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Any GI who has ever seen this film never forgets it. Even though it was
made in 1941, it was shown to new soldiers on a regular basis for at
least 29 years. I saw it in 1968, when I enlisted, and I know of one
ex-GI who saw it when he joined up in 1970. It could well be showing
now, for all I know.
Although there were other military training films that covered this particular subject, the main difference between this and the others is that it's far better produced and acted than virtually any other training film ever made. It was directed by John Ford, produced by Darryl Zanuck, and featured such professional Hollywood actors as Robert Lowery, Charles Trowbridge and George Reeves. If that wasn't enough to set it apart from the run-of-the-mill training film, then the footage of diseased faces, lips and other body parts was. Even more horrifying than that, though (for a newly enlisted 18- or 19-year-old, at least) was the footage of what someone who was suspected of having syphilis (which, by 1941 morality, meant anyone who had sexual contact of any kind) had to go through. Soldiers were required to report any sexual contact they had, and if there was any possibility that they may have been infected with syphilis, they were then examined by a doctor and given preventive "treatment" which involved a procedure too graphic and, frankly, too nauseating to describe here. The film served its purpose, temporarily at least--if Hedy Lamar and Betty Grable had shown up naked outside the theater after this film was shown, no soldier would have gone within 50 feet of them (of course, that would have lasted for all of 10 minutes . . . )
Anyway, I don't recommend this for anyone with a weak stomach. Or a strong stomach. Or a VERY strong stomach. The footage of the effects of syphilis is extremely hard to take--which, after all, was the whole point of showing them.
In this, among the most cruelly overlooked of his oeuvre, that great
auteur John Ford explores his recurring themes of army life and male
friendship. He looks frankly at the darker side of camaraderie, and
(atypically for him) presents a drunken night out as something that can
have dire consequences. But still, his viewpoint is one of overwhelming
respect for his characters. These men may have syphilis, Ford seems to
be saying, but they're still men.
Some may accuse Ford of misrepresentation in Sex Hygiene, claiming he exaggerates the dangers of sexual intercourse, just as he romanticised the story of Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine. But we should remember that this film is a product of its time, and we can overlook these inaccuracies for the sake of the interest that it has for any film scholar.
Sex Hygiene has everything you could look for in a Ford picture humour, emotion and a kind of rugged honesty about human relationships. If it weren't for the necessities of the war period, he probably would have chosen to set it at a cavalry outpost in the Old West. It is essential viewing for all Ford fans, and deserves to be recognised as one of his best. Francois Truffaut would have agreed.
Here's wishing a happy April to all IMDb users!
Sex Hygiene (1942)
*** (out of 4)
The rarest of all the WW2 shorts done by John Ford pretty much warns the soldiers that many women carry around various diseases and that they should be careful. We see what the exact diseases do and then we see how they are treated if possible. Syphilis and the clap are the two diseases that this film pays close attention to. If you're going to view this film then you better have a very strong stomach because the movie doesn't shy away from showing you what happens to your parts if you catch either of these diseases. The very graphic, up close photos in the film are enough to scare anyone from sex but I guess that's the whole purpose. There's really nothing here that tells you Ford directed this movie so I'm pretty sure he just had his name attached to it or did some sort of editing. The other Ford WW2 shorts at least seemed like he was behind them but that's not the case here. A strong director really wasn't needed since the material here really speaks for itself. The large portion of male nudity is probably why this film hasn't been as easy to locate as others in the series. While there's certainly nothing special here the film remains entertaining if you have the stomach for it. George Reeves, Robert Lowery and Charles Trowbridge all appear in the film playing soldiers.
This is an odd little film to review--a WWII G.I. sex education film
focusing on STDs--and it says a lot about me that I'd watch such an odd
piece of ephemera. If you do decide to watch it, be sure you haven't
eaten anything recently--a few of the scenes might make you sick! Yes,
the film is pretty explicit--with lots of male nudity and films of all
kinds of nastiness--such as pus-spewing penises, sores and a scene
involving the injection of medicine into the penis! This last one
really made me cringe--and should do the same to any guy watching!!
It's blunt and talks, mostly unflinchingly, to the servicemen to let
them know what they might be in for when they have sex.
The information, as of 1942, was pretty accurate, though the film ONLY talks about Syphilis and Gonorrhea--not the rest of the STDs you might see in those days--such as herpes and Chlamydia. Because of this, the film, while accurate, is pretty incomplete. Also, the film loses a couple points because it often intersperses euphemisms such as "private parts" when the direct terms would have made sense--though oddly, it often was very blunt and avoided such jargon at other times. Finally, the film does a great job of scaring the troops but offers little more in the way of sex education. Still, considering that the War Department didn't want to face a crisis in STDs among the troops (like happened during WWI--one of those aspects of the "Great War" you seldom hear about in most history books), it was effective in putting the fear of God in the men!! NOT for the squeamish--don't say I didn't warn you!
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