Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bicycle Safety 101: One Got Fat

From the end of WWII and right up through the 1970s, films were used to teach school children everything from innocuous subjects like good hygiene, proper manners, safety, and the art of "fitting in," to more serious subjects as sex education, the dangers of drug abuse, and drivers' education. A lot of the more serious films were really nothing more than "scare films," designed to frighten kids and teens out of bad behavior -- remember those mainstays of drivers' ed, like Red AsphaltSignal 30 and Mechanized Death? (a lot of those were made in the 50s and 60s here in my home state of Ohio, but are still shown in some drivers' ed classes to this day!). Likewise, a lot of sex ed films from that time are mainly about how premarital sex always leads to VD (that's STDs to you younger folks), and the safety films routinely feature kids getting maimed by BB guns and scissors.

In that same vein as those scare-tactic educational films is one of my favorites of the genre: the bicycle-safety film One Got Fat from 1963. I used to teach a film class, and one of my units was on old educational films from the 50s through the 70s, so I have quite a collection of these film treasures. I recently re-discovered this old classic while sorting through my archives and thought I'd share it here.

First of all, One Got Fat is probably one of the most unintentionally creepy films ever made for kids. Ever. The film is about ten friends who decide to ride their bikes to the park for a picnic, then along the way, one-by-one the kids get picked off because of their mistakes -- some in particularly horrible ways -- while the cheerful narrator (voiced by Edward Everett Horton, whom some may remember for his work on F-Troop, or maybe from Fractured Fairy Tales -- yeah, really showing my age here) blithely and glibly describes their fate. OK, that alone is pretty creepy, but what makes it the stuff of absolute childhood nightmares (maybe adulthood nightmares, too) is that all the kids are depicted in hideously gruesome-looking monkey masks.

It's like the freakin' Island of Dr. Moreau. (Shudder)
 Let's meet some of the nightmarish monkey/human hybrids and find out how they met their demise:

First, we meet Rooty-Toot "Rooty" Jasperson. Rooty (riding a Schwinn Varsity) has the nicest and "newest bike in the bunch and he was as proud of it as he could be." Unfortunately, Rooty gets tired of using hand signals, so the minute he skips one hand signal -- "just once" the narrator stresses -- he gets creamed by a car as he makes a left turn! His crash is depicted as Rooty swerves in front of the moving car, then cut to a cartoonish "crash" animation with "Boooiiinngg" sound effects -- you know, because a juvenile rider crushed under a car is funny. "At this point," the narrator adds, "Rooty-Toot Jasperson left the party." 
Look out Rooty!

