Breakdown (1951)

14 Feb
 Robert Anderson
Producer  National Film Board of Canada
Contributors   Distributed by McGraw-Hill Book Co. in US; written by Robert Anderson; photographer, O.H. Borradaile ; editor, Victor Jobin ; music, Maurice Blackburn; sound editing, Kenneth Heeley-Ray; narrators, James Sage and Robert Anderson; executive producer, Tom Daly; photography, Osmond H. Borradaile; sound, Clarke Daprato.  Verdun Protestant Hospital and Crease Clinic, Essondale, B.C.
Length  41 minutes
B&W/Color  Black & White
UO Library Catalog description: Depicts a young girl’s schizophrenic breakdown–the onset and development of the disorder, the effect on her family and friends, her hospitalization in a modern mental hospital, and her eventual discharge as recovered. Demonstrates and discusses modern methods of testing the emotionally ill and stresses the need for a greater understanding of mental illness.
Call # Film Md5
Genre  Instructional
Rare  no
Online  yes
Copyright status  copyrighted
Physical condition  good
Oregon-related  no


At the University of Oregon 16mm film archive we not only have Robert Anderson’s Breakdown,  but also The Feeling of Hostility, Over-dependency, and The Feeling of Rejection: Its Development and Growth (all produced by National Film Board of Canada).

Theatrical representation of schizophrenia including its effects on family (from noticing the first signs to the entrance/release from the mental hospital), electroshock therapy, overview of what its like living in a mental hospital, her treatment (including group therapy and electroshock therapy), the role of social workers helping her family, her release (including a poignant piece discussing prejudice in the workplace against those that have been institutionalized) and the future of psychotherapy/cognitive therapy.  This film was made to bring up awareness about schizophrenia, promote modern mental hospitals and their facilities, and most of all to decrease the prejudice against those with mental illnesses and psychological help in light of mental illnesses.

I was interested to watch the film after reading in the library’s catalog description that the girl in the story is admitted into a ‘modern’ mental hospital in 1951.  After being admitted to the hospital they show her in group therapy, which was very rare at the time in the mental health field.  The narrator details how most hospitals are so overcrowded there’s often no possibility for cognitive therapy.

It seems that the film is geared towards an audience of non-professionals to educate and raise awareness about schizophrenia and also other mental diseases.  In the story the young girl’s father is described as one that never talks about his daughter’s troubles or placement in the hospital—obviously representing the common view from that time that issues such as having a family member in need of psychological help were those kept secret and behind closed door.  Directly after the father they detail how her brother understands that it is an illness that she has and that she can get better.  He is not prejudiced and represents a more modern view that the film is trying to proliferate and argue for—that people suffering from mental illness or past sufferers of mental illnesses should not be prejudiced against or treated lesser than person without psychological problems.  Also shown is the warning signs her those around her notice and the difficulties of not understanding a disease affecting one you care about.  The filmmaker’s goal is obviously to have non-professionals relate to the girl and family depicted to make more accessible and less stigmatic the process of psychological treatment and mental illnesses.

One Response to “Breakdown (1951)”


  1. Breakdown (1951) revisited | 16mm Lost & Found - May 20, 2013

    […] just in: a low-res, greenish transfer of BREAKDOWN, a 1951 gem from the National Film Board of Canada [watch it here]. A nice woman in British […]

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