This cinema commercial for Shell Oil Company was a great success at the time of its release, playing in more than 300 cinemas and reaching an audience of 3 million. It is difficult to fully understand on first viewing, and requires some explanation to get the best out of it.
1. The film was an experiment in using a new colour process – Gasparcolor.
2. It opens with Old Man Time cranking the handle of a clockwork carousel which caused the five planets known to the ancients to circle the Earth. In order of appearance, the planets are:
Jupiter (Zeus holding his thunderbolts)
Mercury (bright planet closest to the sun)
Mars (the god of war)
Venus (with her lyre)
The scene closes with a pan out, showing the Earth, the sun, and the five planets on a carousel operated by Old Man Time.
3. A man in a wayward car is meandering among the pyramids. He's rather proud of his car and the sound the engine makes (music notes flying upwards).
4. He wanders into a sandstorm, and the car becomes delirious with thirst for oil. It sees a mirage of an Arabian petrol station with stylised petrol bowsers looking like perfume bottles.
5. Hallucinations begin: an hour glass and Old Man Time appear as apparitions, signalling death –- Old Man Time is now the Grim Reaper wielding his scythe.
6. The man and car perish in the desert.
7. Venus wakes, sees Old Man Time asleep (or dead), and sees the remains of the man and car. She decides to turn the skeleton into a robot, by raining down music notes which turn into oil drops, lubricating the skeleton and bringing it to life.
8. The robot rises and begins road building and development.
9. Man takes to the skies, and then to outer space.
10. Venus looks down and waves to the robot, who has motorised the planetary carousel.
11. The final scene reveals the reason the film was made: "Modern worlds need modern lubrication – lubrication by Shell Oil."
An impressive commercial for any era, let alone 1936.
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