A Child Went Forth (film #312 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This 40s film documents a progressive summer camp for young children, one that allows them to spend their time in free play, learning to solve their own problems. Mostly what we see are idylic images of small children playing freely in a farm setting. Adult supervision seems minimal, but the kids never seem to get really out of control, so you know that there must have been some limits. This film recalls a time when people seemed to be a lot less afraid of children or for children––I doubt whether much of this would fly today. The kids are genuinely cute and charming and the scenes seem quite realistic. The only thing that bothered me was some of the interactions with animals––these were for the most part little kids who didn't yet realize that animals have feelings and that if you pick up a bunny by its ears, it hurts. I think a little more adult supervision was called for there. There are also some brief, innocent scenes of nudity, generally involving water play, that may seem disturbing from today's perspective, but probably were not problematic in that time and place. This is a charming film, for the most part, though. If you like to watch little kids playing in an outdoor setting, then this is your movie.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Basic Typing, Part 1: Methods (film #189 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

This is a World War II vintage Navy training film. Nevertheless, we know which naval personnel it is aimed at when it asserts that "typewriters make it possible for women and girls to do work as important as men." Meaning no Navy man had to mess around with this sissy typing stuff. A female typing champion narrates most of the film, primly giving out more rules than a Simmel-Misservy manners film. You know a time-and-motion study specialist was involved in this when she carefully and repeatedly shows us the one and only proper way to insert paper into the typewriter. This is as stark as the typical military training film, with absolutely no music on the soundtrack, just narration and typing sounds. It's not quite as boring as it sounds, though, because it brings back all those memories of typing, such as handling greasy ribbons; struggling with those stupid typing erasers that didn't properly erase until you had worn a hole in the paper, which required you to retype the whole damn page, cursing all the while; malfunctioning machines that placed certain letters above the baseline, or filled in the openings in O's or A's; trying desperately to type out forms and align the linespacing so the letters will go on the blanks, not under or over; and the horrors of carbon paper. Lots of vintage typewriters, including what must have been the first electric typewriter, are also shown. Remember, what you type is not as important as how you type. The purpose of this is improved communication.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Assassin (film #6 in the Indie section of Movieflix (www.movieflix.com)). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

This short, strange film features a Chinese assassin, Wong Yung, and documents him shooting his latest victim, a prosecuting attorney named Mr. Widderoe. The film seems Chinese and is narrated in Chinese with English subtitles, but appears to take place in America, with views of American newspaper headlines. Also, it's said at one point that Wong Yung is a judge, so maybe his assassinations are a form of moonlighting? I can't figure this film out. It is rather well-made and compelling to watch, though.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Auto-Lite on Parade.

This bombastically-narrated 30s film is all about the Electric Auto-Lite Company, which makes things like sparkplugs, batteries, headlights, gages, and bumpers for automobiles, as well as leather goods, pots and pans, and, well, let's just say they make everything under the sun. Most of the film is an ultimate factory tour of every department in every plant. If you like factory footage, then this is your film. The narrator goes on and on about the "men" of Auto-Lite despite the fact that most of the workers seen are women. The real highlight of the film, though, comes at the end, when we get to see a stop-motion animation parade of Auto-Lite products, similar to the one in Aluminum on the March. I'm a real sucker for this sort of thing, and this one doesn't disappoint. It's ends with a marching Auto-Lite guy made of sparkplug boxes, which is, of course, essential. This is definitely an industrial film for collectors, not so much because it's unusual as that it's so characteristic of the genre.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

The Days of Our Years (MST3K Episode #623: The Amazing Transparent Man. Also on disc 4 of The Mystery Science Theater Collection, Vol. 3 DVD (Rhino, 2003). Also, film #1 on Our Secret Century, Vol. 4: Menace and Jeopardy CD-ROM (Voyager). Also, film #408 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Industrial]

