Pitch People Image

Pitch People

By Bobby LePire | May 16, 2024

Originally released in 1999, Pitch People has been given new life via a restoration overseen by director Stanley Jacobs. The documentary is about precisely what the title implies: it takes a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of pitch salespersons. You know, the people who sell knives that can cut through bone or some new-fangled invention that slices, dices, and cubes all at once on late-night infomercials? Yeah, those folks are the subjects here. Does this snapshot of a particular time in pop culture still hold any cultural relevance, or is it too out of date for audiences to connect to?

Among the notable figures in the documentary is Ed McMahon, a television personality who sold wares on the bustling Atlantic City boardwalk and later returned to the fast sell. Lester Morris was one of the pioneers who made a successful living by peddling his items on television. His brother, Arnold Morris, earned the moniker “Mr. Knife” for his legendary knife pitches, which were featured on several late-night talk shows. Nancy Nelson, with her knowledge of the entertainment industry and host duties, played a crucial role in bringing several pitch people to the forefront of the industry. These are just a few of the many subjects whose stories are shared in this 88-minute documentary, highlighting the historical significance of the pitch people and their impact on the entertainment industry.

“…a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of pitch salespersons.”

Pitch People weaves a comprehensive narrative using a variety of storytelling techniques. The documentary incorporates archival footage, b-roll, and interviews to paint a vivid picture of the shockingly expansive historical scene. The rise of pitch people, which coincided with the post-World War II population explosion, is traced back to its origins. This historical context adds depth and significance to the documentary. Director Stanley Jacobs skillfully keeps the information flowing, while also highlighting the dwindling nature of the business, creating a compelling and informative viewing experience.

But it’s all not dourness, as the subjects themselves bring tremendous levity. They are fast-talking and slick, to be sure. However, there are rules they follow, with the number one being that they must believe in the product. As Nelson, McMahon, Morris, Morris, or the other interviewees discuss what they do, there’s a real sense of joy. Watching them interact with their first customers of the day highlights just how personable and sweet most, if not all, of these salespeople are. The way they add a sense of urgency to the products by offering it to only X number of people or adding a freebie for a limited time proves how shrewd at business they are. If nothing else, this film shows that being a pitch person means needing to excel at reading people, smooth-talking, and knowing the product inside out.

Pitch People is a wonderful surprise. While some new sequences about the rise of online shopping would really make this timeless, it’s still an excellent and compelling watch. The interviewees are a lively and fun bunch. The history of pitch people is unbelievable and comprehensively told.

Pitch People (1999)

Directed and Written: Stanley Jacobs

Starring: Ed McMahon, Lester Morris, Arnold Morris, Nancy Nelson, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Pitch People Image

"…a wonderful surprise."

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