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The Instructional Films of Budge Crawley



B-film has always had a strong connection to industrial and instructional filmmaking. The sparse production values, amateur acting and charming earnestness of these films—which encompass everything film educational filmstrips, anti-VD screeds, puberty primers and driver's education videos—have made them favourite subjects for cult and genre film fans over the years. While U.S. companies like Coronet, Centron, Sid Davis Productions, McGraw-Hill and Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation dominated this area, Canada has its own tradition of instructional films that stretches back to the 1940s. Since its inception in 1939, the National Film Board has produced a handful of instructional films meant for classroom settings, but by far Canada's most prolific instructional filmmaker was Ottawa-based producer/director Frank Radford "Budge" Crawley, who churned out dozens of instructional films during the late 1940s and 1950s.

A budding amateur filmmaker, Crawley started his own independent venture, Crawley Films, in 1939 just before the NFB was founded (though he worked extensively with the government agency as well). At first, Crawley Films was just Budge and his wife Judith, who directed many of the films, but later also started to include his extended family as well as friends like prolific producer-director George Gorman. After Crawley's success with short The Loon's Necklace (1948), the company expanded to a staff of 65 and, reportedly, ranked among the top 15 producers in North America, handling almost 25% of all industrial and educational filmmaking in Canada. By the end of the decade, Crawley reportedly employed about 150 people.

Crawley has a long history of industrial and instructional films throughout this time, making films for corporations including Molson's Breweries, J.M. Schneider's Meats and Canada Post (as well as more obscure entities like the Footwear Bureau of Canada). In addition, to anti-venereal disease films Sixteen to Twenty-Six and Very Dangerous (both 1945), the company specialized in educational films at first for the NFB and National Health and Welfare (the "Ages and Stages" series and others) and then for the New York-based McGraw-Hill, who contracted Crawley to adapt topics in Elizabeth Hurlock's textbook Adolescent Development into short filmstrips. While the Crawleys also made films for filmstrip distributors International Film Bureau and Coronet, the 45 films that they reportedly made for McGraw-Hill are their most well known mental hygiene productions, including the "Marriage and Family Living" series and the "Health for Effective" living series. Safe to say, if an American had seen any Canadian film at all during this time, it was likely a Crawley filmstrip shown from a rickety projector in the back of a local library or classroom. 

You can trace the seeds of Crawley's McGraw-Hill instructional films—with their earnest look at social issues, awkward dramatizations and sonorous narration—from earlier NFB productions like Teeth Are to Keep (1949) and Gentleman Jekyll and Driver Hyde (1950), as well as anti-VD Canadian sex hygiene films like Damaged Goods (1933) and Sins of the Fathers (1947). But these short subject filmstrips were also a bit unique—though he frequently make use of the same actors, Crawley and crew often made their shorts on location or in highly detailed studio settings, lending his films a measure of credibility not seen in American social guidance films, which can sometimes look stagey. These instructional films are often surprisingly nuanced and even progressive—they tend to thoroughly examine psychological and social influences on child behaviour and recommending balanced solutions, instead of relying on the common, trite solutions featured in other films. Sometimes this different approach became a point of contention between Crawley and McGraw-Hill, who often didn't see eye-to-eye on the scripts.

In addition to his groundbreaking mental hygiene films, Crawley was also a pioneer of safety films for industrial uses. It Didn't Have to Happen (1954) is a surprisingly gory film about mill safety, while Safety or Slaughter? (1958), a driver's education film, was the first to feature actual accident footage in an attempt to frighten people into good automobile habits.

By the 1960s, Crawley turned his attention to feature-length dramatic works including Amanita Pestilens (1963) and The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), in addition to TV work on animated kid's show Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1961). His 1975 documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975) even won an Academy Award. Though Crawley Films continued to make industrial films, the influence of the Crawleys' work for McGraw-Hill can be seen in the Canadian films that followed in the late 1950s. In particular, A Dangerous Age and The Bloody Brood owe a debt to Crawley's instructional shorts, as they are often concerned with similar topics—juvenile delinquency, teenage sexuality and related emotional issues.

