Don’t Let Him Die – A 1970s Public Information Film


Note: The version of Don’t Let Him Die that Sal Volatile discusses below seems to have vanished. It’s not online, and there seems to be no record of it. There IS a 1968 public informational film of the same title – and you can see that below the article. Perhaps time has been a trickster and Vol’s 25-year-old memories of the film title are false?

The great British industrial public health film is one of the rare treasures of cinema. Made for a tiny audience, always crazily po-faced, full of English matronliness and haughtily patronising, you can’t help but love these grim cautionary tales of moviedom. Maybe only the infamous US traffic safety films with their graphic autopsy footage and newsreel disaster approach approximate to the mood and immediacy of their UK counterparts. But the British stuff is something special.

Uproariously banal safety advice is coupled with a dry-as-dust style that leaves you gasping with disbelief that this footage was ever intended to actually help anyone. there’s a basic formula for putting this sort of material together – take a bunch of out-of-sorts / ‘resting’ actors, cook up a few health-risk scenarios and then let them all bug out to various inept animation sequences that utterly obscure the message of the film. Stir in amateur special effects, creaking dialogue and a host of laughable corrective attitudes, and basically everyone’s a winner. This particular example concentrates on what to do when workmates and loved ones are suffocating. And the only way to cope with this sort of hellish eventuality is go in fast and dirty!

There are scenes with crushed ribcages and blocked lungs; there are drownings and more blocked lungs; there are pierced chests and collapsed lungs; and there are concussions and burst lungs. You got a lung problem, it’s confronted here. there are at least half a dozen dramatised accidents to choose from in this unsparing catalogue of everyday breathing difficulties.

In one, a real dirty bonecrusher of a van accident smashes some daft bugger into a wall, resulting in some fine moaning and flinching footage. In another, a soaking wet unfortunate is hit by an arrow in a swimming accident, resulting in extraordinary close-ups of bloody chest wounds puckering and foaming with oxygenated blood – very lifelike and surgical. But for the real mccoy, the hit and run motorcycle accident with the poor woman victim takes some beating – deep abrasions, skin flaying and parts of skull segments fully visable while she chokes to death on her own vomit. It almost makes you want to go out there and get real sloppy in the middle of the road yourself.

The lesson of it all is pretty much ‘you no breathe, you no live’, and while this impartyial observer could have done with a tad more on the full-frontal tracheotomy front, that fading Seventies film stock (which makes all the players positively reek of nylon) eventually wins you over with its seductive period charms. For the sucking chest wound scenes alone, this movie is worth a place in anyone’s medicine cabinet. Stay safe and breathe easy!