BOOTLEG FILES 684: “Patriotism” (1972 educational film starring Bob Crane).
LAST SEEN: One YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: As part of a grey market DVD anthology of educational films.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A fuzzy question of who owns the rights to the film.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not as a standalone film.
In 1972, the United States was not in a good place. The Vietnam War was still dragging on, despite endless attempts by anti-war forces to hold multiple rallies demanding the end of the military conflict, and the push for socioeconomic racial and gender equality created significant social upheavals in the nation that delighted many and upset others. The presidential campaign magnified the political divisions that ruptured in the mid-1960s and had yet to fully heal.
For American adults, it was easy to lose faith in the stability and security of the nation. But for schoolchildren who were starting to be cognizant of their wider world, this was the only environment they ever knew. A group of educational filmmakers sought to inoculate this new wave of young Americans into acknowledging and embracing a love of one’s country.
But how could these filmmakers go about getting their message across without veering into a John Wayne-style of my-country-right-or-wrong or a Jane Fonda-worthy challenge to the status quo? A middle-of-the-road solution seemed somewhat elusive.
The answer came in a short film called “Patriotism” that was released to the educational film market in 1972. As with any compromise, it offered a greater share of disappointment than satisfaction. By contemporary standards, the film generates a few laughs due to the presence of Bob Crane as the film’s sole recognizable talent.
Crane had just come off a six-season run of “Hogan’s Heroes,” a top-rated sitcom for which he received two Emmy Award nominations. Following up a highly popular television show with an appearance in a little educational film short might have seemed like a peculiar career choice, but the subject of patriotism appealed to Crane. As the actor stated in a 1968 interview, “I believe in independence, individualism, courage, patriotism – the traditional American values. People call me a flag waver. That’s right – I am a flag waver.”
Well, there wasn’t much flag waving in the film “Patriotism,” although there were a few brief shots of children readying a flag for display on a pole. Instead, “Patriotism” offers an incredibly broad concept of the title, often confusing politeness and civic responsibility with love of one’s country and the values that it represents. And while Crane’s name might generate some cheap laughs today for the excessive sexual peccadillos that led to his untimely demise, he is actually a straightforward and decidedly non-campy presence.
“Patriotism” begins with a group of children digging up soil to plant a tree sapling. Bob Crane unexpectedly joins this youthful circle and exclaims, “Hi, gang! That’s what I call a little act of patriotism.” The kids look at Crane as if someone banged him on the head with a tripod – oh, come on, that had to be thrown in – and the actor explains that patriotism is “you helping your country be a better place in all ways.”
At this point, Crane exits as an on-screen presence and serves as a narrator, challenging the young viewers to imagine how they can help make their homeland a better place. We see a girl helping her mother set the dinner table, and Crane observes that patriotism is “being proud of whatever you are and whatever you do.” Crane then informs us that sharing is a form of patriotism, and we are treated to a scene where an altruistic Little League baseball catcher allows a rival teammate to borrow his glove. “Good people make a good country,” Crane insists.
This is followed by a segment where a boy finds an alley with an overturned trash can, a rickety fence and garbage all over the place. He rallies his friends to clean up the mess, and Crane’s narration reminds us that “Your neighborhood is a little country. If you know how to make a good neighborhood, you’ll know how to make a good country.”
The film also insists that loving one’s parent is the same thing as patriotism, and a father’s blowing out a birthday cake to the delight of his off-screen children is used as a visual example. “Your family is a little country,” Crane adds.
Up until now, politics has been conspicuously absent from “Patriotism.” But that system intrudes when the boy who spearheaded the alley clean-up saves a female friend from being runover at a crosswalk with a reputation for close calls. The boy writes a letter to his councilman asking for a stop sign to be installed at that dangerous crossing. The councilman gets the letter and is impressed by the sincerity of the appeal. He quickly makes a call based on the young letter writer’s appeal and the stop sign is immediately installed. Wow, just like real life in politics.
Still, the film reminds its viewers that an authority system governs society and people need to obey their superiors. In this case, the kids want to do a photo session in a flower bed in a park, but an elderly cop tells them to go elsewhere in order to allow the flowers to bloom. “Cooperation is a very good way of being patriotic,” Crane observes.
After a brief and baffling montage of images designed to inspire pride in America – including a sleigh ride in a “Doctor Zhivago”-style winter landscape, the Lincoln Memorial and a duck with its head underwater and its backside in the air – Crane tells us, “There are many ways of showing patriotism: some small, some large, all important.”
“Patriotism” was directed by Ray Nankey, and according to the IMDb this was his sole directing effort – the only other screen credits he has on that site involved minor production roles in a pair of X-rated films. A company called Oxford Films produced and distributed the short to the educational market – just how kids in 1972 reacted to the film and its message is unknown. (I can attest that I was in elementary school that year and the film was not part of our cinematic experience.)
“Patriotism” was copyrighted by Oxford Films, but that company went out of business. It is not clear who owns the film today. Battered 16mm prints can be found on YouTube, and a grey market DVD include the film with other educational films that were designed to inspire patriotic pride; the Rifftrax gang also had some fun mocking the film.
In some ways, this was the best film that Crane appeared in – he previously turned up in something called “The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schulz” and followed this up with starring roles in the Disney groaners “Superdad” and “Gus.” Of course, Crane had his own self-produced films where he excelled at being on camera in a clothing-free environment – but that’s something for another column.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
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