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Once Upon a Coffee House (1965)
A latter-day Miniver Cheevy
I was born in 1964. The world into which I was born was a fascinating place - Space Age optimism abounded, the War on Poverty was bravely being waged on several fronts, and rock music still had to contend with jazz and folk for the hearts and minds of the young.
However, before I could get to know this world, it changed beyond recognition. By the early '70's, only shadows remained of this world (for example, the folk-singing family who played at guitar Masses at my church).
This lost world inhabits the deepest recesses of my consciousness, and manifests itself in my fascination with movies from that period. Films like "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies" (to provide one example) provide a window into a time when bouffants, beehives, flips and cat's-eye glasses ruled the streets.
So when I ran across this movie, titled "Hootenany a-Go-Go", in the two-dollar bin of local video store, I salivated over another chance to live, even vicariously, in this lost time for an hour and a half or so. And on that score, it didn't disappoint. Sure, the canned folk music was mostly awful, the forced attempts at humor are irritating, and even the featured act of Jim, Jake and Joan (featuring a very young Joan Rivers) isn't all that interesting. Also, the tenuous plot surrounding a racy painting holds about as much water as a ten nanoliter-capacity sieve.
But who cares? For another chance to live in 1964, I'll put up with shortcomings like these.
P.S. - Hooray for Oscar Brand....
Cop Rock meets Rocky meets Superman
The strangest movie I've seen since "Popeye" - part action movie, part fantasy, part comedy and part musical, this movie stars Alan Arkin as a onetime Captain America-type superhero who fell into obscurity after being accused of being a Commie by a McCarthy-like politician. Now years later, a group of scientists, government officials and military types are trying to sober him up and bring him back to superhero trim so he may save the human race from a new peril.
That's the plot in a nutshell, but it's really the songs which make the movie. The President of the USA, annoyed at the bovine excreta being shoveled his way by his advisers, suddenly screams "B______t!", and turns the expletive into a snappy toe tapping tune. If you look carefully, you can see the actor playing the President trying to keep a straight face (and not quite succeeding).
This isn't a consistently good or entertaining movie, but the parts that are good and entertaining are well worth the $10 DVD price.
The Mole People (1956)
Dull movie, great beginning
Although this movie boasts a great cast (including Hugh "Ward Cleaver" Beaumont, Alan "Alfred the Butler" Napier, Nestor "Indeterminate Foreign Guy" Paiva, and John Agar, the patron saint of cheesy '50's sci-fi films), it isn't much of a movie. The real standout, and the guy who really makes the movie is Dr. Frank C. Baxter, Professor of English at the University of Southern California. His tedious and pretentious introduction to the film, complete with halting delivery and awkward gestures gives the movie an element of risibilty that raises it marginally above mediocrity.
What was Dr. Baxter even doing there? He was a professor of English, not a scientist, or even a social scientist. His lone qualification, apart from large bald head and round rimmed glasses, seems to have been a stint as narrator of a series of classroom instructional shorts on science. But whatever may have been the rationale for his being there, I'm just glad he was there. As the good Dr. Baxter himself would say, "Down, down, down...."
The Projected Man (1966)
What's all this then?
Start with a knockoff of "The Fly" with the setting changed from Montreal to London (England, not Ontario) with added elements of "Darkman" (though that movie was still more than 20 years in the future). Add liberal amounts of nondescript English actors, add an officious bureaucrat who looks like G.I. Joe (the one with the fuzzy hair and beard) and a cute young blonde who spends much of the movie in her underwear. Fold in lots and lots and lots of talking and top off with Bryant Halliday in some pretty cool monster makeup, and you have this movie.
Was it any good? Well, it was OK, but a movie like this seems like it should have been much more interesting. David Cronenberg could have done this much better. Heck, Freddie Francis could have done this movie better....
X Marks the Spot (1944)
Drive safely and live long enough to win the war
This short, introduced by New Jersey's Commissioner of Something-or-Other Arthur W. Magee (who talks a lot like Arthur Q. Bryan), was made during World War Two. That is very significant in that the plea for safe driving is connected to patriotism - the soporific and indeterminate commissioner makes this explicit by saying that poor driving hampers the productivity of war workers by rendering them dead. If you're dead, you probably won't punch in on time at the aircraft plant tomorrow.
