Birthright


45m 1952

Brief Synopsis

John Lloyd, a struggling chicken farmer in Harmony, Georgia, returns each night to the home he shares with his wife, Liza, child Patsy, and in-laws, Jeremiah and Martha Crawford. Jeremiah and Martha, who have financed John's business, constantly criticize his farming skills, and Liza feels caught in...

Film Details

Release Date
Jan 1952
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 14 Feb 1952
Production Company
Columbia University Press; Southern Educational Film Production Service
Distribution Company
Classic Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Harmony, Georgia, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
45m

Synopsis

John Lloyd, a struggling chicken farmer in Harmony, Georgia, returns each night to the home he shares with his wife, Liza, child Patsy, and in-laws, Jeremiah and Martha Crawford. Jeremiah and Martha, who have financed John's business, constantly criticize his farming skills, and Liza feels caught in the middle of their skirmishes. One night, John is so frustrated by the situation that he visits Jake's Bar and drinks with his friends, Ed and Drake. By closing time, he is alone and too drunk to drive, so the sympathetic waitress, Nell Morse, takes him to her house for coffee. Once there, they fall into bed together. Slightly sobered, John returns home, remorseful, and Liza tells him that she is three months pregnant. Soon after, Nell visits a clinic and discovers that her husband, who left her months earlier, gave her syphilis. When she informs Nurse McElvrey that she recently slept with John, the nurse warns her that he must be contacted, especially if he has a pregnant wife, because the baby might be delivered stillborn or diseased. If his wife is treated within the first four months, the nurse adds, the baby will probably be safe. Nell, the nurse and the doctor try to track down John, but knowing only his first name, they cannot find him. One month later, Liza still refuses to see a doctor, declaring that she feels fine and knows how to take care of herself. Luckily, at the same time, the county's civic leaders establish a local disease testing service, in which everyone can receive a free screening for a variety of ailments, including syphilis. A friend asks John to drive him to the testing site and drags John in with him. Nell, who has spotted John in town, follows him and sees him enter the testing site, at which point she realizes he will soon discover the truth. Days after the tests are administered, John receives a letter in the mail informing him of his disease. His doctor warns him that the baby is in danger, and John is forced to confess his affair to Liza and bring her in for treatment. Upon hearing that she is a few months late for treatment, Liza is at first terrified, but after she takes the treatments the doctor assures her the baby should be fine. To keep her optimistic, the doctor sends Liza to a prenatal clinic, where she meets her neighbor, first-time mother Kitty Kendricks. Helping Kitty plan for her baby lifts Liza's spirits. Although she soon forgives John, he cannot forgive himself and works late every night, convinced that he does not deserve his wife or new child. The months go by and soon Liza is ready to deliver. When Jeremiah scorns her for going to the hospital, Martha points out that she lost three children because of a lack of proper medical care. While John paces apprehensively in the waiting room, Liza delivers a breech baby boy in perfect health. They bring John, Jr. home, but for months John refuses to hold his child. Martha questions Liza about John's behavior, but Liza stubbornly defends him. When Kitty goes into labor, John drives her to the hospital and contacts her husband Bradley, assuring him that the baby will be fine because Kitty visited the doctor early in her pregnancy. When the Kendricks' healthy baby girl is born, John, beaming, rushes home to embrace his own wife and child.

Film Details

Release Date
Jan 1952
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 14 Feb 1952
Production Company
Columbia University Press; Southern Educational Film Production Service
Distribution Company
Classic Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Harmony, Georgia, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
45m

Articles

The Wrong Rut/Birthright - The Wrong Rut & Birthright - Two Sex Hygiene Dramas from the Late 40s/Early Fifties on DVD


Something Weird Video sheds light on a very specialized subgenre of the American exploitation film with its double-feature DVD The Wrong Rut (1949) and Birthright (1951).

During the Golden Age of the exploitation film (1930s - '50s), canny independent filmmakers and distributors assembled the most prurient subject matter imaginable and presented it in the guise of educational films. It allowed them to bystep censorship and compete with the major studios (who monopolized film production, distribution and exhibition, but were bound by the shackles of good taste). Thus were independently-owned small-town theatres able to show the likes of Reefer Madness (1936), The Road to Ruin (1934) and Assassin of Youth (1937). The most popular of these films were the "sex hygiene" pictures that warned of the dangers of disease and debauchery. The climax of such films was either actual footage of naked bodies corroded by syphilis or clinical footage of the process of childbirth. In the case of the legendary Mom and Dad (1945), viewers got both.

The men and women who made these films were ruthless in their business dealings and promotional tactics. Nicknamed "exploiteers," these Barnumesque mercenaries used a variety of ploys to compete in the cut-throat exploitation market. They pirated each other's films, changed the titles of their films (to lure unsuspecting ticket-buyers into repeat viewings) and playing bait-and-switch with the regional censor boards. The Wrong Rut and Birthright illustrate the exploiteers at their most audacious: cannibalizing other filmmakers' work and rendering them salacious enough for the adults-only market.

