This is a question that comes up quite often. Your old 8mm film from the 1940’s or 50’s can stand the length of time if they were stored properly. This would mean over the past 70 to 80 years they should have been stored in a cool dry place. The one thing that can’t be avoided is vinegary syndrome. Film is made of a tri acetate cellulose and even though it was stored properly the film will react to the chemicals in the film and start a decompose process that gives off a strong vinegar smell also known as vinegar syndrome. If your film was stored in a way that the film was vented, that would allow the gases coming from the film to escape allowing the film to last longer. Most people were not aware of this and the films were stored in metal cans sealed away for years. There are two tests you can perform on your own to see what the condition of your film is in and would it hold up to a film transfer process.
The first is to pull out about 12 to 24 inches of film from the reel. Inspect the film for cracks and sprocket hole damage. You will also want to check and see if the film is warped. The film will have a curve in it from the sprocket side of the film to the straight edge on the opposite side. A lot of times if the film is in poor condition it is displayed near the beginning of the reel. The next test is while you have the film away from the reel lay the film down on a table. Hold the reel with your right hand and the beginning of the film with your left hand. Let go of the film with your left hand and if it curls back up like it wants to go on the reel then your film is in good shape. If the film lays on the table and displays bends in the film every two to three inches and does not want to curl up to the reel, this would mean the film has become dried out and will be difficult to transfer. After doing these two test and you feel your film has past them I would recommend finding a service that can transfer your film to a digital media such as a DVD, digital tape or hard drive. To find these services try searching for keyword similar to San Diego Film to DVD in Google or your preferred search engine. Directories such as Yelp or YellowPages might be helpful too.