Sunday, January 19, 2020

Starting Friday at San Francisco's Castro Theater: The 18th Noir City Film Festival - Noir City International


"Now, more than ever, it's essential to resist the dread and paranoia of contemporary times by looking beyond our differences," says Muller. "Let's appreciate the noir ethos for the creativity it inspires and the warning flares it long ago flashed on screens worldwide. Noir has no national boundaries. It's the same story, everywhere."." Eddie Muller a.k.a. The Czar Of Noir



As Victoria Mature, ace opera singer (and daughter of Victor Mature) is seen doing in the Noir City International poster, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog shall be traveling to the mecca of classic movies, San Francisco's Castro Theatre, soon. . .



Why? to see the 2020 Noir City Film Festival, of course!



Dyed-in-the-wool film buffs return to that quintessential Art Deco movie palace, the Castro Theatre, for heaping helpings of desperation, thuggery, skullduggery, chicanery, double-crossing dames, sex-starved saps, bullet-riddled sedans, doomed relationships, nervous cigarette smoking, cheap hotels, furtive claustrophobia, post-WWII style ennui and inevitably, endless roads leading nowhere.



As always, the Film Noir Foundation deserves kudos, bravos and huzzahs for putting their money where their Jack Daniels-stained, Tareyton-burned, lipstick-smudged mouths are for presenting newly struck 35mm prints of numerous classic films for the Noir City Film Festival.



This time the foreboding-filled cinematic extravaganza is literally all over the map. Represented in the program: directors Michelangelo Antonioni (Italy), Román Viñoly Barreto (Argentina), Julio Bracho (Mexico), Julien Duvivier (France), Roberto Gavaldón (Mexico), Helmut Käutner (West Germany), Toshio Masuda (Japan), Jean-Pierre Melville (France), Masahiro Shinoda (Japan), Andrzej Wajda (Poland) and Jirí Weiss (Czechoslovakia).



The official Noir City press release elaborates:

"The 10-day excursion travels through hot-blooded nightclubs of the Mexican cabareteras, neon-streaked alleys of Japanese yakuza thrillers, the stylish Parisian underworld, Italian palazzos hiding crimes of every social strata, a Kafkaesque Prague as envisioned by the Czech New Wave — even a rare serial killer film set in Nazi Germany made by Hollywood's finest director of film noir, Robert Siodmak.



The Film Noir Foundation will premiere two new restorations at NOIR CITY 18, both little-known 1950s noir gems from Argentine director Román Viñoly Barreto: La bestia debe morir (1952) and El vampiro negro (1953).



Both restorations were completed in 2019 by the FNF's preservation partner, UCLA Film & Television Archive, with support provided from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Charitable Trust (The HFPA Trust)."




The Noir City Film Festival
When: January 24 to February 2, 2020
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at 17th)



Why: It's BIG SCREEN FUN!

Who Benefits: The Film Noir Foundation, the cause of film preservation and most of all. . . the moviegoing audience!





The lineup of hard-boiled thrillers from the four corners of the earth is as follows:



Friday, January 24 ARGENTINA
Two films by Román Viñoly Barreto
7:30 p.m. La bestia debe morir (1952)
9:30 p.m. El vampiro negro (1953)



Saturday, January 25, Matinée FRANCE

1:30 p.m. Panique (1946) Directed by Julien Duvivier
3:30 p.m. Razzia sur la chnouf Directed by Henri Decoin


Saturday, January 25, Evening FRANCE


7:00 p.m. Le Doulos Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
9:15 p.m. Any Number Can Win a.k.a. Mélodie en sous-sol (original title) Directed by Henri Verneuil


Sunday, January 26 SOUTH KOREA

The Housemaid/ Hanyo (1960) Directed by Kim Ki-young Black Hair (1964) Geomeun meori (original title) Directed by Man-hui Lee 4:20, 9:00


Monday, January 27 ITALY



7:00 p.m.Story of a Love Affair (1950) Cronaca di un amore (original title) Directed by written by Michelangelo Antonioni
9:00 p.m. The Facts of Murder (1959) Un maledetto imbroglio (original title)


Tuesday, January 28 CZECHOSLOVAKIA


7:00 p.m. . . .and the Fifth Horseman Is Fear (1965) ...a pátý jezdec je Strach (original title) Directed by Zbynek Brynych
9:00 p.m. 90 Degrees In The Shade a.k.a. Tricet jedna ve stinu Directed by Jirí Weiss.

