Best Documentary Movies of 1953
Set to a classic Duke Ellington recording "Daybreak Express", this is a five-minute short of the soon-to-be-demolished Third Avenue elevated subway station in New York City.
The Living Desert
The Living Desert was the first feature-length film in Disney’s True-Life Adventures series of documentaries focusing on zoological studies; the previous films in the series, including the Academy Award-winning Seal Island, were short subjects. The documentary was filmed at the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona. Most of the wildlife shown in the film was donated to what would soon become the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The film was inspired by 10 minutes of footage shot by N. Paul Kenworthy Jr., a doctoral student at the University of California at Los Angeles. Kenworthy’s footage of a battle between a tarantula and a wasp intrigued Disney, who funded a feature-length production following the lives of diverse desert species. Disney was highly supportive of Kenworthy’s work and its impact on nonfiction filmmaking, stating, “This is where we can tell a real, sustained story for the first time in these nature pictures.”
Bear Country is a 1953 American short documentary film directed by James Algar. It won an Academy Award at the 26th Academy Awards in 1954 for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel). The film was produced by Walt Disney as part of the True-Life Adventures series of nature documentaries.
Prowlers of the Everglades
Part of the "True-Life Adventure Series"; Disney filmmakers take their cameras to Florida, not to document the swamps that would become Walt Disney World, but to capture the lives of creatures in the everglades. Focusing primarily on alligators, we also see the behavior of animals such as snakebirds, raccoons, and even otters who like to "play" with the alligators.
This Is York
A look at the 1953 transport infrastructure of York.
The Conquest of Everest
A documentary of the first successful expedition to the summit of Mount Everest. New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay climb Mount Everest in 1953.
A Is for Atom
General Electric sponsors this explanation of atomic energy, detailing some of its uses besides the bomb. Using animation and an off-screen narrator, the film describes the atom, elements and isotopes, the discovery of transmutation, experiments in artificial transmutation, and the reasons for the power of nuclear fission. The film argues that now, besides war, the atomic age holds promise for energy, farming, medicine, and research. The promise of the atomic age will depend on human wisdom.
The Great Adventure
A vixen mother invades a chicken coop to provide food for her cubs. She continues to raid the coop until she is shot by a farmer. The cubs are attacked by the farmer and only one survives. An otter trapped in a burrow is rescued by 10-year-old Anders and his six-year-old brother, Kjell. In secret, the boys cage the animal and finally domesticate it. They obtain food for the Otter by fishing through the ice on a frozen lake. The boys manage to keep their secret from their family. On the eve of the May Day festival, Kjell reveals to family and friends the otter's presence. Anders is so distressed that he runs into the woods with the otter. The otter breaks away and returns to its life of natural freedom. The film was a prize winner at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.
The Alaskan Eskimo
Oscar Winning short documentary
Lindsay Anderson's early documentary film of a British amusement park, the irony of its manufactured fun on full display.
Paul Tomkowicz: Street Railway Switchman
In this film, Paul Tomkowicz, Polish-born Canadian, talks about his job and his life in Canada. He compares his new life in the city of Winnipeg to the life he knew in Poland, marvelling at the freedom Canadians enjoy. In winter the rail-switches on streetcar tracks in Winnipeg froze and jammed with freezing mud and snow. Keeping them clean, whatever the weather, was the job of the switchman.
The Elephant Will Never Forget
A fond farewell to London's trams - whose peculiarly endearing qualities were discovered only at the threat of their disappearance.
Acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick's first film made in color. The documentary focuses on the benefits of membership to the Seafarers International Union.
Land of the Ugly Duckling
The ugly duckling of the title is Hans Christian Andersen, the author who wrote fairy tales that still delight readers to this day. This Traveltalk series entry tells the story of Andersen's life. We visit the city of his birth and journey to other places important in his life.
The Sea Around Us
Irwin Allen explores the mysteries of the deep blue sea in this Technicolor documentary. Based on Rachel L. Carson's famous study, this Oscar winning project investigates everything under the sea, from sharks, whales and octopuses to microscopical creatures and their coexistence in this vast underwater world.