After Joe Doakes (a name which was evidently the 1940's equivalent of Joe Sixpack) demonstrates is ineptitude behind the wheel in a series of comical vignettes, the mood shifts drastically as Mr. Doakes comes a cropper at a dangerous intersection. He is then escorted by his guardian angel (who wears an academic gown and a winged mortarboard!) to the place of judgment.
There a celestial judge, who may or may not be God, interrogates the angel on how well he did or didn't look after the hapless Mr. Doakes when he was out motoring. Incidentally, the courtroom seemed to specialize in handling cases of sins committed against the motor vehicle laws of the State of New Jersey. That must be a really huge courthouse!
The angel defends his actions in a series of flashbacks showing Mr. Doakes lumbering his way through wartime New Jersey, which looks arrestingly to me like Malden, Mass. in the 1960's, when I lived there as a very small child.
Having hectored the angel for his supposed incompetence, the judge turns his wrath on Mr. Doakes, who is just now realizing that he won't be home for dinner that evening. The judge then breaks the fourth wall, calling upon us, the motoring public, to pass judgment on Mr. Doakes.
Guilty or not guilty? The jury will now deliberate....
Beautiful but insubstantial
I really wanted to like this movie. The makers of this film obviously worked very hard on it and paid the most meticulous attention to detail. And it really is a beautiful movie to look at. But it's kind of like a really well presented plate of celery and whipped topping - pleasing to the eye, but it just doesn't fill you up.
As I watched the movie I kept thinking, "What's the problem? What bothers me about this movie?" It's true that there is hardly any plot (just a huge collection of action scenes) and that the dialog is really stupid. But that didn't really bother me; this is supposed (I guess) to be an homage to those old Saturday matinée serials they showed in movie theaters during the 1930's and '40's - it's juvenile on purpose. Then it hit me - those Indiana Jones movies already did this more than 20 years ago, and they did it much better.
It's never a good sign when the movie you're watching makes you think of other movies you like better.
So, sorry as I am to say, I guess I just didn't like this movie. At least I saw it at a matinée and didn't have to pay full price. That's some consolation.
They Came from Beyond Space (1967)
Goofy but enjoyable
Freddie Francis, who gave us Day of the Triffids and The Deadly Bees, among others, presents They Came From Beyond Space. Mr. Francis, who seems to have been Great Britain's answer to Roger Corman, obviously tried hard to make intelligent, compelling sci-fi movies, but was apparently restrained by tight schedules (and budgets).
This movie (based on a novel called "The Gods Hate Kansas"[???])is about a group of hyper-intelligent aliens who take over the minds of a group of brilliant scientists so they can enslave humans and build a spacecraft to allow the aliens to leave the moon, where they've been stranded, and return to their own planet. And the goofiness only begins there. There are many unintentionally funny moments in the movie (maybe not completely unintentional - it's hard to tell), such as the scene where the Main Scientist Guy discovers that the meteors that have landed in a Cornish farmer's field have come from the moon. The diagram that's apparently supposed to prove this is an ink drawing on a restaurant place mat with a large circle (maybe traced from a coffee cup bearing the bold legend "MOON".
Wow, I'm convinced!
There are many other funny scenes, but I don't want to reveal them for fear of spoiling the movie for our readers.
And spoilers they would be, for this movie, as goofy as it is (sometimes even looking like an old episode of Batman with Adam West) is actually very good. It is well written, the dialog is generally above average, the acting is good, and there is some genuine suspense. It's also refreshing to see a Pakistani actor cast in a prominent role, not as the Main Scientist Guy, but as the Auxiliary Scientist Guy, a brilliant man in his own right who assists Our Hero.
In short, this movie is worth seeing. You'll laugh, you'll be thrilled, etc. etc., etc. Best of all, you can probably get it on DVD for less than $10.
Speech: Using Your Voice (1950)
Plenty of Lip and Tongue Action!!!!
Professor E.C. Beuhler, having gained immortality (or was it infamy?) a year earlier by consenting to have himself filmed while making the Knee Test for the first "Speech" short, gets a speaking role in this sequel. But for a guy who seems to be such an expert on elocution, he seems to have an awfully raspy, sloppy voice. It's definitely not what I would call pleasing. However, the good professor wisely forgoes the opportunity to use himself as an object lesson, opting instead to parade before us even more pathetic examples of people who cannot be "heard, understood, or pleasing."