Wednesday, January 29 ENGLAND
7:00 p.m. The Long Haul Directed and written by Ken Hughes
9:00 p.m. Never Let Go Directed by John Guillermin


Thursday, January 30 JAPAN


7:00 p.m. Pale Flower (1964) Kawaita hana (original title)
9:00 p.m. Rusty Knife (1958) Sabita naifu (original title) Directed by Toshio Masuda

Friday, January 31 WEST GERMANY


7:00 p.m. The Devil Strikes at Night (1957) Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam (original title) Directed by Robert Siodmak
9:00 p.m. Black Gravel (1961) Schwarzer Kies (original title) Directed by Helmut Käutner


Saturday, Februray 1, Matinée MEXICO
Directed and written by Julio Bracho


1:30 p.m. Another Dawn (1943) aka Distinto amanecer (original title)
3:40 p.m. Twilight (1945) Crepúsculo (original title)

Saturday, Feb 1, Evening MEXICO
7:30 p.m. Night Falls (1952) La noche avanza (original title) Directed by Roberto Gavaldón
9:15 p.m. Salón México (1949) Directed by Emilio Fernández


Sunday, February 2 SWEDEN / POLAND
2:00, 7:00 A Woman's Face (1938)En kvinnas ansikte (original title) Directed by Gustaf Molander



4:00, 9:00 Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Popiól i diament (original title) Directed by Andrzej Wajda

Advance tickets are available online through Brown Paper Tickets. For more info, see the Noir City and Castro Theatre websites. There's also a Noir City YouTube channel.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Cartoons Nobody Loved by Paul F. Etcheverry



Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's first post of 2020 covers one of our favorite topics: "Golden Age" animated cartoons that never got laughs (as Termite Terrace-influenced WB and MGM cartoons did), admiration (Fleischer's Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman) or critical acclaim (Disney, UPA).



Many unloved animated films and Incredibly Strange Cartoons have been covered at length previously here under the headings "Wide World of Crap-tastic Cartoons" and "Toons Around The World."



Neither ultra low-budget TV-toons from a couple of decades later nor undistinguished cartoons from the tail end of the theatricals in the 1960's will be in this post's mix; those who grew up with Saturday morning television's pen-and-ink heroes and remember them fondly as childhood fun love 'em.



Arguably the most maligned of all cartoon series was actually produced by, of all studios, Warner Brothers. The star: Buddy, a.k.a. Mr. Excitement.



Buddy was the first cartoon character created by the Leon Schlesinger Studio, which had been hastily put together in 1933 after the producer and Warner Bros. broke off ties with the former producers of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, the ex-Disney animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising.



Leon Schlesinger's daunting task: assemble a new crew for an in-house studio immediately. Schlesinger's first production manager and director, former Disney animator Tom Palmer, started off on two wrong feet by helming the fledgling studio's first two cartoons, Buddy's Day Out and I've Got To Sing A Torch Song. The one link with the glory days of Warner Brothers cartoons is that the assistant to head animator Jack King on these initial Schlesinger Studio releases was a young Bob Clampett.



These cartoons were deemed so bad the powers that were at Schlesinger's found themselves compelled to beg former Harman-Ising director and head animator Isadore "Friz" Freleng to take a job with the new Merrie Melodies crew - and take over the directorial reins. Watch and see why!



I've Got To Sing A Torch Song was it for Tom Palmer as director at Schlesinger's. At least the Greta Garbo caricature who sings a bit of the theme song got to be the first cartoon character in a Merrie Melodie to say "That's All, Folks" at the end.



Palmer would get another shot at the helm when Burt Gillett hired him for the Van Beuren Studio to make Rainbow Parade cartoons.



