booterstown, and died 14 March 1943 in Dublin (two weeks after the death of his second son Seamus, who died aged 21). Married first to Kate Clancy and second to Ethel Conry, daughter of Dr John Conry of Kilkelly, Co. Mayo, he had one daughter from his first marriage and two sons and a daughter from his second. His son Niall (qv) was a well known architect and literary scholar.