Mom and Dad/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
The term Exploitation Film often brings to mind such things as gory special effects, T&A, the Black power movement and car chases. However, things were much different back in the 1930's and 40's. There was a unique exploitation subgenre that only a few people talk about nowadays, but it was such a huge craze back then. It was called the "Sex hygiene film". It was probably the only time in the entire history of motion pictures when "sex" had a totally different meaning from what we now know. This is exploitation in the name of education and it distinguished itself from other later films like Faces of Death or Shocking Asia because, while those films contained footage of animal torture and horrific images from all over the world, Sex hygiene films mostly consisted of graphic footage of operations, birth methods or of people affected by VD. They also taught viewers about the dangers of having irresponsible sex.
If you want to learn more about this type of film, there's no other title more popular than Mom and Dad. It's now considered to be the granddaddy (no pun intended) of modern exploitation cinema since it's one of the very first films that had the colorful marketing, 'in-the-name-of-education' type of message as well as gory, graphic images. I've been trying to find this film for several years since I watched a documentary called American Grindhouse for the first time. It told about this weird subgenre and featured a radio spot from Mom and Dad, but they didn't show clips from the film at all (either because they couldn't get the rights or the film was too hard to find). After I watched it again recently, I found out that someone uploaded this film on YouTube, so I decided to watch it immediately. I expected it to be as goofy as Reefer Madness and other exploitation films from that era. Well, I have to say that I enjoyed this film for both the right and wrong reasons.
Before I start giving you the plot, I have to tell you that Mom and Dad has one of the weirdest film intros I've ever seen. Usually, many directors choose to start by putting us right into an intense scene, by showing us a flashback, or some informational text that somehow relates to the film. So how does Mom and Dad begin? They tell audience to sing the national anthem! I thought it was a gimmick just for the VHS release (like how they put trailers for other films before the movie starts). But no, it's actually from the film itself. What's the point of that?! I'll give you a hint later on.
Usually, I give you only the main details of the plot when reviewing films, but since this film is entertaining on so many levels, I'm gonna be a play-by-play commentator here. After the opening credits ("this motion picture is brought to you by Hygienic Productions") and a text crawl that explains the dangers of unsafe sex (with this quote in capital letters: "Ignorance is a sin - Knowledge is power.") it begins.
The main character in this film is Joan, a young girl who lives with her mom and dad (as well as their black maid Junella). One day, she and her friend Allen go to a dance party. There, she falls in love with Jack, a pilot. This begins a super-cliche love triangle. I mean, Allen falls in love with Joan, but she has no idea about that and instead goes along with Jack. What makes Jack more special than Allen? According to Joan, it's because he praises her about her dress and the way she looks. At this point, I think either Allen is the most boring guy in the galaxy (since he probably never says anything good about Joan) or Joan is...well, you get the idea, right? Anyway, they kiss, they hug, and then Joan tells this story to her mom, who isn't pleased about the relationship. She says that Joan shouldn't dance with strangers as well as things like "What's this generation coming to, anyway?". What's worse, when her husband asks her why she doesn't discuss sex with Joan, she claims that "I'm not going to fill her mind with a lot of worldly knowledge". Later on, Joan and Jack drive to a quiet spot, praise each other about how good they look, and start making love. Shortly after that, we see Joan crying probably because she regrets it. The next morning, the teacher at school begins talking about social and moral hygiene, after he witnessed a party. The teacher encourages kids to have conversations with their parents about sex and the differences between sensual love and sentimental love. We learn sensual love is only puppy love, but sentimental love is more about the serious side. Well, judging from most of the dialogue between Joan and Jack, their relationship is definitely sensual love since they never talk about each other's behavior at all. When Joan comes home and tells her mother about the class, her mom gets pissed off again saying that the school shouldn't teach anything about sex. Also, Joan realizes that she's probably pregnant, so she asks her mother whether she has a "book of hygiene". Unfortunately, the queen of morality refuses to give her daughter the book because Joan is still unmarried. To make things worse, Joan finds out that Jack died in a plane crash! What's going to happen next?! How will she get through this?!
While the audience wonders, the film fades to black. And then this text shows up...
"NOTE PLEASE! At this point, we interrupt our story for a few moments in order to present...IN PERSON The famous hygiene commentator Mr. Elliot Forbes"
I thought they were going to screen a short film or something like that, but according to my research it's revealed that this is when the film stops and Mr. Elliot Forbes (famous commentator on hygiene), will lecture the movie audience in person about the dangers of unsafe sex and sell a book about it to the audience. But there's just one problem: Since they used the roadshow tactic to screen this film all over the country around the same time (we'll talk about this soon), there's no way Elliot could show up in different places. Yep. Mr. Elliot Forbes is just a fake guy, they had 15-20 different "Elliot Forbes" show up in various theaters across the USA.
