7/27/10

RVOD127 More Dangerous Than Dynamite

(1941, Educational/Short, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Somehow something went wrong with my huge pan of gasoline.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell:

Don’t wash your clothes in gasoline.

Summary:

She has more destructive force than 86 pounds of dynamite.This California Fire Marshall-produced film starts with some explosion footage, and then a quick rundown of many of the most prominent ways people used to burn down their houses. Pennies behind fuses, frayed cords under carpets, standing too close to the radiator, that kind of thing. Now we move on to the subject of the short.

In the thirties, I guess people used to dry clean their clothes at home with gasoline. A young housewife demonstrates this practice. The narrator takes careful note of her proximity to several open flames, the children running in and out distracting her, the static electricity generated by rubbing the dress against itself, her home’s lack of steam emitters and so on. Interspersed we see scenes of the fictional “Reputable Dry Cleaning Company,” which also uses gasoline, but has many, many safety measures designed to contain and douse fire after the inevitable explosions. The housewife’s tale ends with cartoon flames and permanent disfigurement.

Thoughts:

Looking back at my summary, I don’t think I made this short sound funny enough. Let me clarify now: More Dangerous Than Dynamite is hilarious early-twentieth century camp, filled with ridiculous assertions and ludicrous melodrama. Much of this has to do with the era that produced it. In a more credulous time period you probably didn’t need to prove or qualify wild statements like, “One gallon of gasoline has more explosive power than 86 pounds of dynamite!”, or worry that the teary, big-eyed youngsters and crestfallen mustaches would make the audience laugh instead of cry. Business owners also apparently didn’t need to worry about protecting their easily replaceable workers, as nearly all the dry cleaner safety measures are designed to prevent structural damage. The one concession to the human element is a set of asbestos blankets, used to stop your dead coworkers from smoldering.

A few favorite comments: Partway through the initial list of dangerous, potential fire-causing behaviors, Kevin says, “Your home is more dangerous than a World War I trench filled with lions.” When the narrator decries smoking in bed, Mike says, “But I can still smoke while washing my children’s hair with gasoline, right?” At the end, when the newspaper mournes the disfigurement of a beautiful young housewife, Bill adds, “If she was ugly, no one would care.” Throughout, the riffers adopt a tone of disbelief that such a practice ever existed. (I have a few doubts about it myself, but I think it’s entirely possible. Seventy years from now, which of our current practices will make future generations gasp in disbelieving horror?) Their incredulity works though, providing a very funny counterpoint to an already funny short.