Reviews of film ephemera, including such things as educational films, industrial films, military and propaganda films, tv commercials, movie trailers, shorts, experimental films, and movies made for non-mainstream audiences.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Abbott & Costello TV Cartoon Intro (available for viewing on You Tube).
OK, folks, time to play Guess the Decade. This is an intro from an Abbott & Costello cartoon show. It features an animated Lou Costello running around yelling “Hey Abbott!!!!” It also features a James-Bond-like jazz soundtrack. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! The 60s is correct! Not that this was at all difficult to guess. I totally don’t remember this cartoon, and I was a kid during the 60s. That only makes this more fun to me, because I like obscurities.
Frank Capra directed this film designed to stir hatred of the Japs in American GIs. Don't get me wrong––there's a fair amount of truth here about the militaristic, fanatical Japanese society that came up with the Tanaka Memorial plan for world conquest and committed horrible atrocities against the Chinese, the Filipinos, and American POWs. But the film goes overboard in trying to get us to believe that every single solitary Japanese citizen is a total warmongering fanatic willing to die rather than experience the disgrace of surrender. They all look alike and think alike, according to this film. Of course, war always seems to require that kind of thinking––otherwise it's hard to go out and kill 'em. The worst part, for my money, though, is the part about Japanese spies. Yeah, Japan did send out spies to countries they planned to conquer, but this film makes it look like every Japanese-American barber or gardener or fisherman had a direct line to the warlords in Tokyo, a way of thinking that created the internment camps, I'm sure. (Capra does pay very minor lip service to the highly-decorated Nisei regiment of the U.S. Army during the opening credits, calling them loyal Americans, which he deserves a little credit for, since most people weren't even giving them that much. But his assertion that their exploits "are documented in plenty of other films" makes me say "Oh really? Like what other films?") Like Kamikaze, the film has lots of fascinating footage taken from Japanese cinema. The first part of the film, which tells the history of the social and political structure of Japan, is told visually almost totally by footage from Japanese historical films. There's also lots of interesting Japanese newsreel footage. This film is part propaganda and part interesting historical information, and it's hard to tell which is which. Still, it's a great piece of ephemera. Warning: The scenes of Japanese atrocities are fairly grisly.
49th Star: Alaska Statehood, New Flag, Official (available for download on Universal Newsreels.)
This newsreel story shows us President Eisenhower signing the bill that made Alaska a state. Then we get to see flag manufacturer’s wrestle with the problem of making a 49-star flag that looks nice and symmetrical. They come up with a solution, one that would almost immediately become obsolete when Hawaii was granted statehood. I bet those flags sell for a lot on Ebay today.
This newsreel featurette shows us the intensive training female lifeguards received at New York’s Manhattan Beach during the 30s. They were trained in speed and distance swimming, rowing, breaking dangerous holds that drowning victims often subject lifeguards to, and the tedious out-goes-the-bad-air-in-comes-the-good kind of artificial respiration (which the narrator tells us sometimes goes on for hours before the victim is revived). After all this, they are qualified to “assist” the male lifeguards, and must undergo leering “inspections” by the potbellied head lifeguard, while the narrator says such clever things as, “This is a company anybody would love to inspect!” I’m sure they received “assistant” pay as well. The bland sexist assumptions of this film tell us just how far we’ve come in improving our view of women––the narrator seems throughout like he can barely believe that the “girls” can do all that lifesaving stuff. Another good film for an ephemera “ladies night.”
American Day Fete Biggest Patriotic Meeting in History (available for download on Universal Newsreels. Also available for viewing on You Tube).
Late 30s newsreel clip showing a huge patriotic rally spurred by the war in Europe. Also featured is a story about a big parade in Atlantic City, and a tribute to George Washington Carver. The soundtrack is very sporadic in this, making it hard to follow, though we do get to hear a bit of Carver’s speech, giving this historical value. And there’s some great scenes of weird balloons in the parade, including a 2-headed cat that has to be seen to be believed.
Empires of Steel (extra on Disc #1 of New York DVD Boxed Set (PBS Home Video, 2004)).
This silent Pathe newsreel featurette, sponsored by U.S. Steel, documents the construction of the Empire State Building in great detail. We get to see scores of workers being dwarfed by huge steel beams and working nonchalantly higher and higher in the air as the building goes up. This has lots of historical value, making it an appropriate archival extra for the New York DVD set.
This 50s Encyclopedia Britannica anti-drug film is about as campy as I’ve ever seen EB get. It tells the story of Marty, a nice, clean-cut 50s teen who succumbs to peer pressure and tries reefers. Before you know it, he’s a junkie mainlining heroin, and then experiences the inevitable downward spiral of losing his part-time job at the grocery store, worrying his parents, getting snubbed by all the other clean-cut teens, turning to shoplifting and thievery to support his habit, and finally becoming a drug pusher. Eventually he gets arrested for all of this and, after his mother tearfully tells the judge that he’s a “good boy,” gets court-ordered into substance abuse treatment. But after he gets out of rehab, all the nice teens still shun him and he has to contend with pressure from his old junkie pals to start using again. This well-worn story is told in an incredibly dorky and hyperbolic fashion––highlights include Marty’s friends getting sick when they first smoke marijuana (Marty also feels sick but hides it––the sign of a true addict-in-the-making), Marty and his friends drinking Pepsi from broken bottles while in a hopped-up state, Marty’s mother trying to talk to her surly son about her worries about him, and the post-rehab Marty trying to resist the pressure of his old junkie pal, Duke, to start using again. For those who like to laugh at anti-drug films, this one is a classic.
Bela Lugosi Interview (available for viewing on You Tube).
This early 50s clip features Bela Lugosi being interviewed by reporters upon discharge from a state mental hospital, where he had been treated for his heroin addiction. He looks cheerful here, and claims to be “cured” of his addiction. Sadly, what we know now about both addiction and Lugosi tell us that it was not to be. This interview has quite a bit of historical interest for Lugosi fans, as well as being a rare public glimpse (for the time) into a celebrity’s private struggles with addiction.
About Conception and Contraception (available for viewing on A/V Geeks. Also available for download on Veoh).
This 70s sex-ed film, made by the National Film Board of Canada, shows us a male silhouette and a female silhouette, both of which look like they escaped from an optical illusion. They get it on, resulting in the female silhouette getting knocked up. Bummer, eh? Then we are shown various forms of birth control that this couple can use to prevent this from happening again, and the couple helpfully demonstrates all of them in a slow, turgid fashion that makes sex look about as much fun as adding peripherals to your computer. All of this is shown without narration, and to the accompaniment, inexplicably, of calliope music, which ups the weird factor considerably. But who am I to judge the turn-ons of 2-dimensional Canadian silhouettes, eh?
The Adventures of Ellery Queen – The Hanging Acrobat (film #3 on Side A of Disc #1 of Best of TV Detectives DVD Megapack (Mill Creek Entertainment, 2007)).
This very early TV adaptation of the famous detective just screams early TV, with its cheesy organ soundtrack, its primitive production values, and its sponsorship by Kaiser-Frazier, a make of car that doesn’t exist anymore. Somehow, it’s all appropriate, though, as the plot involves Ellery solving a murder mystery at a cheap, sleazy carnival. The story is pretty ordinary, but this really makes you feel like you bought one of the first TVs in town and will watch anything that’s on, due to its novelty value.