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Friday, May 28, 2021

Celebrating Memorial Day Weekend 2021

While Memorial Day can be a somber occasion, paying tribute to those who lost their lives at the front, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog shall go the non-somber route and spotlight vintage film humor with a Memorial Day theme.

We remember and honor those who, whether parachuting into the most remote terrain, working as military medics and EMTs in far-flung lands, hitting the beaches at Normandy or fighting for civil rights on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge or in Neshoba County, Mississippi, gave their lives in the service of this country.

Beginning the selection of vintage film humor for Memorial Day Weekend will be World War II themed cartoons.

Many WW2 toons can be found on the Thunderbean More Cartoons For Victory DVD and Private Snafu Golden Classics Blu-ray.

Another slew of them are on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection volume 6 DVD set.

Terrytoons cranked out many "V For Victory" WW2 cartoons. One, part of a short-lived series starring Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip characters Nancy and Sluggo, zeroed in on fundraising for the USO.

There was also a series of WW2 cartoons featuring Terrytoons regulars Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, most notably Scrap For Victory, a scrap metal drive opus in which our heroes briefly appear towards the end.

Military-themed cartoons starring Gandy Goose and Sourpuss invariably include the line from Sourpuss, "what are you trying to do, kill me?" and Gandy's inevitable propensity for somnambulism and dreams.

Some Terrytoons begin with Gandy and Sourpuss in uniform, but abandon the gritty wartime reality to go off on tangents involving dreamscapes and dancing ghosts - and stay there.

The comedy team of Abbott & Costello cornered the market on military-themed comedies with Buck Privates, In The Navy, Keep 'Em Flying and Buck Privates Come Home, all of which made big buck$$$$$$$$ for Universal.

Our favorite of these is In The Navy, due to the presence of Shemp Howard, an ace comedy supporting player when not enduring frequent and enthusiastic eye pokes from his brother Moe in The Three Stooges.

As a response by 20th Century Fox to the runaway box-office success of Buck Privates, the Laurel and Hardy vehicle Great Guns, released theatrically on October 10, 1941, stars The Boys as the oldest guys ever to join the army. The team's 1940's films have their moments and by no means are bereft of laughs, but none number among their better starring vehicles.

Great Guns, which could be considered the runner-up to Jitterbugs as the funniest of the L&H Fox features, was directed by Monty Banks, former silent film comedy headliner. Perhaps Monty's A.D. should have handled direction and Banks joined the cast as an annoying pipsqueak foil to Laurel & Hardy.

One of the earliest Laurel & Hardy films, With Love And Hisses (1927), is a military comedy featuring Stan as dimwitted recruit Cuthbert Hope and Babe as his ever-exasperated sergeant. The duo had not established their characters and the relationship between them at this point in their career, so the goofball Laurel plays in With Love And Hisses is not Stanley from the Laurel & Hardy pictures but closer to the more aggressive, weird, wacky and unpredictable character seen in Stan's solo films.

And on the topic of movie comedy teams, Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey star in Half Shot At Sunrise (1930) as frequently AWOL World War I soldiers in Paris. Wheeler & Woolsey's prime directive is, you guessed it, chasing women! Dorothy Lee and Leni Stengel add much to the proceedings as the team's winsome and funny co-stars. In another example of his very good but lesser-known work behind the camera, Roscoe Arbuckle wrote gags and acted as an assistant director, much to the delight of Bert & Bob.

In Boobs In Arms (1940), The Three Stooges "soytenly" take the cake as . . . inept greeting card salesmen who become the worst soldiers ever.

A fitting question for Memorial Day is what's the greatest comedy film with the temerity to take on the abject horror that was World War I. Since the Century Comedy with the one, the only Alice Howell pursued by German spies for her sauerkraut recipe, The Cabbage Queen, remains a lost film, Charlie Chaplin's classic Shoulder Arms would be the choice.

Believe it or not, there were Looney Tunes cartoons set in World War I. Always liked this one, Boom Boom (1936), directed by Jack King and co-starring Beans, the character that succeeded Buddy as Looney Tunes' Mr. Excitement, with the early pre-Mel Blanc version of Porky Pig, voiced by Joe Daugherty (who stuttered in real life as well as reel life).

The following 1931 cartoon produced by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising as part of the Looney Tunes series does a surprisingly effective job conveying the gruesomeness, violence and chaos of the battlefield. This shouldn't be that much of a shock, as Harman, Ising and Friz Freleng, as animators for the Walt Disney Studio, worked a few years earlier, along with Ub Iwerks, on a memorable (albeit much less graphic and visceral) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit silent set in World War I, Great Guns (1927).

As far as how Memorial Day differs from Veterans' Day, here's how History Channel defines it; “Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2021 will occur on Monday, May 31. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971."

Staying home for this holiday and watching old movies, as travel, since not everyone is vaccinated, remains a tad dicey.

It won't be this year, but we hope there will eventually be an opportunity to fire up the barbeque, drink Belgian ales and award-winning American microbrews and hang out with friends and family; it feels like 10 years since we last did this. We'll look forward to, knock on wood, having a Memorial Day gathering again in the not-too-distant future - and remember not just the many fallen heroes, but our friends and family members who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Friday, May 21, 2021

I Like These Guys!

Perusing YouTube yet again while listening to swingin' Stubby Kaye's take on Sinatra, this blogmeister discovered an excerpt from a talk show hosted by Orson Welles. Had read that this was an unsold pilot, but it appears there are several episodes of Orson's talk show on YouTube.

Among the guests with Orson on this episode of his talk show is Andy Kaufman, making this a meeting between one of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's all-time favorite movie directors and favorite comedians. Among many pleasant surprises here, the show reveals that Welles is a very good interviewer and manages to disarm Andy.

Welles, a magician and provocateur himself, understands and respects Kaufman's derring-do as an actor, comedian and performance artist, so this the only time this writer has ever seen a talk show which offers a glimpse of Andy the person as opposed to Andy the performer. Seeing this, I feel strongly that Carson Productions missed a good bet by not booking Orson to guest host The Tonight Show.

Would love to see the rest of this show, in which the third fellow on this stage, Ron Glass from the frequently hilarious Barney Miller TV show, is interviewed. No doubt Orson appreciated the cast of terrific comic actors on that show. The following clip is from an episode of Barney Miller which never fails to have me ROFL.

Speaking of interviews, here is an amazing bit of classic television from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

While, unfortunately, Groucho had passed by the time Late Night With David Letterman began, the appearances of the uber-verbal Marx brother with Carson and Dick Cavett are the stuff of legend.

Don't know who snapped this wonderful photo back in the 1950's, but absolutely love how all of these outstanding comedians and kings of mid-20th century showbiz were actually assembled in one place. It's the next best thing to a live-action Hirschfeld cartoon.

Speaking of kings of mid-20th century showbiz, here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, it's always Time For Beany.

Seeing that photo gets me thinking of the incomparable Daws Butler's gazillion voices, Stan Freberg's 1957 radio show, and the very funny Beany & Cecil animated cartoons. Our favorite of that series, hands-down, is The Wildman Of Wildsville (1959), starring the one, the only Lord Buckley in the title role.

In closing, the ever-swingin' Stubby Kaye will take us out. We wish everyone a good weekend!

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Hot Club Of May 16, 2021 - Live from Amsterdam

Starting the week with string swing by Robin Nolan and Jimmy Rosenberg, who presented a concert on YouTube yesterday.

As key exponents of Django's music, Robin and Jimmy have played together for years.

It's always great to hear Jimmy play and to even better see his re-emergence, at the top of his game, after an absence from the scene.

Jimmy burst upon the music world in the 1980's as a guitar prodigy who impressively mastered the entire Reinhardt/Grappelli/Hot Club of France songbook at a tender age.

We're enthusiastic swing guitar fans, so the Monday listening cue at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will be filled with the best of the best gypsy jazz ambassadors, while also highly recommending the music of Django's friend, contemporary and fellow guitarist, Argentinian entertainer Oscar Alemán.

This group of outstanding guitar-slingers is not limited to just Robin and Jimmy, but also includes former Stephane Grappelli Quartet guitarist Martin Taylor, Julian Lage, Biréli Lagrène, Tommy Emmanuel, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo.

We also dearly love The Rosenberg Trio - lead guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg, rhythm guitarist Nous'che Rosenberg and bassist Nonnie Rosenberg - the cousins of Jimmy.

They are outstanding.

The incomparable Django Reinhardt passed on May 16, 1953 - and would very likely be tickled by how, over 90 years after he began his musical career, the sound of The Hot Club Of France would be not just celebrated around the world, but more popular than ever.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Released Theatrically on This Day. . .

Today's post spotlights animated cartoons that were released theatrically on May 15. We'll start with just one of 26 Terrytoons cranked out by the New Rochelle studio in 1932. It's not the aforementioned 2000 B.C. (produced in 1931) but the Mickey Rat and gangster cat-packed Romance, directed by "the fastest pencil in the East," animator Frank Moser.

Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables cartoons were, we kid you not, inspirations to Walt Disney and other young animators in the early 1920’s. Especially in the Alice In Cartoonland series, the Disney studio's character designs emulated Terrytoons. Since Disney was driven to improve the quality of animation with each film, his studio, featuring such animators as Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising and Friz Freleng, would ultimately leave the funny but crude Aesop's Fables in the dust with his 1927 Oswald The Lucky Rabbit series.

It was in conquering the challenges of synchronized sound and music and fitting soundtrack to image, as opposed to just slapping any old tune on a silent cartoon (as Paul Terry and Otto Messmer did), that Walt Disney Productions got the jump on everyone else in the industry in 1928 and soon became the studio to beat.

Here's the star of Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse, in The Cactus Kid, released on May 15, 1930.

Featuring ace voice artist Jack Mercer as a most diabolical spider, The Cobweb Hotel, directed by Dave Tendlar, is among the most memorable entries from the Max Fleischer Color Classics series.

The May 15 theatrical release of The Cobweb Hotel strikes this writer as ??????? since it is definitely more of a Halloween-themed cartoon and nothing along similarly macabre lines emerged from Fleischer's Popeye and Betty Boop series in the October releases of 1936. As a piece with a gruesome sensibility, it's right up there with the 1933 Max Fleischer Screen Song cartoon Boo, Boo Theme Song.

A more celebrated series from Fleischer than the Color Classics was the studio’s animated version of Superman. On May 15, 1942, the action-packed Man Of Steel opus Electrical Earthquake was released theatrically.

The plot features a Native American high-tech genius who wants Manhattan Island back for his people and plans to induce devastating natural disasters to get the job done. Can't imagine the reception this cartoon would get, then and now, from an Native American audience - handing cartons of eggs for the crowd to throw at the screen might be prudent - but at least the super-villain antagonist is a nattily dressed cutting edge scientist with an underwater lair, not a dummy, a doof or a dolt. Unfortunately, we don't hear the voice of Allen Jenkins as a Daily Planet reporter whose one line is "you sure you WANT Manhattan back?"

Less spectacular but enjoyable is the following Porky Pig cartoon, released on May 15, 1937. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have a soft spot for the cartoons produced by the Ub Iwerks Studio and this was one of four Looney Tunes, along with Porky's Super Service, Porky's Badtime Story and Get Rick Quick Porky, that Leon Schlesinger farmed out to Ub's studio. Since Porky Pig's co-star Gabby Goat is as irascible, grating and obnoxious as the Fleischer Studios' town crier character from Gulliver's Travels and a subsequent (rather un-memorable) short subject series, the star of Porky & Gabby is the peppy soundtrack music by Carl W. Stalling.

While Iwerks is credited as the director of Porky and Gabby, the Warner Brothers/Schlesinger animators Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Irv Spence were loaned out to the Iwerks studio to work on these cartoons. Clampett and Jones co-directed the last two.

Warner Brothers released two cartoons on May 15, 1943. One is Greetings Bait, a Friz Freleng opus starring a worm based on Jerry Collonna, the popular and wacky comedian from Bob Hope's radio show.

The second May 15, 1943 release is Tokio Jokio, a black & white Looney Tune which remains notorious as a particularly grotesque and excessive World War II propaganda cartoon. Frankly, it has lots of competition among WW2 cartoons, especially from Paramount Pictures (both Superman and Popeye the spinach-swilling sailor) and an equally notorious Bugs Bunny opus set in the Pacific.

This writer's opinion is that Mr. McCabe's directorial efforts have overall received a bit of a bad rap because of this one cartoon, so today's post will close with an episode of the excellent Anthony's Animation Talk YouTube series devoted to Norm's work as Looney Tunes director in the early 1940's.

For more info on Norm McCabe, who worked in animation for seven decades, check out Devon Baxter’s excellent profile, posted in May 2018 on Cartoon

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Happy Mother's Day Weekend 2021 from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog

On Mother's Day, the gang here will be driving over hill and dale (but not, fortunately, on any dusty trails) and shall miss Sunday's Amazing Tales online presentation by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (it's at noon PST/ 3:00 p.m. EST - register here).

After catching up on Giants-Padres game highlights, we'll watch apropo Mother's Day entertainment, starting (of course) with a cartoon. Never mind that bit at 5:37 with the chick frying an egg - it's a quail egg, folks! This is what happens when the same ex-Fleischer animators responsible for the anarchic "Scrappy" cartoons try their hands at "Disney cute."

Have a hunch that George Stevens’ 1948 film I Remember Mama will be on the Turner Classic Movies schedule. It’s an enjoyable film, loaded with fine performances by the great Irene Dunne and the cast of excellent character actors, and would look spectacular in 35mm on the big screen. As one gets older and family members have passed, the sentimental period piece movies about eras far in the rear view mirror increasingly pack an emotional wallop.

One of the key characters in I Remember Mama is named Dagmar - and now all this correspondent can think of blonde bombshell comedienne and vocalist Dagmar singing "Mama Will Bark." She hated the song. So did Sinatra. Both were terrific, even with lousy material!

Here, from the now top-notch Cabin Fever Little Rascals DVD box set, is a very funny 1-reeler directed by Gordon Douglas, the same guy who made Robin & The Seven Hoods 26 years later. Every time cranky, fussy and persnickety character actor Johnny Arthur, portraying Darla Hood's beleaguered father, calls his wife "Mama," this Our Gang aficionado is ROFL.

One of the funniest Our Gang comedies in tne entire series, Beginner's Luck, is all about stage mothers. Spanky's stage mother is the worst - but funny!

As far as Mother's Day humor goes, love this classic bit by Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara.

At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we regard Stiller & Meara as comedy royalty!

No Mother's Day post would be complete without this incendiary 1967 hit by Etta James, penned by Clarence Carter. The song isn't about mothers and their children, but "mama" as an all-powerful righter of wrongs.

She rocked the house with "Tell Mama" at many a concert.

Unfortunately, it looks like Etta is lip-synching "Tell Mama" in the following appearance on the TV show What's Happening '68, hosted by the pride of the Pacific Northwest, garage rockers turned popsters Paul Revere & The Raiders.

Tough to follow Etta James, but Janis Joplin's fire-breathing cover of Tell Mama from the Festival Express documentary (beginning at 2:17) does the job - and then some.

In more recent years, the mighty Tedeschi-Trucks Band has been opening and closing sets with a show-stopping cover of "Tell Mama." Love those vocal harmonies by Susan Tedeschi and Sharon Jones.

Happy Mother's Day!