Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wide World Of Crap-tastic Cartoons, Part 1 - Made For TV



Your Blogmeister freely admits it - he likes terrible cartoons. No, make that horrid cartoons that were (shudder) MADE FOR TELEVISION!



Today's post will commence the "how low can you go" exercise with a cartoon that satisfies the prime "ineptly made" and "nonexistent storyline" requirements, Robert Capeheart's The Magic Of Oz.



Daring to ask yet further just what elements make a crap-tastic TV-toon, author/film historian Jerry Beck and Frank Conniff (from MST3K and Cinematic Titanic) devoted an entire show, Cartoon Dump, to skewering both cartoons of the ilk of The Magic Of Oz - so bad it doesn't even have an imdb entry - and such well-meaning but dreadful children's shows as The New Zoo Review.



We'll serve up some Cartoon Dump clips at the end of this posting, after presenting just a few of the show's odiferous headliners, starting with The Big World Of Little Adam and Spunky & Tadpole by Beverly Hills Productions.





To make a crap-tastic cartoon, what Frank Zappa termed "cheepnis" is not enough! After all, in the late 1940's, Jay Ward and Alex Anderson figured out how to make entertaining cartoons on no budget; write exceptionally funny scripts, closer to a Bob & Ray radio show than to Mickey Mouse - and spend the budget on damn funny voice actors. Voila - Jay Ward Productions' witty Crusader Rabbit and (later) Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle series.



Frankly, other criteria must be met for inclusion in the cinematic dung heap. Animation? Nonexistent. Music? Canned, cheesy or preferably both. Character designs? Ugggg-leeeee! Storylines? Don't make me laugh!



The sum total of all these elements must add up to something both head-shakingly awful and unintentionally humorous.



Scoring a Grand Slam with two outs in the 9th and a 3-0 deficit in all of these departments, and only ever-so-slightly less stunningly inept than The Magic Of Oz, would be the cartoons by bargain basement Sam Singer Productions.



On a minimal budget and auto pilot, Sam Singer Productions created the always execrable Bucky & Pepito and ever-excruciating Pow Wow The Indian Boy.





My personal "worst ever" candidate would be TransLux Productions' The Mighty Hercules.



Even though there are, amazingly, cheaper TV cartoon shows than this - and, no kidding, talented veteran New York animators were hired to provide the occasional full animation moments that are interspersed between the hours of limited animation on this and other Trans-Lux productions - unquestionably there's something horribly wrong with the series as a whole.

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Nothing compares in sheer WTF factor to these Hercules cartoons, which still manage to compel otherwise responsible, upstanding adults to imitate the astonishingly irritating Newton The Centaur ("Helena wants to jump your bones Herc. . . Helena wants to jump your bones Herc") out of sheer spite for the annoying little bastard.



Making the worst, most artistically indefensible Hanna-Barbera or Trans-Lux made-for-TV toons look like Fantasia by comparison would be those series produced using the patented Syncho-Vox technique, which involved superimposing live-action human lips on the squared jawed ultra-macho cartoon characters.



In other words, Syncho-Vox = action/adventures without action and a way of delivering as little bang for the buck as possible but lots and lots of programming for minimal cost. Nonetheless, one must wonder if Gene Roddenberry ripped off any ideas for the first Star Trek series from "another exciting episode of Space Angel".



Here is the Syncho-Vox Valhalla - the advertising film for a prospective series based on the Moon Mullins comic strip!



The Cartoon Dump extravaganzas at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood presented a veritable Dishonor Roll of made-for-TV monstrosities.







Funny, every one of these animated abominations in today's post entertained this blogger, for whom approximately 99.3512% of all sitcoms produced since the second Bob Newhart Show constitute a rare form of torture. Such low art on a lower budget as Bucky & Pepito seems like high art compared to the 21st century market-researched drivel from broadcast TV and such cable sources of agony as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cruel And Unusual Comedy At MoMA



Starting tomorrow night, the NY Museum Of Modern Art will be trotting out its genuine film prints of silent comedy rarities, acquired in the 1970s and 1980s by former curator Eileen Bowser, for its series Lame Brains And Lunatics: Cruel And Unusual Comedy, Part 4.



Associate Curator Ron Magliozzi, historian Steve Massa, author of Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad, And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy and historian/accompanist Ben Model have joined forces on this latest series.



There will be lots of films from the usual silent comedy suspects - Hal Roach, Sennett, L-Ko, Fox, Vitagraph and Educational.





Headliners run the gamut from Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle to satirist/actor Will Rogers to Ziegfeld Follies star Bert Williams to the inimitable Edward Everett Horton to mucho malevolent Henry Lehrman L-Ko Comedies scoundrel-star Billie Ritchie (the man who put the "low" in "lowbrow") to such lesser-known but screwy comedians as Hank Mann, Larry Semon and Marcel "Tweedy" Perez.



MoMA presents Cruel & Unusual Comedy
Program 1: Love Sick: Mating Rituals
Program 2: Movie Mania: Fun In The Dark
Program 3: Food Fights: Chaos รก La Carte
Program 4: Police Brutality: Wrong Arm Of The Law
Program 5: Leisure Time: Recreational Hazards



For showtimes and further info, check out the Museum Of Modern Art website.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Classic Movie Fans: Buy These Books, Too!



Available now: Steve Rydzewski's highly entertaining book on the dashing, the suave, the debonair, the leading man of leading men. . . Ben Turpin!



Turpin was one of the funniest guys in the history of movies and still makes us laugh more than 100 years after his 1909 screen debut as the cross-eyed cad in Mr. Flip.