Incidentally, one of these poor souls is a rather well dressed man in what looks like a business meeting type of setting. This man incoherently mutters an odd rambling story of how he had his seat taken away from him at the bus station. Now what was the point of that story, and what was the situation that inspired its telling? That's what I want to know!
Make the knee test!
I like instructional shorts, generally. Sure, they often seem pretty goofy, but they did serve a purpose, and were generally progressive, despite their occasional tendency to encourage conformity, particularly to roles of gender and social class. But this one!
Is it really so important to maintain balance and good posture that it is necessary to compromise your dignity by placing your palms on your knees and swinging your can around in a circular motion? Besides, I actually tried making the Knee Test (strictly in the spirit of investigation, and in the privacy of my own home), and I honestly can't figure out what I was supposed to learn from it.
Sorry, but I'm just not buying this one.
Don't really know what to make of this one
I'm somewhat of two minds about this instructional short, made for teachers and social workers who assisted the developmentally handicapped. One the one hand, it addressed a real need in the education of the developmentally disabled, who though they may lack the intellectual capabilities of others, still have to deal with their sexuality like anyone else, and need guidance in this area as much as anyone else. This film makes an honest (perhaps even heroic) effort to deal with this delicate topic with sensitivity and common sense. Moreover, the "trainables" (this rather patronizing term notwithstanding) are depicted with great respect for their dignity as human beings. And yet....
I found certain facets of this film's presentation a little disturbing. I'm not sure if it's the gaudy 1970's clothing and hair styles, or the use of very tight facial closeups (including several of the narrator, which offer the viewer several seconds of unflattering footage of every pore on his large pock-marked face). Then there are several extremely awkward minutes of a perky young teacher filling an entire blackboard full of slangy synonyms for the, ..., uh, ... membrum virile for the benefit of her bewildered students.
To this film's credit, it is really only risible to the extent that it makes the teachers seem goofy; the "trainables" are, in contrast, models of human dignity. It is certainly a product of the 1970's, a time in which the idealistic young of the 1960's were beginning to move into positions in which they could put their idealism into practice.
Last Clear Chance (1959)
Why don't they look?
Some people look like cops. I don't think I could say what it is that makes someone look like a cop, but it is undeniable that some people have that cop look. One such person is William Boyett, who played cops on "Highway Patrol" and "Adam-12". He also plays a cop in this instructional short about highway safety. Specifically, Mr. Boyett plays an earnest Idaho state trooper who is absolutely dedicated to keeping people from killing themselves on the highway by playing chicken with trains.
Trooper Hal, as he is known in this short, drops by the home of a farm family to give some friendly advice to the younger son, who has just got his driver's license. After some preliminaries about road signs, obeying speed limits, and general highway safety, Hal gets to the real point of his talk: don't play chicken with trains.
Will the boy (and his dull-witted older brother) heed Hal's friendly advice? Or will one of them wind up as the subject of the kind of instructional short designed to scare the wits out of driver ed students? Oh, wait - ....
Anyhow, Hal deals with the tragedy of drivers who insist on playing chicken with trains (and come a cropper as a result) by redoubling his efforts. In a steely authoritative voice-over, he publicly declares his dedication to keeping the roads safe. This declaration is followed by footage of state troopers from various Western states saluting smartly.
Little Women (1994)
Rough going at first, but it got better
That's right, folks - I saw this movie. Moreover, I saw it in a movie theater at the time of its release, so I paid the full price of a ticket to see it.
What can I say? I wanted to see "Pulp Fiction", but my date had other ideas. Being the gentleman I am, I agreed to see what she wanted to see. And for the first half hour or so, I regretted it bitterly. "Oh, marmy, I love you so much!" (<kiss, kiss>). "Marmy"?!?!?! How disgusting!!
But I hung in there, and the movie got quite a bit better as it went on. This is probably due to the fact that, unlike everyone else in the theater, I had never read the book, and therefore had no idea was going to happen next. That tends to add a good deal of dramatic suspense to one's movie-watching experience. Add to this the fact that the movie was undeniably well-made and well-acted. I even forgave the movie for its cloyingly sappy beginning as I realized it was some kind of dramatic device (I guess) to show why the girl spends so much of the movie longing for home.
I was also intrigued by Gabriel Byrne as the stuffy German professor dude observing that Transcendentalism is just German Romantic philosophy, an observation I was actually qualified to confirm, having just read Copleston's "A History of Philosophy." But I digress, as usual.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the movie was pretty good, I guess.
