1936 gag cartoon of 'Prof' Bowsky from The Animated News.
After a long delay I am back with my post on the pairing of (at least by the credits) Willard Bowsky and Dave Tendlar in 1934. Records do not exist of the crews at that time but our first glimpse of the crew contingent occur in The Animated News issues starting in 1935. 'King of the Mardis Gras', for example, lists the Tendlar crew as: Tendlar, Graham Place, Bill Sturm, Nick Tafuri, Harold Walker and Eli Brucker. The same year the 'Preview' for 'Dizzy Divers' lists the Bowsky crew as: Bowsky, Nick Tafuri, Harold Walker, Bill Sturm, Tex Hastings, George Germanetti & Graham Place. So, as you can see, people were getting shuffled around.
Figuring out exactly who is who in a Fleischer cartoon is the sort of jigsaw fellow cartoon clubhouse pal (and Fleischer fanatic) Bob Jaques has spent a lifetime trying to unravel. The trail gets spottier the earlier you go into the 30's. Crew records either don't exist or I've never seen 'em. Naturally, this post like everything on this blog is my own personal take on the subject. After all the link that carries you here is 'journeytojohnsbrain' isn't it? Hey! Wipe your feet before you come in!
I'm not sure why I keep landing on 1934 as a year of interest. From the output of films that year there is a sense of coalescing of talent. The raunchy approach that had marked so many of the best Fleischer cartoons the years previous was, for the most part, left behind while the quality of the animation improved if moved a smidgeon more towards the clinical. In fact a number of gag cartoons in the Animated News the year following (1935) make reference to "Keeping it Clean". While 1934 is generally regarded as the year the code caught up with Betty Boop it was also the year Popeye's popularity skyrocketed into the stratosphere. So, 1934 was a transition year for Fleischer Studios.
1935 gag cartoon by an inbetweener.
Didn't start out that way though. "Red Hot Mamma" (released in February) really evokes the earlier period of Fleischer cartoons. Metamorphosis, hallucination and moral ambivalence (hell is a place where even a horny devil can't catch a break) predominate as does the 'Mystery Cave' convention of earlier masterpieces "The Old Man of the Mountain" and "Snow White". This is true blue Betty: saucy, tough and swingin' in an environment spawned of the supernatural.
Scene from 'Red Hot Mamma'
The gag of the tails connecting with electrical bolts must have been interesting enough to be used twice: here and again with the electric eels in "Betty Boop's Lifeguard"
Bowsky and Tendlar's next collaboration, the Screen Song "Lazy Bones" (released in April) is a little harder to assess. Most of the issue with this particular cartoon stems from the awkward animation of the horses and the prosaic nature in which the race is presented. The problem of Fleischer horses is often used to scewer the animation as primitive but 1934 was still pretty early and none of the Disney cartoons of that year featured animation of a realistic horse. By the time of 'Alladin & his Wonderful Lamp' perhaps they should have figured it out but, as Greg Ford accurately points out in his audio commentary for 'Alladin', Fleischer cartoons are a 'different animal altogether'. 'Lazy Bones' is no where near Fleischers' best but, as duds go, it's still a pretty good cartoon-testimate to the level of craftsmanship that existed there. It was the second film, after the better 'Boo Boo Theme Song', to feature Borrah Minivetch and His Harmonica Rascals. Their live action sections were edited out of both films in the extent 16mm versions I've been able to see.
"Realistic" animation and the Fleischer style did not make good bedfellows. The same thing happens in the animation that bookends the later "Time For Love". The result is off putting but "Lazy Bones" has some great stuff worth holding out for!
"Aw, just two minutes mooore" It's always good to hear the voice of Popeye inexplicably emanate from a different character.
Those put off by the weirdly animated horses at the beginning miss this wonderful 'slice-of-life' moment at the end. Times is tough fer Lazybones.
January 1935 review of 'Lazybones' from 'Box Office Magazine'
Lazy Bones was probably the first official affiliation between Hoagy Carmichael and Fleischer Studios. A snippet of his famous 'Stardust' can be heard in the Screen Song 'By The Light of the Silvery Moon' and, of course, he composed the songs for Mr. Bug.
Bowsky and Tendlar's next collaboration was a Popeye cartoon: "Shoein' Hosses" (released in June). I hadn't seen this in a while and my memory of it often reverts backs to that horrible 16mm version we all had to suffer through for years. We were damn lucky to get that Popeye DVD set! Again, 'Shoein' Hosses' could be seen as a simple by-the-numbers fight story between Popeye and Bluto. The blacksmith shop certainly sets up the kind of environs we'd see later in, not surprisingly, the Tendlar directed 'Anvil Chorus Girl'. Looking at 'Shoein' Hosses' again I was struck though by it's incredible simplicity (and clarity!) of staging, timing and posing. Man, that burned out 16mm must have really distracted me from this great cartoon! Even though the subject may not be that exotic, this film is a master class in so many things that are missing from contemporary animated fare.