Here is a selection of Budge Crawley's instructional films for McGraw-Hill as well as highlights of his industrial safety films:

Selected Safety Films

Though not distributed by McGraw-Hill like Crawley's most widely seen efforts, Crawley Films made a handful of industrial films for groups including the Industrial Accident Prevention Association of Ontario.

It Didn't Have to Happen (1954)

This surprisingly bloody workplace safety filmstrip provides a tour of a woodshop where cavalier attitudes about safety have deadly consequences. Produced for Industrial Accident Prevention Association of Ontario, this 12-minute effort focuses on several of the shop employees, including Lucky, a popular young man who operates a ripsaw and has to be reminded by the foreman to take proper precautions. When one of the men working the jointer loses a couple of fingers, Lucky jokes about envying the poor guy who gets to recuperate at home with only a small pay cut, but isn't laughing when he inadvertently causes the death of another employee. This film makes its memorable point with memorably gruesome images, including chopped off fingers and a man impaled by a two-by-four.

Safety or Slaughter? (1958)

This groundbreaking driver's education film incorporates real accident footage taken from the highways of Toronto. Industrial Accident Prevention Association of Ontario representative Gordon Anderson provides a stern lecture on distracted driving while pulling pointing out points of interest on illustrative charts. After reeling off some numbers, Anderson notes, "you know, maybe you think statistics are dull" before the film cuts to roadside footage of victims carried away on stretchers and wrecked cars, the first instance of such footage appearing in a driver safety film. It isn't particularly gory, but the idea was picked up by U.S. safety filmmakers who pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, for films like Signal 30 (1959), Mechanized Death (1961) and Highways of Agony (1969). Though it's excessively talky and resorts to elements that don't work well on film (including demonstrating bad driving habits with dinky cars and an overreliance on pull-down charts), Safety or Slaughter? effectively makes its point. In perhaps the most Canadian moment of the film, Anderson suggests that the biggest cause of road accidents is good old fashioned impoliteness.  

Are You Warm to the Touch? (1967)

Though Crawley Films had largely moved into industrial filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s, they still occasionally handled more instructive filmstrips like this safe driving effort for the Canadian Highway Safety Council. The odd title, refers to those who arrive alive at their destination. After a prologue in which a driver, rubbernecking at two bikini-clad girls on the side of the road, drives straight into the side of a bridge, the film switches focus to George, a highly cautious newspaper reporter on his way to work who provides a running internal monologue about all the things he's looking out for, including kids running into the road, careless drivers and other potential hazards, all to a hip jazz soundtrack. At the end, George spots another roadside accident—again, incorporating some real accident footage of crushed cars and bloodstained windshields like Safety or Slaughter?—that he deems "a messy way to die... so messy."

The Adolescent Development Series

This eight-film series about teenagers is not actually directed at kids, but at their parents, covering a wide variety of issues from puberty, sex, personal habits and mood swings. Based on Elizabeth Hurlock's textbook Adolescent Development, several entries were narrated by Canadian actor Lorne Greene and feature New York High School students shipped up to Ottawa for location work.

Age of Turmoil (1953)

Age of Turmoil is the story of young teens Sally, Joan and Kay, and their male counterparts Sam, Bill and Tom. The film begins by harshly condemning the adolescent traits of each sex. Narrator Lorne Greene tells us that girls are silly and opinionated, highly influenced by fashion ads and are given to giggling and unstructured criticism, while boys are self-centered, spend hours engaged in worthless activity and are impressed by material goods and sports heroes. Age of Turmoil then proceeds to show more adolescent behaviour that parents find annoying such as constant hunger, sleeping in, and long phone conversations. Then, taking a radical turn, the narrator starts rationalizing all these traits, in effect blaming bad parenting skills. Tom's need for constant assurance? Caused by his father's lack of attention towards him! While there is no shortage of "I Accuse My Parents" themes in both instructional films as well as in many juvenile delinquency films of the 1950s and '60s, such direct cause and effect reasoning is very rare (usually the behaviour is blamed on absentee parents).