After Freleng was given the assignment of attempting to salvage the two aforementioned cartoons and head one of the Leon Schlesinger Studio's production units, Earl Duvall, who worked on the Disney newspaper comics (Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse and, in collaboration with Al Taliaferro, the Silly Symphonies comics), succeeded Tom Palmer as Warner Bros. cartoons director.



The arrival at Schlesinger's of Earl Duvall, layout artist and member of the story department at Disney (and previously a storyman at Harman-Ising) was delayed by the projects he needed to finish at The Mouse Factory. By the time Duvall arrived, Palmer had already been fired. Both have been credited, separately or together, with devising the characters of Buddy and Cookie.



The following cartoon, Buddy's Beer Garden, represents an enormous improvement over its hideously bland predecessor. Perhaps Buddy should have cross-dressed in these cartoons more often!



Earl Duvall's subsequent Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies have their moments as well; all five of his Warner Brothers cartoons possess pre-Code humor and adult themes treasured in the Fleischer Studio's Betty Boop series - and that is most appropriately for cartoons that preceded such feature films as Gold Diggers Of 1933 and Footlight Parade.



Sittin' On A Backyard Fence, the second Merrie Melodie cartoon produced by the Leon Schlesinger Studio, features the musicality to be expected from a series based on songs from Warner Brothers musicals, as well as some clever visual ideas, such as the chase scene along the telephone wires (from 5:49 to 6:04).



Too bad the cartoon promoted in the one sheet for Looney Tunes that opens this post, Buddy & Cookie, apparently never was produced; the main characters are more grownup and thus much better suited to precede a Warner Brothers or First National flick starring Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak or Aline MacMahon!



Earl Duvall's primary claim to fame in Warner Brothers Animation history is from directing Honeymoon Hotel, the first color Merrie Melodie. This has some genuine charm not seen frequently between the ever-bouncy Rudy Ising Merrie Melodies from the early 1930's and those cinematic gems Frank Tashlin contributed later in the decade such as Speaking Of The Weather, Have You Got Any Castles? and You're An Education.



Duvall's tenure at Schlesinger's was short-lived. He got into a drunken argument with the boss and was fired. Animator Jack King ultimately took over the Buddy series, after Freleng and Ben "Bugs" Hardaway directed a few Looney Tunes, ranging from pretty darn good (Buddy The Gob) to horrible (Buddy Of The Apes).



The now all-in-color Merrie Melodies, helmed by former Harman and Ising head animator/director and 1920's Disney animator Friz Freleng, continue doing what all the other studios were attempting: to keep up with Disney's Silly Symphonies.



This inevitably proved to be a losing proposition, as Walt constantly was pushing for bigger budgets, better storylines and superior draftsmanship in every cartoon release.



Although the shift from B&W to glorious Technicolor was a tremendous advantage and inspiration for the artists at Disney, what it did to the other studios, compelling all to make their own version of Silly Symphonies was navigate Cartoonland away from the unfettered, uninhibited pre-Code antics and into a serious rut.



The mid-1930's glut of faux Silly Symphonies cartoons was only relieved by the Fleischer Studio's not at all Disney-like Popeye series - and yet they, too, not wanting to be left out of an industry-wide trend, got into the Silly Symphonies act with the Color Classics series.



The new color Merrie Melodies were less peppy, funny, musical and imaginative than the earlier cartoons cranked out for Vitaphone/Warner Brothers release by former producers Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising just a few years earlier.



Visually and in content, these Merrie Melodies are closest to the Walter Lantz Studio's 1934 Cartune Classics (Jolly Little Elves) and 2-color Oswald The Lucky Rabbit cartoons (The Toy Shoppe and Toyland Premiere).




The 1934-1935 Merrie Melodies are also notable for both being the first WB cartoon series to permanently switch from "So Long Folks" to "That's All Folks" at the end, but also have the immortal sign-off delivered by a character never actually seen starring in any of the cartoons. Let's just call him "the creepy jester." Who knows why Friz didn't make a cartoon about how this guy never got a laugh, EVER. . . a jester who was about as funny as a colonoscopy without anesthesia.



