Friday, November 24, 2006

A Cautionary Tale of Stranger Danger

All across this great land, from California to the Maine, school children of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, were treated to film strips which were meant to keep them on the moral path to good citizenship. The stories were designed not only to scare the hell out of them, but to keep them safe from strangers, drugs, alochol, juvenile delinquents, cars, and those kids that didn't have proper posture. Some of you will also remember the horrific drivers ed films that were shown during high school drivers education class. [Good god, he's backing up on the freeway! screeeech.... crash!] These cautionary films continued to be shown until they either became too tattered to play, or were made obsolete by vhs tape.

On October 16th, one of this genre's best known filmmakers, Sid Davis, died at the age of ninety years in Los Angeles. Sid produced films which warned of the danger that waited around every corner, waiting to strike the child who was careless or didn't follow the rules of polite society. Sid was also John Wayne's stand in from 1941 to 1952.

After a local case in which a young girl was abducted and murdered by a stranger, Sid became concerned about his own daughter who was the same age as the murdered girl. He didn't think she was paying attention to his warnings about strangers. He approached John Wayne for a loan of $1000 and funded his first film, The Dangerous Stranger.

Sid sold this cautionary tale, of what can happen when a child talks to a stranger, to the schools as well as the police. He made enough money from this film to continue a career which spanned decades and reportedly produced over 180 of these classroom social guidance and safety films. Sid addressed serious topics such as drug use, teenage delinquents, drivers education, social behavior, and morality. Unfortunately many of these films no longer exist.The filmstrips were run over and over until they fell apart or could no longer be spliced together. Others were thrown away when there was no longer a use for them.

One which remains intact and can be viewed online -see the link at the bottom of this post- is Live and Learn. In this film, children are warned to think before they act. Otherwise they'll be like the kids in this film who "ended up in an ambulence."

Here we have pictures of an accident waiting to happen and the aftermath of another. The little girl is Sid's daughter Jill, who in the film runs with scissors and impales herself. The little mummy child is the boy who was playing with matches, and used a can of gasoline to get the fire really going.

In Sid's films, you could pay dearly for your carelessness. Along with the impalement and horrible burns, children in this film manage to: fall out of a canoe; break a leg jumping off a roof; lose an eye in a bb gun accident; get hit by a car; fall off a cliff; and end up face down in a pool after being jumped on after a dive. The kid who falls from the cliff only breaks his wrist, which is not terrible considering how far he fell. But there is no sympathy for this careless rule breaker as the narrator intones threateningly, "The boy learned what fences were for the hard way."

Some of Sid's other productions were the fantastically titled:
1. The Bottle and the Throttle
2. Boys Beware
3. The Terrible Truth
4. Why Take Chances
5. What Made Sammy Speed?
6. VD
7. Say No to Strangers
8. ABC's of Walking Wisely
9. Gossip

The heavy handed scripts are often amusing due to ridiculous statements by the narrator, which hopefully made more sense when they films were first released. One of my favorites comes from the film titled Gossip, in which the narrator tells us that "Gossips toss words around as carelessly as parrots." No matter how you look at it, that sentence is a doozy. Plus I had no idea that gossips tossed parrots around at all, let alone carelessly tossed them.

Here's a link to the Sid Davis Production, Live and Learn.

Or if you'd like to peruse nearly 2000 films of this genre to download or view via streaming video.
Prelinger Archives - "It's goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions."

1 comment:

downeast misanthrope said...

"Back in my day, we didn't have YouTube. We had to sit in a classroom and watch educational films to see the consequences of stupidity!"

Now get off my lawn, damn kids! (is the maine equivalent of that, "Get Outta My Dooryard"?)