The Wrong Rut is a revamped version of Elmer Clifton's Not Wanted. The first independent production of actress Ida Lupino and husband/writer/producer Collier Young, Not Wanted is a hardboiled yet poignant social conscience film about unwed motherhood. Veteran B-grade director Clifton only directed a small portion of the film. When he suffered a heart attack on the third day of filming, Lupino took over the helm in order to save the production.

It was not such a stretch for Not Wanted to be transformed into the exploitive The Wrong Rut. The story is told in the vernacular of low-budget film noir, with a heavy emphasis on the kinds of cinematic shorthand that conveys the seedier aspects of a fallen woman film, while keeping it within the boundaries of good taste. When we first see Sally Kelton (Sally Forrest), she is wandering the streets in a daze, and deliriously takes a child from an unattended pram. Quickly apprehended, she is tossed in a film noir jail for women, complete with lesbian, drunkard, prostitute and lunatic. In true B-movie fashion, Sally then flashes back to the events that led to her moral downfall. She recalls visiting a congenial roadhouse called "The Stut 'n' Tup," where she falls in love with a cynical scat-singing piano player named Steve Ryan (portrayed by Leo Penn, father to actor Sean Penn). During a day-for-night rendez-vous in a vacant park, the couple apparently couple, for Steve tosses his cigarette butt into a stream and the camera follows it...telegraphing Sally's downhill slide before a slow and significant fadeout.

Friction with her parents inspires Sally to run away from home, trailing Steve to Capital City. Along the way, she meets Drew Baxter (Keefe Brasselle), a wounded G.I. who clearly wants Sally, but she is not yet ready to settle for second best. When Sally finds Steve, the lone wolf brushes her off, leaving her homeless, jobless, and, apparently, with child. Because protruding stomachs were forbidden under the Production Code, we learn Sally is pregnant (even the word was taboo) when she faints and wakes up in a doctor's care. She lands in a home for unwed mothers and there must decide the future of her child.

This is where Not Wanted suddenly transforms into The Wrong Rut. As Sally slips into a Hollywood-style medical delirium, the film abruptly cuts to a title card explaining that a cesarian delivery is to be performed. After a few more seconds of the pre-surgical montage, the expressive music is chopped to dead silence, and the viewer is treated to splotchy, faded medical footage of the birth, in graphic detail.

It is not clear who reconstituted Not Wanted as an exploitation film, for cinematic highjackers seldom signed their names to their work. The anonymous exploiteer's finishing touch was to crown the bastardized film with a title that is crudely moralistic yet sexually suggestive (no longer in common use, "rut" is a term for sexual intercourse in its most vulgar form).

Another common component of the sex hygiene film was a live lecture by an esteemed medical figure. This unlicensed "doctor" underscored the film's educational message and, more importantly, delivered a carnival-style sales pitch for one-dollar booklets that promised the unvarnished truth about sex and reproduction. This is represented on the DVD in several ways. The disc includes "Life Begins," a ten-minute short that blends footage from Not Wanted with anatomical diagrams, more cesarian birth footage, and sexy silhouettes and charts depicting the mechanics of menstruation, overlaid with dry clinical narration. Also on the disc is an audio recording of a "book pitch" (intended for use at drive-ins), illustrated with photographs of the many sex education pamphlets sold by such exploiteers.

Although details are not provided, The Wrong Rut appears to have been mastered from a 35mm print that is only occasionally marred by scratches and splices -- which is remarkable considering the film's "orphan" status (produced by the short-lived Emerald Productions, before being abducted and retooled for the exploitation market). The crimes committed against Not Wanted are heinous, but the DVD of The Wrong Rut is a treasure in its own right, as it documents a mysterious chapter in American film history. Fortunately for purists, the unmolested film is currently available (Kino on Video), albeit in VHS only.

The DVD's second feature, Birthright, represents a similar exercise in sensationalism. In this case, the unsuspecting film is an educational feature produced by the Southern Educational Film Production Service, in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Public Health (and distributed by Columbia University Press). Unlike the already-pulpy Not Wanted, the original Birthright is plain and humble, reminiscent of Pare Lorentz's Depression-era documentaries The River (1938) and The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936). However, instead of addressing the topics of rural electrification and the Tennessee Valley Authority, Birthright is designed to promote a public health campaign, focusing specifically on syphilis.

