The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

One of the many genres that can be found at the Internet Archive is educational films. Most of these are quite old, and some are terribly outdated. Two examples of outdated but extremely interesting (not to mention amusing) films are Duck and Cover (1951) and Destination Earth (1956). But like most other educational films, those are too short to be relevant for this blog.

Better, both in terms of length and fact content, is one of the films that was produced as part of the classic The Bell Laboratory Science Series. The series consisted of nine different educational films on scientific topics that were tremendously popular and influential in the 1950s and 1960s. The one that has been chosen for today’s post is The Alphabet Conspiracy. The choice was made not only because it has aged with reasonable dignity, but also because the film very neatly ties in with characters from Alice in Wonderland. Throughout the film, the Mad Hatter and Jabberwock run around trying to devise a scheme to kill the alphabet (hence, the title of the film).

Dr. Frank Baxter, Cheryl Callaway, Dolores Starr as Jabberwock and Hans Conreid as Mad Hatter in The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

The Alphabet Conspiracy is an old film and linguistics is an evolving field of science. Hence, some parts are a bit quaint or even outdated. For example, the part about baby language acquisition is not consistent with modern views. But unlike the above-mentioned short films (which are perhaps bordering on propaganda), The Alphabet Conspiracy was firmly grounded in the science of its day. Even now, it is not laughable. Just a bit old.

But even while care must be taken with the fact content, perhaps the content is not what is most important anymore. Far more interesting is the dramatic structure, including the fantastic sets, the nice animations, the literary characters, the neat dialogue and the slow-moving but effective cutting. In these respects, The Alphabet Conspiracy outshines most of its contemporary competition, and even most present-day educational films. I work as a teacher. I know these things far too well.

Several other films from the same series are available at the Internet Archive. Those I have been able to track down are Our Mr. Sun (1956), Gateways to the Mind (1958) and Thread of Life (1960). The one I had most wanted to see, however, is not there, namely The Restless Sea (1964). It is the last film in the series, and it has Walt Disney as host.

This film is best enjoyed if you want to learn some basic facts about linguistics, or if you just want to enjoy the nice Alice in Wonderland references, or the fine animations. Or if you simply want to admire some classic, not to mention classy, educational material.

Dolores Starr as Jabberwock, Hans Conreid as Mad Hatter, Dr. Frank Baxter and Cheryl Callaway having a tea party in The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)

The Alphabet Conspiracy
Download link
Year: 1959
Running time: 52 min
Director: Robert B. Sinclair
Stars: Frank C. Baxter
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

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