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We Drivers (1935)



We Drivers

(1935)

11 minutes

Documentary

Early driving safety film showing good and bad sides of a driver's mind.

We Drivers was released as part of an industry-wide safety campaign throughout the Thirties. Two years earlier, in 1934, the first driver training courses began in American schools, and the film was no doubt made to be shown to pioneering driver ed students.

In 1936 the Automotive Safety Foundation was organized, funded jointly by car manufacturers, tire companies, the oil industry and insurance firms. As Ed Cray put it in Chrome Colossus: General Motors and Its Times (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980), "the foundation deflected criticism from the vehicle itself...". The Foundation lobbied for more and better roads, promoted mandatory state motor vehicle inspections (blaming accidents on motorists keeping their vehicles in poor mechanical condition), but ignored the design defects of automobiles.

Of 55 films distributed by the General Motors Film Library, We Drivers was the most popular. This, the first version, was shown in 7,000 theaters over ten months in 1936-37 and also seen by 24 million people in schools, institutions and community groups. Its technical complexity (including photography of models, full animation, animation over real photography, and technical animation, all in early three-strip Technicolor) necessitated an eleven month production schedule. Later, it was remade at least four times to update the look of the cars seen in every scene. A short booklet, also called We Drivers, was also made available by GM for "the safety, comfort and pleasure of the motoring public."

The strategy that We Drivers chooses to employ dramatizes safe vs. unsafe behavior as a struggle for good and evil within the mind of the all-too-human driver. In eight sequences the animated characters "Reckless Rudolph" and "Sensible Sam", an earlier incarnation of the right path/wrong path "Goofus and Gallant", fight to outdo each other, interacting in the same frame as their host. The one-reeler ends with a boxing match: Sam K.O.'s Rudy, and the referee's long count becomes a recitation of short and sweet maxims ending with an admonition to "Obey all laws!"

Like the print advertising of the 1930's, often tending towards tabloid-type headlines and copy designed to grab readers who were defecting to the radio, this film filters its complex message through ten patronizing slogans. In the end this entertaining film, on the surface designed to teach self-control, becomes an instance of mind control.       




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