One of the most maudlin safety films ever made. A pastor in a railroad town tells us the tragic stories of three of his parishioners, all of whom were victims of the safety film's ubiquitous bugaboo: carelessness. A truck driver speeds on the way to meet his fiancee, gets in an accident, and ends up with a permanent spinal cord injury; an engineer approaching retirement has a heart attack while working and accidentally runs over and kills his best friend and across-the-street neighbor; and a new father is blinded by a welding torch when he startles a welder while handing out cigars. Of course, the railroad (the Union Pacific, who made this film) is in no way responsible for these accidents, the pastor reminds us over and over. And, of course, the victims and their families are doomed to a life of bitterness forever after. Most safety films, in an attempt to produce feelings of pity for accident victims (and scare their audiences), actually promote appalling attitudes towards them. This film is one of the worst of the bunch in that respect. Although the fiancee of the injured truck driver marries him anyway (because she's "that kind of girl"), she wears ordinary street clothes to the very sparsely-attended wedding––I guess that people with spinal cord injuries aren't entitled to fancy weddings. The new father who was blinded sits on the porch bitterly smoking and occasionally playing with the baby (whom he, of course, "has never seen"). The guy who had the heart attack gets the worst of the lot––it's obvious that his neighbors now despise him, and deservedly so. How careless of him to have had a heart attack! In all cases, the victims' lives are shown to be essentially over. Rehabilitation and adaptation to disabilities is not even hinted at. I wonder if some of the prejudice and discrimination towards the disabled is due to films like this. The msting is great fun, though: "I had an accident, too!" "Obey the toaster!" "Don't forget to worship at the railroad of your choice." One of the best shorts of the Mike era.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Msting: *****. Overall Rating: *****.

Brooklyn Goes to San Francisco (film #150 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Hollywood]

A bald-headed bozo from Brooklyn narrates this travelogue about San Francisco. It's not exactly, uh, an intellectual experience, but it does contain lots of historically interesting footage of 50s San Francisco, as well as a lot of bad jokes.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Are You Popular?.

This 40's "social guidance" film seems particularly aimed at girls, reinforcing the double standard prevalent at that time. "Nice girl" Carolyn is portrayed as deserving of popularity, while "bad girl" Ginny, who parks in cars with boys at night (gasp!), is portrayed as a well-deserved social pariah. In general, teens are told that everything in their lives will run smoothly if they only follow a few simple rules of manners and morality. Parents are portrayed as eminently well-mannered and reasonable, so there's the implication that if a teen's own parents aren't like that, it's the teen's fault for failing to reach the standard of perfection displayed (and shown to be easy). It must have been depressing to be a teen at that time (as if being a teen is ever easy).

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

The Bandit King (film #4 on The Origins of Cinema, Vol. 5: Rare Films (Video Yesteryear, 1997)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

A very short, very early, very confusing Western. Lots of ridin' and shootin', though. A 1907 William Selig film.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: **.

The Heidi Game (track #29 on Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments DVD (Garner Creative Concepts, 2002)). [Category: News]

This segment of Stay Tuned documents one of the biggest flubs in the history of sports television, when the telecast of a 1968 football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders was stopped prematurely so that a tv-movie version of Heidi would start on time. This turned out to be a really exciting game in which the Oakland Raiders made two touchdowns during the last minute of the game, after Heidi had started. Unfortunately, they don't actually show the moment of Heidi breaking in on the game. They do show the last minute of the game that didn't get broadcast, as well as David Brinkley's comments about the whole affair, and they interview the actual NBC employee that made the decision to pull the game. He not only didn't get fired, but got promoted to the position of David Brinkley's director soon afterwards. Such is life in the corporate world of broadcasting. Of course, I'm not a sports fan, so I don't really care. But this is one of the more interesting chapters in the history of sports broadcasting.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Drive-In Movie Double Feature #20 (Sinister Cinema). [Category: Commercial]

Although the film quality is not great (common with snack-bar promo collections––these things were probably not very well-preserved), this is probably the best of this series that I've seen so far because it contains many of the really memorable promos, such as the 2001-style Sprite promo and the Buttercup Popcorn jingle. Sinister Cinema gets 5 extra points, though, for keeping repetition to a minimum in this series.


  • Practically all the food pictured looks really terrible, even taking into account the washed-out colors and the usual unappetizingness of these things.
  • While the announcer enthusiastically cries, "Mmm! What a hamburger!!", the kid pictured eating it looks like he's on Thorazine.
  • Nutrition Alert! According to this tape, the following items are "nutritious": Buttercup Popcorn, Hollywood Candy Bars.
  • This drive-in will remain open all year round, thanks to "Bernz-O-Matic" in-car heaters. Is that really the best name they could think of for that product?
  • Msties, take note: contains the trailer for First Spaceship on Venus.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Annie Oakley (film #12 on Edison Film Archive). [Category: Early Film & TV]

Annie gets her gun and shoots off several targets, then a guy throws things in the air (it's hard to tell what they are) and she hits every one. Impressive. An 1894 Edison film.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Better Reading

Better Reading . Teenager Harold Wilson has a problem—he can’t read for (expletive deleted). So he has to spend all his free time studying ...