Prelinger Archives

In what seems like a long, long time ago,I I discovered the ephemeral films of the Prelinger Archives and enjoyed the random themes, historical hilarity and thinly-veiled propaganda films produced for all-but-forgotten reasons years ago, preserved against odds for everybody to enjoy well into the future.

At the time there were few people willing to review and rate the films, including those not already reviewed and especially those without catchy titles. The most popular films had scores of reviews and a huge amount of views. Without a single review, most of these films lay undiscovered, whereas even one or two reviews seemed to boost viewership. In my then spacious spare time I thought I’d make quick reviews of films that I thought interesting enough to watch, that were previously ignored and unreviewed.

This was two years before YouTube, so while streaming video was already well established, it had really not hit the mainstream and nobody expected embedded videos on any website. To watch a Prelinger film at that time, you had to pick a download option in various format flavours and watch it after you watched it download, so aside from a few screenshots there wasn’t a simple way to browse and watch anything without committing to downloading the entire film.

Since 2003 there’s been an explosion of reviews, primarily due to the aforementioned technologies,II and thankfully now it’s harder to find Prelinger films that don’t at least have one review. Everything I’ve reviewed has at least one other review and generally four or five reviews since then.

After suffering some data-loss earlier in the yearIII I have a new appreciation for self preservation, so I’m posting my old Prelinger reviews here to be sure. Thankfully in 2010 you can watch the films without any fuss.

Be forewarned; the films are neither high-definition, great quality, and in some cases not even in colour. Most are at least fifty years old. Some were not even made for the public, or with an audience in mind. The worst of it though; you might even be bored.

My reviews aren’t the longest nor in-depth you’ll find, but they serve a purpose – to give meaning and promotion to these ignored ephemeral gems that I picked at random from what was then an ocean of unreviewed and ignored Prelinger films.

This is Prelinger Archives

A perfect introduction…

This is a perfect introduction for anybody not already familiar with Prelinger Archives, although still quite an interesting watch for those who are familiar with either this site, or the actual Archives in New York.

Narrated (somewhat expectedly) by Mr Rick Prelinger, this film gives an overview of the archive itself, the services it provides, and a great explanation and history of Ephemeral films. It remains interesting the entire time, and features plenty of films contained in the archive.

This is worth the download purely to better grasp the idea and realisation of Prelinger Archives, no matter how much you already know, or how long you have been visiting this site.

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World Trade Center

An all too brief look…

It’s really a shame that this has no audio – the original recording clearly must have had some kind of soundtrack.

We see the construction of the World Trade Center, which is (for me anyway) still quite eerie, especially where they lift the now iconic frame into place. Watching cars drive around the dirt foundation (which looks as it is today) is another example.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on in some parts, like when people are shown operating what looks to be power/security/phone systems. The imagery surely makes up for it in any case.

The entry escalators and the lobby are shown as are businesses trading.

Even with the lack of sound this is one thing in the Prelinger Archives which you shouldn’t miss.

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Another Cup of Coffee

This is clearly a promotional film to drill into insurance salesmen the importance of prospecting. It’s easy to tell this as the word ‘prospecting’ is uttered every 15 seconds at least.

A model insurance salesman (slimy, over-confident) arrives at a cafĂ© and orders a cup of coffee. It’s explained that he’s already canvassed the place and needs more (you guessed it) prospects.

So where does he look? Into his coffee cup of course! This is no ordinary coffee cup though. His even-more confident image appears amongst the coffee, and he begins to hold a conversation with himself.

It gets pretty boring from here on in; basically keeps reminding the viewer to treat everybody as prospects, not people. Nobody in the cafe thinks it odd that he talks to himself, or that he puts out his cigarette out on the floor.

Funny, but not nearly enough.

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Not to be confused with Hellzapoppin (although it might help), this tells the story of, well, it doesn’t tell any story in particular. Instead, there’s a few throw-away lines about popcorn stirred badly into what’s ultimately just Song’s-A-Poppin’. The song’s themselves cover the full gamut, be it the desire for a balloon or traveling to Mars in cowboy hats.

Most of the cast never starred in another film again (including the slightly unnerving Little Cora Rice) but it’s surprising to see Robert Altman credited as a writer.

Enjoyably awful, but watching the entire feature could take years from your life.

