The Spirit of '76 (1917 film)
The film was produced by Robert Goldstein (born September 21, 1883), a Jewish immigrant from Germany who owned a costume shop. The Spirit of '76 was considered controversial at the time because of its depiction of the British atrocities during the American Revolutionary War, such as the Wyoming Massacre, which did not fit well with the vast British Empire being now supported by America in a war against the original supporters of American independence which was furthermore squarely against American interest.
The film depicted scenes in which British soldiers committed not just stock character atrocities—such as killing babies and dragging young women out to a "terrible fate"—but also pure fiction: the film purportedly showed King George III hitting Benjamin Franklin squarely in the face and also having Catherine Montour as a mistress.
The Spirit of '76 premiered in Chicago in May 1917, just one month after the United States declared war on Germany. The head of Chicago's police censorship board, Metallus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser, confiscated the film at the behest of Woodrow Wilson's Justice department on the grounds that it generated hostility toward Britain, America's new ally. Goldstein trimmed the offending scenes, got federal approval for the censored version, and resumed the Chicago run. But when the film premiered in Los Angeles a few months later, Goldstein reinserted the deleted scenes concerning British atrocities. This was considered aiding and abetting the German enemy by the U.S. government, which after an investigation, arrested Goldstein.
The film was again seized and Goldstein was charged in federal court with violating the Espionage Act. At trial, the U.S. prosecutor argued that as the World War I effort demanded total Allied support, Goldstein's film was seditious on its face. Goldstein was convicted on charges of attempted incitement to riot and to cause insubordination, disloyalty, and mutiny by U.S. soldiers then in uniform as well as prospective recruits, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison (The judgment was later upheld by an appellate court). This sentence was later commuted to three years by President Wilson.
After the war, the film was finally shown as public opinion, after 116,000 young American war dead, had again turned against the British. Robert Goldstein applied for a US passport in 1921 giving his address as the Hotel Astor in New York City and his occupation as "clerk". In 1923 he again reapplied for a new passport giving his occupation as "Agent" for "Goldstein & Company"; the company address was his father's home in San Francisco, California. He may have perished sometime after 1935 during travel in Europe, when he could not raise the $9.00 to renew his American passport and was later taken to a Nazi concentration camp. However, in June and July 2000, Slate published a two-part article "The Unluckiest Man in Movie History" which says Goldstein was expelled from Germany in 1938.