Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Roadways (MGM short, 1939)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I also caught, in passing, a peculiar Passing Parade episode on TCM: New Roadways, a 1939 film directed by Basil Wrangell (who had very few feature credits; he was mostly an editor and his only features were a couple of PRC’s in 1947, both of which I remember as quite good for PRC: Philo Vance’s Gamble and Heartaches, the latter an uncredited remake of the 1933 Monogram film The Phantom Broadcast) that was mostly about science and how the great discoveries that have the potential to benefit mankind are buried in the back pages of the newspapers while the front pages are dominated by crime, disaster and war. (That’s a common criticism of the media even today!)

Though the second half is a rather silly bit about plastic surgery and its alleged potential to deter crime — on the theory, explored seriously in features around this time (like the 1935 Karloff-Lugosi The Raven and 1941’s A Woman’s Face, that ugly people are rejected by society and therefore they can’t hold down legitimate jobs and become social outcasts and, ultimately, criminals) — the first half is quite interesting, especially in its depiction of a full-scale solar array that generated enough electricity to run a refrigerator outdoors. This little movie makes our failure to develop solar technology much past what we see here since 1939, especially given all the money we’ve poured into far less eco-friendly technological innovations (notably nuclear energy — for weapons and power — and the interstate highway system), seem even more reprehensible.