Saturday, October 30, 2021
Alas, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has not found a pristine 35mm nitrate negative of Tod Browning's London After Midnight in a cave or basement somewhere, but we will wish all a Happy Halloween nonetheless!
We'll kick today's Halloween-themed post off with a few cartoons.
Here's one of those indescribable Van Beuren Studio entries from the "Aesop's Fables" series. Starts with a fantasy about finding a pot of gold over the rainbow and then veers off into a netherworld, including demons and apparitions among the patented bizarre imagery the Van Beuren and Fleischer animators were so skilled at creating.
Didn't know there was such a thing as horny fossils until seeing this 1932 Betty Boop epic. I don't get it. They're fossils. . . THEY'RE DEAD!
Ace animator Ub Iwerks produced Skeleton Frolic among a series of cartoons his studio sub-contracted to Columbia Pictures from 1936-1940. It is a followup of sorts to the groundbreaking 1929 Walt Disney Silly Symphony cartoon The Skeleton Dance, but realized in the prevalent animation style of the mid-1930's.
Skeleton Frolic is very enjoyably spooky and a fine example of Technicolor cartoonmaking. Love the musical element, presumably provided by Eddie Kilfeather, as well as the super-cool backgrounds throughout. Not sure who animated it; Ub himself, fastest animator in the West and Walt Disney's not-so-secret weapon in the 1920's, did the honors on much of the Silly Symphony cartoon. Could that be Irv Spence's lively, distinctive and imaginative animation on the skeleton orchestra sequence?
It's likely the experts, from Mark Kausler to Devon Baxter, have an answer for that question. IIRC, by the time Skeleton Frolic was produced in late 1936 - early 1937 as the second Iwerks Studio contribution to the Columbia Color Rhapsody series, top animators Grim Natwick, Berny Wolf and Shamus Culhane had long since left to join the Walt Disney Studio.
At this point, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog down a pint of pumpkin spice ale and two or three pumpkin spice double cappucchinos and enjoy the entertainment.
Photo by Christopher Walters
Can't decide between The Bride Of Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein as my Halloween choice.
Will have no choice but to watch both. Again.
Nothing says scary quite like The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976), co-starring none other than the great Margaret Hamilton.
We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog watch it every year without fail!
Now it's time for some trailers from terrible movies!
And, unquestionably, it wouldn't be Halloween without a judicious selection of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and Creature Features TV show openings!
Seems we always finish the annual Happy Halloween post with a slew of references to the 1948 Universal Pictures feature Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and its various followups. Since the gang here remains resolutely Way Too Lazy To Write A Blog, we'll do it again. . . Happy Halloween!
Saturday, October 23, 2021
When the topic is animated cartoons from 1920-1960, this blog gets exponentially more views, so today's topics, the merry mannequin heads sing harmoniously, will be the return of vintage silent and early sound era animation on glorious 16mm to NYC in the Cartoon Carnival series and, inevitably as death and taxes, B-studio cartoons of 1930-1933.
Cartoon Carnival 98: Scary Town shall hail forth with plenty of Halloween-themed animated goodness at Rubulad in Bushwick, Brooklyn, tomorrow, Sunday 10/24/21, at 3pm and 6pm.
Act quickly, as both shows are close to selling out. Go here for tickets and info.
Wanted to write a post for today titled Much Ado About B-Studio Cartoons and then realized . . . "hey wait a minute, I wrote that post already - it was titled The Cartoons Nobody Loved."
Cartoons by Ub Iwerks, Charles Mintz-Screen Gems /Columbia, Lantz/Universal, Van Beuren/RKO, Terrytoons and Ted Eshbaugh were all represented. Come to think of it, we have posted ALL the Ted Eshbaugh studio cartoons! Didn't get to the comics artist turned independent animator who made the indescribable Simon the Monk in Monkeydoodle and The Hobo Hero, but Steve Stanchfield did in his 2013 article The Genius Of Les Elton, and Charlie Judkins wrote a post about Les Elton for his Early NY Animators blog.
