Whenever the name Jam Handy is mentioned one particular film often recalled is a 1940 short subject entitled A Case of Spring Fever. The film, that cleverly employs live action with cartoon animation, has achieved cult status due to it’s frequent showings on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and courteous availability through Rick Prelinger. While the production has been loved or hated, one particular question asked by many, including the MST3K robots, is: why was this film made or “where does Coily fit into God’s plan for us?”
A Case of Spring Fever was an entry in a film advertising program the iconic Jam Handy Organization was producing for the Chevrolet Sales Division of General Motors Corporation, entitled the Direct Mass Selling Program. The program, in use from 1935 until 1942, was the first and only of it’s kind and utilized a variety of one reel and two reel short subject formats to advertise Chevrolet Sudans to the general public. While the crown jewels of the program were the documentary short subjects (several of which were right on par if not better than many Hollywood documentary shorts such as M-G-M’s Pete Smith Specialty series) the program was also composed of several narrative shorts, a series of novelty newsreels “The Chevrolet Leader News”, and a series of Technicolor cartoons. Unlike many advertising films of the era, the Direct Mass Selling films utilized a subliminal advertising method to advertise the cars, as at no point in many of the films is the name Chevrolet mentioned by the film narrator or characters and advertising was kept extremely minimum in visuals; Any form of product pitch or comparison to other car brands is absent. Subject matter of the films dealt with common interest topics, public safety, driving techniques, how various parts of an automobile work, how the features of a car add to comfort, or how an automobile contributes to everyday lives and even saves the day.
Exhibition of these films usually occurred at non-theatrical events, in places such as community clubs (i.e. rotary club events), at school assemblies in school auditoriums or gymnasiums, factory cafeterias, etc. and occasional theatrical showings at movie theatres. Non-theatrical screenings would have highlighted the selected Direct Mass Selling short film as the main attraction of an event, while theatrical screenings would have incorporated the film as a selected short subject into a theatre program. All of the non-theatrical screenings, and some of the theatrical screenings, were planned and booked by a local Chevrolet dealer in a community and distributed to various venues by the Jam Handy Organization; For non-theatrical exhibitions in venues that were without 35mm projection booths (i.e. such as a dining room or gymnasium), Jam Handy would send out a 35mm ‘suitcase projectionist’ to exhibit the film. In addition to theatrical screenings the Direct Mass Selling films also received mainstream distribution by Audio-Cinema Incorporated (from 1935 and into 1937) and later Monogram Pictures (from 1937 through 1942), allowing interested cinemas to book the films without having to go through a Chevrolet Dealer.1940’s A Case of Spring Fever was created as a narrative entry to subliminally show how springs contribute to the operation and comfort of a Chevrolet automobile, most specifically demonstrate the wheel suspension and shock absorbing systems. Prior to “A Case of Spring Fever” several Direct Mass Selling documentary films such as 1935’s Spring Harmony (the first film made for the program) and also 1938’s “Over The Waves” discussed the importance of springs to these systems through demonstrations utilizing models, special effects sequences, technical animation sequences, and live action demonstrations. A Case Of Spring Fever set out to do what the previous documentary films did, only do so in narrative form and also make the advertising even more subliminal. (By 1940 advertising in the Direct Mass Selling films was becoming more hidden as the credits themselves, unlike earlier entries, don’t even credit Chevrolet as the presenter!)
The film A Case Of Spring Fever can be broken down into several different parts that educate viewers on how springs contribute to everyday lives and automobiles. The first two and a half minutes of the production in which spring-frustrated Gilbert is cursed by Coily the animated spring sprite, demonstrates to viewers how springs contribute to all kinds of contraptions found around the home. The next minute of the film does the same again only now shows how springs are everywhere in a Chevrolet and allows it to function. (It’s during this automobile based sequence, not while in the home, that Gilbert finally can’t take it anymore and apologizes to Coily.) During the golf game following Gilbert’s spring-less nightmare, Gilbert annoys (and probably loses) his friends by sharing his knowledge on the importance of springs, mainly with how they are essential to the game of golf (allowing him to win) and also operate as shock absorbers in airplanes that fly over the golf course. The final sequence of the film in which Gilbert drives his annoyed (former) friends home in his Chevy, who all fall asleep to get even with him, is done to demonstrate the comfort spring shock absorbers provide to a car.
