TA.TV: Propaganda – “Innocent Party” (1959)

Like many other Centron venereal disease films, Innocent Party focuses on the morality and emotions associated with venereal disease rather than the medical aspects. The actual mechanics of syphilis transmission are only briefly mentioned let alone prevention via condom use, yet the shame and anguish are clear for all to see. This film echoes the common theme found in many venereal disease films – that premarital sex leads to VD.

A rare Centron color educational film, as Centron normally only used color for its industrial productions. But this wasn’t just any regular educational film. It was an important script on venereal disease commissioned by the Kansas State Board of Health. In fact, it was the first VD film aimed specifically at teenagers. Don, played by Harper Barnes (Ron in “The Snob”) and his buddy Nicky (Larry Sneegas) are in the city one night, and decide to pick up a couple of trashy girls off the street. One thing leads to another, and soon they’ve all had sex. Then Don goes parking with his “nice” girlfriend, Betty (Sandra Hopkins), and has sex with her, too. In a mental hygiene film, nothing good can come out of so much sex, and indeed Don is soon complaining to Nicky that’s he got a sore “down there.” Don then decides to go to the school doctor, competently played by Shelby Storck, an actor from Kansas City (“Coffee Break”). Storck diagnoses Don with syphilis, and when Don won’t admit to all the girls he’s slept with, the doctor uses shock tactics, pulling out his medical books and showing Don (and us folks watching) graphic depictions of syphilis’ effects—a baby born without a nose, terrible sores on your sexual (not “special”) organs, etc.

Still, Don says “he’s got to have time to think about it”, but of course Don does eventually bring Betty in, and the doctor confirms that they both have syphilis—but the doctor has caught the disease in time, so Don and Betty can be treated and will be alright. Don and Betty are both staring at the floor, their heads downcast, muttering lines like, “I’d rather be dead.” To which Storck replies, “I know. But tomorrow, you’d rather be cured.” The End. The film is effective, despite some overacting by the young couple, and won some prestigious awards and was widely used by schools up until the 1980s. There’s also a cool jazz combo soundtrack to open your ears to, besides. Highly recommended.

Production Company: Centron

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