Next comes Tinkerbell "Tink" MacDillyfiddy who is so forgetful that she forgets to pay attention to signs. "She's so busy being happy all of the time that her little thoughts tend to wander." (That's right kids, the lesson here is don't be happy). Of course, in her innocent youthful happiness, she wanders right through a stop sign only to get broadsided by a truck. . .
Cue the goofy sound effects. Boooiiinnnggg. "Oops," says the narrator. "Exit Tinkerbell MacDillyfiddy. She forgot, now and then."
Then there's Phillip Floogel -- known to his friends as "Floog." He's the star athlete and class president -- but he's also very easily bored. Because he's "in the mood to do something different," Floog decides to ride on the other side of the street, against the traffic. Narrowly missing one oncoming car, Floog plows head first right into another one that happens to be pulling out of a curbside parking space. As with each unlucky monkey, the scene closes with a shot of a kid's lunchbag, which he'll no longer be needing, while the narrator assures us, "Phillip Floogel isn't bored anymore."
It's like Faces of Death.
Mossby Pomegranate didn't register his bike, so when it got stolen, there was nothing the police could do. Yeah, right -- like they would have done something anyhow. Without a bike, Mossby burned up his sneakers pounding the pavement (no, literally -- the things are smoking) and never made it to the picnic. Sorry Mossby. At least being stranded by the side of the road and "a victim of fallen arches" is a better fate than most of his friends meet.    
Trigby Fipps (the little guy) and "Slim" Jim Macguffny (the husky kid on the handlebars) are riding double. You can almost guess what happens. Glib narrators and society in general have always been hard on the "Slim" Macguffnys of the world. We are told that Slim's own bike "collapsed from the effects of his diet," but his friend Trigby, being a "nice little fellow" (with apparently a much sturdier bicycle) agreed to give him a lift. They disappear down a big hole in the road because Trigby's vision is blocked by the "eclipse" of his massive friend.
Nellie Zwieback (shaking her fist at a fellow rider) doesn't like to share the road, so she chooses to ride on the sidewalk instead. Turns out, she doesn't share well on the sidewalk, either. Pedestrians always have the right of way, we are told, but Nellie "can't think of one good reason why." After she hits a couple pedestrians (inexplicably sending them skyward into a tree), she discovers the reason.
Next on the chopping block is Filbert Bagel, a spoiled kid who refuses to take care of his bike and keep it in good working order "because his parents will probably buy him a new one." Of course, as he careens into the path of a huge steamroller, he discovers that he has no brakes. With the sound of a crunch, followed by a squishy splat (yeah, really) we can only presume that Fil ends up flattened.
Crunch. Squish. Splat.
The last of the creepy monkey children to meet a grisly end is Stan Higgenbottom. Stan rides without lights or reflectors, and predictably rides into a pitch black tunnel (where apparently none of the cars has lights, either). As Stan disappears into the blackness, we hear the crash. The narrator tells us that Stan "wasn't quite bright enough." Get it? Oddly, there is no mention at all about the weird modification that Stan has performed on his bike, relocating his brake levers to what may just be the most awkward and inaccessible part of his "ape hanger" handlebars (I know, I know -- but it was unavoidable).
At least somebody lived. It isn't clear what happened to all the freakish monkey/human hybrids, but we do get a shot of one or two in the hospital, bandaged from head to toe. You know, otherwise the movie might be too disturbing.
And then there are all those lunches whose owners won't be eating them (Notice that "Slim's" lunch is like a freakin' banquet. Ha ha -- 'cause he's fat, get it?).

Wait -- that was only nine. So, what about the 10th kid? Well, that would be little Orville Slump, or "Orv" as he is known.

"I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am . . . a man!" 

Orville Slump is no chump (or chimp?). Orv follows the rules of the road, and takes care of his bike, so he lives to ride again. Not only that, but since he was the only kid whose bike had a basket, he was carrying everyone else's lunches to the picnic. And it's here that we finally get the meaning of the film's title. Now with all those unclaimed lunches at the picnic, Orville gets to have a feast all to himself, so we can presume, as the narrator tells us, he's going to get fat. I suppose that also means that in the film's sequel, we'll get to make fun of Orville for his own bike-crushing mass. 

As a final disturbing note to the film, some might wonder what kind of friend Orville must be, considering that he continues riding on to the picnic to have a massive feast-for-one while all his simian friends are left maimed, disfigured, stranded, or flattened on the side of the road in the worst kind of traffic carnage outside of Red Asphalt and Mechanized Death. In fact, all the characters ride on without a clue as their pals are dispatched one by one.

More than a decade before John Forester published his classic bicycle skills guide Effective Cycling, the film One Got Fat predicated the principles of "vehicular cycling" through its basic lessons of riding with traffic, following the same rules of the road that the cars follow, staying off the sidewalk, obeying signs, and more. Unfortunately, it also gave juvenile viewers the unforgettable lessons that "Bicycling can get you killed," "Happiness leads to death and dismemberment," and "Even your best friend will leave you for dead if it means he can eat your lunch." And all of it came delivered with a healthy dose of fear.

You can watch One Got Fat right here, but don't blame me for resulting nightmares:



  1. Ha! Disturbingly entertaining, and just plain weird! It's a wonder any of us survived, really!

  2. I've got to see it. It sounds like "Reefer Madness" done by kids/chimps on bikes.

    Filbert Bagel: Now there's a name for a privileged but doomed character!

    1. Most of the names are pretty goofy, aren't they? Also, I may have missed an opportunity by not making more about the hats -- fedoras with feathers. Were kids actually wearing those in '63?

  3. Brooks--Hmm...Your fashion sense (or sense of fashion history) is even better than mine! ;-)

  4. Your film analysis is as priceless as the film itself!