Meaning of Adolescence (1953)

So just what the hell is adolescence anyways? After brilliantly positing that it's somewhere between childhood and adulthood, this Crawley short settles into a format that's almost entirely monotonous narration over montage shots of teens being teens, circa 1950—walking to school, playing football, bombing around in jalopies and getting bawled out by their parents. After an early (stock footage?) attempt to show how teenagers are treated in the Tuareg tribe in North Africa, the short explores five important adjustments that teens must make: physical, social, moral, religious and sex (this last item explained as a "powerful urge to get along with members of the opposite sex" necessitating "informal social contact"). Though it features few of the dramatic scenes that make instructional films worth watching, Meaning of Adolescence is still a practical resource that encourages parents to help their teen sons and daughters cope with this stage of life by giving them chores and responsibilities and not treating them as children.

Meeting the Needs of Adolescence (1953)

This early "Adolescent Development" short focuses on siblings Janet, 17, and her younger brother Tom, 14, and mostly seems intended to remind parents that different kids have varying needs, depending on their personalities and level of maturity. While taking viewers through a handful of dramatic situations that illustrate the titular needs—mental and psychical exercise, socializing with others and even political views and spiritual requirements—the narrator advocates for ways that parents can help enable their kids' maturation. Rough 'n' tumble Tom prefers sports, working with his hands and questioning authority, while Janet chairs the school dance committee and moons over boys. The parents are fair and perhaps even annoyingly confident in their parenting abilities, and because conflict is minimized, this is a relatively dry entry in the series.

Physical Aspects of Puberty (1953)

This technical and boring film about puberty does nothing to distinguish itself from the many similar films that most of us have seen at one time or another. Catering to both sexes, Physical Aspects of Puberty starts with a long animated sequence, describing bodily changes. Silhouetted bodies are shown with an accompanying discussion on ovaries, bodily hair and "nocturnal emissions." While discussing menstruation, the narrator oddly insists on pronouncing it "mens-troo-ation." The second half of the film is more familiar Crawley territory, in which live actors are shown making social mistakes and popping zits while the narrator explains that puberty causes emotional problems and feelings of inadequacy. The short finishes by pleading with parents and teachers to have patience with their teens during this sensitive time.

Social-Sex Attitudes in Adolescence (1953)

This tale of responsible young lovers begins with Bob and Mary on their wedding day, and proceeds to flashback in time to show how each grew up with healthy attitudes towards the opposite sex. Things only get interesting when the film starts detailing Mary's parade of crushes and steadies, and Bob's falling in with the wrong crowd—smoking, drinking and making out in cars. The highlight is when Bob's mother finds a crude naked drawing in Bob's room with the words "Bob + Betty WOW!!" at the top. Finally, both Bob and Mary throw off such adolescent behaviours so they can grow up to be responsible and happily married, the Crawley way.

Social Acceptability (1957)

The most enjoyable Crawley short film, Social Acceptability chronicles the woeful tale of Marion's shyness. At the malt shop, Marion overhears the much more popular Suzy telling her friends about a party she is throwing on the weekend. Since Marion used to be friends with Suzy, she wonders if she might get invited... or is she too square? When Suzy's friend Ben puts a dime in the jukebox, everybody dances. When Marion puts one in, she picks a march(!) and the whole gang groans and leaves. At home, Marion's mother tells her daughter that she doesn't want to host "the gang" because it's simply too expensive (in fact, she's also shy, and is worried the teens might judge her!). Marion goes to her room to read a book called How to be Attractive while she waits for Suzy to call with a party invite—but it never happens. The narrator informs us that, for Marion, a lack of social acceptance will leave emotional scars! What's great about this film is the crushing ending, as well as the comparison between the parent's social sphere and the teens, which seems to blame shy parents for their children's problems.

Emotional Maturity (1957)

An extremely funny entry, Emotional Maturity is about Dave, a teen who has yet to acquire any. Dumped by his girlfriend Jill for football star Jim Dawson, Dave is seen in the school hallway shouting and throwing his books around. That night Dave sees Jill and Jim in the soda shop, and starts complaining loudly to all his friends. Jill tells her girlfriends that Dave acts "just like a kid." Why, he even quit the football team just because the coach benched him for one game! Like in Age of Turmoil, we get to see the real cause of Jim's hissy fits: his hard-ass father. Jim's dad won't let him take out the car, and he constantly lectures his son on manners and responsibility. Jim's mom comes to the rescue and helps her husband see how he could become a better parent. But it's way too late—at Jill's house, Dave is caught slashing Jim's tires The film ends by asking "How did Dave get into a situation like this? Why can't Dave face facts?" This lurid tale of Dave's accelerated downfall is definitely more entertaining than instructional.  

