Saturday 5 May 2018

Horizons of Hope

There’s an animated cartoon funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which received a great deal of attention, including a write-up in Life magazine when it was released, but is forgotten today.

When it comes to animation, the Foundation is known for funding a number of pro-big business “educational” shorts that ended up on theatre screens. The first ones were animated by John Sutherland Productions and a later trio was made and released by Warner Bros. But Horizons of Hope is overlooked today, likely because it’s not available for free viewing on the internet like other Sutherland shorts.

The short was praised in 1954 because it tackled the subject of misconceptions about cancer, though Sutherland dealt with the same subject in a 1946 animated short called The Traitor Within for the American Cancer Society. As odd as it sounds to us today, people didn’t talk about cancer then; it was something shameful. Alfred P. Sloan helped set up the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in 1945 through the Sloan Foundation. With that in mind, a Sloan-funded animated short educating America about cancer was a given.

The Foundation’s report for 1955 states:
Shortly after its release, the film was chosen by the American Film Assembly of the Film Council of America as the best 16mm non-theatrical motion picture which had been produced in America in 1954 in the field of hygiene and public-health education. In recognition of its selection it was given the Film Council's Golden Reel Award. Subsequently the film received other awards, including one from the Film Council of Greater Boston and one from the Film Council of Greater Columbus.
The Sloan Foundation was subsidizing a Sunday afternoon show on NBC-TV called American Inventory. The two-reel Horizons of Hope was perfect fodder for it, and aired (along with a panel discussion) on December 5, 1954; the Life article was, more or less, a free plug for the show.

Business Screen magazine, that fine chronicler of industrial and commercial films, devoted space in its February 1955 issue to the film. It had one little black-and-white frame from the short, but Life wonderfully published the colour frames which you see in this post.
Sloan Foundation Tells Cancer Research Progress
Sponsor: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Title: Horizons of Hope. 25 min., color, produced by John Sutherland Productions.
Unlike other films on the subject of cancer, which have generally been technical subject for professional groups, or "warning" films for lay audiences, encouraging early detection of the disease, Horizons of Hope is a document of the progress in cancer cure, and a delineation of the possible steps science may take in the future to eliminate cancer. It incorporates a vast amount of highly complex and technical information into a creative pattern that will be clear to lay audiences and yet valuable and acceptable to researchers, doctors and other technical personnel in the cancer field.
Follows Year of Research
Research by writers John Sutherland, Bill Scott and True Boardman, under the direction of Dr. Cornelius Rhoads and his staff of the Sloan-Kettering Institute, began almost a year before the film actually went into production. It was decided that the story could best be told in a combination of live action and animation techniques.
Live action is effective in illustrating the actual physical complexity of the "machine for mankind" that is the Sloan-Kettering Institute, where literally millions of dollars in highly specialized equipment is being skillfully operated by hundreds of men and women who have dedicated their lives to the single purpose of first controlling, and ultimately eradicating cancer.

Animation Clarifies Story
Animation was used in the larger part of the picture to simplify and clarify highly technical aspects of the whole cancer control problem.
In structure, the animation portion of the picture ultimately developed as what might be called the autobiography of a cancer cell.
While it is true that on a limited scale photographs of actual cancer cells have been made by the electron microscope, it was photographically impossible at the present stage of technical development to show the actual life cycle of cells, and the action by chemical agents upon both normal and cancer cells in live action.
On the other hand, vivid demonstration of the attack upon cancer cells in animation was possible: possible, it should be added, but by no means simple, because in the animation form there is often a predisposition on the part of an audience to humor, and of course the nature of the subject matter made seriousness of approach in this case vitally important.
Initially, the picture demonstrates the nature of a normal body cell and then shows the (still mysterious and unexplained) genesis of the abnormal cancer cell within the same body.
From this point forward, the animation portion of the picture constantly refers to the basic premise of Sloan-Kettering's research operations, which is that there are basic differences between normal and cancer cells, and that by continuing study of those differences and constructive application of facts learned about those differences, control and or cure of cancer can be achieved.

Despite this emphasis on contrast, the villainous protagonist continues to be the cancer cell, and the film shows how he is affected first by the study of his appetites to find out what food he requires and therefore can be starved by absence of and secondly by what foods he can be poisoned, either chemically or radioactively.
Another approach is the analysis of the effect of virus upon cancer cells and the search for a virus which will selectively destroy cancer cells while not harming normal cells.
Still another general category is the study of antibodies which will seek out and destroy cancer cells.
While these three major lines of research are the primary activities at Sloan-Kettering, additional important work is being done in hormones, and extensive study is being done on the effect of the hormone balance to cancer incidence. This too was incorporated into the picture.
Horizons of Hope will be available from offices of Movies U.S.A., 729 Seventh Ave., New York City.

Ah, if we could still order a copy from Movies U.S.A.!

Yes, the Bill Scott mentioned in the article is the same Bill Scott who developed the Rocky and Bullwinkle series and wrote for the Art Davis unit at Warners, then jumped to UPA where he was fired in the Red Scare. The fact a fairly right-wing producer like Sutherland would hire Scott shows you what he thought of scaremongering by Joe McCarthy, Red Channels, et al. He ignored it. (Scott was caught in the blacklist fallout. He was fired at UPA because his writing partner was fired for leftist activities).

Unfortunately, because this cartoon is hiding in some film canister, other credits are not available, though an internet search reveals Gene Poddany wrote the score. We can make somewhat educated guesses, though. George Gordon and Carl Urbano were directing for Sutherland at the time. Bill Melendez was animating at the studio and Emery Hawkins and Bill Higgins were on the animation staff about this time. Maurice Noble was designing for Sutherland.

(Update from 2022: Scholastic Teacher magazine of May 10, 1956 gives the following credits: Producer, John Sutherland; Animation Director, George Gordon; Live Action Director, True Boardman; Script, John Sutherland and William J. Scott; Editor, Charles Boardwell; Animation, William Melendez; Cameraman, William Miller; Art Director, Maurice Noble; Original Music, Eugene Poddany; Narration, John Hiestand).

Sutherland copyrighted a pile of character designs on February 25, 1954, including the ones for Horizons of Hope, which was Production No. 1422. (For the record, also copyrighted on that date were designs for It’s Everybody’s Business, Prod. No. 1417; Dear Uncle, Prod. No. 1439; The Atom Goes to Sea, Prod. 1441; and Prod. Nos. 1200, 1447 and 1450. Unfortunately, I cannot determine the titles of these and there were additional unknown animated Sutherland films with 1955 copyright dates).

The Sutherland studio’s work was always top notch and I hope a copy of this film will eventually be located for people to see.

Now if we can only find a print of that 13½-minute cartoon tribute to push-button cleaning, Sutherland’s The Spray’s the Thing

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