I think we’re in pretty good times for old Fleischer animation, or, at least, better than in many years. I think it’s safe to say that any fan of 1930’s animation loves a large portion of what the studio produced, and loves to see cartoons they haven’t seen before.
I particularly love the Popeyes, having grown up watching them on channel 50 in Detroit, Michigan in the 70’s. They were the only black and white cartoons still on that TV market, but as a kid I never cared about the lack of color…did anyone?
The Betty Boop BluRay sets from Olive Films will be released in the coming months; it will be nice to see the cartoons from such excellent material without all the DVNR that was in the previous set. As for other Fleischer cartoons, the Superman shorts restored by Warner Bros. look amazing now, as do the Warner sets of the Popeyes. Kit Parker and VCI did the best they could from the available materials on their Color Classics Somewhere In Dreamland set – not perfect, but about the best available on most of those shorts. Ray Pointer’s Inkwell Images offers some excellent sets of Out of the Inkwell shorts, so a large body of the studio’s work is available now in decent versions. There was a time not too long ago that it seemed the majority of the Fleischer cartoons would never really get any further proper treatment, so we of course should all be grateful that things are as good as they are so far!
It still leaves quite a few cartoons to languish that Fleischer produced, including things like the color specials from the 40’s, the Stone Age and Gulliver’s Travels inspired shorts, the Talkartoons and Screen Songs, not to mention all the Kokos and Inkwell Imps that have barely seen the light of day in decades. Not all of these films are gems, but so many are, and others are just plain fun. I do hope more make it out before too long….
I’m living with Fleischer animation nearly every day right now, working on digital cleanup for a BluRay release that I’ll talk about a little next week.
The Screen Songs from the 30’s are generally hard to find, and complete versions of many nearly impossible to see. UM&M/ NTA, the television distributor, took out the live action sequences in many, often removing the song entirely from the film, leaving them to look as if they were just very short cartoons. This package was distributed to TV, but it must not have been as popular as the others. Some of the films run very short with the live action cut out, often around four minutes. Here are a few of those prints back to back: Tune in and Sing and Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing, both from 1934.
For reference, here’s a complete version of Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing, with the usually cut live-action featuring Reis and Dunn – performing the classic song written by Robert Hargreaves, Stanley J. Damerell and Tolchard Evans.
Hearing Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing reminded me of Billy Costello (AKA Red Pepper Sam) and his novelty recordings in the 30’s. Costello was of course the original voice of Popeye. I recently saw this picture of his grave.
Here’s his recording of Let’s All Sing in his regular singing voice as well as doing his unmistakeable Popeye voice, from 1935.
Costello does quite a few voices in early 30’s Fleischer cartoons well before Popeye. This particular Red Pepper Sam song, “I’m Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” shows up in the last portion of the Betty Boop Cartoon Betty Boop MD. If you ever wondered who was doing that singing and scatting as the baby turns into Mr. Hyde, now you know!