A Blast From The Past: Gang Boy (dir by Arthur Swerdlow)

In this 1954 short film, two rival gangs are fighting.  They both come from the same neighborhood.  The members of both gangs grew up poor.  All of them feel like there’s no hope for them.  They’re all angry and sad and fatalistic.  In fact, there’s only one difference between the two gangs.  One gang is made up of white kids and the other gang is made up of Mexicans.  That’s the only reason the two gangs fight.

The leader of the Mexican gang knows that things have got to change.  While looking over the quarry where, years ago, his younger brother died while trying to be as tough as him, the leader of the gang remembers the early days of the gang and how what started out as a place for outsiders to feel like they belonged soon became something violent and destructive.  The community wants to have a dance but the threat of violence is in the air.  Can he defuse the situation?  Maybe that friendly detective could help….

Gang Boy is a Sid Davis production, a look at how poverty and prejudice were fueling the rise in gang violence in the 50s.  Unusually, for a Sid Davis film, it’s remarkably nonjudgmental.  There is, of course, all the “you’ve ruined your life” melodrama that one would usually expect from Davis but the final blame is put more on society than the members of the gang.

Speaking of the members of the gang, the cast of this film was apparently made up of actual gang members who all hated each other.  The film may end with the promise of a better tomorrow but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that a fight broke out as soon as the camera stopped rolling,

Personally, I think of this as being a prequel to West Side Story.  Before the Sharks and the Jets learned how to dance, there was …. GANG BOY!

A Blast From The Past: Book Him! (dir by Sid Davis)

In this 1971 Sid Davis-produced educational film, young teens learn that going to jail isn’t as much fun as they might think.  After exploring all of the crimes that are on the rise (vandalism, shop lifting, etc.), the film follows Jerry as he gets arrested, gets booked, and gets shown to a cell.  As is typical with Sid Davis’s films, there’s a narrator present to let Jerry know that he’s ruined his life.

I’ve never been arrested but I know a few people who have been and, just from what they’ve told me, it appears that Jerry was lucky enough to go to one of the nicer jails.  As for the rest of the film, it’s a history nerd’s dream.  Just look at those clothes!  Just look at the hair!  Just look at 1971!

A Blast From The Past: Name Unknown (dir by Sid Davis)

In this 1964 short film from Sid Davis, a teenage girl has been arrested.  It turns out that her boyfriend was a bank robber.  Even though she didn’t know that he was a criminal when she got together with him, the theme of this film appears to be that she should have known and, as a result of being foolish, she is now the worst person who ever lived.

In other words, this is a typical Sid Davis production.  Sid Davis films were always the most judgmental of all the old educational films.  Sid Davis specialized in using holier-than-thou narrators, who would often say things like, “And now, you’ve ruined your life.”  In this film, the narrator is a judge who is fond of saying that juveniles are “delinquent in good sense.”  As proof, he tells the story of two lovers who were robbed, a babysitter who was murdered, and another girl who was assaulted by a man who asked her out on a date.  In each case, the judge seems angrier with the victims than with the actual criminals.  As for the case of the unknowing girlfriend of the bank robber, the judge has no choice but to sentence the girl to 3 months of hard time at a juvenile detention center.  It’s for her own good because she was delinquent in good sense.

Sid Davis’s film are still popular today, precisely because they are so bizarrely angry and judgmental.  If Sid thought 1964 was a dark time for society, one can only imagine what he would think of 2022!  Watch Name Unknown below and ask yourself, “In this crazy world of ours, is there room for forgiveness?”

A Blast From The Past: Big Man On Campus (dir by Sid Davis)

The 1963 educational short film, Big Man on Campus, tells the story of Jerry, a 13 year-old with the attitude of a 16 year-old.

Jerry thought he was the coolest kid at his middle school.  He thought throwing a milk carton was no big deal.  He thought not studying for his classes wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  He thought all of his classmates would like him if he rode his bicycle into traffic.  He thought starting fights was no biggie.  He thought everyone wanted to listen to another chorus of Grease Lightning.  He thought Sandy was just a summer fling and that having the Ramones play at the local high school wouldn’t be a big deal.  Jerry thought a lot of things.

Jerry was wrong.

Fortunately, the Vice Principal was there to set Jerry straight.  That’s right, the vice principal.  Jerry may thing he’s a big man on campus but he’s not even important enough to rate a meeting with the principal.  Instead, he has to make due with the guy who teaches Chemistry.  It takes a while for the vice principal to step out of his office but when he does, it’s obvious that the vice principal, with his navy haricut and his eyeglasses, isn’t going to stand for any nonconformity.  Most afternoons, the vice principal would be busy tracking down and tearing up flyers for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.  Instead, on this day in November of 1963, the vice principal is having to discipline Jerry.  Not only has Jerry caused a disruption at the school but he’s also allowed for the proliferation of pro-Castro propaganda.  Can Jerry be saved or is he destined to become a pinball wizard with his own holiday camp?

You probably already know the answer.  This educational film comes to us from Sid Davis, whose films were best known for their use of an extremely judgmental and rather dramatic narrator.  The Sid Davis narrators were the ones who wouldn’t only explain what had happened but who would also offer up questions like, “You never thought one little action could ruin your life and the lives of so many others, did you?”  That narrator is heard in Big Man on Campus but we also hear the voice of Jerry, trying to convince himself that his actions were no big deal and that everyone is totally overreacting.

Of course, deep down, Jerry knows that he’s no good.  He knows that his mother is setting him up for a life of crime by arguing that “boys will be boys.”  He knows that he’s destined to end up at juvenile hall and, after that, a life of unemployment.  He knows all of this but he needs the help of a seriously annoyed adult to help him truly understand it.  He needs the hard-earned, war-scarred, and apparently nearsighted wisdom of the vice principal.

Can Jerry be saved or is he destined to end up working a prop comic in Wichita Falls?  Watch and find out!

Guilty Pleasure No. 16: Keep Off The Grass

It’s been a while since I shared any of those wonderfully dramatic Sid Davis educational films that were designed to encourage our parents to stay in school, stay healthy, and stay American.

With that in mind, here’s Keep Off The Grass.  Initially filmed in 1969, Keep Off The Grass tells the story of what happens when Tom’s parents find out that Tom thinks that marijuana is no big deal.  At both the insistence of his father and the local cops, Tom takes a serious look at his stoner friends and discovers that they’re all a bunch of losers.  As is typical of a Sid Davis educational film, there’s a disapproving narrator who is quick to make sure we all know that all of Tom’s friends kinda sorta suck.

Enjoy Keep Off The Grass!

Previous Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail