Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?: A 1958 Look at How Modern Gadgets & Conveniences Lead to Existential Hell

Think growing feelings of isolation in a world of modern conveniences is a new phenomenon? Slap a dial on that smartphone, shove a collectible rocket in your kid’s cereal box, hop in a Caddy with fins and think again, pal!

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, a cautionary tale created by University of Southern California students in 1958, is a far-from-silent film marked by a near-total absence of human speech. The little boy character seems happy enough with his popsicle and television Westerns, but his white-collar dad and housewife mom are marooned in their individual existential hells, unable to connect. Could the newfangled, labor saving devices with which their home and dad’s workplace abound be to blame?

The newsy radio report playing intermittently in the background would certainly have it so. Stories of hair loss, headaches and a kid shooting his father over a TV-related dispute suggest none too subtly that progress has long been a source of anxiety.

I might suggest that the mother is suffering more from the rigid gender roles of her era than the tyranny of an automatic dishwasher. Perhaps the suburbs weren’t offering them much in the way of community. Isn’t it possible that the relationship has gone cold due to the father’s penchant for hopping in bed with the girls from the steno pool?

That’s pretty standard behavior on Mad Men, no?

While this short film offers none of the aforementioned’s sexy, booze-soaked highs, there’s quite a bit of black-and-white design porn on display. Dictaphones, gleaming kitchen appliances,  a music box that dispenses cigarettes…

Otherwise it’s a vision of an average American 1950’s family as conceived of by Ingmar Bergman.

Related Content:

Before Mad Men: Familiar and Forgotten Ads from 1950s to 1980s Now Online

How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Survive the Atomic Bomb: A Cold War Film from 1954

How the CIA Secretly Funded Abstract Expressionism During the Cold War

Ayun Halliday has always preferred the Roaring Twenties. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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