After the intermission (or an awkward pause if you watch it on VHS/DVD), we continue the tragic story of poor Joan. Months go by and her mental condition gets worse and worse. She refuses to go see a doctor since she's afraid that everyone will shame her. Luckily, our teacher knows the story and goes to Joan's house to blame her mom for the mess and her ignorance over not teaching Joan about sex. At this point, we think this is when the film is over, but nope we see the teacher show the students THREE short films about the dangers of sex. Suspiciously, all of them are made by "Hygienic Productions", which makes me wonder whether they used this film to advertise short movies for schools or not. Anyway, remember what I said about a gorefest? This is when the real deal begins.
Let's take a look at each film:
- The Facts Of Life - An Explanation Of Sex Cycles: This one tells you about women's sex cycle by using animation. Later on, they show us the process of giving birth. This is probably the least graphic among all three.
- Modern American Surgery: This focuses on the Caesarean section method of giving birth and how to do it. Keep in mind that I've seen Cannibal Holocaust and Faces of Death before, but this short creeped me out a lot since I know that it's real footage (although in B&W) and not a re-creation like those two movies. It's pretty hard to sit through.
- Seeing Is Believing: This is my favorite of the shorts shown. They warn you about the danger of Gonorrhea and Syphilis as well as show us the people who are infected by these VDs. What makes it different is the tone. It looks less like educational film and more like a WW2 propaganda film. It warns us that everyone can be infected, no matter what your social class is, and can be spread everywhere. The script and editing also reminded me of WW2/Cold War shorts as well. Nothing tops the ending: there's no better way to end the anti-VDs short with footage of a patriotic march with the US flag! I'm not kidding. I mean, I know that it was from the time when World War 2 was almost over, but it's kinda out of place and gives us unintentional hilarity.
After 20 minutes of "educational" shorts, the plot concludes. Will Joan survive? What will happen to her kids? Well, it depends to which version you watch. The myth is that there are several endings to this film. The version I watched has a pretty nice ending.. although I'm not sure whether there's the version in which Joan commits suicide or not.
Phew! That's all the epic highlights from Mom and Dad, but what makes this film so interesting is not only what happens on screen, but what went on behind the scenes as well. Mom and Dad was made by producer Kroger Babb (owner of Hygienic Productions) for about $63,000 at the time (or $853,303.50 in 2017). Since Kroger had only a tiny budget and not much time, he got Monogram Pictures (one of the "Poverty Row" studios back in the day) to quickly shoot it in just six days and we can see its quality here. It has fillers (like dance party scenes which include musical numbers and gymnastic acts or the whole "Triple Features" near the end that I already explained), a boom microphone in few shots (like in Dolemite), and pretty bad acting. Yet since this is an exploitation film, the promotional marketing was the real hero to save the day. Besides proclaiming audiences could "See the birth of a baby!", Kroger targeted small towns and created fake outrage campaigns (writing letters to newspapers to protest the film). Then, they did a roadshow in different places simultaneously and segregated the audience by their gender. I'm not sure what the point of that was, but it probably had something to do with the speech of "Elliot". Moreover, they hired local nurses in case audience members fainted during the screenings...and in case nobody fainted, who cared? It successfully generated buzz across the country due to its controversy.
The end result was not only a film that became one of the highest-grossing films of the 40s (eat your hearts out, Casablanca and Citizen Kane!), the book "Elliot" sold during the screening skyrocketed in popularity. The net sales for the distribution company was almost the half of the film's budget. Wow. I had no idea that "education" could be this awesome.
I'm surprised that only a few people have ever mentioned Mom and Dad seeing how successful it was. I'm not sure whether the film was hard too hard to find (there was VHS/DVD released years ago) or because the film was stuck in legal limbo. I did do some research on the U.S. Copyright Office's website. Unfortunately, this film isn't in the public domain. Back in 1995, there was a copyright transfer from Headliner Entertainment, Inc. to someone named David Pierce. I'm not sure whether this is the distribution rights or the film's rights, but I hope that someone will shine a light on Mom and Dad soon. It's not as ridiculous as Reefer Madness, but it's a historical piece of exploitation genre cinema and shares the same level of fun. I hope that if the new MST3K reboot has another season, they can riff on it. This comes highly recommended to exploitation film fans.
For more info on the film we recommend: THIS SITE
Nuttawut Permpithak hails from Thailand. He spends his free time watching exploitation films (or any films from the past) writing articles, taking photos and reviewing films for GCDb.