After an argument with his wife (Marjory Morris) and in-laws (Mr. and Mrs. W.O. Jarrett), John Lloyd (Boyce Brown), the owner of a struggling poultry farm, seeks refuge at a local diner, where he makes the acquaintance of Nell (Paula Haygood), a young waitress. The first sign of Birthright's re-editing occurs when John accompanies Nell to her house to sleep off a few beers. We are treated to a static shot of a man watching a woman disrobe during a romantic tryst. The footage is silent and the actors bear little resemblance to Birthright's primary cast.

Afterwards, the non-professional actors resume their stumble through the dull educational drama, until the the film is once again highjacked in the name of exploitation. When it comes time for Mrs. Lloyd to have a child, the film -- rather than modestly fading to black -- shows the birth in every detail. This time it is a breech delivery, presented in eye-scorching color! Needless to say, the climactic birth footage is mis-matched to the rest of the film.

As crude as they were, the sex hygiene films provided audiences with something they desired -- something more carnal than the celluloid romances peddled by Hollywood. Eventually the films became so popular that the industry moved toward a more relaxed standard of censorship, and the exploiteers were gradually driven out of business. The major studios never resorted to book pitches and birth footage, but in their own way they found a way to satisfy the sexual curiosity that was once the sole domain of the renegade exploiteer.

For more information about The Wrong Rut/Birthright, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Wrong Rut/Birthright, go to TCM Shopping.

by Asa Kendall, Jr.
The Wrong Rut/birthright - The Wrong Rut & Birthright - Two Sex Hygiene Dramas From The Late 40S/early Fifties On Dvd

The Wrong Rut/Birthright - The Wrong Rut & Birthright - Two Sex Hygiene Dramas from the Late 40s/Early Fifties on DVD

