classroom films, short of the week

If you thought Nick had a dilemma in figuring out What To Do on a Date, wait until see you see what poor Jeff and Mary are in for when they discover they’re GOING STEADY!

Going Steady? (1951), with that purposeful question mark in the titles pretends to leave the question open with title and end cards that implore the viewer to “answer the question for yourself,” but the film actually makes it clear that going steady is as enjoyable a practice as studying tax law.

Marie and Jeff find they have “drifted” into going steady, which sends Jeff into an existential funk. “Am I going steady?” he wonders in a classic classroom film voiceover. “What does that mean? How did I get into this anyway?”

For her part, Marie is nervous about what all this going steady might lead to. “What about petting?” she asks a friend. “I’ve heard you can get too deeply involved if you’re going steady.”

The double standard rolls on in as we learn that Jeff is not concerned about petting, and neither are his parents when he confides in them over a checker game. They simply tell him to play the field, that he will go steady with many girls before he ever gets married. This is in contrast to Marie’s mother, when Marie tearfully confides that she’s been *gasp* going steady with Jeff. Mom needs to know, right now,  “Jeff doesn’t think he can take liberties, does he?” Marie’s cute face falls as she learns the truth:  the onus is on her to be aware that sexual urges are to be avoided at all costs. Handsome Jeff should simply have fun while he still can, right, Mom and Dad?

The kids seems to take these mixed  – and, let’s face it, completely unchanged in 2016 -messages to heart when they meet for their next date. Jeff arrives on Friday night for a nice, safe date playing records in Marie’s well-lit living room with her parents nearby, and they tacitly agree to be more casual about their dates in the future. The films ends with both teens seeming relieved that they have successfully avoided their urges for another day. Whew. We were close there.

classroom films, short of the week

Here’s one of my favorites, first re-introduced by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90s. Watch that version – it’s fantastic. What To Do on a Date (1950), produced by the prolific and amazing Chicago-based Coronet Films, is the story of gooney high school guy, Nick, as he learns how to ask class cutie Kay on a date, has a small breakdown realizing he doesn’t actually know, well, what to do, and subsequently is schooled on the safe, group activities that make for an acceptable date in 1950.

To wit:

  • weenie roasts
  • square dances
  • taffy pulls
  • swim meets (wait, what?)
  • baseball games
  • fixing up the scavenger sale at the community center

I am not making this stuff up, kids.

Nick and Kay do seem to have a good time at the scavenger sale (I cannot say those words without giggling for some reason), and they snack on Cokes and ice cream, while Nick works up the nerve to ask for a second date. He slips in some fun gender role generalizations:

“All thought all girls wanted fellas to take them to fancy places, spend a lot of money.”

“Not this girl,” Kay reassures him.

For that matter, the whole thing firmly reinforces the idea that dates are for the male to initiate and the female to accept, graciously. Girls should be patient and quiet, happy to do low-cost, very public activities, preferable with a group, or at the very least, with another couple. But if producer Coronet is to be trusted, don’t accept too many dates, because then you’ll be Going Steady, and no one wants that. But that’s another entry.


Cinema, classroom films, short of the week

I dearly love watching and writing about classroom films of the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve written about them here and there, and decided to collect my far-flung bits into a Short of the Week feature. Because why not.

Kicking off is one of my absolute favorites, Habit Patterns, from 1954. It’s a fifteen-minute exploration in shame and conforming, wrapped in a veneer of grooming and time management instruction.

Our film starts ominsouly. We open on ponytailed, sweet-faced Barbara clutching a scarf  and sobbing in her bedroom, while a stern female voice declares, “It’s a little late for tears, isn’t it Barbara?” It’s like my last job.

The source of Barbara’s upset is revealed in flashbacks. She oversleeps. Her room is sloppy.  Her sweater is stained. And when she receives a very important invitation to a very important classmate’s house, her manners are not up to speck.

It’s a tough day for Barbara.

To top it all off, the narrator continually compares Barbara to her neighbor Helen.  Helen, taller, well-groomed, and “with a pleasant word for her parents” is on time, gets plenty of sleep, and most importantly,  uses “taste in selecting her clothes. She’s able to match the right skirt with the right sweater.” Barbara will never live up to Helen. She knows this. Her mother knows this. The narrator knows this.

When it comes down to it, I really like Barbara AND Helen. I want to be organized like Helen, but Barbara’s sassy attitude and helter-skelter approach to her wardrobe give her some real personality.

So, Barbara gets through her day at school, running late for everything and with barely combed hair. In short, she stands out, and if there is one thing you do not do in a classroom film from 1954, it is stand out. When Anne Tolliver, apparently the social doyenne of this particular Junior High invites Barbara over after school, it is cause for celebration – Barbara has been chosen! – and for panic -her sweater is stained! Her hair is a mess! How can she possibly fit in?

There’s also a real feeling of class stratification here. The girls at Anne’s gathering, which resembles more of a conversation salon than adolescent girls hanging out (where is the giggling?) speak with what seem to be some kind of affected east coast accents (“the trouble with me is getting STAHTED with something new…my mother had to DRAHG me to the museum.”) Barbara does not. They talk of literature, visiting museums, attending the symphony, and summer homes. Barbara looks pained in her middle-class, museum-less shame.

She desperately tries to fit in by jumping into a conversation about summer homes and pretending she has one. But the narrator is not about to let this one slip by: “you only went [to the lake] once, didn’t you Barbara? Once you start fibbing, you can’t stop.” Oh, the narrator is relentless in her shaming.  And I’m pretty sure poor Barbara can hear her, because the end result is that she feels increasingly uncomfortable and leaves the party, but not before she hears Anne and some of the other girls talking about her:

“Maybe she felt shy?”
“A stained sweater isn’t shyness. And BAHD MAHNNERS are BAHD MAHNNERS no matter what you call them.”

Barbara runs home to cry alone, in her room, and we’ve come back to the beginning. Mrs. Narrator (you know she’s a Mrs.) continues on the offensive. “In all society, at all ages we know people are going to talk about other people,” she reminds Barbara, urging her not to dump her creepy friends, but instead to work on not giving them anything to snark about.

The gossiping girls are off the hook, and we spend the next seven minutes going through a litany of neighbor Helen’s good habits in hopes that Barbara might learn from them. Here’s where I get a little mesmerized by the complicated rules for putting away clothes and washing your face (“hang today’s skirt in the back of the closet to rest the fabric”).  It’s also where I get totally distracted by Barbara’s adorable mid-century bedroom. But don’t worry, Barbara pays better attention, and by the end she is forming the “good habits approved by custom and accepted by society.”

Thank goodness. But what will Anne and her minions talk about after the next conversation salon?