Sunday, June 12, 2016
Sunday Monkeyshines a.k.a. That Darn Chuck Darwin Was Right!
Totally stuck for a topic today, we'll go with monkeys (and Monkees) in the movies.
First and probably not foremost, there were the Snooky The Humanzee chimp comedies, noted in Steve Massa's Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy and a Trav S.D. post on Travalanche. Snooky wasn't the first ape headliner in movies - among many, there were Napoleon & Sally and Mr. & Mrs. Martin - but he was a hit. Chimp comedies were so big with moviegoers that there actually was a feature film titled Darwin Was Right, starring a simian trio.
The king of these monkeyshines was C.G. Chester's wildly popular Snooky The Humanzee series, which would be in demand through the 1920's, get reissued with music tracks well into the sound era, then sold to the home movie market via Castle Films and other 16mm purveyors.
To this we attribute the fact that, while Laurel & Hardy in Hats Off, horror guru Todd Browning's London After Midnight and F.W. Murnau's 4 Devils are still missing, lots of Snooky The Humanzee extravaganzas survive. As fate would have it, Huntley Film Archives has posted a slew of the chimp's adventures on YouTube.
Admittedly, Snooky's not exactly Chaplin or Keaton - or even Al Joy - in the comedy talent department, but there is something rather perversely funny about the simian's anti-social antics. The humor derives from the fact that Snooky is a bastard. No doubt the director of The Night Of The Bloody Apes grew up on this series.
In animation, of course, Walt Disney Productions, always on the cutting edge, preceded stop-motion genius Willis O'Brien's King Kong in riding the monkey bandwagon with this Silly Symphony.
Terrytoons in New Rochelle simply had to counter with a simian-filled epic, which looks pretty much indistinguishable from a 1927 Farmer Al Falfa cartoon, sans 15,000 Mickey Rats.
Then there's the Les Elton cartoon Monkey Doodle, starring Simon The Monk. Whatever Elton's independently produced cartoons lack in virtuoso drawing technique, they more than compensate for with imagination and originality. The animation of the dog in this cartoon reflects a certain oddball genius.
Also responsible for series starring monkeys: Paul Fennell's Cartoon Films Ltd., the modest but prolific Walter Lantz studio and the budget-busting former Disney animators Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, the 1920's Disney cohorts turned independent producers (for Warner Brothers, then MGM).
While the monkey stars of the Gran' Pop series by Cartoon Films Ltd. and Walter Lantz' Meany, Miny and Moe have the collective personality of a bologna sandwich, their cartoons are pleasantly enjoyable, if no great shakes (of a monkey's tail).
More interesting are Hugh Harman's Gothic and weirdly imaginative mini-series featuring the callow, innocent and obnoxiously moralistic "See No Evil See No Evil See No Evil" monkeys, who also possess the collective personality and charm of a liverwurst sandwich on pumpernickel bread.
In their silver screen debut, the "goodie goodie monkeys", whose motto is "not a single wild oat will we sew," co-star with none other than Satan, hot off an appearance with Krazy Kat in The Hot-cha Melody.
Good Little Monkeys is actually pretty darn entertaining and harkens back to such freewheeling Harman and Ising WB cartoons as I Like Mountain Music and Three's A Crowd.
The 1938 "goodie goodie monkeys" opus Pipe Dreams definitely anticipates the hippie era by almost three decades, especially the scene with the simian trio taking hits off a pipe like Dennis Hopper thirty years later.
Any letters between MGM brass to Harman demanding an explanation for this cartoon must be hilarious - and we all know darn well that Harman ignored them!
After the quixotic adventures in Pipe Dreams, the "See No Evil See No Evil See No Evil" monkeys would return for the 1939 spectacular Art Gallery, then be retired ignominiously.
Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog loves Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe - only every movie they ever made. Except for Marilyn, they get totally upstaged by a chimp in Howard Hawks' zany 1952 film Monkey Business. No doubt during production Cary had more than a few witticisms he uttered to friends regarding playing second fiddle to an ape.
One of this pop culture vulture's all-time favorites on TV was Nat Hiken's hilarious You'll Never Get Rich show a.k.a. Sgt. Bilko. The smart money is that the chimp in the following clip took direction far better than Joe E. Ross and Maurice Gosfeld.
Not exactly anyone's all-time TV favorite - other than the actors, writers and production crew that worked on the series and got regular paychecks - The Hathaways, starring Jack Weston, Peggy Cass and a bunch of chimps.
And speaking of the hippie era again. . . well, straight from The Wide World Of WTF, here's a musical number from Lancelot Link Secret Chimp. The show is funny, although we suspect that creators Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng took the 5th Amendment when asked about it. Frankly, it troubles this amateur musician that the chimps play the electric guitar than he ever did!
Hanna-Barbera's Banana Splits were to the Lancelot Link psychedelic band what The Turtles were to Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators.
The extremely funny punk rock band The Dickies made a career of playing cartoon theme songs enthusiastically and very very fast.
1960's popsters The Monkees were inspired by both The Beatles and the Marx Brothers and their very enjoyable TV show still holds up quite well (surprise surprise surprise, the surviving Monkees still sing and play most adeptly in 2016 and have a new album out). Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has a soft spot for their feature film Head, especially the scene in which the Prefab Four are dandruff in Victor Mature's scalp.
Here they are in January 1967, then in a 1969 TV special co-starring Brian Auger & The Trinity. The latter in particular is a fitting showcase for Messrs. Jones, Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith.
The Goose Gossage style closer today will be a "monkeys in space" sketch from The Ernie Kovacs Show. Would happily follow it up with a "Pigs In Space" segment from The Muppet Show but it doesn't quite fit today's theme.