In the past year, staff in the motion picture preservation lab handled nearly three million feet of film. Films might come to us for inspection and repair, photochemical duplication, or digitization. To follow up last year’s list, we’ve identified a handful of films that were digitized in 2015 and found their way to our list of favorites. This year’s list covers four decades and five different agencies.
Stay Alert, Stay Alive, 1971 (65-32)
This FBI training film repeatedly demonstrates the incorrect way to conduct an arrest, inevitably leading to disastrous results. The preview frame in the YouTube video shows a man with a jigsaw; in the film, arresting agents give the man a moment to change his jacket and thus the opportunity to nearly kill himself with the power tool before the agents are able to unplug it (at 14:21). This film really caught our attention, though, because of an over-the-top scene where a suspect asks to say goodbye to his cat, Alfred. The man pretends like he needs to get some catnip from the drawer, and shoots Alfred and then himself (at 9:33). Luckily, the film only uses sound effects to convey the action. Stay Alert, Stay Alive also features some really great music.
Undercover, ca. 1942 (226-B-6032)
This year, we transferred a couple of films for a John Ford retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française. One of them was Undercover (the other was the Army classic Sex Hygiene). The Office of Strategic Services made Undercover during World War II to train agents how not to blow their cover. Like Stay Alert, Stay Alive, the film provides examples of how not to behave while on the job. Undercover wasn’t just made by the legendary director John Ford, though. Ford actually appears as an undercover agent posing as a lawyer, which is what earns the film a place on our list of favorite films.
It’s Up to You! 1943 (208-50)
We’ve seen and transferred a lot of government films made during World War II, but this Department of Agriculture production stood out. First, because its focus is the homefront, and second because it’s one of the most heavy-handed pieces of propaganda we’ve encountered. By the end of this film, you’ll be certain that the war effort depends on your making good use of food. The farmers are doing your part–so should you! If you buy that black market meat, you’ll be directly contributing to the starvation of the troops. It’s Up to You! also features some special effects not often seen in government productions and, as we learned at the Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium, was edited by “lost” woman director Elizabeth Wheeler.
Once Too Often, 1950 (111-TF-1684)
Before Jack Lemmon was famous, he had his first starring role in an Army Signal Corps film. A tried and true formula, Once Too Often tells the story of Mike (played by Lemmon), who has ten days of leave and manages to nearly get himself killed in ten different ways. In addition to a young Jack Lemmon, this film features two “Fates,” some beautiful photography, and some fairly humorous situations. What’s not to like?
CG 8225: The People and the Police, 1971 (381-P-1)
When former D.C. mayor Marion Barry died last fall, the National Archives blog Rediscovering Black History featured records that documented Barry’s life and career. That was the first we knew of this fascinating documentary, which depicts the establishment of a pilot project to improve community-police relations in Washington, D.C., and also shows how Barry became a force in city politics. The film was commissioned by the Office of Economic Opportunity and was intended to be a training film of sorts, to help with expanding the program to other cities. The Pilot District Project never fully emerged from controversy and turmoil, which is evident in the The People and the Police as it unfolds. As a result, the film was never distributed, and OEO sent it to the National Archives within a couple years of its production. We think that The People and the Police is an important record of D.C. history that is still relevant today. Much more about the Pilot District Project and the film is in our blog post.