THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
December 15, 2016 posted by

Columbia’s Color Rhapsody “The Little Match Girl” (1937)

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As the last week of classes ends here, my non-school hours are flooded with getting out the Christmas disc to everyone. The DVD from the set had a few issues that delayed them going late last week, but that is resolved, and we’re now scrambling to send them to everyone as fast as possible.

The last week of school each semester is always a time of reflection; there is amazing work going on at the College for Creative Studies. The animation community is growing here in Michigan as well. Melissa (Mel) McCann, a terrific animator, works frequently for Thunderbean doing film restoration and animation. She recently animated on the short ‘Mesh’ for Gunner, an animation and graphic design studio here in Detroit. It was posted on line a few days back, and I think it’s a really neat combination of animation styles: https://vimeo.com/195304061

The College for Creative Studies also put up a nice video yesterday that was shot over the summer, talking juts a bit about film restoration and working on some of the animation projects for Thunderbean. Check it out HERE.

Doing a service to animation history is, of course, a passion of mine, and I can never emphasize enough how it is really a community of people that love these things that helps them to survive and be seen. The decisions I make with Thunderbean are almost entirely about ways to make things available that otherwise are not, or only available in fair quality. It seems a shame that so many things exist in beautiful quality but are not available – *why* preserve them if they’re never to be seen?

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I’ve been able to use this space every week for assorted ramblings related to doing these projects, and I’m especially grateful for the support and feedback. This week I’ve been attempting to move the many (and I mean many) stalled projects forward in one way or another, or at least set things in motion for the coming year.

Columbia’s 30s and 40s cartoons continue to be the hardest to find since there still isn’t an official release for any of the series. The UPA set from Columbia’s materials is just wonderful, and long overdue.

On a side note related to that, Oxberry Animation Stand #6, purchased new by UPA in 1948, resides at the College for Creative Studies. This full sized stand was used to shoot a lot of UPA animation in the late 40s through the 60s. After that, the camera ended up at a small title shop, then was fit to shoot 65mm plates for Tron. It ended up in Detroit after that, used for titles, flying logos, animation and effects for many years. A small piece of a Dick Tracy cel from UPA was attached to the back of one of the legs of the stand. I always wondered who put it there….


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Columbia’s best shot at actually winning an Oscar was when The Little Match Girl received a nomination in 1937. Directed by the great Art Davis, this Columbia Rhapsody is surprisingly touching, and equally shocking in it’s ending.

Little-Match-Girl-500I recently acquired a 35mm Technicolor print of this cartoon, and we showed it at the Redford Theatre cartoon show a few weeks back. Watching it with an audience unfamiliar with the film was a surprise, and more than a few people commented to me about the emotional tone of the film.

It’s one of my favorite cartoons, but is far from perfect. I think if the Columbia crew had more experience with serious subject matter that some of the things that detract from making it was powerful wouldn’t have been included.

In the 30s, the Mintz studio sometimes used film transition techniques in strange ways; the use of some are confusing and to the detriment of the short, while other times they work just fine, but seem unusual. The overuse of cross dissolves and wipes for seemingly no reason is a great example of this. In a pivotal moment in Little Match Girl, the use of these transitions lessens the seriousness of the moment, making the timing of the sequence seem more cartoonish. At other times, the techniques work beautifully.

It’s been pointed out more than once that the character design is an issue in this film. while I think myself that the attempt to be cute in design doesn’t work perfectly, I do think that overall the choice and design isn’t bad- but if those cheeks were less predominant I think the design would work better. The quality of the character animation varies through this short from very nice to at least survivable. I really love some of the layout and background rendering; a very unusual style at times and only seems to show up in this one short.

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The choice to set the story in New York in contemporary times is interesting. We’re also left with the idea that even as the holiday is being celebrated, it hasn’t softened the hearts of the people enjoying the themselves. At the end of the film, after the poor child has passed away, we’re shown a shot that mimics the first shot of the film- bells ringing merrily, seemingly showing the callousness of the world to the suffering of a small child.