Are there ANY B-studio cartoons of 1930-1933 we haven't posted on Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog before? Well, not many, but here are a few. . .
Wrote about OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT - THE HASH SHOP in one of the very first posts on this blog back in 2006. Read about it but had never seen it then. Since that day 15 years and four or five lifetimes ago, somebody posted THE HASH SHOP among a slew of wonderfully weird Ozzie cartoons on YouTube. This is great because THE HASH SHOP is not on the new Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection Blu-ray.
Representing our favorite, the Fleischer Studios, is a Talkartoon penned by none other than the great Ted Sears, THE MALE MAN
Van Beuren’s Tom & Jerry have been a staple of Thunderbean Thursdays, with Rabid Hunters and Polar Pals particularly funny posts. Here’s a Van Beuren studio Tom & Jerry opus, JOINT WIPERS, that cracks me up. Lo and behold, it has not been posted on Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog before!
Forgot if the following Sentinel Louey cartoons was ever posted here. Looks like the distinctive work of Jim Tyer!
Sentinel Louey is the stylistic predecessor of Van Beuren's Little King cartoons.
And then there is the Charles Mintz Studio. . .
At the dawn of the sound era, the Mintz Krazy Kat series was already up and running, aided somewhat by the winding down of Otto Messmer's Felix The Cat series as personal problems and years of hard partying overtook Felix producer-marketer Pat Sullivan.
Some titles from that first season of talkie Krazy Kat cartoons are routine and primitive, but others are quite amazing and as good as anything emerging from Disney and Fleischer at that time.
In such cartoons as the gangster flick sendup TAKEN FOR A RIDE, the wildness of ideas and unfettered imagination reign supreme (note: this print is fuzzy and incomplete, but gives a taste of how delirious "rubber hose" animation can be nonetheless).
In 1931, the Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus and Art Davis production unit at the Mintz Studio began the Scrappy series, the closest thing to a West Coast version of Fleischer-style cartooning, and created quite a few very funny and inspired cartoons through 1933.
We are glad that a print exists of the "goodbye and good riddance, Prohibition" epic THE BEER PARADE.
Another great classic cartoon by the Huemer-Marcus-Davis crew on flaunting Prohibition is FARE PLAY, which is also a quintessential example of the "medicine shows gone wrong, very wrong" genre, along with such cartoons as the Fleischer masterpiece BETTY BOOP, M.D.
Enjoy - and if you happen to be at Rubulad tomorrow attending Cartoon Carnival - have a blast! And, to support future Cartoon Carnivals, there is a 16mm Cartoon Carnival Recovery Fund. We close by thanking Jerry Beck of Cartoon Research and Steve Stanchfield for much of the animated goodness on today's post, and keeping the interest in these imaginative films alive.
Sunday, October 17, 2021
The customary Sunday blog post, asking who was born and what movies/animated cartoons were released theatrically on a given day, notes that today, October 17, is the natal anniversary of several mighty music and film immortals. Paramount (but not Universal) among them: movie star Rita Hayworth, Brooklyn-born in 1918.
While we regret not doing a post to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rita's birth, but, what the hey, better three years late than never. We'll start some examples of Rita's astonishingly good terpsichorean skills.
Too bad she was under contract to Columbia Pictures as opposed to MGM, which was far superior in making the movie musicals that were clearly the strong suit of Rita Hayworth. Still, it's fantastic that she co-starred with none other than Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier.
The Shorty George number is a tour-de-force for both Astaire and Hayworth.
While moviegoers in the 1940's and early 1950's, unfortunately, never got to see Rita Hayworth star in a spectacular Vincente Minnelli-directed musical produced by Arthur Freed and written by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, at least Rita starred in the 1944 musical Cover Girl for Columbia Pictures. While Cover Girl, co-starring Gene Kelly and comedian Phil Silvers, is the closest thing to an MGM spectacular to emerge from Columbia, again, it's a darn shame that Rita didn't then follow Gene to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the incomparable "Freed Unit."
Rita made her name as the femme fatale to end all femme fatales in the famous 1946 film Gilda.
The super-sultry "Put The Blame On Mame" number set Rita's destiny as Hollywood movie star and pin-up girl.
The stars of Gilda were re-united in The Loves Of Carmen two years later. By far, the most memorable part of this movie is Rita’s outstanding Sevillanas dancing. If only The Loves Of Carmen was dominated by her great dancing.
The Hayworth-Ford pairing from Gilda and The Loves Of Carmen would be repeated a few years later for Affair In Trinidad. Have mixed emotions about the trailer and the movie; seeing Glenn Ford slap Rita in the face onscreen, knowing the history of violent abuse Rita suffered off-screen, gives this Hayworth and classic film fan the creeps. We sincerely hope Glenn didn't treat her like this in their off-screen relationship.
As is also typical of the MGM musicals, Rita's singing is dubbed, in this case by Jo Ann Greer. Her singing in Gilda was dubbed by Anita Ellis.
Alas, it was not Rita Hayworth's destiny to star in a slew of movie musicals like Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell or Vera-Ellen, but to be a noir babe and give Lauren Bacall a serious run for her money in the sultry sexy department. Her ultimate role as a noir babe was her turn in the hallucinogenic Orson Welles thriller The Lady From Shanghai.
An all-time favorite film of the noiristas who populate Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, The Lady From Shanghai is inexplicable, highly imaginative and unapologetically bizarre in a way only an Orson Welles flick can be. It was produced in 1946 while the Welles-Hayworth marriage was disintegrating and its noir thriller meets funhouse mirror sensibility was not exactly accepted from moviegoing audiences when the film was finally released theatrically in 1948.
Still, The Lady From Shanghai has numerous fans in Noir Universe and has been . We much admire the combo of audacity and sheer WTF factor in Orson Welles movies and don't care how bizarre his films or imagery get. It goes with the territory. Peter Bogdanovich, a good friend of Orson's, elaborates on this film's tangled tale.
We would argue that Rita, although she literally married princes, hitmaking crooners, studio heads and creative geniuses, deserved better. She made a number of movies after the 1957 vehicle Pal Joey, but to some degree the Sinatra vehicle was Rita's last hurrah on the big screen. RIta's character in Pal Joey is the right age for Sinatra's character but, by 1957, Kim Novak was the glamour gal getting Columbia's star buildup.
Sadly, Ms. Hayworth passed in 1987 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's Disease. One of her last appearances was on The Carol Burnett Show, not surprisingly, as Ms. Burnett was always a champion of the golden age of Hollywood and old school showbiz. While Rita subsequently made a few appearances in films, the Carol Burnett Show guest appearance could be regarded as the curtain call for this great star of movies.
Shifting from glamorous Hollywood movie stars of yore to the world of music, on the topic of Gentlemen Of Swing, we turn to the incomparable power-packed percussionist Cozy Cole on his natal anniversary.
Cozy was a contemporary of innovative swing-era drummers Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Chick Webb, Big Sid Catlett and Dave Tough.
These swinging percussionists who hit the music scene after the 1920's emergence of the Duke Ellington Orchestra's Sonny Greer and Baby Dodds from King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven.
One can hear the tempo-pushing bravado of subsequent drummer-bandleaders Buddy Rich and Art Blakey in Cozy's playing.
And staying on the topic of Gentlemen Of Swing, disregarding the misspelling on the album cover.)
We switch from a propulsive and ready to rock drummer to one of the all-time guitar greats who followed and extended the swing music innovations of Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt and Charle Christian: the celebrated "Wrecking Crew" studio ace and jazz master Barney Kessel. After establishing himself professionally with the Charlie Barnet and Jerry Gray Orchestras, Mr. Kessel appeared in the Gjon Mili "midnight symphony" short subject Jammin' The Blues, featuring an all-star ensemble of swing era luminaries
Kessel would, before and after his stretch as an ace studio musician, make recordings as a leader and play numerous jazz concerts, including Gene Norman Presents "Just Jazz".
