Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wide World Of Crap-tastic Cartoons, Part 3: Theatricals Gone Wrong - Terribly Wrong

If there's one this blogger likes more than 1940's B-studio cartoons it's WEIRD AND BIZARRE 1940's B-Studio cartoons.

Like this one.

And this one. . .

And this one. . .

Here's a video aptly illustrating a response that ONLY Your Blogmeister has to Columbia cartoons, the most loathed animated antics in silver screen history - yes, even more than the Fleischer Studio's wretched Animated Antics series.

Since even animation historians would gleefully volunteer to transfer Columbia Color Rhapsodies and Phantasies TO nitrate film, Your Blogmeister may be the only person on the face of the earth, including the guys who actually who made these cartoons, to respond to them as the individuals in the following Monty Python's Flying Circus clip do.

Described by animation historian Jerry Beck as "the little studio that couldn't", the ragtag outfits of Charles Mintz and Screen Gems produced cartoons for Columbia release from 1929 to 1946.

The Screen Gems studio enjoyed a brief blaze of glory under renegade producer/director/storyman Frank Tashlin, after he literally hired dozens of skilled animators off the picket line in front of the Disney Studio.

Alas, like any love affair, THAT one didn't last long. After the abrupt departures of Tashlin and such young ex-Disney animators as John Hubley, Zack Schwartz and Dave Hilberman, the Screen Gems studio's product got cheaper - and, in some cases, exponentially weirder, especially in the studio's last year. The Fox & Crow series continued through the 1940's while the Color Rhapsodies and Columbia Phantasies went further and further off the rails.

There are, however, such isolated films as The Herring Murder Mystery, director/writer Dun Roman's sendup of the hit radio show Information Please, in which the trademark Columbia bizarreness works quite well. There's an original style of cartooning here that's quite different from both the Tex Avery/WB/MGM approach and The Disney Way. Too bad Mr. Roman, years later among the staff members who ran the Val-Mar Studio in Mexico for Jay Ward Productions, did not get the opportunity to head his own production unit at Screen Gems and stick around awhile. Unfortunately, the door was ever-revolving at Screen Gems.

Sometimes even good directors for some reason turned out terrible cartoons there, as if possessed by "bad cartoon" demons or thunderstruck by some sort of George Romero style soul-sucking zombieism in the middle of a storyboard session.

Case in point: this late period Screen Gems opus Pickled Puss. This was directed by Alex Lovy, later a mainstay at Hanna-Barbera Productions and responsible for directing some decent early Woody Woodpecker cartoons in 1941-1943. Is it possible to write a story starring a drunk-off-his-butt feline and, unlike Otto Messmer's Felix Woos Whoopee, a dozen other cartoons along similar lines or any sketch featuring Foster Brooks on The Dean Martin Show, do absolutely nothing with the premise and have NO GAGS? NONE? Unfortunately, the answer is . . . yes, although the cartoon remains Good Weird Fun nonetheless.

The following Incredibly Strange Cartoons all date from the very end of the Screen Gems studio's existence. Some are so off-the-wall, one wonders if marijuana and LSD were dispensed in storyboard meetings. WARNING: this one is in bad taste, very bad taste. In other words, if easily offended, please, grab a cup of coffee or go watch The Sound Of Music!

Several 1945-1946 Columbia cartoons featured ultra-wacky stories by gagman Cal Howard and/or were written and directed by Sid Marcus as if he was swilling generously from a fifth of single malt Scotch at all times. Here's one starring "Flippy", the rather brazen Screen Gems ripoff of Tweety Bird (and especially the Friz Freleng version of the WB cartoon star).

There is, if one can set aside the largely accurate "this isn't anywhere near as good as even a 1946 clunker from Warner Brothers" observation for a moment, the strangest inspiration, as well as genuinely imaginative moments, can be found in every one of these Screen Gems Studio train wrecks. And, no, dear readers, Mr. Blogmeister is not on drugs except prescription medications for diabetics.

During the studio's dying days, Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett had a cup of coffee there between stints with Warners and his own studio. The result: Incredibly Strange Cartoons!

At one point, Clampett and Sid Marcus were in the same crew. It was simply not meant for two such idiosyncratic, eccentric and happily subversive gag minds to work together. In fact, it's amazing Marcus stuck around beyond Day One. Yes, these cartoons are weird, all right - and how!

Many of the oddest and most delirious Screen Gems cartoons were written by Cal Howard, yet another legendary character (noted for possessing a wild sense of humor) who worked in many studios and places in animation.

Granted, next to the very best work of Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin and Chuck Jones, they can be found wanting, but by comparison to the auto-pilot stuff from Disney, the godawful late 1940's - early 1950's crap from Famous Studios and the astonishingly artless assembly-line drek of the latter 1960's and 1970's, well, they just don't look all that terrible to this cartoonologist.

That said, the only parting bon mot Monsieur Blogmeister can come up with is "whatever that guy at the Screen Gems Studio's drinkin', give me a shot and a chaser."


Yowp said...

A shame you are unable to post the nadir of travelogue parodies, Columbia's "Tangled Travels."

Don J. Long said...

Way too cool, Paul! I have really enjoyed your assessment of an assortment of kiddie matinee favorites of the 1940s and 1950s not made by Disney, MGM, Paramount-Fleischer, or WB.

Paul F. Etcheverry said...

Couldn't find Tangled Travels or many other Columbia cartoons that were once posted online on YouTube or Daily Motion. The point of this post was that I actually like most of these cartoons and neither accept nor agree with the conventional wisdom about them. The only one in this post I think is terrible is Pickled Puss. Wanted to post The Fox & Crow in The Dream Kids! I do find the Columbia Lil' Abner cartoons unwatchable.