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Classic Educational Shorts, Vol. 4: The Celluloid Salesman (DVD Review)

21 Feb, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
Special Interest
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.

Following an informative introduction by “AV Geeks” founder Skip Eiseheimer explaining what we’re about to see, our eyes focus through faded color to rest upon … Hugh Marlowe. This is disorienting. If you’re a boomer whose formative years were the 1950s and ‘60s — or someone younger who knows even a little about film history — you know that Marlowe’s career followed a dramatically abrupt downward trajectory from Hollywood cream (All About Eve, Twelve O’Clock High, Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business) to jawboning with the mechanical voices of Ray Harryhausen’s p.o.’d alien invaders in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

By 1969, the actor appeared in the 23-minute, Kodak-produced “Movies Move People,” which sets the table for a DVD collection whose focus is on the ways film (uniquely) can sell products. If the “People” featurette suffers from scattershot construction, it makes its points convincingly, and Marlowe’s distinctive voice (he might have been better in radio than films) aids him in carrying out the assignment. As the actor basically says here, you can make a speech to your employees about how to push an idea to others — like, say, fastening your seatbelts. But it’s more effective if the message recipients can watch — as we do — two adults and two children flying and tumbling to permanent injury or worse when driver dad gets distracted. Words are one thing, but seeing the family’s tilted car suddenly zooming down the freeway on two left wheels is another.

The majority of the 15 shorts here (totaling just under four hours) did advance ideas or instructions of one kind or another — mostly to sales forces or women’s clubs who watched them via 16mm projection. Some are nuts-and-bolts in nature, as in explaining the inner mechanics of garbage disposals (this would be in “Goodbye to Garbage”) blenders, bread-baking and Xerox machines (this one even explains that magic word: “toner”). If it sounds dubious as screen entertainment, it’s still far more compelling to learn how blenders turn chopped carrots into baby food at a fraction of retail cost than, say, to sit through The Time Traveler’s Wife or any Katherine Heigl comedy not named Knocked Up.

Besides, you have to love (plural) portrayals of wifely kitchen labors where the wives in question are shown wearing pearls even before June Cleaver did the same. Or a pro-camping lobby job called “This Is … Elk Country,” in which the opening words on the voice-over narration are … “So this is Elk Country.” Or my favorite, produced by the same company that came up with “Goodbye Weeds” (which is also included on this set): a 1946 combination cartoon/live-action featurette called “Doomsday for Pests.” Boasting that its touted product contains more DDT than even the then prevailing government standards, it shows one of its actor/demonstrators painting the stuff on doorways with a brush — or shaking a powdered version of it into the deep recesses of living room chairs. Someone even applies the product to piano strings, where, in accordance with standard operating procedure, it will commence some sort of clinging process and last into something like eternity.

We also get something called “The Adventures of Chip and Dip,” which shows you how to come up with nifty variations on party spreads. Interestingly, after we’ve seen the short about blenders (“Comprehending Blending” — another boffo title), the mother in this one mixes her dip concoction in a bowl — by hand — to serve at a get-together where we note that there’s ample alcohol on the table. Wear those pearls, serve that booze; who says the middle-class ‘50s and ‘60s weren’t fun?

Kino released its first two AV Geeks collections in 2009: How To Be a Man and (well, what did you expect?) How To Be a Woman. The third volume, which, a la Salesman, is brand new, is Safe … Not Sorry, a trove of 14 shorts (following another contextual Eisheimer introduction) that warns against hazards around the home: electrical cords, ladders and, of course, strangers who lurk.

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