Destination Earth: The Story of Petroleum

Ogg convenes the people, still from Destination Earth, 1956. John Sutherland Productions. Directed by Carl Urbano, Production Design by Tom Oreb and Victor Haboush. 

Sponsorship slate, still from Destination Earth, 1956.

If graphic designers like Paul Rand and Herbert Bayer gave American corporations modern identities (and a modernist imprimatur) in the 1950s, something similar happened in animation design. Modernist animation studios bestowed a certain up-to-date prestige on their clients–clients which they, the studios, needed very badly. The animation industry all but cratered after the Supreme Court (United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.) broke up the motion picture studio system in 1948. Cut loose from the financial lifelines that kept them afloat, many animation houses foundered. Contracts to produce industrial films and television advertising saved many of them.

Colonel Cosmic preaches the twin gospel of competition and fossil fuel, still from Destination Earth, 1956.

In 1956, John Sutherland produced Destination Earth, an industrial film for the Petroleum Institute of America, which tells the story of Martian leader Ogg the Great. Ogg is a Stalinist figure voiced (I think) by an uncredited Jim Backus. Ogg's people are having a hard time managing friction in state vehicles. There are also problems with efficient fuel sources. Vexed, Ogg sends Colonel Cosmic to Earth to research alternatives. Cosmic discovers plentiful automobiles, powered by petroleum products. He learns about oil in the public library, where he also discovers the virtues of free enterprise and competition. Cosmic returns to Mars and reveals what he has learned. Ogg is overthrown. 

The American car-scape, still from Destination Earth, 1956.

Oil exploration, still from Destination Earth, 1956.

Ogg's audience, still from Destination Earth, 1956. 

The film was directed by Carl Urbano, with production design by Tom Oreb and Victor Haboush. Oreb and Haboush left Disney for Sutherland productions, but were soon to return. Destination Earth is as well designed as any industrial film of the era. It's naked oil and gas propaganda (since God knows the oil industry never experienced any difficulty with anti-competitive behavior) but it's well-imagined and attractive.

Colonel Cosmic observing automobiles, still from Destination Earth, 1956. 

Colonel Cosmic and Ogg the Great, still from Destination Earth, 1956. 

You can watch the film at the Internet Archive

Doug DowdComment