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.
The Adventure of the Dumbfounded Detective (extra on The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes DVD (MGM, 2003)).
This is a vignette that was scripted but deleted from the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Holmes recounts a story from his youth about an experience that led him to distrust women and romance. There is little of the filmed scene, and the empty spaces are filled with pages from the printed script and photographs. Still, you get a pretty good idea of the story. I felt the vignette was pretty obvious, but maybe it worked better within the context of the full film. Holmes fans may enjoy this glimpse into the famous detective’s youth.
50s newsreel documenting the successful launch of Explorer I, the first US satellite. It was well behind the Soviets, but that wasn’t mentioned. Also included is a story on Egypt and Syria merging to form the United Arab Republic. This is a fairly standard 50s newsreel with some historical value.
Blue and Gray at 75th Anniversary of Great Battle (available for download from Universal Newsreels).
30s newsreel of the unveiling of a Civil War monument at Gettysburg by President Roosevelt. Civil War veterans of both north and south shake hands over a dividing line. This was back when there were still living Civil War veterans, which gives this some historical interest. Unfortunately, the sound is only intermittent and the visuals are dark and murky, which reduces its value somewhat.
This 50s film, sponsored by General Electric, is the quintessential industrial capitalist propaganda film. It tries very hard to sell the idea that what’s good for General Electric is good for the nation. It starts with a brief history of the American Revolution and manifest destiny, then goes on to the history of electrical technology, calling invention “another kind of pioneering.” Then we get to see the world of the 1950s “electrical age,” and how electricity has given us more freedom and power. Then the life of an old man is profiled, as it shows how electricity has changed American life in his lifetime. Then, of course, it goes on to show us the electrical future, including a wonderful profile of an all-electric “Home of the Future.” We just get to the glories of atomic energy, when suddenly the film casts a Cold War shadow on all these rosy proceedings, and starts emphasizing how we must diligently protect our freedoms against the godless Commies. It ends bombastically, with the future of America involving endless industrial growth, with no downside to such growth presented whatsoever. This is a great film for showing us what corporate America wanted the American people to think during the 50s. It’s all here: endless growth, technology as the answer to all human problems, red-baiting, and visions of the World of Tomorrow. A great piece of history, as well as a film that is ripe for parody and msting.
Infant and Child Care (film #8 on Atomic Scare Films, Vol. 2 (Something Weird, 2000)).
Infant and child care under "disaster," i.e. bomb shelter, conditions is the topic here. Although in color, this film is stark and bleak. Somehow, seeing kids languidly tossing a baseball back and forth in a bomb shelter gives immediate meaning to the phrase "the living will envy the dead," especially if you imagine them having to stay in the shelter for more than a few days. Even teens are touched upon, and that opens up a whole new can of worms in your mind. One of the better arguments against nuclear war.
Bugs Bunny’s big mouth gets him into a single-handed baseball game against the Gas House Gorillas, a real bunch of hoodlums. This classic Bugs toon features all the great Warner Bros. baseball gags you remember, including the screaming fly ball, Bugs pulling a reversal in the “safe/out” argument, and the “he got it” gag. A necessary piece of pop culture.
Jack and the Beanstalk (film #24 on The Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection, Vol. 1 DVD (Image Entertainment, 1999)).
This cartoon retelling of the traditional fairy tale has lots of wonderful cartoony touches, such as anthropomorphic magic beans and a doorbell on the giant's castle that plays the upper towers like a calliope. Cute and lots of fun.
A chain gang is marched out for work, complete with chains, striped suits and all. Most of the prisoners are African-American. A bit of American prison history, as well as a source of stereotypes. A 1902 Edison film.
Alka-Seltzer (available for viewing in the Buster Keaton on TV section of TVParty).
Buster Keaton plays a mountie in trouble who is helped by Speedy Alka-Seltzer to relieve his headache and indigestion and, oh yeah, get his man as well. This is a fun commercial with Keaton providing a not-embarrassing celebrity appearance and Speedy providing a cute Mr. Product character.
Alan Freed’s Big Beat Dance Party Dancers (available for viewing on Oldies Television).
We see a bunch of 50s teenagers dancing to a doo-wop song on “Alan Freed’s Big Beat Dance Party.” Then we see some brief clips of Freed answering to payola charges, and then a clip from the show after the host was replaced. This is definitely a piece of rock and roll history that needs to be preserved.
Land of Ten Thousand Lakes (available for download from Google Video).
This 30s Department of the Interior film shows us scenes from several of Minnesota’s state parks. But unlike most of the films in this series, there’s no mention of history, park improvements, or the Civilian Conservation Corps. Instead, the focus is on the people who visit the parks for recreational purposes. Scenes of people camping, hiking, fishing, and picnicking in beautiful surroundings are shown with a minimum of narration. This gives the film a lot of historical value in showing us what outdoor recreation was like in the 30s.
Alan North Audition (extra on Police Squad! DVD (CBS Paramount, 2006)).
Several audition tests for Alan North, the actor who played Frank Drebbin’s boss on “Police Squad!” These are pretty stark, but they do show that North had the character of Ed Hocken down pat, and that the scripts were pretty strong.
This is another film about the dangers of blasting caps, this time targeting teens and taking place during the 70s. A kid finds a blasting cap, and even though he doesn’t know what it is, he thinks it would be a good idea to hook it up to the radio he’s building (where’s Dick York when you need him?). Fortunately, he has a friend who remembers seeing a poster warning about blasting caps at school. The friend calls the police, who send out a guy in a red car, labeled “EXPLOSIVES,” who verrry carefully puts the blasting cap in a metal strongbox and then shows the kids a video about the dangers of blasting caps from the tv he just happens to have in the back of his car. The highlight of this is a bizarre-looking mannequin that is used to show what would happen to a person in the vicinity of an exploding blasting cap. This film isn’t nearly as much fun as Blasting Cap Danger, but it does make its point quickly, without wearing out its welcome.