Fantoma Films presents
The Educational Archives: Patriotism (1944-76)
"I'm glad it's fun growing up in America!"- One of the Johnson boys, from A Day of Thanksgiving
Stars: Bob Crane, June Foray, Daws Butler, Bill Scott, Herschel Bernardi, Jack Benny, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope, Loretta Young, William Holden, Paul Douglas, Jack Webb, Robert Conrad, Jay North, Margaret O'Brien
Director: Ray Nankey, William Hurtz, Leo McCarey, Lewis Allen, Jack Tilles, George Waggner, Art Evans
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 02h:56m:16s
Release Date: 2003-09-09
DVD ReviewOur friends at the Educational Archives are at it again—here they've assembled thirteen odd little archaic industrial films designed to stir our patriotism. It's easy to dismiss or laugh at these, but in a post-9/11 America, you may find yourself both pretty jaundiced by anyone who claims to have a monopoly on patriotism, and moved by the genuine sacrifices made by so many in the name of liberty. This disc doesn't provide the laugh riot of previous Educational Archives titles on work or sex, but they're still pretty remarkable bits of recovered Americana. And off we go:
Despotism— 1945 (10m:14s)
"But it must be true. I saw it in this book right here!"
From the last days of World War II comes this quasi-scientific study of societies—a narrator provides us with a series of sliding scales, on which we can judge whether a government practices democracy or despotism, the yin and yang of this short. Basically, we're the good guys, and Germany sucks—but the perils of the Third Reich are in danger of resurfacing right here at home. We see a couple of brownshirted soldiers demanding a salute from a civilian as they walk down Main Street, in front of Palmer's Pharmacy; a brochure for a resort cheerily asks, "Are there any Hebrews in your party?"
A lot of this seems like fake quantification—put something on an object that resembles a slide rule, and it must glean the truth. The film also makes the case for a progressive income tax, and discusses the distribution of wealth at length—a few more steps down this path, and we're at: From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. Mostly, despotism is discussed as some highly contagious germ to avoid—this film wants to be to despotism what Listerine is to gingivitis.
A fairly solid four projectors on our five-projector scale.
Patriotism— 1972 (09m:09s)
"Good people make a good country."
Hoooooooooogan! Bob Crane hosts this lesson in patriotism for the young folk, and the emphasis is on thinking globally, and acting locally. Crane extols the neighborhood kids for planting trees, cleaning up an abandoned yard, even writing to their councilman to get a stop sign put up at the corner of Maple and Locust. (Hey, it takes a village.) Some of it seems almost a little Tom Sawyer, getting these kids to paint a fence in the name of their country, and some of it is just odd: "Your family is a little country," for instance, or Bob telling us that it's patriotic to let your friend use your baseball mitt. It's sort of an early lesson in Edmund Burke—Love your little platoon—but the more you know about Crane, the queasier you're likely to find this. This short would be especially welcome as a prologue to Auto Focus.
The Great Rights— 1963 (13m:14s)
"What if the Bill of Rights disappeared?"
On a tour of our nation's capital, things take a Kafkaesque turn for Millie and her father, as they're hurtled into an alternate universe in which the Bill of Rights no longer exists. Dad can barely remember his government class from school, and that's a problem now, for his newspaper is being censored, he's being interrogated without counsel, and is subjected to a show trial, without a jury. This is an animated short that plays out like a Twilight Zone episode, with the father literally shrinking in his daughter's eyes as he's stripped of his rights; John Ashcroft might want to give this one a look. Some of the voices are familiar—they include June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Squirrel, as Millie, and Herschel Bernardi, mistakenly referred to in the introductory panel as "Bernadi."
Duck and Cover— 1951 (09m:05s)
"No matter where they go or what they do, they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then."
This short will be familiar to fans of The Atomic Café, in which it was prominently featured—shots of Burt the Turtle, a cartoon character with a catchy little jingle, are intercut with "appropriate" procedure should World War III break out. The damage from an atomic bomb could be worse than a sunburn! It's full of the paranoia of the period, with air raid sirens and shelters, and insanely misguided information—you can protect yourself from nuclear radiation with your coat, or a newspaper or a tablecloth, or even by placing your hands over the back of your neck. In a post-9/11 environment, it's a little more difficult to laugh at the naïveté on display here—the government clearly lied to its people back then, and now the Department of Homeland Security tells us that all we need to stave off Armageddon is duct tape.
A Day of Thanksgiving— 1951 (12m:12s)
"A fat lot we're gonna have to be thankful for."
It's been a rough year in the Johnson household—money is tight, and there just isn't enough in the kitty to pay for a Thanksgiving turkey. The four Johnson kids are bitterly disappointed at first; but soon, they and their parents start counting their blessings, and realizing just how much they have to be thankful for. The anticipated deus ex machina never arrives—no forgotten cousin showing up with a turkey and the trimmings—but this is a surprisingly moving (if obviously hokey) little holiday tale about being thankful for the little things in life.
You Can Change the World— 1952 (28m:03s)
"The big things little people can do!"
There's some serious A-list talent on hand for this very long conversation. Academy Award winner Leo McCarey (he won for The Awful Truth) directs; the action is at Jack Benny's house, and Jack is having some of his Hollywood pals over for a chat. They include Irene Dunne, William Holden, Loretta Young, and Paul Douglas, but the guest of honor is Father James Keller, head of the Christophers, sort of a good Samaritan organization; Father Keller wants his new Hollywood pals to help him spread the good word about his group, which is dedicated to convincing people to serve others. The Christophers recruit for vacancies in public schools and libraries, for instance—"A job with a purpose—so you can whistle while you work!" The unnamed enemy is that nasty 1%—"that 1%'s a cozy gang. All the want to do is tear the heart out of the Declaration" of Independence. The word "Communist" isn't used, but the point is clear; and while you've got to admire Father Keller's good heartedness, you also may wonder if he's right in thinking that more librarians would have foiled the Nazis.