I would love to have included this short on the ‘Official’ Christmas set we just did, or any set for that matter! Here is a nice transfer of it in HD from a 35mm IB Technicolor reissue print, looking better than any version I’ve seen. You would think that Columbia would at least put a indication that the film had been nominated for an Oscar, but I guess that would mean a new title card. Enjoy and have a good week everyone!

(Thanks to Howard Lowery for the model sheets)

30 Comments

  • LITTLE MATCH GIRL! Would bring out my 16mm print every Christmas until the family finally rebelled. Too sad! Another far more conventional but entertaining Columbia Rhapsody GIFTS FROM THE AIR plays like the happy alternative. A friendless little urchin, this time a little boy, has a much happier holiday thanks to Santa and a radio!

    Personally, I always liked the character designs and the lap dissolves at the end of LMG. They seem to add to the shock value of the uncompromised ending.

  • Whoa, so there was two endings to Columbia’s The Little Match Girl? The original ending was so dark showing that the bitter Winter winds brought the Little Match Girl back to brutal reality where sadly she succumbed to the bitter cold and was carried off to Heaven by her Guardian Angel while the Totally Tooned In version had a happier ending and cut off the more darker ending. Was it purposely censored for future broadcast on tv like many cartoons of the Golden Age of Animation because of it’s contents?

    • The Little Match Girl was indeed edited for broadcast on Totally Tooned In. For the record, the film is safely preserved at Sony – complete and intact. It’s original titles also exist at the Library of Congress for a future restoration.

      Understand, The Little Match Girl was made originally for theaters, for all audiences (which means children and adults). The intent of the filmmakers was to be true to the original story. Totally Tooned In, however, was packaged with children audiences exclusively in mind. If it were up to me I would not have made any edits, but am glad that its inclusion on the show facilitated its preservation by the studio.

    • You have my curiosity Jerry, how many “Columbia Favorites” re-issues still exist in their original form at the Library of Congress?

    • All I will say for now is: many. Understand that most of the original titles there are clipped off and sitting in the can beside the 3-strip neg (with reissue titles spliced on). The effort has not been done (yet) to restore these correctly.

    • Jerry, Would it be a waste of time to write Sony a letter, asking that they consider restoring and releasing these cartoons?

    • J.T. – I’m afraid it would be a waste of time. Not to be a downer… I’ll try to address this on Stu’s Show next week.

    • I’ll listen to Stu’s Show to see what, if anything, you have to say about this, Jerry. Have to admit I’m a little surprised, just because it seems you’ve always been so optimistic that things could still happen.

    • I’m still very optimistic – but I’m also realistic as to the realities of today’s marketplace. For the record, the Columbia cartoons are mostly restored and and protected – they just don’t have any firm distribution plans in place. Hang in there. Let’s see what happens in 2017.

  • This is a great cartoon, and not that often seen. I’ve seen many versions, but never one as good as this; thanks for posting. Columbia has the best quality animation of any US Studio whose cartoons haven’t been released on video, so it great to see one in all its glory. The end title on the copy I have shows a drawing of lady liberty and says “A Charles Mintz Production” that seems to fit better than the more modern looking “A Columbia Favorite” which looks like a UPA title. The ending with the bells, I took the herald her ascension into heaven. I think this might have had a better shot at winning except that it was up against Disney’s The Old Mill, arguably his best cartoon.

    • The end title on the copy I have shows a drawing of lady liberty and says “A Charles Mintz Production” that seems to fit better than the more modern looking “A Columbia Favorite” which looks like a UPA title.

      I believe UPA actually did those reissue credits too, but I could be wrong..

    • Chris, I’m believe the ending title cards were retained when they were re-released as “Favorites’. I’ve not seen all of them of course, but the 16mm prints I do have suggest that is what occurred..

  • Thanx Steve!

    Disclosure: I’m pretty much an anvil-in-the-head kinda guy. “Match Girl” is certainly historically noteworthy, and ambitiously executed, but ultimately it really is of its time. Especially insofar as it’s a prime example of a studio trying to top Disney.

    I can appreciate it anyway.

    But I’ll stick with Tweety’s “Gift Wrapped.”