Prior to joining The Wrecking Crew, Mr. Kessel was, along with the equally talented Herb Ellis, one of two guitarists who rotated in the Verve Records "house band," which included pianist Oscar Peterson, bassist Ray Brown and either Alvin Stoller or Louis Bellson on drums. The house band played on a slew of recordings produced for the Verve, Clef and Norgran labels by Norman Granz.
They backed the best of the best: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Stuff Smith, Blossom Dearie, Billie Holiday and more.
On the series of Verve recordings of Fred Astaire singing numerous standards he debuted on Broadway and Hollywood, this house band was joined by trumpeter Charlie Shavers and saxophonist Flip Phillips.
Sometimes Barney and Herb, both of whom filled the esteemed guitar chair in the Oscar Peterson Trio, appeared together.
There were three ace guitarists in The Wrecking Crew, the virtuosos who played on a gazillion recordings waxed in the 1960's and 1970's: Barney Kessel, Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedescho. Tommy's son Danny made the excellent The Wrecking Crew documentary, a must-see for music lovers.
We also suggest checking out the Barney Kessel playlist and a Barney Kessel YouTube channel. As of now, several of his albums as a leader can be heard on YouTube: Barney Kessel's Swingin' Party on Contemporary, One Note Samba with Barney Kessel, Trio!, Feeling Free and The Gypsy's Hip.
No doubt the Kessel and Cozy Cole recordings can be found on Spotify as well, but old school music fans like this blogger recommend purchasing albums by these Gentlemen Of Swing on CD or vinyl, or paid streaming.
Friday, October 08, 2021
As the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog eagerly awaits Game 1 of the Giants vs. Dodgers NLDS tonight and ponders how to follow posts that paid tribute to all-time comedy greats Bill Scott and Norm Macdonald, we, like Great White North/Canadian Corner hosts Bob & Doug McKenzie find ourselves just a tad stumped. . .
Eureka! We've got it! Today's post shall cover the humble beginnings of kidvid and even humbler beginnings of made-for-TV animation. Kicking off today's kidvid cornucopia, loaded with CRAP-TASTIC cartoons: a word from our sponsor!
In the very early years of what Ernie Kovacs termed "the orthicon tube," when "Uncle Miltie" Berle was Mr. Television, before the popularity of Your Show of Shows, The Colgate Comedy Hour and Broadway Open House, the very first TV series specifically for children, Howdy Doody and Cartoon TeleTales (the latter, in which children on the show were taught to draw, was covered at length in Kevin Scott Collier's book) aired.
Both shows proved extremely popular and exerted a significant impact on the rapidly growing medium.
Howdy received the ultimate tribute: to be spoofed by Ernie Kovacs!
The Howdy Doody show, Andy Kaufman's favorite, did not feature animated cartoons early in its run, but did include clips from 1920's Hal Roach and Mack Sennett comedies as the regular "Howdy Doody Olde Time Movie" feature. This may well have created the first wave of Baby Boomer silent era comedy aficionados!
In their original 1940's incarnations, these shows did not - well not just yet - spotlight animation (old or new). Soon enough, the need for lots and lots of material to fill the programming hours meant the return of 20-year old theatrical cartoons, which created both vivid nightmares and lifelong animation buffs in the first wave of Baby Boomers.
While such studios as Van Beuren and Terrytoons cranked out cartoons in mass quantities and at blinding speed, their prodigious output was not enough to entirely fill the many hours of kidvid programming.
The medium was increasingly hungry for material, bringing to mind the question of how an enterprising film distributor/animation producer can meet that demand? Here's how - produce new animation with ABSOLUTELY NO MOVEMENT WHATSOEVER! One example of animation without actual animation was the Telecomics series a.k.a. NBC Comics. These were quite literally comics, still frames.
