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Bargain Basement Clip. Before HSN and QVC, there was Bargain Basement, an early 60s TV show that hawked “As Seen on TV” type products. Since they only had a small time slot, rather than a 24-hour network, to fill, the pitches come fast and furious. Bottle openers, skin cremes, battery-life extenders, pearl necklaces, and, of course, food choppers are pitched one after the other at an amazing rate. This TV clip is a lot of fun and campy as all get out. And if you send, not $5, not $10, but only $1.98 to LBC, Box Q, Chicago, you’ll get a beautifully framed printout of this review, and the snake knives, Mrs. Presge! (Whew!) Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****. More Stars for Absolutely Free: ****.
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The Baltimore Plan. This 1953 public service film outlines an aggressive plan by the city of Baltimore to clean up slums. Working one neighborhood at a time, social workers helped landlords, tenants, and homeowners to fix up and clean up their properties. For those who wouldn’t cooperate voluntarily, housing courts were set up to enforce new, tougher housing codes, though even they took a problem-solving, rather than a punitive approach. This seemed to help a great deal to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods, though I don’t know if the changes lasted, or how things are in Baltimore now. The film provides a great historical snapshot of social services in the 1950s. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ***.
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Ball Handling in Basketball. First of all, stop that snickering. Gangly, skinny white guys demonstrate proper and effective ball handling—hey! You in the back! Shut your mouth!—in basketball, in this 1946 Encyclopedia Brittanica film. It’s all done in the dry EB style, but the necessary repeated mentioning of the B-word has a tendency to bring out the 7th grade boy in all of us. I’m surprised this was actually shown to young people without the entire class getting sent to the principal’s office. Great for msting. For actual basketball players, get back out on the floor and practice your dribbling (sorry). Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ****.
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The Balanced Land Force. Short, silent World War II film showing all the different kinds of jobs that go into waging war. It’s unclear whether this was meant to be silent, or whether the soundtrack was lost. There’s lots of great footage here for WWII documentary filmmakers to use, though. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Baja California: The Pacific Coast of Mexico. This 1949 geography film takes us down the Baja California peninsula and shows us the lifestyles of the people there. With the exception of the modern city of Ensenada, it’s pretty sparse and simple. The film is very straightforward and it provides a great deal of historical interest by depicting its location in 1949. I wonder how much has changed since then. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
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Bad Dog. Say, I’ve got an idea: what if dogs could make films? Whether or not you think that’s a good idea, this film tries to simulate that, showing us what things look like from a dog’s point of view. Unfortunately, this dog’s owner is Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons during his hippie phase, and somebody told him that having a dog is a great way to meet girls. It doesn’t turn out the way he had hoped, though. What the point of showing this in classrooms was is not clear to me, unless it was to give kids more empathy for dogs. What I want to say to the director is this: No! Don’t touch that camera! BAD DOG!! Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
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Back to the Old Farm. This 1912 film, sponsored by International Harvester, may have been one of the first industrial films. George, an orphan raised on a farm by his aunt and uncle, tires of the endless drudgery of farm life and runs away to the city to make his fortune. Ten years later, he has a job and is doing pretty good, when he gets a letter from his aunt and uncle, inviting him back to the old farm for a visit. He takes a friend with him, and when they get there, they are surprised to find Auntie and Uncle living like country gentlepeople, thanks to International Harvester automated farm equipment. George is so overjoyed that he runs off and elopes with his cousin, for some reason. This is mildly amusing, as well as historically interesting. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
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Back to Life. In this 40s film, Bud Lambert, a skilled tradesman working in a factory, suddenly goes off his nut, as the British like to put it. He begins hearing voices and lashing out at his coworkers and his wife. So they put him in a mental hospital and from then on, everything goes swimmingly. He learns to trust his therapist, and gains self-esteem after fixing the loom in the occupational therapy shop. The staff think he’s ready to go home, but what about his old job? Will they take him back? This film focuses less on the treatment he gets in the hospital, and more on vocational rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the film undercuts its message somewhat by focusing on such a perfect patient—nothing goes wrong with Bud once he begins treatment, and he is able to return to his old job with no trouble whatsoever. I’m sure most real cases were a wee bit more complicated than that. Still, the film has a certain charm that comes from the bad acting (done by mental health professionals who …
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The B-1B. This Air Force film from the 80s introduces the B-1B, the new and improved version of the B-1 bomber, with flight and maintenance footage, lots of dry narration full of military terminology (including tons of usage of the term “penetration”, and stop that snickering in the back), and plenty of cheap-o 80s electronic music. While it tells us plenty about how badass the plane is, it concludes that this is mostly for the Cold War goal of deterrence, rather than actually killing anybody. A blast of late Cold War military thinking. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.