In terms of who was responsible for bringing the film to life is kind of a mystery due to the lack of credits on the film. Very often, due to the presence of the Jam Handy Organization’s logo on the opening title card, Jamison Handy has been mis-credited by many as the complete brains behind the film; Technically Jamison Handy himself is not even credited here as the logo is solely a credit for the company, the Jam Handy Organization Inc. While Mr. Handy was certainly the executive producer of the film, his overall involvement with the production was much smaller than assumed by many. The Jam Handy Organization was not a one man operation, as it was a very large company that employed hundreds of people and was for several decades the largest and most ambitious film studio located outside either Hollywood or New York City. The writing, shooting, editing, animation, etc. of A Case Of Spring Fever was all done by different people employed by the company, several of whom were extremely talented and today have been largely overlooked. While it’s not clear who exactly the director, cinematographer or editor of the film were, there is fortunately somewhat of a paper trail that hints at who worked on the animation, special effects, and music to the film.
One particular individual working for Jam Handy in 1940 who certainly worked on the film’s special effects (combining the live action with animation) and possibly on the film’s animation was an extremely talented and notable filmmaker named Frank Goldman, aka Francis Lyle Goldman. Prior to becoming a Jam Handy employee in 1935, Goldman was employed by Audio Productions (a.k.a. Audio-Cinema Inc.) and made a large number of industrial films and sponsored cartoons for the company. Amongst one of these films was an iconic two-reel documentary entitled The Rhapsody In Steel that was made for the Ford Motor Company’s 1933 Chicago World’s Fair exhibit. This twenty minute film, made seven years before A Case of Spring Fever, was a symphonic industrial film (very similar to Jam Handy’s 1936 masterpiece The Master Hands) that contained a phenomenal animation sequence in the final ten minutes of the film which cleverly combined cartoon animation with live action stop motion animation.In 1935, Goldman joined the Jam Handy Organization and interestingly following his arrival there was a dramatic improvement in the quality of the studio’s films. (Coincidentally, It was after his arrival that the studio made the two notable Chevrolet Direct Mass Selling films A Coach For Cinderella (1936/7) and The Master Hands (1936), both of which are literally remakes of Audio/Ford’s The Rhapsody In Steel; While it is not known who directed The Master Hands, Goldman is credited as there director of A Coach For Cinderella).
Much of the animation, special effects, and stop motion animation that Goldman created for Jam Handy’s films is very reminisce of several of his Audio industrial films. Coily himself does bear a little bit of a resemblance to Goldman’s characters such as the animated V-8 Man in Ford’s Rhapsody in Steel and even to the Gnomes in JHO’s “A Coach For Cinderella”. If Goldman was not responsible designing and animating Coily the Spring Sprite, the other individual who may have been was Rockwell Barnes. Mr. Barnes began working with Jamison Handy in the early 1920s, creating extremely detailed technical animation for Handy’s films.
In addition he would also design and animate other one shot cartoon characters who would make an appearance in Handy’s films. One of Barnes’ more notable Direct Mass Selling films that features one of his cartoon creations was the 1935 documentary short Down The Gasoline Trail, that features an animated Gasoline drop traveling through an automobile gas line. (The film was highlighted in the 1953 obituary for Barnes written by Business Screen Magazine, that praised this film for how it effectively broke down the gasoline combustion system to viewers).Though the 1935 animated gas drop in Down The Gasoline Trail does not bear much resemblance to 1940’s Coily, it is possible that Coily was still a creation of Mr. Barnes. In addition to animation, it is easy to assume who was responsible for the music: Samuel Benavie, who was the musical Director of the Jam Handy Organization. Benavie, one of the great unspoken film composers, was responsible for composing all of Jam Handy’s music consisting of original scores for films and the studio’s stock music cues. Though Benavie did not compose a specific score for A Case Of Spring Fever, he probably did select several of his library recordings consisting of the film’s opening and closing title music, the sad music played while Gilbert is cursed, and his Johann Strauss’ Perpetual Motion recording for Gilbert’s awkward golf game.
In terms of how A Case Of Spring Fever went over with viewers in 1940 is a little bit of a mystery. Unfortunately, trade reviews of the film are scarce at the moment so it’s difficult to say how the film was exactly received or reviewed. It’s also impossible to know how it was received by viewers such as the school children who saw the film in assemblies, by the notable locals and business owners who saw it at Rotary club luncheons, or by the movie patrons watching the film waiting for the evening’s main feature attraction to begin. However other entries in the Direct Mass Selling series such as the documentaries, the narratives, and the Technicolor cartoons were frequently praised and spoken highly of by various different trade magazines. From a content perspective, A Case of Spring Fever is similar to many of these positively reviewed films: therefore it is possible that it was enjoyed by the many who saw it.
So, hopefully this answers how Coily was a part of “God’s plan for us” and why it was made. Today, the film is available to watch from the courtesy of Rick Prelinger.
A Special Thank You to Ray Pointer, Brian Oakes, and Rick Prelinger for information pertaining to this article and related video projects.