Forever '50s
Years: 1950-59. Running time: Approximately 8 hours. Black & white and color. Monaural. Newsreels from Universal International. Also includes the following shorts: "You Can Beat the A Bomb" (1950), "Red Nightmare" (1957), "America For Me" (1952), "Little Smokey" (1953), and "Fabulous Fashions" (1955). From VCI Entertainment and Kit Parker Films.

Review by James Newman

Beginning during World War I and lasting through the 1950s, newsreels played an important role in dispensing information about major events. This is how much of America learned what was happening around the world.

Newsreels were part of the evening's entertainment package at the local cinema. For a single admission price, moviegoers would get two features, a short, a cartoon, previews, and a collection of recent newsreels. During each newsreel, theater patrons learned how the war in Europe (or Korea or the Pacific) was progressing. They saw movie stars getting married, presidents signing bills, H-bombs being tested, and hurricanes striking coast cities. And every week brought a new batch of newsreels to theaters.

March of Times was possibly the most famous newsreel series, but March of Times had competition. Universal, for example, had its own newsreel production unit and it operated for over 20 years.

If you're interested in viewing some of the Universal International newsreels, VCI Entertainment has released a DVD compendium called Forever '50s that amasses a year-by-year selection of choice newsreel material. Drawing from the vaults of Kit Parker Films, VCI has pulled together one of the best newsreel collections yet issued on DVD.

You'll see General Douglas MacArthur in Korea, the Miss Universe contest at Long Beach, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe vacationing in Japan, and Grace Kelly and Prince Rainer tying the knot in Monaco. You'll see Fidel Castro taking power in Cuba, the hula hoop craze spreading to Germany, and Hawaii gaining statehood. This is the stuff of the '50s, arguably our most kitschy decade, and this collection of newsreel highlights captures the serious (such as peace negotiations in Korea) alongside the frivolous (such as a circus elephant on water skis). And VCI has wrapped up this collection with a bonus DVD's sampling of '50s era short films. Here you will learn all about the communist menace in Jack Webb's paranoia classic "Red Nightmare," and you'll learn that "You Can Beat the A Bomb" by sealing your windows tight and storing extra canned goods in your basement.

The materials in this three-disc set definitely aren't in pristine condition. All the prints show some wear, but they're in reasonably decent shape. Running approximately eight hours total (including a big dose of trailers for '50s movies), this DVD set is one of the best available introductions to the '50s. Beware that the propagandistic half truths doled out by the newsreels can get a bit thick at time, but that's part of the fun.

Forever '50s is now available on DVD from VCI Entertainment and Kit Parker Films. This three-disc set also includes a generous supply of trailers for '50s movies. Suggested retail price: $49.99. Forever '50s is also available as a three-tape VHS set, without the additional trailers (suggested retail: $39.99). For more information, check out the VCI Entertainment Web site.