Operation Blue Jay
The U.S. Signal Corps construct a huge airbase in Thule, Greenland.
Presented without voiceover, various kinds of breads are displayed and broken in a joyous celebration of starch, seed and salt.
Dance in the Sun
Choreographer Daniel Nagrin performs in a studio and in the sun.
Silent Night: The Story of the Christmas Carol
13-minute documentary taking a look at the song "Silent Night" from the time it was written to the music and finally to it being performed across the world.
A fast-paced rhythmic impression of dancers, musicians and sportsmen at a highlands event.
Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor
Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor [also known as The Merry Wives of Windsor Overture] is a 1953 American short musical film produced by Johnny Green. The film consists of the MGM Symphony Orchestra playing the Overture to Otto Nicolai's opera The Merry Wives of Windsor, also conducted by Johnny Green. It won an Oscar in 1954 for Best Short Subject, One-Reel.
Nostradamus Says So!
The life of the French seer and some of his selected quatrains are reviewed.
Don't Get Angry
This short film offers a children's guide to anger management.
Oss Oss Wee Oss
Padstow, a fishing village on the coast of Cornwall, celebrates May Day with an ancient custom: two osses (hobby-horses) dance through the town streets accompanied by drums and accordions. All Padstownians participate in the event, which has now become a tourist attraction drawing over tens of thousands of annual visitors. Folklorists Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at the festival in 1951, producing a pioneering work in the use of sound, low-light photography, and conversational presentation of narrative. A favorite of Margaret Mead, who used it in her classes, the film circulated widely and continues to have influence today, especially in the neo-Pagan community.
Sunday by the Sea
London families spend a day at Southend-on-Sea.
Farewell Oak Street
This documentary presents a before-and-after picture of people in a large-scale public housing project in Toronto. Due to a housing shortage, they were forced to live in squalid, dingy flats and ramshackle dwellings on a crowded street in Regent Park North; now they have access to new, modern housing developments designed to offer them privacy, light and space.
Halfway to Hell
Documentary of war atrocities with newsreel footage of concentration camps.
Below the Sahara
The photographic record of an African expedition led by producer-explorer Armand Denis and his (very) photogenic and camera-toting wife Michaela, who goes bird-riding at an ostrich farm. The expedition ranges from the central interior jungles and mountains to both coasts and as far south as Capetown, and ends with a gorilla hunt led by natives using 100-year-old muskets.
This Traveltalk series short visit to southern Germany begins in Berchtesgaden. After a boat ride on the Königssee and a look at the Neuschwanstein castle, we visit the village of Mittenwald, renowned for making violins, and then go to Oberammergau, where the famous Passion play is performed by village residents every ten years. The last stop is a village on the shore of the Tegernsee, where we see traditional Bavarian dances performed.
The story of Smokey the Bear, from cub in the woods to the Washington Zoo and the Forestry Service campaign.
In the Valley of the Rhine
This Traveltalk series short takes a trip on the Rhine river, with stops at Cologne, Bonn, and Koblenz.
They Planted a Stone
They Planted a Stone is a 1953 British short documentary film directed by Robin Carruthers and produced by James Carr. The film portrays how dams, barrages and irrigation canals were constructed on the Nile in Sudan, to generate hydroelectricity, irrigate the desert and create such projects as the Gezira Scheme. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
This travelogue begins with the vast agricultural wealth of the country, whose farmers can produce four times the amount required to feed the country's population. As such, the export of these agricultural products is a vital part of the country's economy. This agricultural tradition extends to its food consumption, as Denmark's vast array of open faced sandwiches is world renowned. It also extends to flower production and the Dane's love of flowers, which are sold in public markets. Denmark has a strong social support system, as witnessed by the free and mandatory public schooling, free medical services for expectant mothers and children, the provision of cooperative housing and housing for seniors, and the provision of old age pensions without premiums.
Wash and Brush Up
Number 73020, a standard Class 5 locomotive, has been in traffic for sixteen days, and goes back to the sheds for cleaning inside and out and a detailed mechanical check-up. A team of men, each with his special job, takes over. Before they are reassembled, the parts are inspected; then steam raising begins again. After vacuum tests by the crew, coal is taken on, water topped up, and less than twenty-seven hours after entering the sheds 73020 is back on duty.
