THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
February 13, 2014 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Mugzee in “Buzz Saws and Dynamite”

I just got back from transferring this week’s film…

film-vinegar16mm

…and it’s my new favorite bizarre obscure animated short.

My friend Ken Preibe had wanted to see this short for years (as did I). I knew of one print in existence – I hope that maybe there is another somewhere. I managed to borrow it finally from a collector friend recently. On pulling the
print from storage he discovered the print was on it’s way to leaving the planet.

It was good that it was the last thing we transferred tonight since the print barely made it through Telecine and smelled the whole place up. Buzz Saws and Dynamite is in an advanced stage of acetate disintegration… it’s curling and smelling worse than any nearly any print I’ve ever seen… and that is saying something. The film community calls this condition ‘Vinegar Syndrome’ (VS). Collectors joke about the smell of salad dressing.

Certain years of film stock seem to be more likely to disintegrate faster than others. The condition and treatments the print has had also often causes the film to start to degass, like an old acetate toy or purse. Since acetate film is made of organic materials, it needs to breathe. Heat and humidity seem to bring it on faster. So does a process called ‘rejuvenation’ that involved coating prints with a layer of plastic, sealing it. This was used to improve rental prints that had seen their share of wear, and sometimes new prints. It made the print look better at the time, but leads to the demise of the print. Disney treated their 35mm Technicolor theatrical prints this way for reissue, dooming many of them. An untreated print is highly valued.

I guess the sad fact is that film materials are all imperfect- and in many ways we’re lucky these things have lasted even THIS long.

This brings us back to Charles Bennes and Mugzee. My guess is that this film dates from around 1935. This bizarre tour-de-force is easily the most lavish of Mugzee’s usually silent adventures, with improvements in animation and especially in the sets and some really impressive camera work. One wonders what he would have made had there been more success with these sound films.

mugzee3-550

The story plays more like a serial chapter than a cartoon. Be warned: The usual “stereotype” character makes an appearance, without much fanfare. Female characters are oddly ugly.

I especially like seeing Mugzee get knocked out and thrown onto the buzz saw. The voice work is more like a radio play than animation, with the organ soundtrack reminding me of recordings of local children’s radio programs. All of that said, I find this film charming and ambitious. There’s a ‘Robot Chicken’ quality to some of it, especially the horse. I have to wonder if this is the last film made by Bennes, or if others will materialize.

mugzee2-500

I wonder if this ever saw any kind of theatrical release. It does appear to have been released in 16mm as this print is, with the ‘Comedy House production’ end title. But enough talk. Prepare yourself for greatness! Ladies and Gentlemen, I hereby present Buzz Saws and Dynamite:

18 Comments

  • Jeepers. I think this was going vinegar for a reason.
    Oh, and that glitch in the telecine session/encoding towards the end? Priceless.

  • Hooraayyyyy!
    How delightfully bizarre….what’s up with that horse?!?

    Harder to say what the original title of this one might have been, if there was one. It doesn’t seem to match with the titles that show up on imdb, except for perhaps “Jimmie and Jam?”

    The story seems to improve as the film goes on; first few minutes are very surreal and develops into more melodrama and suspense. Definitely the most “epic” of these films! More
    realistic sets and better animation.

    Thanks Steve!

    • This is definitely a gem! And that may very well be its original title. I’m fairly certain this was a states rights release, and there was quite a lot of independent material created this way that still isn’t listed in any book or online filmography. I’ve run into the same issue when finding some silent cartoons where there’s little or no documentation to be found. There could very well be more Mugzees like this that we don’t know about.

  • The last line of dialogue from the black character sounds like it was recorded by Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. I listened to it several times and it sure sounds like him.
    Much of the animation in this film reminded me of the animation in George Pal Puppetoons. Is it possible that some of the same animator a worked on both?

  • Freak-eeeeeee.

    Thanks Steve.

  • Thanks for posting this piece of lost animation history. Really enjoyed it (parts of it reminded me of Mr. Bill and Sluggo, but that’s just me). Dynamite!

  • Most interesting is that the black character was actually allowed to shoot one of the villains dead with his revolver and save Mugzee’s life in an unquestionable act of heroism. Very rare for the pre-war period.

  • What, me worry? At the very start of the short Mugzee looks like an awful lot like Alfred E. Newman…

  • Glad you were able to transfer this film before its vinegar syndrome killed it completely. Will this ever show up on a future compilation? The soundtrack sounded so simply done, as if you or anyone could perform an all-new track with just your voices and someone playing a similar keyboard, although there is a few nice sound effects toward the middle and end of the cartoon. Nice job, though, and this Mugzee character is definitely worth looking into.

  • This is very interesting to have seen. It obviously leads the way to better animation-to-come in later years. An observation, if I may…. if your estimated date of production is circa 1935, it would (with no reservations whatsoever) clearly indicate it influenced Mr. George Pal and his Puppetoons. In fact, I would not be surprised if those involved with this worked for Pal. The most important thing is that you were able to prepare and preserve a record of it before the film stock was lost altogether. It is terribly sad that so many classic early films of all types were lost forever, either through negligence or film deterioration.

  • Ha! This one makes my day!

  • I know I should keep my mouth shut, but this film just can’t be compared with what George Pal accomplished in his Puppetoons. The only real replacement animation is on the heads and faces during the dialog scenes toward the beginning, all the rest of the action is crudely done with armature based stop motion figures. The movement has no snap to it or design, especially the galloping horse, and the boxcar has no weight. Even the worst “Hector the Pup” is better than this! George Pal animated all his cycles and main actions on the Puppetoons on paper first, then sculpted the figures to match the original paper animation. In this way he approached the flexibility of the drawn film. BUZZ SAWS AND DYNAMITE looks just like what it is, an amateur table top stop motion production, which couldn’t be marketed because it was so poorly done.

    • I think you’re absolutely right, Mark. Limitations aside, that doesn’t detract from this still being wonderfully bizarre and with a so-bad-it’s-good appeal to it. Can’t compare it to the Puppetoons, that’s for sure. And I highly doubt Pal would have seen the states rights Mugzees all the way over in Europe. Starewicz, yes.

    • I agree Mark!

      It is crude in animation, but a big improvement from ‘Dolly Daisy’ in design and animation (though I really like the backgrounds in the earlier film). I was impressed by the camera work and his attempts. Nearly every aspect of filmmaking here needs improvement of course, from script to character designs to voice work to sets to animation, basic direction to…gosh. I wonder how many years he had been animating, if he worked on many of the previous films, or if he continued. There are some neat shot ideas, especially early on- but why is Mugzee riding on a single train car down a track- and what is motivating it to be moving in the first place?

      It doesn’t seem that there is an understanding of basic timing in his animation, or posing, or composition- or a basic two character setup. My mouth was open as wide as theirs are watching this in Telecine!

    • Yes it’s awful – but that’s what makes it so much fun. I wish all the “bad” cartoons I’ve seen were this entertaining, even if unintentionally so.

  • I agree it sounds very much like Eddie Anderson. Also in a couple of lines the villain even sounds like a young Blanc…”And we’ll get the girl again…” I assume this was made on the West Coast? It’s pretty shoddy…and that certainly is one plain Jane heroine.

  • I don’t hear Rodchester or Blanc. The main villain and mugzee sound to me like Hal Smith.

  • haha this is amazing

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