How to Survive the 1940s: Postwar Public Information Films

This compendium of cautionary tales from Britain's Central Office of Information is a study in “things that always happen to somebody else,” as the narrator of one film sarcastically puts it. The war was over, but British life in the late forties was rife with dangers: careless drivers, flies in the pork pies, cunning Cockney burglars with eagle eyes for windows left unlatched. As you might expect, there are plenty of insights to be had here into postwar culture and its assorted paranoias; more surprising are the stylistic verve, self-aware humor, and dramatic impact of the movies. While some offer practical advice on averting disaster, others take the contaminated world in a fatalistic embrace-the message of one extraordinary domestic melodrama could be summed up as “syphilis happens.” Lock your doors when you go out, look both ways when you cross the street, and enjoy this afternoon at the movies, because afterward, you may never dare to leave home again.

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