The Dust Bowl (film #6 in the 1929 Stock Market Crash and Great Depression section of WPA Film Library). [Category: News]Newsreel footage, mostly silent, of parched farmlands, dust storms, and rural people battling dust. Most of this is sepia-tone, so it really has an old-time feel to it. The last clip is from a British sound newsreel reporting the dust bowl refugees immigrating to California. These clips are historically interesting, giving you a real feel for the long-term disaster of the Dust Bowl.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
The Battle of France (film #516 on Universal Newsreels). [Category: Military & Propaganda]Newsreel story about the Allied drive across France after D-Day. This is pretty standard, though there are a few striking images of soldiers and prisoners of war. Unfortunately, the footage is murky, so it’s hard to see those striking images.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: *. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.
The Face in the Mirror (I Wonder) (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #493 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Industrial]I was utterly charmed by this Jam Handy sales training film. In it, a salesman on his day off gets sent by his wife on a shopping spree in one of those downtown areas that don’t exist anymore. There he deals with salesmen from terrible to excellent in all the different stores he goes into. And this was in the days before self-service in retail, so he has to deal with salesmen in all of them. After buying a bunch of stuff, he drops in on his boss (why, I don’t know, since it’s his day off––must be a workaholic) who encourages him to use the experiences he had with salesmen that day to help him sell better himself. This is actually one of the most effective Jam Handy films I’ve seen. Although working in sales is anathema to me, I found myself being swept along by the message of this film that selling mainly involves being friendly, helpful, and considerate of your customers, along with knowing your product and being enthusiastic about it. The successful salesmen show a masterful knowledge of psychology in the way they smoothly convince the main character to buy without making him feel like he’s been sold something. And the simple, commonsense advice given in the film makes sales seem a much friendlier, and less exploitative, a profession. The film is also appealing from a historical perspective, in showing a way of shopping that doesn’t exist anymore. Jam Handy has made some stinkers, some howlers, and some films that are extremely weird, but this film shows that when he was at his best, his films were right on the money in conveying the message they were designed to convey.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.
The Effects of Atomic Bomb Explosions (film #2 on Atomic Memories (Video Yesteryear)). [Category: Military & Propaganda]This film has a real campy opening: an army officer on furlough encounters a culture gone atom-crazy ("That guy's got a punch like an atom bomb!" "Try our Atomic Cocktail") and lots of ordinary folks with outrageous misconceptions about the bomb ("What scares me is that awful gas that deforms ya!"). Back from leave, he relates his experiences to his commanding officer, played by Hugh Beaumont, and Dad––uh, I mean Hugh––has a man-to-man talk with him, setting him straight on the facts of life about the a-bomb. Actually, this is one of the few cold-war propaganda films from this period that doesn't grossly underestimate or gloss over the destructive effects of the bomb. Of course, it was made to be shown to army personnel, rather than average citizens––the average folk were watching things like Duck and Cover and You Can Beat the A-Bomb, in which the bomb only musses things up a bit (which nobody believed). So no wonder people were confused. A great relic of the Cold War.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
The Barber Shop (film #1 on Six Short Films: W.C. Fields DVD (The Criterion Collection, 2000)). [Category: Hollywood]W. C. Fields plays a small town barber in this short, and all I can say is don’t allow him near your face, or any other part of your body, for that matter. The short has the usual cranky wife, bizarre plot, and witty Fields asides you expect from one of his films. There’s also a perfunctory chase scene with a bank robber and an ending where you find out where tiny violins come from. As usual with Fields, this is inspired strangeness, with a creakiness that makes you feel like you’re in the 19th century instead of the 20th.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
From Beatnik to Beauty (film #8 in the Makeovers, Diets & Fitness section of WPA Film Library). [Category: Hollywood]In this clip from a British newsreel featurette, a swinging beatnik chick goes into a beauty shop full of staid, girdle-wearing middle-aged suburban women and, through the miracle of “the deception that is a part of a modern women’s lifestyle,” gets transformed into a staid, girdle-wearing, middle-aged (her “beauty treatment” ages her at least 20 years) woman who is all ready to find a nice husband and move into the suburbs. More horrorific than The Stepford Wives, because such places actually exist! One of the campiest films from the WPA Film Library, which is usually pretty staid itself.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
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 ...
Autumn on the Farm . Farm kids Joan and Jerry have fun exploring the farm during the autumn in this 1940s EB film. They pick apples, grapes...
Beginning at Plymouth Colony. From the title, this 50s film sounds like it will be a dry historical film about the settlers at Plymouth Co...
Beginning Responsibility: Taking Care of Things . Grade-schooler Andy is a slacker in the taking-care-of-things department, so he suffers t...