This simple action explains everything you need to know about Popeye's motivation in 'Shoein' Hosses'. No needless exposition of how much he has fallen in love with Olive, why or that he is even in love at all. It's not important - he wants to impress Olive.
But hey, nobody's perfect ... as evidenced by this perspective shot that makes the horse look 4 times the size of Popeye! Either way the scene is hillarious. Horse racing (and the gambling connected) was a favorite pastime of the Fleischer animators and factor into two cartoons Bowsky and Tendlar did in '34. One wonders if the choice of subject related to their interest in the sport?
When Bowsky and Tendlar returned to the Betty Boop series a change feels like it has taken place. The lechery so evident in 'Red Hot Mamma' seems absent: replaced by an ineffectual Lifeguard called 'Fearless Fred' who had appeared in the first Fleischer cartoon to be released in 1934: the Doc Crandall and Tom Johnson directed 'She Wronged Him Right'. Still, 1934 was a transitional year and 'Betty Boop's Lifeguard' (released in July) probably has the sexiest Betty animation of any of her cartoons as she cavorts as a mermaid. Thanks to it's annoying song ("It's Fweeeeeeeedie") it's not an easy cartoon to get through in spite of it's gorgeous animation. Patient observers however will note the film ends with a very Crandall-like dragon, a la 'Snow White'. The animation in general seems to shift towards that rawer Crandall style at the end too leading this observer to wonder if any of that rotating Crandall crew participated in the animation of 'Betty Boop's Lifeguard'.
EFX animation was one of the things that showed a marked improvement in 1934. Compare the rolling surf that opens 'Betty Boop's Lifeguard' with that of the earlier Tendlar cartoon "Is My Palm Red" to see what I mean.
A Crandall like beast.
The Crandall connection feels, if anything, stronger in the next cartoon credited to Bowsky and Tendlar: "Shiver Me Timbers" released only a few weeks after 'Betty Boop's Lifeguard' indicating that, unless they had two going simultaneously, it must have been warehoused awaiting release. "Shiver Me Timbers" feels like an early 30's Fleischer cartoon. The animation is little funkier than Betty Boop's Lifeguard but contains all the hallmarks of that earlier hullucinatory approach in films like 'Snow White'. It gets into a darker place though, then the films I've mentioned above, and the anxiety laden nightmare-like plot (where were Popeye, Wimpy and Olive coming from at the beginning? Why are they so indifferent to the scary metamorphosis occurring all around the haunted ship?) led many a tyke to hide behind the family sofa. Doesn't get much better than that.
Possibly the most ominous beginning in cartoon history!
Pure surrealism. Olive & Wimpy are scared but I'd be running for my life at this point!
This great panic drawing of Wimpy is only on-screen for a few frames. I've reproduced here. It's an amazing scene.
Nobody strokes Popeye and gets away with it!
The last film of 1934 credited to Bowskyand Tendlar, "The Little Dutch Mill" (released in October) is a strange mix of old, new and foreign by way of the Disney Silly Symphonies series. The cute boy, and duck of the piece seem like intruders and their gingerbread village way outside NY City limits but there is still a lot of great stuff happening in 'Little Dutch Mill'. Lack of sincerity is sometimes leveled at the Color Classics but LDM's 'rehabilitation not retribution' moral as interpreted by the Fleischer animators (he is rehabilitated but also emasculated!) seems as sincere a reaction as you could ever get from a bunch of macho he-man NY animators. What really distinguishes 'Little Dutch Mill' is the chance we have to see something like an early Fleischer cartoon as it would have been interpreted in color - a valuable window! The Color Classics aren't for everyone but I have no doubt that a 35mm print of the Cinecolor (red & green) "Little Dutch Mill" would delight the eyes much in the way the WHV 'Popeye Meets Sinbad' exposed layers of detail unseen by anybody in decades.
The scene that opens 'Little Dutch Mill' shows a strong Art Deco influence. I feel that Fleischers interpreted this style to animation better than any other studio of the 30's.
Sure, it seems like a strange universe for the Fleischers to be inhabiting but there's fun stuff happening in this cartoon.
A wonderfully expressive pose of 'The Miser' looking here almost beatnik-like.
Of all the films I've mentioned there are probably only two that could be considered bonified classics: Red Hot Momma & Shiver Me Timbers. Still, for those who can suffer through what may seem like shortcomings of the others there is great stuff to be seen. By 1935 Tendlar was leading a group of his own many of whom, as I mentioned at the start of this post, were also working for Bowsky. One wonders if there was any animosity between them over that? The cartoons they did together in 1934 skirt the mundane at times but, in my opinion, succeed though sheer drawing skill, ingenuity and graphic might. You will always be surprised by something you didn't expect to happen in a Fleischer cartoon!
An interesting epilog to this post is this cartoon which appeared in the November '35 issue of The Animated News. I've heard tell he was out on the coast to visit relatives. Did he make the studio rounds? I've never heard anything about it. In fact, I'm not even sure the Coast is the California coast! At any rate Bowsky returned to Fleischers where he stayed until joining the army in WW2.