LENGTH: 5 min
CATEGORY: Educational & Instructional, Sound, Black & White
DIRECTOR: Edgar Ulmer
PRODUCER/PUBLISHER: Hugh Harman Productions for U.S. Navy
Disclaimer: These films depict ethnic, gender and racial stereotypes that were once commonplace in American society. We present them here as historical artifacts, valuable documents of the cultural practices of their time. Viewer discretion advised.
In 1945, the U.S. Navy commissioned Hugh Harman Productions to create Commandments for Health, an entertaining cartoon series for troops at war, patterned on the Private Snafu series, but dealing solely with health issues. Harman was a veteran animator who had worked in 1920s in Kansas City with the (pre-Mickey Mouse) Walt Disney Laugh-O-Gram studio, and in the 1930s in Hollywood on the Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies series. The McGillicuddy cartoons had a smaller budget than the Snafu series—the producers saved time and money by using fewer drawings and less precise sound synchronization, which made for jagged animation and a greater reliance on voiceover narration—but the talent was top flight. Like Snafu, McGillicuddy featured the voice of Mel Blanc and music by Carl Stallings. While the director/animator is not identified, the artwork and direction has a distinctively Warner Brothers feel.
The series is formulaic: each episode takes place on a South Pacific island where the dim-witted Marine Private McGillicuddy ignores a different “Commandment for Health,” suffers the bodily consequences, and jeopardizes the war effort. Aimed at a male audience of young soldiers and sailors, the gags are corny and mildly risqué; shopworn racial, gender and social stereotypes abound. Flies that contaminate food are depicted as buck-toothed Japanese soldiers wearing thick glasses; South Sea islanders are given exaggerated African features and depicted as cannibals; doctors are sadists; and so forth….Read the Essay
Stills from Use Your Head
Other Films from the Commandments for Health Series
Digitized Films on World War II-era Public Health at the National Library of Medicine
Explore World War II-era Public Health in the NLM Digital Collections
Learn more about NLM holdings of World War II-era Public Health in The Public Health Film Goes To War
MedFilm is a European-based collaborative project analyzing medical film.
See the MedFilm record for Use Your Head.
Discover more films from the NLM historical collections featured in MedFilm.