Palmour Street (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #1128 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This 50s public service film shows us the stresses and strains of a typical family, and how the ways the parents handle things affect the children. But with a difference––this family is African-American and lives in rural Georgia. The family portrayed is basically a healthy one, though the parents have some flaws. This is pretty amazing, given how much stress they are under from living in a world of poverty and oppression. In fact, this film stands in stark contrast to the other films being made during this time. Instead of being a happy housewife in a clean suburban home filled with modern conveniences, like, say, in Young Man’s Fancy, the mother in this film does her laundry with a tub and washboard after she gets home from working all day–– something that is not a choice for her, but a necessity, as the family desperately needs the money. In fact, she really wants to be able to stay home with her kids, because her only childcare option for the preschoolers is to leave them with cranky Aunt Esther, who showers affection on the baby while treating the other kids like dirt. Still, she considers herself lucky, because she has a “good man” who works hard, brings home his pay, and showers the children with affection. And you can tell that in her world, that is pretty damn fortunate. The oldest child in the family, a little girl of about 8 or 9, sensibly runs away from a creepy stranger who shouts, “Hey little girl, come here!” but she doesn’t live in the squeaky clean world of The Cautious Twins, or even in the Sid Davis universe, but in a run-down neighborhood that probably has guys like that on every corner, making that interaction seem disturbingly real. The film ends on a somewhat tragic note when the father is seriously injured in an industrial accident. The mother spends a tense night at the hospital, and is finally told by a nurse that her husband will pull through, but you know he was just inches away from death. Still, you know his injury will be very hard on the family, and the film ends like a Centron discussion film, by asking the viewer “What would you do?” if you were in this woman’s place. But there are no easy, obvious answers to that question––it’s all too easy to imagine the family being destroyed by such a stressor. Granted, they do seem to be pretty tough, resilient people, but just how much can any family take before starting to fall apart at the seams? The film is well-made and portrays the family realistically and sympathetically. It promotes the sensible proposition that children won’t be significantly damaged by the occasional family argument or harsh words, as long as they are the exception and not the rule. And although the film takes seriously the responsibilities of parents to bring their children up right, there is an implicit acknowledgement that social factors can make this difficult and can even place limits on the power parents have to give their children a good environment. Racism is not explicitly dealt with in the film––the only scene of what seems to me to be explicit racism is when the white nurse talks to the mother in a simplistic tone one might use with somebody with mental retardation––but the incredible contrast this film makes to the films about white people speaks louder than words about the effects of racism. This is an important film to watch to contrast with the other films on the archive––it gives you the other side of the 50s.

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


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