What better way to spruce up a potentially boring subject than through film! The archive has several films that all find different ways – sometimes bizarre, sometimes clever but always entertaining – to attack the subject of cleanliness and personal hygiene.
With the exception of any General Health Habits from 1928, most of these films are from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Regarding this trend, archive reviewer “Marysz” probably put it best when she said in her review of Body Care and Grooming:
“Was there a grooming crisis on America’s college campuses in the late forties? This was a generation that had grown up during World War II. Dad was in the service and mom worked in a munitions factory. Nobody was around check if the kids had brushed their teeth or not. In any case, I guess films like this worked. These students grew up to be the tidy, conformist parents of the fifties. But those old unhygienic habits came back to haunt them in their counter-culture children, who used sloppy grooming as a sign of political protest.”
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the influences at the front end of this cleanliness trend.
Kitty Cleans Up (1949): A somewhat creepy black and white short about a girl named Helen who is perhaps a bit too attached to her cat Kitty. Helen compares her daily cleanup routine to her Kitty’s self-cleaning, on the day she brings her cat in for a show and tell pet show.
Good Health Practices (1953): Jim and Judy are the role models who know how to be good, clean children. Thankfully, this film teaches us not to be bashful or silly about toilet habits.
General Health Habits (1928): Very early silent hygiene film that is sparse yet contains some interesting comparisons between urban and rural life, and the contaminants that may exist in each.
Personal Hygiene (1950): In two parts, Part I and Part II. Everyone knows that the best way to teach hygiene is through folk music … er, maybe not everyone, but the residents of the army barracks depicted in Personal Hygiene certainly have their fingers on the pulse. They teach the stinky, music-obsessed soldier Homer to keep the bugs off through music. I can’t help but think that the filmmakers were influenced by “The Washing Song,” sung by the seven dwarves from Disney’s Snow White. .
Body Care and Grooming (1948): Younger children aren’t the only ones who need to hear about grooming habits – dirty college students need to know that frumpy slips and bobby socks won’t help them nab that squeaky-clean boy or girl they’ve been eyeing.
Written by: Stephanie Sapienza