Discipline During Adolescence (1958)

Steve is testing boundaries as a teenager—staying out until 3 am, ditching his homework and skipping church. His disciplinarian dad's in favour of "drastic" hard line punishment to correct such dalliances, but his mom wants to allow him to be independent and make his own choices. Things start to come into focus in a scene where Steve and his friends talk about their feelings about the varied punishments their parents hand out. Steve later mentions that he wants to take Jean to the upcoming school dance, but is concerned he can't afford it—money woes that are inadvertently exasperated when his father takes away his allowance in retaliation for poor school marks. The narrator notes the conflicting parenting styles and emphasizes the need for a balanced approach, noting how a lack of understanding can lead to unintended consequences. In this case, Steve is humiliated when he's forced to cancel his date with Jean, leading him to consider leaving home and quitting school to take a full time job. A surprisingly nuanced entry that features the familiar "malt shop" set seen in many of Crawley's films.

Marriage and Family Living Series

This eight-film series, based on author Paul H. Landis' Your Marriage and Family Living, is aimed at love struck older teenagers, instructing them to remain chaste and not to rush into marriage with the wrong person. Christian overtones probably made this series a favourite of concerned teachers, parents and youth group leaders.

Is This Love? (1957)

The perils of a whirlwind romance is the subject of this short, as flighty Peggy gets engaged to budding football player Joe after just a three-month courtship. Peggy's impulsiveness is contrasted with her college roommate Peggy, whose also engaged—only she and her fiancé Andy have known each other for years and have agreed to wait until school ends to tie the knot. Liz tries to get Peggy to put the breaks on by noting all the troubles that could pop up—how well do they really know each other? Will mom and dad approve? Shouldn't she graduate before getting married? Peggy dismisses Liz as "old fashioned" but when her parents hear about Joe they show up unexpectedly on campus to meet him. Feeling like she's being treated like a child, Peggy blows her top and runs off with Joe to elope, leaving a note for Liz and her parents. Though the film ultimately asks the viewer "who do you think is right?" the portrayal of selfish Peggy and levelheaded Liz leaves little doubt. The focus here is on picking a partner that will still be a good companion even when the sheen of budding romance has worn off.

When Should I Marry? (1957)

Teen lovebirds Jim and Pat are ready to tie the knot, until they make the mistake of going to their wet blanket priest, who offers up a couple of chilling anecdotes to douse their fiery passions. They hear about one young couple who are forever exhausted from long work shifts after their university classes and who constantly squabble about having enough cash to afford nights out or fancy tablecloths. Not convincing enough? How about the sad tale of Hal and Helen, recent high school graduates who live in a one-room apartment and can't afford fresh flowers. During Hal's surprise birthday party, the young couple gets a long-awaited chance to socialize with some old high school friends. But when playing loud jazz records wakes their newborn baby, who sleeps behind a folding screen, their former classmates leave the awkward gathering. Once he's entirely bummed the teens out, the priest passive aggressively suggests that, despite his bleak stories, its really their decision. 

How Much Affection? (1959)

"I'm so mixed up!" Laurie tells her mother after running from her boyfriend Jeff's car one night. While her mother tries to comfort her, Laurie tells her mother how they almost went all the way after the dance. Mom tries to explain that Laurie is at an age where her physical urges fight against reason, and that she must always remain careful. The message doesn't really hit home until the next day at the school newspaper meeting. One of "the gang" mentions Ilene, who was forced to drop out a year ago when she got pregnant. Later on, Laurie and Jeff run into Ilene and her baby on the street. They ask her questions about her life, and she tells them about her husband Fred and how he's doing. While she talks about his great job, his undying to attention to both Ilene and the baby, the viewer is let in on the truth with scenes of Fred lying around in his undershirt, watching TV and ignoring everyone else. In the end, Jeff and Laurie go to Laurie's house, where they find a note saying that her parents won't be home for hours. They gaze deeply into each others eyes as the picture fades out. Will they succumb? The message of this film is clear—get pregnant out of wedlock and you will be forced to marry someone who you may not really love. So that's how much affection!

