#267) Master Hands (1936)

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#267) Master Hands (1936)

OR “Chevy-Handed”

Directed by Jam Handy

Class of 1999

The Plot: Sponsored by General Motors, “Master Hands” is a documentary-style look at the manufacturing of a Chevrolet automobile. From the casting of the chassis from raw material, to the ignition of the final product, the creation of your Chevrolet is documented with an emphasis on the assembly worker as a crafter, a true artist and definitely not someone working in an extremely hazardous work environment. But hey never mind all that, isn’t the cinematography impressive?

Why It Matters: The NFR cites Jam Handy’s influence over the promotional short genre, and singles out composer Samuel Benavie and cinematographer Gordon Avril. There’s also an essay by Professors Richard Marback and Jim Brown, who devote a lot of the write-up to a project/discussion they ran about the film. Way to pat yourselves on the back.

But Does It Really?: I give “Master Hands” a pass for its representation of not only Jam Handy Productions, but also for the automobile assembly line of the early ‘30s. Plus I’m a sucker for a good promotional short.

Everybody Gets One: Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy started off as an Olympic swimmer, winning the bronze at the 1904 and 1924 games. After stints in journalism and advertising, Handy became interested in what motivated people to buy products. He founded Jam Handy Productions and helped oversee the creation of over 7,000 educational and industrial shorts.

Wow, That’s Dated: A pre-union assembly line. Somewhere Henry Ford is smiling.

Take a Shot: The opening text praises “the skilled craftsmen whose master hands command the great machinery of production.”

Seriously, Oscars?: It’s a safe bet that educational shorts weren’t eligible for Oscars. If “Master Hands” had competed, it would have lost to a gritty crime short called “The Public Pays”.

Other notes

  • “Master Hands” sounds like it should have been the working title for “Manos”, doesn’t it?
  • The opening text says that there are 25 million drivers in America. Modern statistics show that that number has increased tenfold.
  • For a brief moment, we have a narrator. I can’t find a definite credit for who it is, but he sounds like Criswell in “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.
  • I am so lost. I know nothing about cars; I couldn’t even tell you which part of the car is being made at any given moment.
  • That score sounds like “Flight of the Bumblebee” is going to start at any moment.
  • Did Benevie only compose five minutes of music that they played on an endless loop? I suppose it’s meant to represent the monotony of an assembly line, but jeez Louise did it drive me nuts. Okay, I’ll talk, just stop playing that music!
  • My god, the work accidents that must have happened on that assembly line. If these walls could talk, am I right?
  • To the best of my knowledge, that car in the final shot is a 1936 four-door Master Sedan.

Legacy

  • The good news: They made a sequel. The bad news: It’s “Roger & Me”.

Further Viewing: So many Jam Handy shorts to choose from, but I’m of course naturally drawn to the ones featured on MST3K. Jam Handy did a short on how to sell Chevrolets called “Hired!”, and gave us the definitive look at a world with no springs.

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