Sunday, February 28, 2010

Van Beuren Produces a Classic (!): Magic Mummy!

16mm re-issue title card for 'Magic Mummy'. The original was released February 7, 1933

It's hard to believe Van Beuren cartoons screened theatrically. Like the work of Jim Tyer (who worked at VB early in his career) the early cartoons, which were released by the Pathe beginning in 1929 and later by RKO up through 1936, are primarily enjoyed as a cult phenomena nowadays. Admittedly those early efforts (Waffles & Don and the only slightly different Tom & Jerry) are pretty strong stuff for the uninitiated. I myself can't watch can't watch more than two at a time. They are really messed up. As hard as it may be to believe these cartoons were actually sold it's almost as hard to believe that there could be a true classic amongst their ranks.

Finding a good print of the film is easier said then done however. Above are frame grabs from two separate prints: one is a public domain print which has been in circulation for years while the one below is from the recently released Thunderbean Tom & Jerry set. Unfortunately the Thunderbean print is badly scratched (& stained) throughout (but sharper) while the PD print is cropped and (at least in the copy I have) badly pixilated from compression. In fact, it looks as though it may have even been converted from a lo-res Youtube video. To illustrate this post I have opted to use the Thunderbean print but I would love to see a less compressed version of the former. If anyone out there can recommend where I might be able to find 'Magic Mummy' in reasonable shape on DVD (it appears on a number of PD discs I haven't seen) - or better yet a 16mm print (!) - please leave me a comment or shoot me a g-mail! Incidently, if you haven't seen the film you can go here and come back to see if you agree with my observations...

As true an expression of rubber hose joy as was ever expressed at the sound of music. Don't you flap your arms when you are happy? FYI Tom is the tall one and Jerry the short one.

Car 44, where are yooou.

Cop Love.

Expert cartoonologist Bob Jaques has expressed to me on a number of occasions how astonishing (& unexpected) the hands are in this piano playing scene. You'd never get away with something like this today. Haven't you heard? Cartoons are not allowed to be crazy anymore. Why we are teaching children to be dour and hopeless I have no idea. I blame the popularity of 'The Dark Knight' (with their parents!).

If you need a roadmap for what's going on in this prison you'd better look elsewhere.

"...a mummy has been stolen from the museum"

The car picks up the scent of mummy. I wonder what that smells like?

Suddenly the film turns a corner as 'The Phantom' (my designation, the character's name is not mentioned) creeps past a ruined building in a cemetary. The scene suggests (at least to me) a building bombed out by war which adds a sudden mood of dread. A similar mood shift occurs in the Cubby Bear cartoon 'Nut Factory' as Cubby, in the search for dentures, wanders into a haunted house half way through that cartoon. Likewise Bimbo abruptly finds himself in similarly supernatural surroundings in 'The Male Man' (1930, Fleischer Studios) after several minutes of unrelated mail gags. This approach, if it was intentional, never out-lived the early 30's.

'Magic Mummy' (Van Beuren/RKO, 1933)

'Taken For A Ride' (Charles Mintz/Columbia, 1930)

Another odd artifact is the grave represented as hideout. The very same thing occurs in the earlier Krazy Kat cartoon 'Taken For A Ride' (1930). Could both cartoons be drawing on an even earlier source?

'Magic Mummy' suggests many things to me: historical photos, old movies (particularly Zita Johanne in 'The Mummy'), even archeology! The Phantom character always reminded me of something I had seen before but couldn't quite pin down until just recently: the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek! Could this have been the inspiration for MM's main heavy?

Zita Johanne in 'The Mummy'

Another astonishing element to the film is the expressiveness of the Phantom's hands. It's quite unbelievable that such sophistication could have existed in a Van Beuren cartoon! Go back to that Youtube video (linked at the beginning of the post) and scroll through slowly and see if you don't agree. The animation was evidently credited to John Foster & George Stallings as had most of the early T&J's. However, this is around the time the studio received an influx of new talent (and future animators of Famous Studios, Fleischer and others) giving the cartoons a more polished look than they had in years previous.

No Tom & Jerry cartoon is complete without the obligatory 'flesh rending' scene.

Through the wall they go to ... someplace...

'Magic Mummy' is also a cartoon about levels and decending into them. Adding to the dream-like effect are the two similar pianos on each level. Like a dream, one idea suggests another while changing it slightly.

Whoops, a shooting error (the coffin disappears for 2 frames) or perhaps a couple of inbetweens were missing from the scene. Who knows.

Is this the love a skeleton has for another skeleton or a skeleton has for a good cigar?

Another expressive scene with the skeleton band conducted by The Phantom.

Meanwhile Tom and Jerry are in a drain pipe for some reason.

"Yeeeeow" "The joint is pinched": The best classic 'triple duty' voice performance in history (the same voice actor is giving the lines of both Tom, Jerry and The Phantom!) until the immortal lines "Miss Betty Boop"/"Show her in" from 'Is My Palm Red' (Fleischer Studios, Feb 17 1933) was released - ten days later!

