Saturday, October 16, 2010

Halloween: The Herring Murder Case

Here's the story of the murder.
You better hold your breath.
It's all about the herring
who met a sudden death.
Keep your eyes on this detective.
He knows just to do.
Now watch BIM-BO find a clue.

Gus Gorilla, star of radio, may have worn patches on his sweater but they were not put there to make him appear intellectual. They were to cover the holes in his elbows.

Last week's post, 'The Nut Factory', got me to thinking about other cartoons of the Mystery genre. Remember that at this time the term 'horror' was seen as having a negative connotation and US studios were still feeling cautious about the reaction . Thus supernatural elements were often cross-bred with safer, more traditional fair in the Murder Mystery vein: the most successful being likely Universal's 'The Cat & The Canary'. When 'Skeleton Dance' was released in 1929 it must have been an overwhelming sensation. Throughout the 30's studios vied to get their own piece of the ghoulish goulash.

April-June, 1932: Ape vs. Reaper. 'The Cuckoo Murder Case' (left) 'The Herring Murder Case (right)

Things must have become pretty competitive. Broadly speaking, within three months of each other in 1932 two competing studios, Ub Iwerks & Max Fleischer, would release a version of the same film: The Cuckoo Murder Case (Flip the Frog, released April 27, 1932) & The Herring Murder Case (Bimbo, released June 26, 1932). I know the beginning of both of these must be based on a film of that time. Can anybody out there let me know what it is? Well, anyway, both films begin with murder and pit a detective against quasi-supernatural circumstances. However, beyond the penetration of the basic arc, they are quite different with Fleischers possibly out-doing Iwerks in the surrrealism department and Iwerks outdoing Fleischers in bizarre acting. For me, if there were a contest (& I wouldn't say there was), it's seriously my kinda contest!! They are both amazing but this post is about "The Herring Murder Case". . .

There are no credits for THMC and, aside from Culhane and Eugster I have no idea the animation crew.

A herring is shot and the entire world goes apeshit. No headlines, no reporters, they just know. The Fleischers aren't going to wait to hurl the audience into a weird situation.

Koko is upset and flying on mushrooms. This looks like it could be Culhane.
Culhane claimed that this was the model for Koko in THMC. That book did contain some forgeries (redraws) and this could be one of them. A few scenes of Koko do deviate stylistically in this direction but most, like below, base themselves on the standard model for Koko.

Sucks to have to squint through a print this rough isn't it? This same print has been circulating for years - most recently on the Garage Sale discs. I'm glad to see it in any form (& if you're here you feel the same way) but can you imagine being able to see this office well? Even a blown 16mm (but with a solid soundtrack as not all of them have) still hints at the density of detail in those Schenk backgrounds. There's some great business with Koko too in this office scene - wonder who animated it?

Was it Culhane who complained that one of the weaknesses of Fleischers was that a house would be depicted suddenly growing eyes and springing to life straining an audience's conception of a house? If this scene is an example, the comment shows how 'of-their time' an artist is always in danger of. Of course, Disney Studios very strictly curtailed anthropomorphism or action without explanation as part of their modus operandi and the rest is history. No fun animation had already started...

But in spite of the Disney inch toward a more conservative but commercial approach to animated characters, in 1932, Fleischer Studios was possibly at it's creative peak. The style which, like the later Cubby Bear cartoon below, mixed both cuteness and hideousness is not only fun to watch but had real heart too. Hey Gus, can you lend me your hanky? What the HELL ....?

Salvador Dali gets a nod in this sequence. There are plenty of amazing things to discover with every viewing of "The Herring Murder Case". Bits of Dave Fleischer business, background painter Schenk's illusionary touches or the animators exuberance and facile workmanship ... not to mention a fantastic soundtrack: this is prime Fleischers and I'm sure you think so too.

Coolest spider ever! It's a little octopus!

And as an extra Halloween bonus this weird afro-cuban jazz influenced jam 'The Limp' by The Nat King Cole Trio recorded for Standard Transcriptions ( an LA based supplier of radio discs) in February 1939. If you see a zombie staggering down the road this Halloween don't worry it's just a person killing themselves with alcohol. Until I limp into my next post...

un-hunh. un hunh. un-hunh


Andrew said...

Someone turn on the light!!!

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

This might be a bit better. For anyone following this blog my apologies. If Blogger sends you an e-mail every time I do something here you must get a million notifications. My editing process is kinda lazy on this blog. Now I think I'll take a nap...

Jim said...

The herring's last words are based on the last words of Edward G Robinson's character, Rico, from Little Cesar, one of the first sound gangster movies.

Here's the clip:

:: smo :: said...

this cartoon just changed my life.

holy crap! it might have just ousted van beuren's wild goose chase as my new favorite! so much happening and lots of shots that conjure up images of "the great piggy bank robbery" i wonder if it was an homage to this in a way? and apparently if you're not willing to drop your pants you must be a union man?

Daniel [] said...

The Philo Vance novels had titles of form

     The X Murder Case

a number of the Vance movies also used this form. The first five novels and first four movies with titles of this form were released in or before 1930.

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

Yes, thank-you!