    Have a great holiday!

  • I used to see this cartoon as a little kid in the 1950s – and yes, the ending always put a damper on the rest of my morning.

  • I believe the great Emery Hawkins provided those model sheets (according to Mark Kausler).

  • An outstanding cartoon!

  • I have this on 16mm, but the print is missing the last couple of minutes of the story. It jumps from the end of the celebration, just before the storm starts, to the end title. Guess that ending was rough for a lot of people.

    • I can imagine many a TV station or library looking over that ending and thinking “This is terrible, cut it!”

  • Columbia’s cartoons before UPA are a mixed bag. I can think of three masterpieces: this one, “Flora”, and “The Fox and the Grapes”. The ones from the dying days of the studio, when former Schlesinger assistant Ray Katz was there, are enjoyable, but most of the rest are hard to watch compared to what Disney, WB, and MGM had to offer. Even so, as a cartoon buff I would like to see the library restored and available.

  • Most. Depressing. Cartoon. Ever. Whenever theatres wanted to book it, I’d asked, “Are you SURE you want to show this? ‘Cause it’s a real bummer.” Usually they said “yes,” so having made my opinion known, I went ahead and took the date. But if it were my theatre, I’d show TOY TINKERS.

    • That makes me wonder if they knew only of the kid-friendly edited versions.

    • A good question. I got no answer, but it’s a good question.

  • Thanks for posting this, Steve! Even if the animation is inconsistent, it’s still beautiful to look at, with solid storytelling that stays true to the original story. I agree with Steve Segal that the director and animators meant for the bells at the end to be a celebration of her entry into Heaven, but it’s certainly possible to read it as commenting on how the rest of the worldly celebrations carry on ignorant of her death, and I appreciate you sharing that interpretation.

  • I would love to see these films released. We should boycott Sony And Viacom Products and Keep Writing Letters and Tell Everyone about our cause. These films will bring lots of memories to All Ages and They are way overdue for release. We should not buy from Sony and Viacom so that they lose money and eventually they will have to give in to our cause.

    • BOYCOTT?! Not buying their products is telling Sony, Viacom, and Turner that there is no market for classic cartoons. At least be grateful for what they HAVE released (Screen Gems cartoons on 3 Stooges DVD, Betty Boop Blu-Ray, French Tex Avery set).

  • Thanks for making this title a topic of discussion Steve, I’ve you to thank for introducing me to the Color Rhapsodies so many years ago via “The Lost Cartoon Company” 😉 Took me a long time to obtain this title in a 16mm technicolor print. I’m sure your 35 MM print blows it out of the water! I thought Mintz was pulling out all stops to show he could make a cartoon for the ages, and I think he mostly succeeded. The problem of course is the suits at Columbia (now Sony) more or less didn’t (and still don’t) care…

    Never was quite sure why the baby doll / cherub character models were their mainstay, it didn’t work particularly well whenever the setting was out in a modern world. In this instance she’s simply too cute to be a street urchin, Oddly placed as the design is, it is no where near as bad as in “The Airline Hostess” which is positively cringe worthy.

    I really like the Color Rhapsodies series up to about 1940, then they are pretty much inferior WB clones, Fox and Crow aside.. If you ever are able to license the series, that would be fantastic. Prime titles for me are “Swing Monkey Swing” and “Merry Mannequins”. Cheers!

  • I think it would be interesting to compare this cartoon with Disney’s version of the same story made about a decade ago, available on the Little Mermaid DVD and on the Short Film Collection. It too uses the original sad ending, but goes about it in less melodramatic fashion.

  • Did not do an official interview with Art Davis, but asked him about this cartoon when I had the opportunity. He was proud of The Little Match Girl and his work on it. Wrote to Sid Marcus but he passed before I had a chance to talk with him.

  • By the way, who did the layouts and backgrounds for this cartoon?

  • Can’t believe i missed this entry!
    One other flaw in the cartoon that has always bothered me is when the girl collapses at the end, they used a rather cartoon-y “drum” sound effect which does not fit the seriousness of the ending. Overall though it’s a great cartoon.

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