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Your Police

A sometimes funny, sometimes boring police farce…

This blatantly one-sided film is sometimes humourous but goes a bit too far trying to sell police as the honest, hard-working protectors of all, that we should trust and obey.

It’s explained how police use modern science to help us, such as photography and two-way radio. A policeman is shown in firearms training which is plain comical. We then follow a rookie cop who just walks around helping people with directions, kids across the road, and generally helping people out as he travels around town.

Also if you are going on vacation, let the police know and they will check your house regularly, and if there is anything amiss they will call you straight away to notify that you are needed.

There’s a few times when some smart stunt driving is used which makes things a bit more interesting.

Confusing is a part which states that finding deceased people behind the wheel is an everyday occurrence. Why they both have to get in the car with him is another mystery.

Police frequently check playgrounds, making sure molesters don’t harm children. I only spotted one policewoman, and she was behind a desk questioning a teen couple.

Overall, it’s just not that interesting, but funny in the aspect that most of it is so far from the truth.

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Atoms for Peace

Atoms are safe and good for you, okay!

“The peaceful atom” we are told has plenty of justified uses in the world. Because this film is primarily out to try to prove this point, there’s no mushroom clouds to be seen here (or talk of military for that matter). Instead you see industry uses with benefits for the everyday man/woman/child.

A lab guy handles dangerous isotopes safely, the kind of safely where the only thing between him and deadly radiation is a pair of pliers. And when not in use, people are protected from deadly radiation by placing the isotopes in lead containers, because clearly lead is no harm to us.

It goes on to explain how tagged atoms are used to identify oil. I have no idea as to if this is true nowadays, or if it ever actually happened as it seems a little way out an idea. There’s a few more uses for radiation shown, some are scary to think might actually still be used.

Good historical content comes in the shape of the initial operation of the first nuclear power plant, which is quite interesting.

Atomic farmers with radioactive crops are promoted. One guy drinks a ‘safe’ radioactive iodine atomic cocktail for a medical test. A cobalt teratherapy unit (sp) is used on a guy, using “a sharp effective beam of atomic radiation” which doesn’t hurt good tissue, just cancer cells.

After watching this you seriously doubt the claims they make about just how great radiation is for us all.

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As We Like It

Shameless promotion of Beer by the industry…

This opens up with a very quick history of ‘malt beverages’ as they are referred to, before moving on to a bunch of statistics showing how the industry is big, assists the economy and employs a lot of people. Strange though; if you divide the $350m paid to 100,000 workers, you get $3500 each (and that’s assuming everybody is on equal pay). I’m unsure of what year this was made, but it sure doesn’t sound like much.

A now interesting old style can of beer is shown, obviously before the invention of the ring-pull.

It fobs off the tax on beer explaining that your money is infact going to help places like schools and the government. An interesting sticker on the side of a truck shows this films age, “Fight Polio – Join the March of Dimes”.

It moves on to cover all the great types of places where you can go to drink, and settles on the community tavern where ‘ordinary’ folk can go. After explaining how great these places are, an illustration of what could only be termed as a spook stands at the door, and it is explained that he is one of the types of people who, “tries to magnify every mistake” and use it to ban these refreshing malt beverages, “which add to the enjoyment of gracious living”. Nothing more is said of him.

In closing we’re told beer is another product that has made America great.

Although there are some good illustrations, it’s just not interesting enough to want to see more than once.

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Management of Mass Casualties: Part X

“Bad TV” military style

While utterly hilarious at times, this gets very bogged down in technical information for much of the 23 minute running time.

Not much else is shown apart from soldiers charging along, only to stop to try to get other soldiers (the Psychological Casualties) to charge along with them.

Features some incredible over-acting by some participants who (some) clearly aren’t real soldiers.

Great statistics run throughout:

“In from 15 to 20% of the survivors, actual danger will produce alertness and increased efficiency.”

I’d really like to know how they came about these relatively specific statistics for surviving a nuclear blast. :)

Overall; enjoyable in parts, but it runs a bit thin in some stages.

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Animals in the Service of Man: Part I

An enjoyably corny left-wing film

Interestingly brought to you by the American Humane Association. This is a short film that wants you to believe that animals are just as important as machines to humans, and tells you all the great things we get from them. The transfer is a little dark but the quality is great otherwise.

“Beef, we’ve come to realise, is far more necessary than automobiles.”

Great quotes like that run the length of this, some of which seem tongue-in-cheek but it really is hard to tell.