Not to be outdone, Sam Singer, the David O. Selznick of TV cartoon drek and described by Jerry Beck as the "Ed Wood of animation", produced The Adventures Of Paddy the Pelican! In full Thomas Ince fashion, the series was. . . Created by Sam Singer. . . Directed by Sam Singer. . . Voices by Sam Singer. Six episodes were produced in 1950.
Wikipedia elaborates on the Paddy the Pelican's non-animated comic strip adventures: This show appeared on the ABC network in the fall of 1950, but for only one month. The show aired on the ABC television network weekdays between 5:15 and 5:30pm from September 11, 1950 to October 13, 1950.
The show is noted for its pencil tests that were never finalized to the actual animation, reused animation, rambling and apparently improvised voiceovers by the creator himself, muffled and poorly synchronized soundtrack made by an organ, and general low-budget problems.
The only music is a few chords played on an organ, although the title card is accompanied by a man making noises apparently intended to sound like a pelican squawking.
Most of the characters were voiced by Singer, however one character was voiced by an uncredited actress.
Sam Singer continued to make TV series well into the 1960's. These included the execrable Bucky & Pepito cartoons, described accurately by author and animation expert Harry McCracken as having “set a standard for awfulness that no contemporary TV cartoon has managed to surpass."
Is it possible to produce an even worse cartoon than Pow Wow The Indian Boy, which periodically found its way into the Captain Kangaroo TV show in 1956-1958 and subsequently was syndicated? The short answer, in addition to Bucky & Pepito, is yes. Think Mighty Mr. Titan and Big World Of Little Adam.
Pow Wow featured even less movement, humor and creativity than a Scooby Doo episode, but unlike the later and inexplicably popular Hanna-Barbera series, did not catch on in a big way with the kidvid audience. At least, unlike unsold Sam Singer Productions pilots, it survived long enough for a couple of dozen cartoons to be produced.
Unlike the Scooby Doo series, gems from Sam Singer Productions did periodically land in "psychotronic" and "worst cartoons ever" screenings many decades later - and were invariably shown right before intermission.
None other than Warner Bros. cartoonmeister Chuck Jones termed many of the made-for-TV toons "illustrated radio" - and there were positive and negative examples of this. It all started in the 1940's with the first cartoon series produced specifically for TV, the witty Crusader Rabbit.
Jay Ward and Alex Anderson devised the formula for how to make entertaining cartoons quickly and cheaply; write exceptionally funny scripts (closer to Bob & Ray than to Mickey Mouse) that appeal to all ages and then spend the budget hiring the best available voice actors.
Crusader Rabbit, as lively and funny as it was, mostly consisted of still frames. Except for bits in the opening and closing titles, animation as such was mostly nonexistent, save an occasional walk cycle sequence. Still, the comedy writing and clever storylines by Anderson, the excellent voice work by Lucille Bliss and the series' central characters proved consistently funny.
Making the worst, most artistically and aesthetically indefensible Filmation, Hanna-Barbera or Trans-Lux made-for-TV cartoons look like Disney's Pinocchio and Fantasia by comparison would be those series produced using the patented Syncro-Vox technique, which involved superimposing live-action human lips on squared jawed ultra-macho cartoon characters.
Devised by cinematographer Edwin Gillette, the Syncro-Vox technique made possible action/adventure cartoons without actual action - both an odd variety of bang for the buck and a means for delivering lots and lots of programming at minimal cost. The surprise remains that, even as the Syncro-Vox series (Clutch Cargo, Captain Fathom, Space Angel) are definitely the artistic and spiritual descendents of Telecomics, these cartoons that comic artist and pilot Clark Haas originated for his studio, Cambria Productions, remain quite entertaining - and not just from latter-day snarky animation buffs making fun of the weird looking live-action lips.
