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Salvage with a Smile (1940)

Film Courtesy of the Imperial War Museums

Main image of Salvage with a Smile (1940)
35mm, 6 min, black & white
DirectorAdrian Brunel
Production CompanyEaling Studios
SponsorMinistry of Information
ProducerMichael Balcon
Associate ProducerAlberto Cavalcanti
ScriptAdrian Brunel

Cast: Aubrey Mallalieu (Professor); Ronald Shiner (dustman); Kathleen Harrison (housekeeper); Phyllis Morris (Miss Green)

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A professor enlists the help of a dustman to explain the importance of saving paper, bones and metal to help the war effort.

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Director Adrian Brunel had produced propaganda films for the Ministry of Information during World War I, so when war broke out in 1939, he offered his services once again. First World War propaganda was largely presented in the form of 'film tags' - very short factual pieces often inserted into newsreels - but Salvage with a Smile takes the form of a short narrative played by a small cast of well-known actors, a more popular approach by this time. It was the second of two films made by Brunel at Ealing (the first, Food for Thought, is believed lost) as part of the studio's contribution to the Ministry of Information's 'Five-Minute Films' scheme, which issued short propaganda films for showing in mainstream cinema programmes.

Class differences are very much present in the film. While the 'professor' provides the scientific facts about recycling salvage, the hard-working Cockney dustman has the practical advice to hand. The well-dressed, middle-class spinster Miss Green is to deliver the lecture, while the housekeeper does the actual the work of parcelling up the items. The film does, however, promote the idea of the classes working together to contribute to the war effort, and the professor's generosity in welcoming the dustman into his home is intended to be seen in the same light.

The film's combination of a newly filmed, scripted narrative with stock footage of wartime equipment and production aims both to entertain and inform, a recipe which Brunel felt was essential to get the message across. Purists in the documentary field favoured using real people in real situations in propaganda films, but it was still characteristic of commercial concerns to see well-known actors and a dose of humour as the best way to engage with cinema audiences. Ealing, though, was moving away from this approach, and Brunel made no further films there.

Jo Botting

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Video Clips
Complete film (6:02)
Dustbin Parade (1942)
Brunel, Adrian (1892-1958)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Propaganda Shorts