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Shocking! (But Educational)
on August 20, 2003
Being a fan of vintage instructional films like those featured in the EDUCATIONAL ARCHIVES collection, I had to buy this DVD when I learned that it included several "facts of life" movies from the 1940's. As it turns out, those short films are only a small part of the attractions on this very interesting disc. If you've always thought of exploitation films as schlocky productions with bad scripts and terrible acting, the movies included in this double feature will be a pleasant surprise. Be forewarned, however: there's some very graphic footage here, even by today's standards, showing stomach-turning close-ups of the effects of venereal disease and a step-by-step view of a Caesarean section being performed. Most of the images are in black & white, but it's still pretty strong stuff.
The first film on the double bill, STREET CORNER, is an effective little drama about a young woman from a "respectable" household who finds herself alone and helpless when she becomes pregnant. With nowhere else to go, she makes a visit to the wrong side of town in hopes of solving her problem -- with disastrous results. The cast is quite good in this film, and I think the story would hold up very well even without the educational material presented near the end. It's definitely an above-average production. Film buffs will note that the main character is played by Marcia Mae Jones, a wonderful actress who gave an unforgettable performance as one of the schoolchildren in the 1936 drama THESE THREE.
The second movie, BECAUSE OF EVE (The Story of Life), requires a bit of an explanation. If the prelude is to be believed, there were evidently three short educational films produced in the 1940's (one on VD, another on the biological details of reproduction, and a third on childbirth) that were incorporated into a conventional feature film with the goal of "getting the message out" to a larger audience. Thus we're treated to the story of a young couple engaged to be married who visit their friendly doctor. The doc almost shatters their wedding plans by revealing some shocking information about their past indiscretions, but everything turns out okay after he shows them some spirit-lifting sex education films. Again, though, this isn't just another throwaway exploitation picture. The plight of the couple is believeable, and the content of the educational films is actually quite bold and straightforward.
This DVD edition also features a short movie in color that takes things a step further by showing the birth of TRIPLETS as well as a circumcision (ouch!). The rest of the supplemental material is comprised of movie trailers and audio commentaries by noted exploitation producers. One of the producers, David Friedman, supplies a reasonable facsimile of the hygiene lecture/book pitch that was given during the intermission when the films were originally screened. If I had prepared this DVD, however, I think I would have opted for a simple voice-over of the speech accompanied by still photographs from the era. The modern color video sequence, inserted in the middle of the black & white movie, sort of disrupts the vintage feel of the story.
As mentioned earlier, there are some surprisingly explicit scenes in these movies, so I wouldn't recommend this DVD for the squeamish. However, if you're interested in history, forties pop culture, or if you simply enjoy educational material from a more innocent time, these entertaining films offer a fascinating peek at a period when America was undergoing some significant social changes.