Also in the series: Family Portrait, Future in Hand, It's a Date, Seeing Double, With This Ring

Health For Effective Living Series

This five-film series encourages healthy living for adults, especially on how to discern good doctors from bad.

Choosing a Doctor (1958)

Fred, having moved to a new town, decides to head out to the golf club for a quick round where he's paired with a friendly stranger, Dr. Carmack. He returns from the links only to find his daughter Cathy on the couch feeling ill. Panicking, Fred calls the only medical specialist he knows—Dr. Carmack! While the good doctor examines his daughter, Fred is racked with panic, concerned that he doesn't know anything about his new golfing buddy—why, he could be one of those "quacks or nostrums" that Crawley films warned us about the following year. When Cathy is diagnosed with appendicitis, Fred makes some quick calls and satisfies himself that Dr. Carmack has the required professional degrees and bedside manner. Feeling reassured, he tells the doc about his earlier nervousness while the narrator explains how Fred got lucky this time, but it's always better not to wait for an emergency to pick your family doctor.

Quacks and Nostrums (1959)

This short was filmed for the American market to describe the role of the FDA. Unlike most Crawley films, Quacks and Nostrums has no narrator. Instead, it relies on interviews with authority figures to deliver the hard facts. When his ailing mother comes home from a "health lecture," her son (a burgeoning doctor) finds she has bought a medicinal tea from a "South Seas" doc. He can't convince her that she was scammed, so he goes to family practitioner Dr. Evans for the straight goods. Evans directs him to the FDA, where the tea is analyzed and found to be not dangerous—unless it prevents someone from seeking legitimate medical attention. A suit shows him a cabinet full of "nostrums,"— phony medical devices and medicines sold across America, and the son says "I had no idea we were such suckers about our health!" Next stop is the FTC, where we all learn what happens when someone prints a bogus health advertisement. On arriving home, our hero finds that his mother has collapsed and calls Dr. Evans right away. His mother only had "gallbladder trouble," and will be fine... no thanks to the tea. Today, this well-meaning short almost plays like pharmaceutical industry propaganda, dismissing alternative medicines, however that assuredly was not the intention at the time.

Also in the series: Community Health is Up To You, Making Life Adjustments, Should You Drink?

Child Development Series

This series follows the conclusions set out in Elizabeth Hurlock's textbook Child Development, and should be seen as an accompaniment to the Adolescent Development series.

Children's Emotions (1950)

"They don't ask questions just to annoy—they really want to know!" Young parents are the audience for this rudimentary effort that explores how kids experience fear, curiosity, anger, jealousy and happiness. The film explores ways parents can help allay unpleasant emotions, and chalks up most children's reactions to the simple need to satisfy curiousity. It does this by attempting to put the viewer in the kids shoes in a series of POV shots where they are assaulted by emergency sirens, rambunctious pets and an amazing parade obnoxious relatives ("if you stay quiet they'll go away", suggest the narrator). The result is some pretty fun sequences, especially in the "fear" section, which include a kid jumping out of the closet with a Halloween mask and a nightmare sequence with a devil face set against a hypnotic swirl meant to represent a nightmare. The "anger" section includes lots of shots of kids crying on the toilet, which we can probably all relate to.

Children's Fantasies (1956)

Are fantasies simple escapism or do can they serve a useful purpose? Six-year-old Joey's parents talk about the influence of TV violence and "lurid sex" comics with neighbours one evening. After allaying Joey's fears that there are bears in his dark bedroom, his mom and dad discuss ways to deal with daydreams by fostering creative play. As usual, the short subject calls for balance between indulging kids' in their dreams and keeping them rooted in reality. The short also dips into the role of imaginary friends and the "Santa lie," with an extended sequence of the family singing carols and decorating their home. While statically shot—the drawing room discussion dominates the action with occasional flashbacks to help illustrate the adults' points—Children's Fantasies is unique among most other Crawley films in that no narrator is present until the very end. Instead, the four adults—each with a unique viewpoint—offer up the salient points.