Several of these Merrie Melodies are most agreeable viewing and all feature Freleng's genius in the staging of action, but they remain infinitely less provocative and forceful than the studio's brash, rat-a-tat-tat feature films, starring the likes of Jimmy Cagney, Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Warren William, Joan Blondell, etc.





It was not until such 1935 entries as Into Your Dance, Along Flirtation Walk and Little Dutch Plate that Freleng began to incorporate elements of what would be the Warner Brothers cartoon style humor into the proceedings. A trade ad for Merrie Melodies featured the characters from the funniest and most memorable Friz Freleng cartoon from that season, I Haven't Got A Hat, starring new characters soon to be cast in the Looney Tunes series.



Led by the stuttering Porky Pig, voiced at first by stuttering actor Joe Daugherty, the new Looney Tunes stars awarded Buddy a one-way ticket to the Cartoon Character Retirement Home.



The same year, producer Leon Schlesinger hired former Walter Lantz Studio animator Tex Avery to head a new production unit, soon to be known as "Termite Terrace."



The "Termite Terrace" boys in the summer of 1935: (from left) Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett







The Merrie Melodies stayed resolutely in the "let's do something sort of like a Silly Symphony" format as the 1930's wore on, but the B&W Looney Tunes, led by the Avery's "no - let's make funny cartoons" credo, pioneered a new, uninhibited and hilarious cartoon humor and provided a viable alternative.



Tex Avery, soon joined at WB by Van Beuren and Iwerks studio animator and comics artist Frank Tashlin, as Fleischer Popeye cartoons did, proved it was indeed possible to produce animation totally unlike Disney's that resonated with movie audiences.



The revamped Looney Tunes of the latter 1930's, thanks to Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, Carl W. Stalling and many more blazing talents, would be among the most enduringly loved animated cartoons. Our heartfelt and unending thanks go to sound effects wizard Treg Brown for auditioning Mel Blanc, who had previously been turned away approximately 1000 times by Stalling's predecessor as music director, Norman Spencer!



Also located in sunny California, the studio of former Walt Disney Studios ace animator, the fastest pencil in the West and the guy who practically animated Mickey Mouse in Plane Crazy by himself, the legendary Ub Iwerks (1901-1971).



Iwerks started as Walt Disney's friend and collaborator from their earliest professional days as commercial artists in Kansas City, and proved a key creative impetus and right-hand man driving the Alice in Cartoonland, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies series. Ub's daughter Leslie has produced a documentary, The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story, about his life and career.



First, the Ub Iwerks Studio produced the Flip The Frog series for release by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1930-1933.



Without a doubt, MGM's expectation was that they acquired the "Disney magic" by hiring the studio's top animator, although it soon became clear that Ub preferred a much randier - and not particularly "cute" - approach to the making of animated cartoons than Walt favored (at least after the early Mickeys and Silly Symphonies in 1928-1929).



After the Flip The Frog series ended, the Iwerks studio produced a series for MGM distribution starring a tell-tale tellin' Baron Munchausen kid named Willie Whopper. There was one season of Willie's wild adventures, many featuring the excellent work of Grim Natwick, the animator of Betty Boop for the Fleischer Talkartoons series.



As is also the case with the films of Charley Bowers, the wilder the tall tales, the better the film and some of the most imaginative cartoons produced by the Ub Iwerks Studio are from this series.



Again, these cartoons were not interested in "cuteness" in any way, shape or form - and this may have sunk the Willie Whoppers with movie audiences that wanted something cuddly and adorable.



Thankfully for classic movie buffs, Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean Animation have been among those who, as this blogger does, loves these cartoons and has been very painstakingly restoring the Ub Iwerks films; enjoyed the 2015 Willie Whopper DVD/Blu-ray release.



Concurrent with the one season of Willie Whopper adventures, the Ub Iwerks Studio also produced the ComiColor cartoons (1933-1936).



Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executives were not at all pleased with the adult pre-Code humor that filled the Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper cartoons and turned down the ComiColor series; MGM would soon contract with the studio led by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising to start a new series, the Happy Harmonies.



None of the other major studios offered to distribute the ComiColor cartoons, so P.A. Powers' Celebrity Productions marketed the series using the state’s rights system of selling to regional distributors. This meant these cartoons could not get into anywhere near as many movie theaters as those distributed by a major studio such as MGM.



Until the next group of Ub Iwerks Studio restorations are available for viewing on Blu-ray, here's the Kino Video compendium of the studio's animation from 1930-1936. The cartoons range from brilliant and visually striking to pedestrian. While characterization was not the Iwerks studio's strong suit, the consistently excellent draftsmanship and exceptionally rubbery "rubber-hose" character animation by Grim Natwick, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, Berny Wolf and others, plus the imaginative layout/color/background designs carry these cartoons and frequently make them quite memorable.



Alas, due to this series never attracting a national distributor or linking with one of the major studios, Celebrity Productions went belly up and the ComiColor series ended.



Subsequently, the Ub Iwerks Studio contracted with Columbia Pictures to produce 15 Color Rhapsody cartoons (1936-1940, with the vividly psychedelic The Horse On The Merry-Go-Round a standout), made four black and white Looney Tunes which also employed Leon Schlesinger studio animators, and three Gran' Pop Monkey cartoons by Cartoon Films, Ltd.

Always tinkering in his shop and testing new inventions, Ub got out of producing cartoons and returned to Disney in 1940 to devise and develop the next wave of innovative special effects technologies.



Not terribly far geographically from where Disney produced incredibly popular, critically acclaimed cartoons and Leon Schlesinger's Studio cranked out Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies was the Charles Mintz Studio, which produced cartoons for Columbia release before and after Walt Disney stopped releasing his Mickey Mouse series through Columbia.



The former New York based animators at Mintz had a much darker sensibility and penchant for gallows humor - sometimes, even darker than Fleischer - in their work than their animation industry counterparts, never, try as they might, quite getting the sunny California ethos.



After working on the Koko The Clown and Inkwell Imps series for Max & Dave Fleischer and before getting an offer he could not refuse to join the Walt Disney Studio, Charles Mintz Studio director and animator Dick Huemor created a character that exemplifies "cartoons nobody loved". . . the most frequently and enthusiastically maligned of the Golden Age characters, Scrappy!



Been writing about the Charles Mintz Studio cartoons starring the not beloved Scrappy and his goofball brother Oopy (a.k.a. Vontzy) for way too many years now. It would appear that none of those who actually worked on the Scrappy series for Mintz liked them, but, bear in mind, Dick Huemor actually did work on Fantasia and Art Davis both animated and directed Bugs Bunny cartoons.



Still find many Scrappy cartoons, especially those produced in 1931-1933 and directed/animated by Dick Huemor both subversive and hilarious - yes, even though Mintz/Screen Gems cartoons have been noted as the worst ever made so many times by so many animation historians as to make one feel guilty and wrong for liking them. What such cartoons as The Chinatown Mystery, Fare Play and The Beer Parade aren't is cute, cuddly, heartwarming and adorable. Note: one way to achieve full immersion in Scrappyland is to check out this YouTube playlist.




For the last word on Scrappy cartoons, check out the Scrappyland site by journalist and vintage animation expert Harry McCracken.



The same crew that produced the Scrappy cartoons for the Charles Mintz Studio, the highly imaginative Dick Huemor, Sid Marcus and Art Davis, also made the Toby The Pup series for RKO Radio Pictures release.



The Toby The Pup cartoons, less gritty in design and sensibility than the Scrappy series, and in some sequences resembling Ben Harrison and Manny Gould's Krazy Kat, were so unloved that several in the 12-entry series remain lost!



One urban legend goes that producer Charles Mintz was so incensed by the failure of the Toby cartoons to score a boffo Mickey Mouse style mega-hit for RKO Radio Pictures in 1930-1931 that he had all the original 35mm negatives and prints buried!



