#24) The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair (1939)
OR “RED Talks”
Directed by Robert R. Snody
Class of 2012
Watch the whole thing below, or download it for free at archive.org. Yay public domain!
2021 Update: This is my original post on “The Middleton Family”, you can read the revised, expanded version here.
The Plot: The Middletons come to New York to see the goings-on at the 1939 World’s Fair, though mainly just the exhibits at the Westinghouse pavilion. Along the way they see modern marvels like an automatic dishwasher, a robot named Elektro, and a new thing called television. But all of this takes a backseat to steamy romantic intrigue when daughter Babs (Marjorie Lord) is torn between Westinghouse worker/Capitalist mouthpiece Jim (Douglas Stark) and her art teacher/Marx-loving dirty Commie boyfriend Nick (George J. Lewis). Also around is her little brother Bud (Jimmy Lydon) who’s just a complete pain in the ass.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[b]oth charming and heavy-handed” and cites the historical document of the fair’s exhibits as well as “the heartland values of the age”. These thoughts are echoed in an essay by San Jose State Professor Andrew F. Wood.
But Does It Really?: I think Westinghouse went a little too far with this one. You want to document your time at the World’s Fair? Go ahead, we’re happy to see it. But do you really have to throw in a convoluted love story too? The whole film lays it on really thick; Technology is progress and anything else is pure Communism. Those of you who are not big fans of Capitalism these days may want to skip this one. If you’re willing to take a deep breath and just accept this film’s very optimistic view of industry, you might enjoy yourself. As a peek at the 1939 World’s Fair, I give it a pass. As entertainment – or heck, even as a Westinghouse commercial – it’s a bit much.
Shout Outs: Quick mention of how stuff like Frankenstein’s Monster is “only in the movies”.
Everybody Gets One: Marjorie Lord would go on to TV fame as Wife #2 on “Make Room for Daddy”. Jimmy Lydon played Henry Aldrich in a series of films in the ‘40s and as of this writing is the only cast member who is still alive. Special mention to Harry Shannon (Father), who would go on to play Kane’s father in “Citizen Kane”, and Georgette Harvey (Elvira), who was in the original Broadway cast of “Porgy and Bess”.
Wow, That’s Dated: I mean, the whole thing really. I’ll mention some more along the way, but for now let’s settle on Barney Google being in the Westinghouse Time Capsule alongside Mickey Mouse and Dick Tracy (A Note to Readers in the Year 6939; no one knows who Barney Google is back now).
Seriously, Oscars?: How this thing didn’t get a nomination in any category is beyond me.
- I want to beat the crap out of Bud.
- Geez Dad, stop being such a creep towards your daughter. Who are you, the President?
- Here’s some more information on the contents of the Westinghouse Time Capsule. And here’s a little more on Elektro the Moto-Man.
- I got a feeling the dishwashing competition was fixed in favor of Mrs. Modern. But to their credit, both she and Mrs. Drudge do the whole thing in heels.
- So there’s the main plotline about the family visiting the fair, the love triangle, Bud being persuaded to like Westinghouse, Bud entering the letter contest, Grandma’s little soliloquy…. For Pete’s sake “Short Cuts” had less plotlines than this film.
- Grandma loves what electrical engineers did for housewives; “They signed our Emancipation Proclamation.” All I can say is [Deep exhale].
- I’m glad that when Westinghouse made its first robot the first thing they taught him was how to smoke a cigarette.
- No information I can find can confirm this, but I’m pretty confident the same actor who was the lead in “A Case of Spring Fever” plays the salesman towards the end of this film. He is uncredited in both films. Anyone know the guy’s name?
- Speaking of which, I would love to see what the folks at “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would make of all this.
- Yes, the future does look bright for technology and job opportunities. Hope there isn’t a war anytime soon.
- The 1939 New York World’s Fair was so successful they did another one 25 years later. It was the Woodstock ’94 of its day.
- Knoxville! Knoxville! Knoxville!
- Television would become a big hit after the World’s Fair, but let’s focus on its greatest impact; game show bloopers.
- Thanks to the universal success of this film, Communism was never heard from again.
- Elmer “Bud” Middleton: Killed in Korea, 1952.
- Elektro would later appear as Thinko in the 1960 film “Sex Kittens Go to College”. That’s not a joke – that actually happened.
- And of course, the Time Capsule would lead to Earth rediscovering Barney Google in the year A.D. 6939, and adopting his adventures with Snuffy Smith as scripture. Praise be to Barney Google!
Further Viewing: This newsreel shows off the non-Westinghouse parts of the World’s Fair, including something called “Futurama”.