Application of Pascal’s Law, Part 1. This dry WWII vintage Navy training film about hydraulics is spiced up slightly when the concept of “work” is shown by an animated Sailor Goofus trying to move a heavy box. Otherwise, it’s just pistons moving and narration, though the design of the animation is kind of cool. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Another to Conquer. This 1941 film was made to encourage Native Americans to get proper treatment for tuberculosis, which had become epidemic in Native populations. Young adult Navajo siblings Don and Nema had both parents die from the disease, and their grandfather, Slow Talker, tells them their parents died because they had abandoned traditional ways. Nema wants she and Don to get examined to see if they have the disease, but Slow Talker is mistrustful of the white man and discourages it. Their friend Robert decides to go to the Indian school, to Slow Talker’s dismay, and there he is given a physical exam and is found to have the early stages of TB. He is sent to a sanitarium for treatment (antibiotics hadn’t been invented yet) and slowly recovers. Slow Talker, upon hearing of Robert’s illness, calls him “lazy” for staying in the hospital. But then Don collapses while working hard during the annual sheep dip, and it turns out that he has an advanced case of TB. This changes Slow Talker’s tune, and he agrees to take himself and Nema to be examined. Nema turns out to be disease-free, but Slow Talker turns out to be a carrier who may have been the one to infect his family. He makes the difficult decision to stay in the sanitarium so he won’t continue to infect his family. This film is admirable in its aims, yet it has a patronizing attitude to the Natives that it is trying to persuade. The answer is “white man’s medicine” which couldn’t have been very persuasive to Native audiences. The film has lots of historical interest in showing both attitudes toward disease and Native American life in the 40s. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Animated Sailor Cartoon. A cute animated sailor and his dog take us on an unlikely world tour and show us all the places you’ll go if you join the Navy! This silent film from what looks like the 20s combines animation and live action to reel in the recruits. Fortunately, there aren’t any wars going on in all those places, though the animated sailor and his dog get to play around with bombs and shells for a bit. A cute example of an early military recruitment film Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
Animals Growing Up. This 1949 Encyclopedia Brittanica film shows us….oh, look, baby chicks!….oh, sorry, it shows us three different kinds of….oh, look, puppies! Cute!….uh, sorry, three different kinds of animals….oh, look, that little calf can hardly stand up! Ohhhh…so cute! (Sorry.) This would be the usual dry EB fare, except for all the cute baby animals, which are entertaining by themselves. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Cuteness: *****. Overall Rating: **** (sorry, folks, I love cute animals!).
Animal Cunning. In which various kinds of wild animals are tormented and abused for our amusement. If they’re not feeding cigarettes to deer, the filmmakers are poking lizards with sticks, pulling sloths from trees, and forcing a vulture and a puma, respectively, to fight an iguana. And then there’s the narration! It’s fun to make fun of animals, kids! This film is only “educational” in the loosest sense; it looks like it was made as a theatrical short, though it looks like the New York Board of Education distributed it, probably to schools. It’s not quite as upsetting as some of the worst of this genre (Catching Trouble, anyone?), and animals are always fun to watch, but I’m glad we seemed to have grown out of thinking this sort of thing is entertainment (if we haven’t, I don’t want to know about it.) Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ***.
Angel and Big Joe. This 70s sociodrama features a teenage Hispanic boy who befriends a lonely telephone lineman. The boy is a child of migrant workers and he lives in grinding poverty with his mother and younger siblings in a shack next to the tomato fields they just harvested. His family is waiting for a call from his father, who has gone on to Texas to look for work. Angel befriends Big Joe after Joe fixes the pay phone that the family is waiting for the call to come in on. Angel is desperate to do any kind of work to help out his family, and he eventually convinces Joe to hire him to do odd jobs on his property. A friendship slowly develops between them, as Angel discovers that Joe is a divorced man whose grown son left to join the Navy, leaving him to a solitary existence. Joe had planned to build a greenhouse with his son and start a business raising flowers, but that was abandoned when the son joined the Navy. Eventually, Joe rekindles this dream, having Angel help him build the greenhouse. They raise a crop of roses together and get a good profit for them. At this point, though, Angel’s mother finally gets a call from his father and plans to take the family to join him in Texas. When he tells Big Joe, Joe encourages him to stay and be his business partner, offering to let him live in his house with him. This leaves Angel with a very difficult decision to make: does he stay with Joe and help him with his business, which he enjoys, or does he support his family by going with them to Texas to do more migrant labor, which he hates? This film was made to encourage classroom discussion about the issues it raises. It is quite touching and real; you feel like Angel and Big Joe are real people with real problems. This is a good example of the increasing sophistication educational films developed after the social changes of the 60s. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.
And Women Must Weep. This dramatic, anti-union film supposedly tells the story of a wildcat strike in Princeton, Indiana. The strike was supposedly called by a tiny committee within the union, after the union president had been fired after breaking some rules that were in the union contract. The firing causes him to call the strike as a personal vendetta against the company, and out-of-state goons came into the town to railroad the union members into supporting the strike, and to harass members who crossed the picket line. It all ends with an anonymous gunner shooting at a trailer home of one of the union members who crossed the picket line, hitting his baby. This is all presented as God's truth about unions who require membership of all company employees. Except it didn’t happen that way. We learn in the union’s rebuttal film, Anatomy of a Lie, that the strike was not wildcat, there was no secret union committee, the female union president discouraged the union from striking because of her firing, there were no out-of-state goons, and the police determined that the shooting at the trailer home had nothing to do with the strike. This totally undercuts the message of this film and makes you wonder about the real motives of the filmmakers. Even without the information in Anatomy of a Lie, there are aspects of the film that don’t hang together. For instance, if the strike was wildcat, where did the out-of-state goons come from? Certainly not the union, if it didn't approve of the strike. This film is the very essence of propaganda: overly emotional and not too concerned with the facts. The fact that the National Right to Work Committee still touts it as truth does not speak well for that organization. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.
And So They Live. This 1940 documentary shows us the lives of the poor mountain people in rural Kentucky. It focuses mainly on one poverty-stricken family that lives in a log cabin, farms corn on depleted soil, and eats a diet consisting mainly of biscuits, cornbread, fat pork, potatoes, wild berries, and little else. Their lives are shown with little narration, and the visuals tell the story. What narration there is focuses on how the curriculum taught in the one-room schoolhouse the children go to has little relevance for them, and how necessary subjects that could improve their lives, such as improving the soil through crop rotation, or milking the goats that they keep, are not even mentioned. The most striking scene, though, is at the end of the film, when the father of the family gets out his banjo and plays a ditty. One of his young sons, who couldn’t be more than 6 years old, dances a jig to the music. His father is so pleased with his son’s dance that he rewards him with a cigarette, which the boy promptly lights and smokes like an experienced smoker. The striking images of poverty and rural life in this film are unforgettable, and give the film lots of historical interest. Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *** (mostly for the child smoking scene; otherwise it would get an N/A). Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Beginning Responsibility: Taking Care of Things

Beginning Responsibility: Taking Care of Things . Grade-schooler Andy is a slacker in the taking-care-of-things department, so he suffers t...