As a longtime "movie-maker" for Westinghouse -- okay, it was "video" by the time I got there -- my feelings for this film run deeper than most. In many ways, it is the grand-daddy of all corporate propaganda films -- i.e., outrageously expensive, shamelessly self-aggrandizing, overblown, naive in its estimate of audience intelligence/suggestibility, and utterly clueless when it comes to creating believable situations and dialog. The loving, earnest ineptness of this show is only magnified by its hapless, jut-jawed, attempt to contrast the mendacious failure of Communism with electric dishwashers and a cigarette-smoking robot. There may be an intentional metaphor here: The only cigarette smokers in the film are the Communist (Makarov) and the robot (Electro), whereas Dad smokes a fat, patriotic, he-man cigar (probably a Cuban Cohiba, since it's 1939). Obviously, cigarettes are the smoke-of-choice for degenerate socialists and mechanical serfs. Then again, the unspoken sub-text may be that this film is best appreciated with a big "Bob Marley" joint in hand.
What I'm saying, paradoxically enough, is that "The Middleton Family" is an absolute must-see for anyone seeking to know, precisely, when and how America went mad. The 1939 World's Fair, it seems, is the exact moment when we all began buying into our own PR. "Streamlining" was hip. Capitalism was triumphant. Technology was limitless (if all you wanted to do was burp into a microphone). Black people were wise kitchen help. And manly virtue (i.e., compassionate conservatism) gave the lie to flip-flopping, hate-America Leftist claptrap.
Funniest thing: The film makes a big to-do about Westinghouse television technology. As it turns out, Westinghouse bagged its groundbreaking research into TV because it could not envision a profitable commercial application. Decisions like this contributed to the company's ironic demise as a property of CBS.
Second funniest thing: A centerpiece of the Westinghouse exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair was a "time capsule" fabricated of incorruptible "Cupalloy" and containing hundreds of artifacts (including Mickey Mouse) which were intended to represent our civilization to the humans of 6939. At the 1964 World's Fair, the company buried a second time capsule 10 feet from the original, presumably containing a paper note inscribed with the words "Never Mind."
Even funnier funniest things: (1) An ex-football-player/engineer spokesperson for two-fisted Reagan capitalism ("Jim Treadway") who could not be MORE like a gay, effete John Kerry on poppers; and (2) a Nancy-ass Commie art professor scared off by an angry Grandma and an exploding cigarette load.
Significant stuff: The obnoxious kid (Jimmy "Bud" Lydon) went on to become "Henry Aldrich" in a number of well-known Hollywood films, and was featured in the "Rocky Jones" sci-fi series. Harry Shannon, the unapologetically drunk and ineffective "Father," appeared in "High Noon" and played the role of Orson Welles' father in "Citizen Kane." Ditzy daughter "Babs" (Marjorie Lord) played a recurring role in various incarnations of the "Make Room for Daddy" TV series.
Alas, although the future finally arrived, it didn't look anything like the Trylon and Perisphere -- and neither robots, home appliances nor TV were enough to save Westinghouse from a series of fantastically crappy CEOs, unsecured commercial loans and a (comically ironic) lack of imagination. Much like its "time capsules," Westinghouse (as a trans-global conglomerate) was buried in 1994.
As near as I can tell, this program is unavailable to the public. However, I have a Beta master cloned from a professional 1" transfer, which I will gladly dub at cost for any authentic public archive. (NB: Charlie Ruch, the beloved long-time Westinghouse corporate historian, passed away some years ago. He may have installed a master copy at the Westinghouse Museum in Wilmerding, PA. Interested parties are encouraged to contact the museum first, since I don't own the damn thing, and I prefer not to spend the last few years of my life in jail).
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