Storylines in the Syncro-Vox cartoons effectively present comic book adventures and very likely influenced such subsequent TV series as Hanna-Barbera's Jonny Quest.
The series that's, in the inimitable Syncro-Vox non-animated adventure universe, far and away tops: sci-fi spectacular Space Angel!
The animation technique or lack of it notwithstanding, 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 Syncro-Vox Valhalla - the advertising film for a prospective series based on the Moon Mullins comic strip! The pilot didn't sell, but there's something indescribably hilarious about it.
The plethora of cheap cheap cheap made for TV cartoon series, produced both on a minimal budget and auto pilot, included Spunky & Tadpole by Beverly Hills Productions and all the aforementioned Sam Singer Productions syndicated TV shows, including Bob Kane's Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse in 1960 and Sinbad Jr. and his Magic Belt a few years later.
And then there's arguably the worst of the worst: Trans-Lux Productions' The Mighty Hercules, stirring theme sung with gusto by Johnny Nash notwithstanding.
Ultimately, even the Canadians got into the low-budget TV cartoons act in the 1960's with the Rocket Robin Hood TV series, which aired on CBC Television from 1966 to 1969.
Produced by Krantz Films, Inc. by Toronto's Trillium Productions Limited and including contributions from American animators (and executive producers) Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi, Rocket Robin Hood was both entertaining and unintentionally funny, exemplifying a certain inimitable "camp" appeal (New Sherwood Forest Asteroid? Little John built like Mr. Olympia?) and giving superheroes from Tobor the 8th Man to Space Angel to Space Ghost a run for their kidvid money.
Described in Don Markstein's Toonopedia as "medieval adventure in extremely unconvincing science fiction drag," Rocket Robin Hood brings to mind not its superhero TV-toon contemporaries but a series that started on the short-lived but hilarious Dana Carvey Show (and then subsequently on Saturday Night Live) 30 years later: TV Funhouse.
How will the writer of this blog recover from traumatic and near-lethal mass exposure to Paddy the Pelican, Bucky & Pepito, Spunky & Tadpole, Clutch Cargo, Space Angel, The Mighty Hercules and Rocket Robin Hood?
By watching the new and outstanding Tex Avery's Screwball Classics volume 3 Blu-Ray, that's how!
Friday, October 01, 2021
Just re-read Jerry Beck's September 23 post on Cartoon Research reminding the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog that tomorrow night (Saturday, October 2nd), Turner Classic Movies shall spotlight an animation program curated by Tommy Stathes of Cartoons On Film.
TCM will present a four-hour program, including a tribute to the groundbreaking animation of the Fleischer Studio, beginning at 8:00 p.m. EST with the documentary Cartoon Carnival.
The film delves into the history of pre-Steamboat Willie animated cartoons.
That will be followed at 9:45 EST by The 100th Anniversary of Fleischer Animation – Part 1: The Silent Era.
The cool lineup of vintage restorations is as follows:
The Boxing Kangaroo (Bray, 1920)
Cartoon Factory (1924)
Come Take a Trip in My Airship (1924) one of the actual, original Koko Song Cartunes, with 1930s reissue soundtrack
It’s the Cat’s (1926)
At 10:45 p.m. EST, Turner Classic Movies will present The 100th Anniversary of Fleischer Animation – Part 2: The Sound Era, curated by Tommy and Steve Stanchfield. Brand spanking new Stathes and Stanchfield restorations will be on hand.
The program is as follows:
Hurry Doctor! (1931) – the rarely seen Texaco sponsored film
Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1933)
Let’s Sing With Popeye (1934)
Betty Boop and Grampy (1935)
Dancing On the Moon (1935)
Popeye Meets Sindbad (1936)
This is an outstanding lineup of Fleischer Studio animation goodness. Ladies and gentlemen, set your DVRS, tablets, smart phones and streaming devices. Thanks Tommy, Steve and Turner Classic Movies!