The Bootleg Files: The Bottom Line

BOOTLEG FILES 786: “The Bottom Line” (1975 corporate promotional film for Mobil starring Bill Cullen).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell through the cracks.


Corporate sponsored films have been part of the motion picture experience since the silent movies, but most people have never seen the works of this genre – if only because they were never intended to be seen by the general public. These works were company-specific endeavors designed to train and invigorate employees on doing a better job and, not surprisingly, many of these offerings were not particularly entertaining.

But that’s not say there was an occasional off-beat gem in the mix. One of the more unusual corporate films was “The Bottom Line,” produced by Mobil Oil to educate its dealership about the company’s incentive program. Rather than take a straightforward (and ho-hum) documentary approach, Mobil did a riff on TV game shows to get its point across.

Indeed, the concept was enhanced by having longtime game show host Bill Cullen play the master of ceremonies in a Mobil-centric tournament featuring three Mobil dealers played by actors. The film included a convincing mock-up of a typical 1970s games show set and included a soundtrack with canned laughter and applause that mimicked the audience response of the genuine game shows.

Cullen introduces “The Bottom Line” with a brief chat involving three contestants: Suburban Sam, Big City Bob and Down Home Dave. Each contestant is seated at a podium with a gas pump attached to it. Two female models are also involved showing off a collection of large gift-wrapped boxes that Cullen identifies as being the prizes for the game’s winner, with hints of a vacation destination for a grand prize.

Cullen then explains the name of the game: “The Bottom Line” is a reference to profit. “Performance, hustle, beating the {bleep} out of the competition,” says Cullen, acknowledging the bleeped out word by saying “you can’t get away from those censors, no matter where you go.” (However, if you listen carefully, you can hear Cullen’s curse word under the bleep.)

As for the game, the contestants are given questions from three categories: driveway service, appearance and motor oil. Each contestant is asked questions about they run their respective gas stations, with correct answers rewarded with gift certificates that accumulate to prize worthiness.
By the end of the game, Down Home Dave and Suburban Sam win a pile of the gift-wrapped prizes, while Big City Bob got nothing because his business operations were not as successful as his competitors. The film ends with Cullen revealing to the film’s intended audience of Mobil dealers that they could win the show’s grand prize, a free trip to Monte Carlo, if their service station operations are considered to be the best in the company’s dealer network.

The real fun of “The Bottom Line” is Cullen, who gives what could be a self-parody of game show hosting skills. Cullen gleefully rolls off every bad pun and wince-inducing joke with gusto, taking the unctuous nature of his job to a happy extreme while making that happy detour into a mild epithet that sounds very strange coming from him. And while he probably wasn’t trying to look funny, his red jacket and wide purple and grey striped tie are the epitome of extreme mid-1970s game show host fashion.

Details on “The Bottom Line” are scant – the film received a brief mention in the 2013 Cullen biography “Quizmaster,” which might be the most written about it to date. There is no mention of the film in the IMDb, and the film might have vanished forever but for the efforts of the fan site to save it from obscurity and put it online (perhaps without Mobil’s knowledge) on YouTube. (The available print cuts off abruptly and there are no credits identifying the talent besides Cullen.)

Fans of 1970s kitsch will have fun with “The Bottom Line.” And anyone reading this who owns a gas station will also get a kick at how a previous generation tried to use wacky incentives to ratchet up profits.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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