The latest on this series, unseen since 1931, is that Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films has found heretofore lost Toby cartoons with French titles.



Still, seven of the 12 Toby cartoons remain in the lost film Twilight Zone.



And then there was, only slightly less phantasmagorical then Scrappyland, the stellar work of independent producer Ted Eshbaugh, whose surreal little corner of the cartoon universe is a fascinating place.



Ted Eshbaugh, as Iwerks did, actually produced cartoons in color before Disney bought exclusive cartoon producer use of the 3-strip Technicolor process in 1932.



Ted Eshbaugh produced his take on The Wizard Of Oz a few years before Metro-Goldwyn Mayer produced their famous big budget take on Frank L. Baum's stories.



Not surprisingly, after his likable 1933 color cartoon version of The Wizard Of Oz, Ted Eshbaugh would go on to produce the best entries in RKO's Rainbow Parade series.



The person who wrote/researched the Wikipedia entry on Ted Eshbaugh claims that his studio's first film produced in color was actually made for Van Beuren and release by RKO Radio Pictures. Since all surviving prints are in 16mm B&W, with Official Films opening and closing titles, this writer is uncertain that the claim is correct; if a pristine original 35mm nitrate print has been sitting in the back of a cave for 89 years, that will tell the tale. That said, Eshbaugh's Goofy Goat Antics is, like the Scrappy cartoons made at the same time, a wonderfully weird and inventive piece of work.



Meanwhile, back in New York, not far from the Fleischer Studio, the Van Beuren studio was making extremely goofy and hilariously primitive animated cartoons.



The humor in Van Beuren cartoons is a great deal more uninhibited than the comedy in Terrytoons, where much of the studio's staff had worked previously.



The Van Beuren cartoons are arguably closer to the Fleischer sensibility.





The Van Beuren studio's Aesop's Fables, Tom & Jerry, Sentinel Louey and Little King series, while exemplifying that New York style of animation in the early sound era, are substantially goofier than both Terry and Fleischer.



Paul Terry's Terrytoons, because of the Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle series, got a little love from baby boomers due to Saturday morning TV and syndication.



Van Beuren's "Don & Waffles" and "Tom & Jerry," after exposure via late 1940's and 1950's television, made their way into the hearts of animation buffs and film collectors due to Official Films 16mm prints.



The 1933-1934 Sentinel Louey, Little King and Cubby Bear series, many directed and/or animated by king of extremely cartoony motion design Jim Tyer, if anything, increase the weirdness factor!



The Van Beuren cartoon studio, New York based producers of the low-budget but funny and saucy series, wanting to compete with the Disney juggernaut, went as far as to hire the guy who directed Three Little Pigs, Burt Gillett.



This was to little avail, as Burt didn't bring his partners in Mickey Mouse cartoons and Silly Symphonies, directors Wilfred Jackson and David Hand, or for that matter, All-Star animators Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson, Bill Tytla and Ham Luske - and most of all, he couldn't also bring the always driven Walt.



Many of the Van Beuren Studios staffers returned to Terrytoons either after the arrival of Burt Gillett in 1934 or the studio's closure in 1936. The exceptionally goofy and especially the off-color humor seen in Tom & Jerry and The Little King did not follow the Van Beuren gagmen into the Rainbow Parade series or back to Terrytoons. A more slapsticky kind of comedy made its way to Terrytoons more than a decade later, when the Heckle & Jeckle series began in 1946, but in a more formulaic approach than seen in the off-the-wall cartoons from early 1930's Van Beuren.

Again, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog extend a tip of the Max Linder top hat to Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean Animation for restoring these classic cartoons.



Look forward to seeing more DVDs and Blu-rays of restored Ub Iwerks ComiColor cartoons and Van Beuren cartoons in 2020!



An additional hat tip goes to Devon Baxter, who, as Steve has, provided lots of great work for the Cartoon Research website. The profile of Jack King, Looney Tunes director, came from his Baxter's Breakdowns columns and links in this post originated with Devon's Daily Motion channel. Meanwhile, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog suggest the following for 2020. . .