Incidentally, I saw "Pulp Fiction" not long afterward, and I liked it better than this movie. Sorry.
I like the "!!?" in the title
The more attentive (not to say anal retentive) out there will notice that I've reviewed this movie before. But in the five years or so since I last reviewed this, I've had the chance to see this movie again several times (but not in its non-MST3K format; I can't seem to find that anywhere).
I don't really think any more highly of this movie now than I did then. But there are aspects of it that fascinate me almost beyond my power to describe it. First, having been born in 1964, I'm generally fascinated by movies from that era just because they depict, in whatever small way, the world into which I was being born. Whether that movie is "Fail-Safe" or "Eegah!" doesn't seem to matter; I am gripped by the thought of it.
Another thing about this movie that grabs my attention is the hair. Bouffants galore! The period of about 1962-1965 seems to have been the Golden Age of the Marge Simpson 'Do. Some of these hairstyles actually seem to defy the laws of physics. And not just the women's hairstyles, either - the sky-high pompadour of the indescribable and incomparable Atlas King (who played Harold, the indeterminately foreign sidekick)has to be seen to be believed, just as his accent has to be heard to be believed, if not understood.
Then there's the music. There's certainly a lot of bad music out there, but most of it is insipid and unoriginal. The music in this movie is terrible, but it's terrible in a way that is unlike anything else I've ever heard; particularly inimitable is the somnambulistic cowboy folk song gurgling along in the background as our hero broods his way along a funicula (that's one of those elevated trains that carries people from the foot of a cliff to the top of the cliff, as in Quebec City). Most amazing about that song is the fact that it seems to be everywhere, as if a powerful PA system is playing it about half a mile away, but it turns out to be playing on a tinny-looking AM radio (must have been a prototype Bose stereo).
There's so much more - the really awful choreography, the oily faces shown an very, very tight close up, the fact that the movie is rather well photographed, but the sound is about as awful as any I've ever heard in a movie (maybe it was all recorded playing out of a tinny AM radio).
In short, this is a really, really terrible movie, but I love it anyway. All it needs is some real strippers for its girlie show....
A Case of Spring Fever (1940)
Cheery short of the "I wish there were no such thing as _____" genre
A big wholesome slice of 1940's Americana is presented in the guise of this instructional short film on the utility of springs by the good folks at Jam Handy Productions, who were rightly renowned in their day for this sort of thing.
The People of the Conveniently Located Fruit Spreads begin their tale with a frog-faced old coot whose struggles to repair the broken supporting springs on his living room sofa are conflicting with his scheduled tee time. Falling back on a well-weathered instructional short film cliche, our ranine protagonist temeritously shouts to the heavens his wish that springs had never been created. Up pops without delay a snaggle toothed, Grandpa-hillbilly-accented elfin creature who proclaims himself to be Coily the Spring Sprite. "You'll get your wish!" coily croaks testily, and with that word, it is done - springs are no more.
Froggy the Coot, at first delighted that this brave new springless world offers no further obstacle to his putting on silly knee pants and swatting a small white ball around a large well-mown lawn, soon realizes that his foolish words have wrought a veritable dystopia - nothing works! "No springs!" cackles Grandpa Coily every time Old Frog-Face tries to do anything - dial a phone, raise his window shades, keep his front door shut, start his car - and finds himself foiled for want of springs! Reduced to the most wretched and abject repentance, Uncle Froggy is pitied by our springy friend (perhaps Coily pities the coot's odd taste in clothes), who then returns the world to its previous spring-loaded condition with a stern warning: "Don't ever wish for anything like that again!"
The blubberingly grateful frogman then applies himself to proclaiming the Gospel of Springs with the dedication of a zealot. His endless gassing on about springs ruins his friends' golf game, but they are unfortunately too polite to beat him to death with baseball bats.
A cautionary tale, this film makes me apprehensive about wishing (however lightly) for the eradication of any household item, however trivial.
I wonder how this film would have been if the old coot had wished for "No caulking"?
