The term “informationals” was in common industry parlance from the early 1920s and referred to any topic of informative or instructional value – travelogues, sports shorts, popular science films, and many more. In tone, too, they ranged from the moralizing of MGM’s Crime Does Not Pay series to the wry commentary of the same studio’s Pete Smith Specialties.
The drop-off in overall informational production between 1931 and 1933 can primarily be attributed to the decline of RKO Pathé, which had long specialized in general-interest “magazine” shorts like Pathé Review and Topics of the Day. The latter half of the decade would nonetheless see a renewed investment in this category of shorts, spearheaded in large part by MGM’s rebranded short subjects unit under Jack Chertok. Informationals served as valuable industry PR during this period, when they were often cited as evidence of the value of variety programming in the battle against double bills.
Given film historians’ interests in many of the subcategories within this field, I have opted to break some of them out under their own headings (“Science,” “Sports,” “Travelogues”). The rest are grouped here under the “Informationals” heading, including the aforementioned Pete Smith shorts, historical reenactments like Columbia’s March of the Years, fashion magazines like Fox’s Vyvyan Donner’s Fashion Forecast, and many others.