Sibling Rivalries And Parents (1956)

"Rivalry is natural and normal" according to this relatively short entry in the Child Development series. Clocking in at a slight 10 minutes, this effort features basic animations and dull monotone duration as it shows a large family around the dinner table and later cleaning up. The focus is on how parents can deal with their kids vying for affection and attention. The film recommends separating feelings from actions and working out feelings of resentment without causing conflict. There are some highlights in the limited dramatized moments, including a young teen girl throwing a fit about her bratty brother, asking her mother "how am I supposed to let out my feelings about that pig if I can't even call him names?" Her siblings prefer to go for a run or act on conflict with puppets—one budding artist sketches out a bird pecking at his brother's nose, causing it to bleed huge drops of blood. Overall, the film manages to neatly sum up the whole Child Development series in the girl's sneering response to her mother's pleas to talk out her problems without fighting: "Oh, child psychology, eh?"

Also in the series: Heredity and Pre-Natal Development (1950), Social Development, Children's Play, Principles of Development, Child Care and Development, Sibling Relations

Ages and Stages Series

This award-winning five-film series produced for Canada's "Department of National Health and Welfare" via the NFB was among the first Canadian releases to feature an all-female creative crew, headed by Judith Crawley, who directed each entry. Reportedly, the Crawley's children real children appeared in the film, but it's not immediately clear where or whether they were the focus of each installment. 

The Terrible Twos and the Trusting Threes (1951)

This early work from Judith Crawley has its own theme song that includes lyrics that recite some of the opening credits! The first in a series that explores kids' needs and desires at different ages, the film includes lively narration that even makes a few jokes as it accompanies scenes of young kids outside playing in the snow and fighting over toys in a playschool setting. Toddlers, the film explains are "clumsy and roly ploy" and "exasperating" as it outlines some of the challenges of dealing with this age. Perhaps the most Canadian moment addresses the difficulty of putting on "those booby traps called snowsuits." Drawing distinctions between the behaviours exhibited at each age, it aims to prepare child care givers and parents alike for the long road ahead with advice like "never underestimate the power of a woman—even at two."

The Frustrating Fours and the Fascinating Fives (1953)

"Roddy is a doer!" proclaims this look at preschoolers which, like the previous film, isn't afraid at calling kids frustrating and annoying as they go about their daily activities. Focusing first on the four-year-old's vivid imagination and the increasing awareness of the world around him, the filmstrip follows a day at daycare and at home visiting with grandma. It's here that some burgeoning anti-social tendencies are brought in as Roddy ruins another girl's pretend tea party. The kids squabble, hit each other and refuse to obey their parents. The second half again features Roddy, now five, and some of the changes that have taken place, including a desire for increased independence and better cooperation with peers. Nice snowy Ottawa street settings make this an interesting entry in the series, if not the most exciting.

From Sociable Six to Noisy Nine (1954)

Focusing mostly on siblings Sandy, 9, and Peter, 8, and Betty 6, this third entry in the Ages and Stages series has kids developing distinct personalities, learning how to express themselves creatively and interacting with their community. The focus here is on offering strategies for parents to encourage kids at this age—intellectually, emotionally and physically. Later, Mom loses her temper when she sees the boys roughhousing, and punishment is also explored when Peter, in the film's most notable moment, steals some change to buy comics. His mom makes him write out an IOU as punishment. The family even visits Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about dinosaurs before admitting that, while such education can be beneficial at this age, "Peter gets fun out of rude noises."

From Ten to Twelve (1956)

Even when they belong to the same series, most of the Crawley's short subjects differ in format and presentation, and the final entry in Ages and Stages is no different. As opposed to the earlier films, this offers looks at different groups of friends—one male, one female—and focuses on group dynamics and differing rates of maturation as they "live to the hilt." Mirroring some of the same messaging that popped up in Age of Turmoil, the film explains that pre-teen boys are characterized by "messy appearances" and "strong language," and usually create any mischief. Their female counterparts are "catty, sometimes cruel" and embark on "endless telephone conversations," but they are better at schoolwork. The parents, this time with heavy Canadian accents, help them through various issues like angry explosions at unfair referees and early curfews. Presumably, those wanting to know how to deal with older children should progress to Crawley's Adolescent Development series.

Also in the series: He Acts His Age (1949)

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