The Andy Williams Show (1969)
I just couldn't wait for Cookie Bear
When I was a very small boy, there were a few things on television that could always get me to laugh myself sick. The first was on syndicated reruns of the old George Reeves "Superman" series in which our Red-Caped Hero would burst through a wall with his chest thrust so far out that his nipples were practically akimbo. That bent my very young mind so far that I couldn't stop laughing over it. The second funny thing was on the old "Hee-Haw" show, in which animated pigs would scroll across the bottom of a hoedown scene dancing the Can-Can - this was never done at any particular time, and might not even appear on any particular show, but it was always worth the waiting and watching.
The third was on the Andy Williams comedy-variety show which aired in the late '60's early on Saturday evening, if I remember correctly. At some point every show this goofy black bear would saunter coolly on-stage, knock on a door (which would be answered by the affable Andy himself), and try to mooch a few cookies. The normally mild-mannered host would blow a gasket at this point, and scream at the bear that he was "never, never, NEVER getting any cookies" from him! "NEVER!!!!"
At which point our hapless ursine protagonist would fall back on his ample behind in utter defeat.
And of course, the next week, Cookie would go a-mooching all over again, with predictable results.
I was very young in 1969, so that's about all I remember about the show, except for the anticipation I felt before the bear would appear: "C'mon, don't waste my time like this! I don't want to hear any stupid singing - where's the bear?"
Andy Williams, of course, was and is a great singer with a tremendous ability to bring across just about any kind of song. He also did and does project a tremendously likable persona which has, no doubt, contributed greatly to his success in show business. Sadly though, to me he'll always be a straight man to a cookie mooching bear.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing though....
...and justice for all. (1979)
<*chomp!*> <*chomp!*> That's the sound of Al Pacino chewing the scenery.
Let me elucidate a bit. There are bad ham actors (Rod Steiger and late period Donald Pleasance come to mind) and ham actors that are so terrible that they achieve a kind of brilliance (like William Shatner). Then there are those rare ham actors that are actually pretty good. One name that occurs to me in this regard is Kenneth Branagh. Another is the Original 1970's Operatic Method Man, Al Pacino.
In the wake of his breakout roles in "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part 2" (couldn't they have thought of a more creative title for that one?), Al Pacino embarked on a series of histrionic, mega-intense Method Acting roles in great movies like "Serpico" and "Dog Day Afternoon." In 1979, he appeared in what seems to me to the apotheosis of the Era of the Method, "...And Justice for All." Here he plays Arthur Kirkland, an idealistic lawyer (!) who becomes Disillusioned with the System; he wants to see justice done, but all he sees around him is injustice, bestowed on the needy and innocent by the System. (I could follow an earlier reviewer's lead and mention that a lot of this injustice comes from his own incompetence and carelessness as an attorney, but I'm not enough of a legal expert to make such a call).
Roped into defending a thoroughly unlikeable judge (John Forsythe, in a kind of proto-Blake Carrington role) from a rape charge, Kirkland soon becomes convinced of his client's guilt. What should he do? Defend him anyway (that's his job, after all), or walk away? Meanwhile he has to deal with his aging grandfather (Method Mentor Lee Strasberg), his law partner (Jeffrey "Hey Now" Tambor), who's increasingly eccentric behavior is starting to worry his friends and colleagues, an amiable but crack-brained judge (Jack Warden), an overly smug prosecutor (Craig T. Nelson, the King of Authoritarian Smug) and the obligatory 1970's love interest (Christine Lahti).
I can never watch this movie without noticing that Al Pacino is Acting!, a sure sign that he is over-Acting! Nevertheless, I find this movie truly entertaining. It's kind of like watching Iron Chef. You might not want to eat the food, but it's fun to watch them cook.
Century 21 Calling... (1962)
Wow, look at those phones....
This is a pretty typical "Behold, the Wonders of Tomorrow!" instructional short of the early 1960's, a period in which this sort of film was already becoming outdated. In this film two wholesome, clean cut blonde kids visit the World's Fair in Seattle, where they are amazed well beyond the point of stupefaction by the telephone exhibit. Many of the futuristic wonders featured herein have long since become commonplace (e.g., speed dialing, call waiting, conference calling, pagers, etc.), but it's interesting to note that I still can't turn on my oven or air conditioner by phone. (Then again, I'm almost the last person in North America not to have a wireless phone, but never mind...)
One other interesting thing I noticed - the two kids look as though they're supposed to be teenaged sweethearts. But the girl looks as though she's at least ten years too old for her role, while the boy looks as if he's about five years too young for his.
