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Worth the Risk? (1948)


Main image of Worth the Risk? (1948)
35mm, 10 minutes, black & white
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorCentral Office of Information
SponsorMinistry of Transport

How unnecessary risks taken by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists lead to accidents.

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Since the first Highway Act of 1835 regulating the driving of horse-drawn vehicles, road safety has been a perennial concern of government public safety campaigns. Designed for theatrical exhibition, Worth the Risk propels us into a circus of recklessness carried out by drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike, whose carelessness and impetuosity on the streets of London demonstrate the universal human complacency, 'it won't happen to me'. The film sets out to dispel this theory through a strenuous fusion of slapstick comedy and shocking realism.

Theatrically released public information films had to compete with main features, b-movies and newsreels for audience attention. Here, the viewer who has 'heard it all before' is targeted on a very personal level by the admonitory commentary: "Sooner or later, one in every six people alive today - one of YOU six - will have a road accident." Arresting photography and sharp editing further compel the viewer, as do the hair-raising near-misses and collisions, convincingly depicted with the help of hired stunt artists.

Images of commuter Mr Smith's car tumbling down an embankment and bursting into flames, or the fatal collision of the intrepid, wedge-heeled city worker, Miss Jones, with driver Mr Williams, who has failed to tend to his faulty brakes, are precursors to the gruesome depictions of accidents that came to characterise road safety films in later years. With the revolution in commercial advertising in the 1960s, which began to sell not just products but lifestyles, and the relaxation of censorship laws in the 1970s that brought more graphically explicit images to our screens, the COI safety campaigns had to become less informational and more sensational in order to reach a more sophisticated and jaded adult audience.

Katy McGahan

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Every 3 1/2 minutes (3:03)
2. They always stop (2:21)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
I Stopped, I Looked and I Listened (1975)
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)
Crown Film Unit