Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? (1958) [Short Film]

Man. Woman. Child. Technology.

Title screen for Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

This short film from students at the University of Southern California aims to show that although technology may make life easier, it does not necessarily make it better. Over the course of the brief 15-minute running time, we are treated to dozens of examples of technology in the home and the workplace: a husband uses an electric razor to shave his face; an electric toaster prepares breakfast; the heater automatically kicks on to regulate the temperature. The radio broadcasts reports about automated production lines taking jobs away from human beings, and a son shooting his father after interrupting his television viewing. A woman wakes her young son up for school using an intercom system, and a doctor delivers a medical diagnosis over the telephone as opposed to in person.

There is scarcely a silent moment in this film, and yet there is little to no face-to-face interaction between anyone onscreen. It is all done at a distance, demonstrating the alienation that can occur when technology becomes too important in our everyday life. Only the young seem content here, with their television and their TV dinners, their sugary cereals and frozen popsicles. The adults seem saddened and defeated, but unable to overcome their reliance on such conveniences.

Traffic from Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

Has anything really changed?

Although the film seems quaint and dated today, if we switched out the 1950s devices with more modern ones, the point that the filmmakers were attempting to get across would very much remain the same. However said point is never put across all that effectively, and no solution is offered. In today’s world, we are even more reliant on technology than ever before and that’s not going to change any time soon. All we can do is evolve with the times. And maybe put our phones down every once in a while.

After watching this short, I wasn’t determined to unplug and reconnect with the human race. In fact, first thing I did was open up a word processing program and start writing about it. Instead, I was struck with two burning questions:

1)     Where on earth can I get ahold of a cigarette-dispensing music box like the one seen here?

2)     And what would the filmmakers think about us watching HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY THAT I LOVE YOU on our computers?

Cigarette dispenser from Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY THAT I LOVE YOU may have been a school project from a group of aspiring cineastes, but it at some point made its way to the Internet (as these things tend to do) and has taken on something of a life of its own. So what has happened to those who were behind it all? That’s what I hoped to find out.

Bob Olsen and Gloria Jensen, who played The Man and The Woman respectively, have proven impossible to track down. Their names are just anonymous enough to make locating them with nothing else to go on greatly difficult. Marty Rombotis, however, who played their child, was slightly easier to find. He still lives in California, where he works as a contractor and is treasurer for the Women’s Resource Center, and, with his wife, is very active in their community. He initially agreed to discuss the film with me although he didn’t remember much about the experience; he may have changed his mind, however, as he quickly stopped responding to my e-mails.

Of the three film students who crafted this short, I was able to catch the trail of two of them. Stuart Hanisch was born to a wealthy family who remained affluent even during the Great Depression, inspiring him to dedicate his life to improving the lives of others. He became a documentary filmmaker (including work done for the World Health Organization) and was employed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, though a film that he was working on about racial discrimination in public housing proved too controversial and made college officials so nervous that they halted production and threatened to burn the footage, causing Hanisch to tender his resignation. He continued to fight for equality, social justice, ecological responsibility, and many other important causes for the duration of his life, which ended in 2002. His most enduring piece of philanthropy, the Quixote Foundation, continues today under the helm of his son Erik and daughter-in-law Lenore.

Graduating from USC wasn’t enough for Russ McGregor, who went on to join the college’s staff. He was essential to the USC School of Cinema-Television becoming an independent entity, and organized the funding for their multi-million dollar educational complex. After his death in 2007, a scholarship was set up in his name.

Only the third member of this student triumvirate, Barbara Squire, remains elusive. If anyone out there knows what became of her, Bob Olsen, or Gloria Jensen in the years after HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY THAT I LOVE YOU, a little history lesson would be much appreciated. You have all of technology at your disposal.

View the film below, courtesy of the always-amazing Internet Archive.

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