Also out now: the awaited tome by film historian and Slapsticon curator/programmer Richard M. Roberts on the Hal Roach studio, Smileage Guaranteed: Past Humor, Present Laughter, his first in a series of books. It's very welcome - Roberts has penned excellent comedy film history articles for Classic Images and other publications for many years.



More fantastic film history books will be out later this year. Available for pre-order and officially out in stores on December 16, Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life by Australian author Michelle Vogel, known for, among many biographies, her book on another great actress-singer-comedienne, Lupe Velez. Since the iconic Marilyn was, in this blogger's opinion, also among the greatest of silver screen comediennes and an under-rated actress, this will finally give her onscreen legacy the respect it deserves.



Officially out in just a few days, on September 16: The Charley Chase Talkies by James L. Neibaur.



Both in front of and behind the cameras, Mr. Chase (A.K.A. Charles Parrott), remains one of the all-time comedy kings. Since Chase's death at 46 in 1940 literally denied the producer/director/writer/comedian the credit he was due for decades, so this study of his starring vehicles in talkies by diehard classic comedy buff, film historian and prolific author Jim Neibaur is long overdue.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Lobby Cards From Ancient Comedy Films



The writer of this blog needs to get his mind off depressing world events at least for a moment - and what better way then to reflect upon the greatness of classic comedy films!

















Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Slow Burn Challenge



Comedian-actor-writer-director Edgar Kennedy, ubiquitous presence in classic films and unequalled Jedi Master Of The Slow Burn, is a favorite of this blog, so we're pleased to learn that Minneapolis film historian and curator Ron Hall has spearheaded The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project.



The restoration project, A.K.A. The Slow Burn Challenge, aims to find, restore and release all 103 of Edgar's classic RKO comedy shorts in a new series called The Edgar Kennedy Show, duly noted on the Cafe Roxy and Matinee At The Bijou websites. The project also has a Facebook page.



Having made his screen debut in 1911, the same year as Nestor's popular team of Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran, Kennedy numbers among the very first American screen comedians, following Ben Turpin, Augustus "Alkali Ike" Carney and Roscoe Arbuckle.



His career with Mack Sennett's Fun Factory goes back almost as far as that of Fred Mace, Madcap Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, the very first Keystone players.



Edgar, as does hard-working stock company actors St. John and Joe Bordeaux, seems to turn up in every single Keystone comedy in 1914. And, as Sennett veterans St. John, Hank Mann and Polly Moran did, Edgar also worked in Fox Sunshine comedies.



After busy stints with L-Ko, Fox and Universal, Kennedy found his comedy mojo in a big way, both as actor and director, at the Hal Roach Studios, starting at the end of 1927.



He worked with Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase and Max Davidson in a good many of the greatest comedy films ever made.



Mr. Kennedy, of course, not only made a smooth transition from silents to talkies, but would offer his inimitable slow burning presence to films involving everyone from Wheeler & Woolsey and The Marx Brothers to Dick Powell.



It would be quite the understatement to say that Edgar made frequent guest appearances as character actor, comedian and all-purpose nemesis in feature films.



Some of Edgar's best roles in features were near the end of his career, in the films of comedy writer-director-playwright-wunderkind Preston Sturges. In The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock, Edgar's the bartender who serves milquetoast Diddlebock (played by offscreen non-milquetoast Harold Lloyd) his first highball. It's a drink that would make W.C. Fields, John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Buster Keaton AND Lloyd Hamilton stop in their wobbly tracks.



Edgar has also one of the most important scenes in Sturges' masterpiece, the very under-rated Unfaithfully Yours, as a classical music maven: enters at 1:50.



The very busy Edgar, in addition to doing a gazillion guest shots in silent and sound features, also headlined the "Mr. Average Man" series, 103 comedy shorts produced by RKO Radio Pictures from 1931 to 1948. It's an expertly written and performed prototype for the TV sitcom, with Edgar inexorably and invariably driven to the "slow burn" by his loony family.



At first, the "Mr. Average Man" comedies were written and directed first by series creator Harry Sweet, then subsequently by George Stevens and a number of other directors, including Hal Yates in the 1940's.









Does Mr. Blogmeister have a personal favorite Edgar appearance, besides the "Handle Handel" bit from Unfaithfully Yours? Yes - and that would be this fantastic production number, "Let That Be A Lesson To You", from the comedian-packed WB musical Hollywood Hotel. Watch the whole clip and see Dick Powell and Ted Healy (in his last screen appearance) mimic "the slow burn" - enjoy!



Classic film buffs: take the Slow Burn Challenge!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Mark Kausler's Latest Cartoon Premieres At The L.A. Shorts Festival



Friends, Romans, countrymen, animation buffs and Los Angel-inos, leave work early on Monday to see the premiere of Mark Kausler's new cartoon Some Other Cat.



Some Other Cat will be in Monday afternoon's all-animation program at the L.A. Shorts Festival in North Hollywood and shall mark the second appearance by the jaunty feline star of It's A Cat, Mark's 2004 cartoon.



Nobody is more knowledgeable about animation than Mark and Greg, nobody, not even the lifelong cartoonologist and Michael Maltese worshiper who writes this blog.



The L.A. Shorts Festival holds forth at the Laemmle Theatre, Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601: phone 310-478-3836. Don't miss it!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Happy Labor Day From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog



To commemorate Labor Day, we ask what's the last word on work songs? The answer: this bit from Blazing Saddles: screenplay and story by Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.