Copenhagen: 'City of Towers'
This travelogue emphasizes Copenhagen's harmonious residents and tone. We see well-known landmarks and get a quick history of some of them.
A Place in the Team
People will always need transport and transport will always need people. Addressed particularly to boys of school-leaving age and to young men completing their period of military service, this film shows some of the wide variety of careers which British Transport has to offer, whether in railways or in the docks, on the orads or on Britain's inland waterways. The good transport worker combines individual initiative with teamwork, and the work of the transport team is vital to the nation.
This Traveltalk series short looks at four of Spain's most famous cities, Granada, Seville, Toledo, and Madrid, with an emphasis on the Moors and their influence on the country.
Looking at Lisbon
This quick look at Lisbon begins with aerial footage of the port city as the off-screen narrator provides some history of a seafaring, colonizing nation, of destructive earthquakes, and of contemporary construction. Then it's on to famous buildings and monuments, a look at female fishmongers who ply neighborhoods with baskets of fish on their heads, a survey of two nearby resort areas, watching a town's annual running of the bulls, and a visit to a bullfight, where the bulls are not killed.
Johannesburg: 'City of Gold'
This Traveltalk series short discusses how Johannesburg began as a farming community, but with the discovery of gold in the area, the city embraced mining as its primary industry. Native workers came to the area to train to be miners, and even after their work in the mines ended, many decided to remain in Johannesburg. The natives' music and dance are highlights.
Herring Hunt is a 1953 French-English language documentary about the operations of a herring boat off the coast of British Columbia, directed by Julian Biggs, written by Leslie McFarlane, and produced by Guy Glover. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Subject, One-Reel.
The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres
At the time this film was made, motion picture theaters were required to pay a 20% tax on gross ticket sales, and Congress was debating lowering this tax (as well as others) in a bill being considered by a Congressional committee. This film, which was made especially to be shown to members of the committee, sets forth the motion picture industry's case for reducing, if not eliminating, the tax.
Artists Must Live
Art historian Basil Taylor presents the film and interviews several of its subjects, in between leisurely sequences surveying paintings and sculptures to the strains of the BBC Radio Orchestra.
Who Are the People of America?
A Coronet Instructional Film highlighting America's diversity.
Building Better Paragraphs
The members of a sixth-grade class learn to construct good paragraphs by composing a topic sentence, by relating other ideas to it in proper sequence and by composing an effective concluding sentence.
Figures in a Landscape
A documentary feature looking at examples of Barbara Hepworth's sculpture set against the Cornish settings that inspired them.
A sometimes uncomfortable marriage between fact and fiction, this film is part documentary and part drama, mixing actual war footage with reenactments in which real veterans of the Korean War portray members of a platoon sent out on a reconnaissance mission near the end of the conflict. Though peace is imminent, violence unexpectedly erupts. A day that begins with the calm and mundane is transformed into a heated battle that typifies the cruel and unpredictable nature of war.
Mahatma Gandhi: 20th Century Prophet
Funded by the American Academy for Asian Studies and assembled from more than 10,000 feet of newsreel and documentary footage spanning 37 years of Mahatma Gandhi's life from his early public years to his 1948 assassination. As the footage rolls on, the development of the Hindu leader's life views and philosophy is also presented.
Bongolo (also known as Bongolo and the Negro Princess) is a 1952 Belgian film directed by André Cauvin. It was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. A young Congolese man works as a nurse at a health center lost in the jungle. He falls in love with the daughter of the local king and convinces her to forget her prejudices and ancestral rites. The elders, who oppose the wedding, burn down the health center.
The first travelogue released by Twentieth Century-Fox in CinemaScope, produced and directed by Otto Lang, is a photographic record of a journey from Milan to Naples, through Florence and Rome, on a streamlined passenger train. En route, the film takes time out in the cities mentioned to take a look at the landmarks -- past and present -- with the climax on the edge of Vesuvius' smoldering crater. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.
The Avro Vulcan
A documentary featuring the Avro "Vulcan" jet aircraft on the ground and in flight.