The Girl Most Likely to... (1973)
Educational TV Movie
I saw this made-for-TV movie on ABC's Movie of the Week (or whatever it was called) when it first aired, way back when I was about nine years old. One of the few things I remember about this movie was how striking the difference was between the ugly Stockard Channing, and the hot babe Stockard Channing, a difference effected in the movie by a disfiguring automobile accident followed by some _very_ skillful plastic surgery. (What special makeup effects the makers of the movie used to pull this off, I don't know. I know the hot babe more closely resembled the real Stockard Channing.)
Another thing I remember was recognizing Stockard Channing as the hapless young woman frequently victimized by the Number Painting Guy (portrayed by future "Jeffersons" supporting player Paul Benedict) on "Sesame Street."
A third thing I remember was being introduced to the twin concepts of plastic surgery (I was REALLY impressed by Stockard's transformation) and black comedy. That's how my mother described it when I asked if the movie we were watching was supposed to be funny or not. She then explained that black comedy was something that found humor in something not normally thought of as funny (such as a poor tormented frump who gets her already ugly face ripped to shreds only to have it put back together, only much better looking than it was before, giving the erstwhile frump the opportunity to exact her revenge on the men who had treated her so cruelly when she was still ugly). Having learned this much, I considered this movie quite educational.
Another reviewer expressed the earnest wish that this movie be released on video. I concur; I'd love to see Ms. Channing's transformation again.
The Electric Company (1971)
Easy Reader - the apotheosis of cool
I was never terribly impressed by cool people. James Dean? A scenery-chewing ham. The Fonz? A clown in a leather jacket. Yes, from the time I was a kid, I always thought cool was overrated. The cool kids in school were either sadistic jerks or so obliviously self-centered that they couldn't see how ridiculous they were. Cool? Bah!
But Easy Reader, he was one cool cat who I really liked. Here was a guy who was really cool, in every way. I can't say he was a role model for me, as I could never have hoped to be as cool as he was on his nerdiest days. But I must admit, I thought he was the coolest.
Imagine my surprise when Easy Reader turned out to be Morgan Freeman!
Whatta hunka cake!
Of all the classroom instructional shorts made in the twenty years or so after the Second World War, this is probably the most well-remembered due to its inclusion in Pee-Wee Herman's HBO special back in the early Eighties. It's also a favorite of mine because it reminds me of my earliest school days back in the late 1960's. The short haircuts, the Suburban School/Institutional architecture, the prevailing spirit of patriotism and respect for authority - those were great and innocent days. Vietnam? Racial strife? Political demonstrations in the streets of Chicago being busted up by maniacal Daley cops? Mick Jagger pleading "Let's just cool out" while drug-and-booze-crazed Hells Angels bust heads at a racetrack? We who attend public schools in Suburbia knew none of it. Ours was a world of family, faith, and Space-Age optimism, thanks to our parents, teachers, and school volunteers. Would that the youth of today could know such happiness and innocence.
I was also entranced by the size of the chocolate cake our protagonist got as a reward for his good lunchroom manners. I don't remember school desserts being that capacious...
What to Do on a Date (1951)
Instructive film for us bashful types
Man, girls sure scare me. I mean, I like them and all; they sure are swell, but I just don't know what to do or say when they're around. If I see a girl I like, how do I ask her out? And if she says "Yes" (Hey, hope springs eternal, right?), then where do I take her? What do we do on a date? My own ideas of shopping for roofing nails or going to the supermarket and playing with the electric doors always fall flat. Fortunately for me, and all the other socially-challenged basement-dwelling geeks out there, this film exists to instruct in the ways of social interc-, er, interaction.
In this film, Nick, a gangly, goofy, but good-natured young fellow, yearns for the wholesome Midwestern affections of Kay, the wholesome Midwestern girl next door. He's in the same mess I am - how to convince Kay that being seen in public with him would not be the social suicide she fears it is? Nick's smirking know-it-all buddy Jeff is ready with lots and lots and lots of condescending and unsolicited advice. Soon Nick and Kay are hitting the town, going to all the hottest and hippest scavenger sales around. They seem to be on track to live happily, wholesomely and Midwesternly ever after.
This instructional short from the early 1950's is a corny, but sweetly affable example of the genre. And that Kay sure is a cutie. Rrrrrowwrrr!
"I am not a crook...."