There’s a look at what we take for granted with clothing that comes in some way from animals. A man stands on a corner and gradually (through movie magic) loses articles of clothing. He is initially spared his underwear, but in the next shot he’s lost it, although luckily found a barrel, cigar and a dog from somewhere. The narrator says, “but of course, we all could wear barrels”. Who would have guessed.

Other great wisdom ensues; “But you can’t herd cattle with a jeep”. It also suggests that a camel is just as complex as an airplane, just “generally more docile”.

On a much more serious note, also shown is a horse dragging a load too big for itself on a carriage, which is a little disturbing to say the least.

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Animals in the Service of Man: Part II

Not as enjoyably corny as Part I…

This second part covers indifference toward animals. It is explained that a nail that should have been removed from the truck carrying cows, as it might skewer a cow and make that section of meat useless. Of course the cow feels nothing. :)

It goes on to really trumpet the American Humane Society (proud sponsors), for improving the condition of animals. Goes deep into the history of the Society and is a lot more boring than the first half for this reason.

There’s a bit more disturbing footage, this time of a stray dog barely strong enough to walk. Later he gets taken away to be put down.

It goes on to talk about how education is helping both children and adults treat animals better. In one bit a vet is shown, who looks suspiciously like the doctor from the first part.

All up not as funny by any means, but still worth a watch.

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The American Road: Part I

A slightly one-sided history of the motor car

The overly depressing introduction, a view of the country from the perspective of somebody moving to the city, really does confuse the viewer as to what you are actually watching. Once in the city (New York from what I can tell) you are treated to some really great footage, but it still remains unclear as to what you are watching.

It’s not until the seventh minute that the actual story starts; Henry Ford is introduced (and dramatised), invents his ‘quadrocycle’ and tests it out on the empty dark streets of the city.

From here on it’s a semi-promotional vehicle (pun) for Ford, but has enough dramatised history in there to still be of interest.

While telling the story of the Model T we get to revisit the farm again, seemingly only to paint another bleak picture of country life. After that a progressive look at the evolution of the production line really makes this worth watching.

Humour wise there’s a few good laughs to be had. The complex story of ‘your sick mother’ is overly harsh, and the footage of the sailwagon in use is particularly hilarious.

Narrated by none other than Raymond Massey, composed by Alex North, and Robert Downey Sr. is one of the credited cameramen.

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The American Road: Part II

The history of automobiles by Ford continues…

Part II of this documentary continues more on a straight line than the prior, starting off explaining the problems faced by poor roads and the subsequent road development that took place.

More comical in parts now (and worse off for it), a lot of the storytelling makes way for what seems to be a very long advertisement for the Model T. Some great lines are said; to paraphrase one, “it not only saves you time, it gives you a way to spend the time you save”. It’s so consistent that after watching I almost want a Model T.

There’s some scary footage this time around. A guy feeds a bear some food from the ‘safety’ of his automobile and footage of people taking the Model T places where cars should just not go.

It picks up again pointing out the sociological affect of larger boundaries for everybody; you were no longer longer confined to the one environment and could travel anywhere and still make it back home in no time at all. This is something that you’d never think if you are anybody who didn’t experience the change at the time – this part alone made it worth watching.

Toward the end it slides into advertising mode for Ford again, but gives you a good idea of how far they had come since you saw Henry Ford working away on his first car in Part I.

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The American Road: Part III

Conclusion to The American Road…

In this final part we see a bunch of footage of Henry Ford late in life with his family, at home, at work or on the farm. Also mentions his work to invent the tractor too, which probably isn’t common knowledge.

It’s all very nostalgic. The music turns up a notch, Ford rides around in his quadrocycle with his wife, and toward the end we see how roads look ‘today’ with montages of 70′s cars and roads.

This is good to watch as an ending to the three parts, but it doesn’t really stand up on its own.

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I have to say if you’ve made it this far, you’ve done very well.

Each one of these films sat relatively unnoticed until there was a review, and they are all now enjoyed by a large audience. There’s still a veritable pool of unreviewed films that remain inaccessible to regular folk, so if you have the time watch a couple and post a short review – it’s far easier to these times of video streaming, and you might even find a few gems.

The best way to find unreviewed films is to search by average rating, and travel to the very last page.


  1. It was 2003 after all. []
  2. In my opinion, anyway. []
  3. Saved by Google’s cache, thankfully []
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