The Phantom flees deeper into the subconscious...

Where the hell are we now?

Fighting eyeballs.

Jerry rescues the casket while hanging his bosom buddy Tom out to dry with the Phantom.

"The mummy. The mummy. The mum-mum-mum-mum-mummy!"

Uh oh, the casket is filled with Tom's corpse. Is anyone else reminded of the final scene in 'Public Enemy'?

'Public Enemy'

Iris out as Jerry bashfully surveys the carnage...

Like I said, those early VB's are an acquired taste and I'm not sure if I've really acquired it myself - they're that weird. They were no competition for Fleischer (who were located directly across the street in NY's Times Square) as I see it but, taken apart, 'Magic Mummy' is at least a happy accident and one well worth visiting.


:: smo :: said...

wow this was great!

i really enjoy that you talk about these cartoons all the time but apparently have no great love for them, are you sure this isn't some alternate dimension MST3K?

haha i do really like these though as bizarre as they can be, in the mix with everything else they're almost refreshing! and those hands! crazy flexible fingers, but you know they're hands, why the hell not?!

the whole stream of consciousness dream thing is awesome too, "oh wow everything's great here in jail land UNTIL WE FIND OUT A MUMMY'S BEEN SWIPED!" and on and on...

is it just me or is this one of the few tom and jerry cartoons with an actual antagonist? i guess pencil mania KIND OF has one but he's not really bugging tom and jerry too much if i remember right. usually they just run around and get freaked out by skeletons and fish, don't they?

anyway thanks for posting this blog is awesome!

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

What does MST3K mean? Regarding my love for this stuff: then why the heck am I blogging about it? Yeesh. Anyway, glad you're enjoying my blog - thanks for stopping by.

:: smo :: said...

ha oh sorry, weird reference, mystery science theater 3000, it's a tv show where these guys on a spaceship are forced to watch these ridiculous b movies and just sort of make fun of them the whole way through.

i think i'm going to have to make it my new goal to try and make one of these style cartoons with the same weird random storyline. i tried to in college [before i knew about van beuren, just fleischer] and all my teachers said "well that just doesn't make sense!" and i said have you ever even seen a cartoon from the 30's?!

Anonymous said...

I Loved that video, Seems the mummys voice was provided by Bonnie poe who was another voice for Betty Boop

i didnt actually know the cartoon was released in (1932)

the voice sounds simuler to Bonnie poes, but it could be margie hines

i also read in a statement
another character in the tom & jerry cartoons sings in this style again in TIGHT ROPE TRICKS (1933)

these cartoons have so much funny gags in them, i love their Betty Boop aka Helen kane imitations

Anonymous said...

actually i take that back

margie hines did all the betty boopish sounds for the

Aesop fables early cartoons

(Bonnie poe was falsely credited)

and now i guess i understand what raypointer meant.....

took me ages to figure out the voices apart.....

Belle Dee said...

I love this one! It's high on my list of favorite cartoons involving re-animated skeletons. And I really love both of the songs in this one. I found one version of 'The Cop on the Beat, the Man and the Moon and Me'. I'd like to find more, I'm sure there must have been more recordings of it. And I would like to find a version of other song, but I don't know what it's called. My searching around online didn't bring up much.

I'm going right now to order that Thunderbean Collection. I knew it was coming out, I read about it on Milton Knight's site awhile back since he was doing the cover art. The only version of this cartoon that I have is the public domain one that came on a disc with two old public domain horror pics.

I also really enjoy 'Wot a Night'. They are very strange gems indeed.

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

I wish I could identify the song the mummy sings. Betty Boop sings the same song in 'Judge For a Day'. Regarding the Thunderbean set: like I said in my post the MM print on that set is pretty beat up. Your public domain copy may be just as good or even better. It is the exact print - raw and un-remastered- which was released on the compilation disc 'Grotesqueries' a few years ago (but with better recreated title card than on that disc). The print of 'Swiss Tricks' is amazing though. Just so's ya know. Thanks for stopping by!

Belle Dee said...

Oh, I found it! The song the mummy sings is called 'Sing (It's Good for You)'. I found a Dorsey Bros. recording.
I would still like to get the Thunderbean collection, just to have it. I only have a few Tom & Jerry cartoons on DVD, and those are scattered between discs. It would be nice to have them collected together. Plus I the only version of 'Wot a Night' I have is one I got from YouTube.
I don't mind watching a battered print. Sometimes it adds to the experience. Thanks for the info, though!

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

Cool - thanks for the ID on the song!

Milton Knight said...

Cop pianist animated by Frank "Tish Tash" Tashlin.
Skeleton band by cult phenomenon James Tyer.

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

Hi Milton, thanks for the ID's! This is probably my favorite VB cartoon!