I'm not sure I understand the need to trash instructional short films of this type; not only did they serve a purpose of sorts in their time, but they're very entertaining to watch today. While they might make us smile condescendingly, their innocence and nostalgic charm cannot but win us over.
In "Cheating" a pre-adolescent Richard Nixon, who calls himself John Taylor, yields to the temptation of getting the answers to an algebra test from Mary, his bookworm of a girlfriend. This leads to a prolonged cheating jag, which in turn disgraces Mary the Bookworm, and ends his own budding political career ("You won't have John Taylor to kick around anymore!"). Throughout the film, John's sense of dread over his pending disgrace is mirrored by the Expressionistic lighting and bleak set design.
Of course, it might be supposed that John Taylor's downfall in high school prefigured his later downfall as President. Perhaps his humiliation here fed his paranoia, which in turn led to the political dirty tricks which ended in his resignation and subsequent exile in San Clemente.
Maybe if Mary had better explained the solving of quadratic equations, we might have spared Watergate and our nation's concomitant crisis of confidence in its governmental institutions.
An immigrants'-eye view of American life
So much could be said about the shortcomings of this film: the really awful dialogue, the junior-high-school-drama-club acting, the cheesy special effects which smell more of laziness and incompetence than of a limited budget. But what fascinated me was the preponderance of foreign accents attached to roles that were supposedly all-American. This brings to my mind the idea that foreigners made this movie, and in doing so tried to represent American culture as they saw it. They wore what they saw as typical American clothes, spoke in what they saw as typical American vernacular English (albeit with pronounced though indeterminate accents), projected their view of typical American attitudes and gestures. Obviously, none of the characters portrayed are typical home-grown corn-fed Americans, but the foreign-born director, writers and actors evidently thought they were.
All of which must say something about how people from other countries see us Americans. What does it say? I'm not sure. Maybe they all think we're stupid. And if we watch movies like this, maybe we are.
Are You Ready for Marriage? (1950)
Two slightly dim-witted college kids who want to get married, but have been rebuffed by their parents, seek advice from a marriage counselor named Mr. Hall (Reuben Hill?). Mr. Hall advises them to take time to get to know each other, using a variety of silly props and a host of pseudo-scientific graphs ("Chance for Happiness" vs. "Length of Engagement", "Overall Grooviness of Feelings" vs. "Shoe Size", etc.). These graphs are typical of the type used by social scientists to make their mushy, goopy theories seem like hard science.
This short is a likably goofy example of the kind of instructional films made during the early '50's for classroom use. Mr. Hall really does, by the way, use the word "BOINNGG!!" to describe the physical attraction felt by young men and women for each other. Hmmmm...
Transporting us, like a time machine, to a happier era...
Ah, the 1940's. Just thinking of that blessed decade brings out the Miniver Cheevy in me. Would that I could have lived in that felicitous time in our nation's history. I mean, sure, we had just come through a horrible depression, we were fighting a war on several fronts against some of the most frighteningly evil dictators in memory, and would soon be forced to confront international Communism. And yet, it was also a time of innocence, of self-confidence, of cheerful sunny optimism. All the cops were kindly and helpful, all the priests looked like Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald or Pat O'Brien, and none of the criminal element so much as said "hell" or "damn".
Nowhere can that happy epoch be relived quite the way it can in the short instructional films of that era. "Hired!" is a great example of the genre. A paunchy be-Brylcreemed fortyish sales manager at a car dealership hires a young salesman who quickly proves a disappointment. Not that the young man doesn't try; he just doesn't seem to have enough on the ball. Mr. Sales Manager, disgusted and despondent over the turn things have taken, stops by his dad's place one Friday afternoon to gripe and grouse. Crumudgeounly old Dad, handkerchief firmly set on head, sets his son straight by telling him that he must work with his salesmen to get the most out of them. It isn't enough, Dad growls, to train them and let them be. You must show them how to do their jobs, encouraging them every step of the way.
Sonny the Sales Manager is inspired by Dad's talk, and shakes things up the following Monday. In no time flat, a miracle is effected, and sales are through the roof!
And so we see that with a little mental effort and a lot of elbow grease, stick-to-it-iveness, and good old American gumption, all sorts of difficulties are overcome, and all our dreams can come true.
Thank you Jam Handy, for this slice of Americana. In tribute to you, I will keep my marmalade close by, where I can easily get it.