Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mom and Dad (1945)

Director: William Beaudine


Falling within the category of little known feature films that had cultural impacts during its period, yet quickly forgotten lies the 1945 exploitation picture Mom and Dad. The film delves into the subject of sex education, taking advantage of an American society that was remained naïve on the subject and deciding to inform an under-educated public on a serious, but then taboo subject. Outside the realms of mainstream motion pictures, and being condemned by many ethical organizations during its time, the film used its niche and cleaver marketing to quietly become one of the most profitable films of the decade. However, as an educational feature its impact was cultural, lacking any artistic merit, and would be swiftly forgotten.

Mom and Dad is an exploitation feature on the subject of sex hygiene shared through a cautionary tale of a naïve teenage girl of heavily conservative parents who finds herself pregnant, but is greatly unprepared and ashamed at not knowing what to do. The young and innocent Joan (June Carlson) becomes pregnant after her first sexual encounter with a handsome pilot shortly after passes away in a plane crash. Shocked at the turn of events Joan is afraid she cannot turn to her parents for advice as her mother (Lois Austin) is a heavily conservative, and keeps her children from such worldly subject matters. Meanwhile local teacher, Carl Blackburn (Hardie Albright), attempts his own crusade for sex education that leads to him being barred from the school. Blackburn confronts Joan’s parents for their poor parenting on the subject and reveals their daughters predicament, which begins the change in the community on the subject of sex education and the support of Joan as delivers her healthy child.

The narrative story of Joan and her pregnancy is blandly assembled tale that purely serves as a conduit in which various educational shorts are shared to the audience, much in the manner of the young men and women watching within the feature. These shorts educate the youths of the process of reproduction from conception to birth with graphic recordings of childbirth, both natural and Caesarian, to a female audience. Later on is shared the effects of venereal disease to a male audience, to manifest the repercussions to the sex that does not give bear children. Altogether the narrative and educational films are edited to go hand in hand to share the possible results of carelessness of intercourse.

First and foremost, it is clear that this feature film is not for entertainment and lies on a very different plain from just about everything else reviewed in this film study. What made this picture relevant  to this humble student of the cinema is its cultural impact as well as it supposed massive profit, making it one of the highest grossing pictures of the 1940s, and of all independent films for decades to come.

Mom and Dad is an exploitation film in the sense of its produces taking advantage of trends of the period and seeing an opportunity to profit with a low budget production on subject matter not being dealt with at that time. The picture was the brain child of Kroger Babb, an independent exploitation film producer, who was inspired by the alleged rise of pregnancies of young ladies by a nearby military base. His cautionary and educational tale was a subject mainstream movie makers would touch leading Babb to seek many low money investors to help fund his picture and hired long time veteran filmmaker William Beaudine to direct. Shot in under a week within various studios on Hollywood’s “poverty row” Babb’s production would be produced for the low cost of $63,000.

The picture did not necessarily star anyone as the cast was a group of no name actors, most with little to no screen credits to their names.  The two most successful actors in the cast were Hardie Albright and George Eldredge. Albright portrays the Blackburn, moral center of the picture and its educational tone. His career highlights had included the vaudeville stage before his acting career in various small roles in Hollywood and  a drama instructor at the University of Southern California.  Eldredge plays the father in the picture who feels indifferent about his wife’s holding back of their children’s maturation that leads to the tale’s conflict. A bit actor, Eldredge would have a long acting career that spans over 180 credits, this being perhaps his most impactful role.

Medical footage and stills fill the movie’s educational segments, including very graphic images of childbirth, both natural and C-section. For 1940s America this would have been jarring to watch, as even today it is difficult to endure for anyone made uncomfortable at the sight of blood or the cutting of flesh. The footage leaves nothing to the imagination as it is straight medical footage being used. For the education of venereal diseases various stills of people greatly hindered by their sympoms were displayed with intention to educate and frighten viewers into paying attention to their sexual health.

The real genius and lasting impact of Mom and Dad comes in the promotion and marketing of the feature. As an independent feature outside of the studio system, being a film that lacked the seal of approval by the Motion Picture Association, and being on subject matter openly shunned by numerous religious and ethical organizations, this film had to find its audience all on its own. Babb and his production company had to book theaters on their own and showered the many towns and cities which it booked with material to get the word out about his feature. Utilizing various angles in which to get people’s attention, from promoting its controversial subject matter, to letting communities know what graphic imagery it displayed, while marketing the film as a must see for all people that care about their health, the word about this picture was literally showered on the communities it played in.

The film was packaged together with an intermission-like lecture with an expert named Elliot Forbes to give a talk about the importance of the material being covered in the movie. However this Mr. Forbes was a fictitious person created just to give the movie more validity. Many times Mr. Forbes was portrayed by local actors flanked with two ladies dressed as nurses to further push the illusion authority. Also packaged with the film was reading material and an opportunity to buy a book written for the film’s run entitled “Man and Boy and Woman and Girl.” Commonly the picture was booked with multiple viewings where certain viewings were played to men or women only, certain races, or perhaps special gatherings and organizations. With the film, a lecture by a supposed health expert, and the chance to by his “educational” book gave the entire package the feeling of a real event to whatever city or town the film was booked to play in.

Meanwhile it was not uncommon to see articles or protests of the film in these towns by local ethics of decency leagues in hope to deter populations from viewing the picture that dealt with sex. However, with all this added attention these groups only helped to promote the film for the producers, driving up the intrigued of the movie and treated the film more like a medical conference than a common motion picture. Meanwhile, in some cities and town the film was banned all together, but that would not stop people from traveling to the next city to see Mom and Dad as to some it felt too important to miss.

In the end Mom and Dad would be highly success finically fork Kroger Babb. Numbers are very fuzzy on its box office intake for the picture, but it is estimated to be that the film netted $40-$100 million in gross, plus thousands more in book sales. It was the most successful exploitation film of all time. It was the most successful health film of all time. It is seen the most profitable, dollar-for dollar, independent film of all time. And yet it is all by completely forgotten.

It is not hard to believe its disappearance form the cinematic consciousness as it is not a motion picture we most associate with the theater going experience. Its cinematic qualities are non-existent and would never be talked about on an educational level. It helped to inspire an entire industry of health education films for the future, following in similar style for decades to come. There have been innumerable Mom and Dad-Style films since 1945. This film features no great cinematic achievement or artistic merit, rather it was a case of good timing, relevant subject matter, and above all extraordinary marketing that would make less than B-picture into one of the most profitable films of its day.

Kroger Babb would never achieve anything close to this profitability again. In time the film’s ban in certain areas would be lifted with the change in society, releasing the picture for the decent educational matter. In 2005 the National Film Registry would add Mom and Dad to its list of culturally significant film in American history for all the purposes we mention here. Noting Mom and Dad in this cinematic journey is not to say that film lovers should seek out an opportunity to view the picture, as it is not a wonderfully made movie by any means. After all it is more akin to a classroom educational film than entertainment. Rather it is worth noting its significance in American cultural and a study on the power of creative marketing that manifest how proper people, timing, and subject matter can lead to success and change in the industry and society.

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