The Middleton Film:
Romance and Ideology
at the New York World's Fair

Dr. Andrew Wood

In this film, directed by Robert S. Snody, the Middleton Family visits the 1939 New York World's Fair. As their name and Indiana origins suggest, the Middletons are designed to represent the middle class response to the Fair's imagined future of consumables and social improvement. The film is classic corporate spin. The Middletons visit the Fair, but they only tour the Westinghouse Building. They explore a Time Capsule, a television display, the Playground of Science, the Junior Science Hall, the Hall of Power, the Hall of Electrical Living, and the Battle of the Centuries. The latter is a humorous contest between "Mrs. Modern" and "Mrs. Drudge" in their efforts to wash dishes in front of a cheering audience. Mrs. Modern uses a gleaming Westinghouse dishwasher while Mrs. Drudge is dependent upon elbow grease alone. Predictably, Mrs. Modern is victorious as is the Westinghouse vision of an electrical future.

While the film follows the adventures of the family as they visit various Westinghouse exhibits, the plot focuses on the romantic struggles of Babs, a fresh-faced college student who must decide whether she'll marry her hometown beau, Jim Treadway, or the European slickster, Nicholas Makaroff. More than offering two different paths toward Babs' heart, both suitors represent ideologically opposing attitudes toward industrialization and progress as imagined by Westinghouse. Jim Treadway, who works at the Westinghouse Building, is depicted as the All-American man; he even passed up a chance to play pro football to work for Westinghouse in building the world of tomorrow. Nicholas Makaroff represents the threat of Marxism to American public life: he is a college teacher of abstract art, he sprinkles foreign phrases into his conversations, and he is utterly humorless. When Babs explains to Nicholas that her father confused Karl Marx for a member of the Marx Brothers, Nicholas misses the joke entirely. In the film, Babs' romantic struggle illustrates the conflict between capitalism and communism as imagined by Westinghouse.

Throughout the film, Babs appears to be enthralled by Makaroff's romantic and idealistic notions of Marxism and modern art. But her family grows concerned about his subtle hypocrisy. He rhapsodizes about the simple but honest tastes of "the worker," but he clearly enjoys an expensive meal at the Fair. It's clear that Babs' family prefers good old Jim Treadway. Inexplicably, Babs rebuffs Jim's overtures. But, she slowly recognizes that Makaroff's rejection of Westinghouse's exhibits belie the failure of Marxism and, perhaps, his personal limitations as well. Each time Jim demonstrates some new technology, Makaroff scoffs: surely these powerful machines would cost millions of Americans their jobs. Each time, his argument is rejected: Westinghouse adds jobs to the economy and improves the quality of life for all workers. Before long, Babs' doubts about Makaroff are proven. He's a fraud and he's a cad. The film concludes as Babs returns to Jim's welcoming arms. Looking out over the brilliant nighttime electrical display, they commit themselves to a dazzling future promised by their mutual love - and Westinghouse.


BabsMarjorie Lord
BudJames Lydon
MotherRuth Lee
FatherHarry Shannon
GrandmaAdora Andrews
Nicholas MakaroffGeorge J. Lewis
Jim TreadwayDouglas Stark

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