There are some jokes about Benny's legendary frugality, especially when Father Keller places a long-distance call to his buddy Bob Hope, shooting a movie in Texas. Curiously, Bing Crosby is billed in the opening credits, but doesn't in fact appear in the film.
200— 1976 (03m:15s)
"A Production of the United States Information Agency."
Produced for the American bicentennial, it's patriotism as a psychedelic cartoon. Guitar licks play as a bald eagles transforms into the Liberty Bell, and the Great Seal of the United States spins around and around on a sort of patriotic funhouse ride. An astonishing waste of taxpayers' money.
Freedom Comes High— 1944 (12m:55s)
"No matter what happens, I shall always be with you."
A sad little wartime tale, with Steve having signed up for the Navy; he's on a battleship in the Pacific, and he writes home daily to his wife, who works in a munitions factory. We crosscut between the front and the homefront; the combat footage is particularly graphic, with huge torpedoes blasting off at an alarming rate. I assume that the producers were counting on the power of empathy, because there's not much comfort in this short tale of a woman who fears with great reason that her man isn't coming back.
Getting Ready Emotionally— 1951 (10m:23s)
"Have you ever fired a rifle? For some people, it's fun."
One in a series produced for newly enlisted military men, this film assures us that high school is a picnic compared to the rigors of basic training, and you'd better have the right attitude, soldier. The producers evidently believe that discipline is a serious problem: "Will you be ready to obey orders, and comply with military discipline?" The young man on hand is not, and displays some obvious issues with authority—if he can't take constructive criticism about his forehand grip, how is he going to do with his drill sergeant? The film doesn't offer much of a solution—in short, "Get yourself straightened out." The next in the series promises to be even more tantalizing for these future combat veterans, for it will advise them on Getting Ready Morally.
Mission: Sonic Boom— 1959 (10m:04s)
"Sonic boom is the sound of security."
Here you'll find the dark underbelly of all the bravado portrayed in The Right Stuff: the Air Force makes for lousy neighbors, with all of that goddamned noise. This film was produced for those living near USAF bases, complaining that the astonishingly loud sonic booms were, among other things, scaring the hell out of the cattle. Basically, the Air Force answer is: suck it up, in the interests of national security. "The sonic boom is unavoidable," we're told, and it's always trouble when the government moves into passive voice: "Everything that can be done is being done." Oh, yeah? Well, then, Colonel, you come milk Bessie after your damn planes have shattered all the windows in the barn.
How We Got What We Have— 1950 (21m:32s)
"Our government is our servant, not our master."
Did you watch Land of the Lost as a little kid, with 20th-century Americans transported back to the dinosaur age? Put a patriotic spin on that, and you'll come up with this short—what if there were no farms, towns or jobs, and babies were replaced with dolls carried by bad actresses? A few Americans are magically transported back to a time of pre-history, and things are very Hobbesian, nasty, brutish and short. Basically, it's American chauvinism as an Outward Bound trip: "How long could you stay alive, dumped into a real wilderness?"
The emphasis is on the ingenuity of the early American settlers, at the expense of those who were here first—Manifest Destiny means that white folks are smarter than "the Indians" because white people imported tools. Toss in actors in ill-fitting wigs in a sorry re-creation of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and an explanation as to why traffic lights are the ultimate expression of liberty, and, my fellow Americans, you've got yourself a party.
Red Nightmare— 1962 (28m:42s)
"Instead of the sweet dreams his wife wished him, let's give Jerry a nightmare. A real Red nightmare."
What's black and white and Red all over? This movie! Jack Webb hosts, though this is a role more suited to Rod Serling than Sergeant Friday. Jerry Donovan is just an ordinary American, who loves his family but takes his freedoms for granted. He goes to sleep, and finds himself in an alternate universe in which everyone refers to everyone else as "comrade." And we know what that means—Jerry and his kind are denounced as "an ugly remnant of a diseased bourgeois class," all the churches have been shuttered, and there's a Soviet-style interrogation, much like the one in The Great Rights. Extra special kudos to Robert Conrad, who appears briefly as a factory comrade seeing to it that Jerry meets quota.
The Pledge of Allegiance— 1971 (07m:21s)
"With liberty and justice for all."
The true stars here are Betsy Ross and John Philip Sousa—the soundtrack blares Stars and Stripes Forever, and we see many flags in many configurations: little kids pledging the flag and raising the flag and painting pictures of the flag; flags in the yard, flags on the fire escape, Neil Armstrong and a flag on the moon. We're treated to four full recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, and on some level the film invites a Derridean deconstruction of the gap between signified and signifier. Sure to stir passions in those hot to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
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Image Transfer Review: The film quality is ratty and ragged on almost all of these, and little or no effort was made to clean them up for DVD. If you want better visual quality on these films, that probably means that you're un-American.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono is probably what you'll want to listen to, full as it is with scratches and hiss. As with the other releases in this series, you can click on over to a 5.0 "Classroom Experience" track, which reproduces the clickety clack of the reels spinning on an ancient projector, and muffles the sound, as if it were coming from that projector's teeny little speaker. It's cute and retro for a little bit, but soon becomes deeply annoying.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
- bonus film strip (see below)
- insert booklet with notes from curator Skip Elsheimer
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsHokey, overdone, frequently offensive, occasionally genuinely moving, these thirteen films will both get you in touch with your inner patriot, and make you want to run screaming from the room the next time some loudmouth tells you that he's a better American than you. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above.
Jon Danziger 2003-09-15