Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: The Witch's Cat

Whew, it's a rush to get this year's Halloween post up. This year's pick is the 1948 Mighty Mouse cartoon: The Witch's Cat. As far as Mighty Mouse cartoons go this one is fairly routine: mice are having fun, cat shows up & acts like asshole & MM beats on him. Even Jim Tyer, an animator on this film, seems a little more hemmed in than usual. The real star of Terrytoons of this vintage, for me, is the color styling which was amazingly sumptuous. The Mighty Mouse cartoons may be a pattern-made thing but it's hard to take your eyes off of them!

Ooo La La!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Go here now!

Go here now! Bring them on we cry! Dee-eye dee-eye dee-eye!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Halloween: The Ghost Town Frolics

A bit rushed this week for posting but thought I should get up this little gem from the Lantz Studios: The Ghost Town Frolics (Released Sept.5, 1938). The period of Lantz during what freaks (like me) call the 'crappy Oswald' period has, to a certain degree, been over vilified by cartoon fans over the years. Sure, they're kinda floaty and a bit boring but this is the era when Lantz animation technically began to gell. They had a long way to go to get from the funky early 30's Lantz (my favorite period) to meet the polished animation demands of the 40's. I suspect Terry saw the writing on the wall too as the late 30's Terrytoons begin to predict their later style. This particular cartoon may suffer from somewhat weightless animation but is superbly handled in volume rotation and has many other aspects of interest. This not unlike the problem which occurred at Mintz years earlier although, by 1938, with the exception of a few of the Rhapsodies, that studio had pretty much flown off the guard rail.

a quickly cobbled together pan from the beginning (Click to enlarge). The ghosts are haunting a ghost town. If you are a ghost - follow the sign.

The ghosts are unemployed. Bummer.

They're bitter.

UPDATE: Gasmask Ted kean eyes have uncovered that the image of the ghost reading the 'How To Lose Friends and Scare People' is actually a parody of a November 1937 issue of Judge. Thanks Ted!

A few have dead end jobs.
These are the lucky ones...

The writer is asleep-naturally.

At least in this world of despair there is still booze.

Neat Efx animation, a cool dog design and a bunch of rubbery condom ghosts plus, as an added bonus, monkeys - what more could you ask for! We're three sheets in ... what?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween Rustlers

Here's a well remembered Halloween image from my childhood. As I recall the candy inside was terrible but I loved the graphics on the bag.

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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Halloween: The Nut Factory

Well, we're coming up again on probably my favorite pseudo-holiday all year long. No religious affiliation required (unless you're one of those wackos who run around in the woods) - everybody can join in! As a kid I couldn't believe there was actually a day dedicated to Frankenstein. It was as though the contents of my head were suddenly appearing in department store windows and shelves everywhere! Cartoons benefitted greatly from this coincidental 'holiday' and, in fact, many of the best cartoons ever made (in my opinion) were those which in some way revolved around the supernatural. It was ready made material for animation. I've covered a number of these in previous years and, although the list is dwindling, I hope to get a few more examples up this year. Enjoy!

One of the things that I love so much about the New York school of animation was their total misunderstanding of cuteness. Cubby Bear, the unforgettable star of the Van Bueren Studios from 1933-1934, was just such a creature. A look at the only existing poster (that I know of) for Cubby reveals two glaze-eyed characters, mid twirl, punctuated psychotic animals and the disembodied head of an expressionistic horse!

The merchandise from Van Beuren wasn't much better. Can you imagine any kid wanting to snuggle with these? Talk about Halloween Horrors! "Mommy, my stuffies smell like ashtray and yelling!"

'The Nut Factory', which was released Aug. 11 1933 and directed by future Terrytoons animator Mannie Davis, perhaps owes a mild debt to the earlier Fleischer cartoon 'The Herring Murder Case' but is so completely off the wall that you really have to see it to believe it. While the similarity to Mickey is obvious so too is the similarity to Bimbo: star of just-across-the-street Fleischer Studios. In terms of narrative (?) structure if there ever was an heir to 'The Male Man' at a studio other than Fleischers this is it! It's all about the dentures!

How do you top a ladies room gag? Follow it with an outhouse gag!

Oh, by the way, there's a haunted house. The logic is sound: ladies room + out-house + haunted house=perfection. Class dismissed.

Bats and another Fleischer influence: the multiple doors of 'Bimbo's Initiation'! Van Beuren rain is great isn't it? Moody and wonderful.

and fantastic ghosts!

A forgettable character maybe but an unforgettable cartoon. Watch and be mystified...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Coming soon ...

A great ad from the Frank Driggs collection (click to enlarge)