Something Weird Video sheds light on a very specialized subgenre of the American exploitation film with its double-feature DVD The Wrong Rut (1949) and Birthright (1951). During the Golden Age of the exploitation film (1930s - '50s), canny independent filmmakers and distributors assembled the most prurient subject matter imaginable and presented it in the guise of educational films. It allowed them to bystep censorship and compete with the major studios (who monopolized film production, distribution and exhibition, but were bound by the shackles of good taste). Thus were independently-owned small-town theatres able to show the likes of Reefer Madness (1936), The Road to Ruin (1934) and Assassin of Youth (1937). The most popular of these films were the "sex hygiene" pictures that warned of the dangers of disease and debauchery. The climax of such films was either actual footage of naked bodies corroded by syphilis or clinical footage of the process of childbirth. In the case of the legendary Mom and Dad (1945), viewers got both. The men and women who made these films were ruthless in their business dealings and promotional tactics. Nicknamed "exploiteers," these Barnumesque mercenaries used a variety of ploys to compete in the cut-throat exploitation market. They pirated each other's films, changed the titles of their films (to lure unsuspecting ticket-buyers into repeat viewings) and playing bait-and-switch with the regional censor boards. The Wrong Rut and Birthright illustrate the exploiteers at their most audacious: cannibalizing other filmmakers' work and rendering them salacious enough for the adults-only market. The Wrong Rut is a revamped version of Elmer Clifton's Not Wanted. The first independent production of actress Ida Lupino and husband/writer/producer Collier Young, Not Wanted is a hardboiled yet poignant social conscience film about unwed motherhood. Veteran B-grade director Clifton only directed a small portion of the film. When he suffered a heart attack on the third day of filming, Lupino took over the helm in order to save the production. It was not such a stretch for Not Wanted to be transformed into the exploitive The Wrong Rut. The story is told in the vernacular of low-budget film noir, with a heavy emphasis on the kinds of cinematic shorthand that conveys the seedier aspects of a fallen woman film, while keeping it within the boundaries of good taste. When we first see Sally Kelton (Sally Forrest), she is wandering the streets in a daze, and deliriously takes a child from an unattended pram. Quickly apprehended, she is tossed in a film noir jail for women, complete with lesbian, drunkard, prostitute and lunatic. In true B-movie fashion, Sally then flashes back to the events that led to her moral downfall. She recalls visiting a congenial roadhouse called "The Stut 'n' Tup," where she falls in love with a cynical scat-singing piano player named Steve Ryan (portrayed by Leo Penn, father to actor Sean Penn). During a day-for-night rendez-vous in a vacant park, the couple apparently couple, for Steve tosses his cigarette butt into a stream and the camera follows it...telegraphing Sally's downhill slide before a slow and significant fadeout. Friction with her parents inspires Sally to run away from home, trailing Steve to Capital City. Along the way, she meets Drew Baxter (Keefe Brasselle), a wounded G.I. who clearly wants Sally, but she is not yet ready to settle for second best. When Sally finds Steve, the lone wolf brushes her off, leaving her homeless, jobless, and, apparently, with child. Because protruding stomachs were forbidden under the Production Code, we learn Sally is pregnant (even the word was taboo) when she faints and wakes up in a doctor's care. She lands in a home for unwed mothers and there must decide the future of her child. This is where Not Wanted suddenly transforms into The Wrong Rut. As Sally slips into a Hollywood-style medical delirium, the film abruptly cuts to a title card explaining that a cesarian delivery is to be performed. After a few more seconds of the pre-surgical montage, the expressive music is chopped to dead silence, and the viewer is treated to splotchy, faded medical footage of the birth, in graphic detail. It is not clear who reconstituted Not Wanted as an exploitation film, for cinematic highjackers seldom signed their names to their work. The anonymous exploiteer's finishing touch was to crown the bastardized film with a title that is crudely moralistic yet sexually suggestive (no longer in common use, "rut" is a term for sexual intercourse in its most vulgar form). Another common component of the sex hygiene film was a live lecture by an esteemed medical figure. This unlicensed "doctor" underscored the film's educational message and, more importantly, delivered a carnival-style sales pitch for one-dollar booklets that promised the unvarnished truth about sex and reproduction. This is represented on the DVD in several ways. The disc includes "Life Begins," a ten-minute short that blends footage from Not Wanted with anatomical diagrams, more cesarian birth footage, and sexy silhouettes and charts depicting the mechanics of menstruation, overlaid with dry clinical narration. Also on the disc is an audio recording of a "book pitch" (intended for use at drive-ins), illustrated with photographs of the many sex education pamphlets sold by such exploiteers. Although details are not provided, The Wrong Rut appears to have been mastered from a 35mm print that is only occasionally marred by scratches and splices -- which is remarkable considering the film's "orphan" status (produced by the short-lived Emerald Productions, before being abducted and retooled for the exploitation market). The crimes committed against Not Wanted are heinous, but the DVD of The Wrong Rut is a treasure in its own right, as it documents a mysterious chapter in American film history. Fortunately for purists, the unmolested film is currently available (Kino on Video), albeit in VHS only. The DVD's second feature, Birthright, represents a similar exercise in sensationalism. In this case, the unsuspecting film is an educational feature produced by the Southern Educational Film Production Service, in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Public Health (and distributed by Columbia University Press). Unlike the already-pulpy Not Wanted, the original Birthright is plain and humble, reminiscent of Pare Lorentz's Depression-era documentaries The River (1938) and The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936). However, instead of addressing the topics of rural electrification and the Tennessee Valley Authority, Birthright is designed to promote a public health campaign, focusing specifically on syphilis. After an argument with his wife (Marjory Morris) and in-laws (Mr. and Mrs. W.O. Jarrett), John Lloyd (Boyce Brown), the owner of a struggling poultry farm, seeks refuge at a local diner, where he makes the acquaintance of Nell (Paula Haygood), a young waitress. The first sign of Birthright's re-editing occurs when John accompanies Nell to her house to sleep off a few beers. We are treated to a static shot of a man watching a woman disrobe during a romantic tryst. The footage is silent and the actors bear little resemblance to Birthright's primary cast. Afterwards, the non-professional actors resume their stumble through the dull educational drama, until the the film is once again highjacked in the name of exploitation. When it comes time for Mrs. Lloyd to have a child, the film -- rather than modestly fading to black -- shows the birth in every detail. This time it is a breech delivery, presented in eye-scorching color! Needless to say, the climactic birth footage is mis-matched to the rest of the film. As crude as they were, the sex hygiene films provided audiences with something they desired -- something more carnal than the celluloid romances peddled by Hollywood. Eventually the films became so popular that the industry moved toward a more relaxed standard of censorship, and the exploiteers were gradually driven out of business. The major studios never resorted to book pitches and birth footage, but in their own way they found a way to satisfy the sexual curiosity that was once the sole domain of the renegade exploiteer. For more information about The Wrong Rut/Birthright, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Wrong Rut/Birthright, go to TCM Shopping. by Asa Kendall, Jr.

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The film begins with an uncredited, offscreen narrator naming the key roles and actors, and identifying all the actors except one as inhabitants of Harmony, in Gainsville County, Georgia, where the film was shot. The end credits read: "Produced under the auspices of Georgia Department of Public Health with the cooperation of Hall County Health Department. The producers wish to thank the Public Health Service, Federal Security Agency, for technical advice and assistance." Although the Catalog of Copyright Entries lists the Communications Materials Center as a producer, the center is not mentioned in the onscreen credits. The film was probably released only in New York.
       According to the Variety review, Birthright was the first film dealing openly with syphilis to be accepted by the New York state censors. The article also quotes U.S. Surgeon General Leonard A. Scheele as stating that the picture "marks a great advance in our efforts to curb and cure venereal diseases." Although the film was intended as an educational text, the print viewed includes nudity and a graphic chilbirth scene, and modern sources advertise it as an expolitation film.