Editor’s Note: Due to a technical snafu, Steve Stanchfield’s segment on Van Beuren cartoons was accidentally omitted from Monday’s broadcast on TCM. It has been rescheduled to air on Sunday night December 7th at 12 midnight (EST), 9pm Pacific Time. Set your DVRs.
I’m honored and excited that I was able to be a part of the Back to the Drawing Board block of animation programming, presented on Turner Classic Movies. The experience was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things, and all I could think the whole time is how lucky I was to be able to participate. There’s so many other people that I personally would like to see sit in that chair, and I hope that will happen sooner than later, with more fun films being presented.
Often the history of animation is left to be told by the companies that still have ‘viable’ properties, and therefore highlight only the films made at that particular company. I give huge Kudos to the people at Turner for believing in unique programming choices, unusual in this day and age, even as we have 4,856 channels or something. It’s worth supporting Turner’s efforts, especially by writing them if you enjoy the program and want them to continue to do more.
The unusualness of this program can be seen as soon as you see the films that are getting shown, especially the Bray Studios shorts. This is likely the first time most of these films have been shown on a broadcast in well over forty years, and some may very well be making their Television premiere.
As for me, my fingers are still sore from restoration and editing efforts on many of the films showing, but I’ll put in one more word before the broadcast. Following up on Tom’s article from yesterday, here are some liner notes for the Van Beuren Studio shorts in the program:
The Fly’s Bride (1929) Dir. John Foster and Harry Bailey. Years back, one of the small video distributors released a a whole series of Van Beuren Cartoons on VHS; if I’m remembering correctly, he started the description with “Do you remember all the dumb bug cartoons on TV in the early 50s?” He was for sure referencing films most likely produced as part of the Aesop’s Fables series, made in the 20s through the early 30s. The Fly’s Bride is one of my favorites; it doesn’t really have much of a plot or direction, and when it does, it’s the simplest of set ups involving a couple of flies interrupted by a amorous spider with ill intention. Most of the cartoon revolves around little gags, with an extended scene involving a large percentage of the cast caught up on a sheet of fly paper! If cartoons were all judged by having a balanced and carefully charted plot and story arc, this cartoon wouldn’t even make it through any sort of first cut, but I think it’s important to note that those ideas clearly were not under any consideration at all; these were short gag films produced to entertain the audience with funny animation and gags; there WERE no higher goals, and viewed as such they are wonderful outings, with no pretention whatsoever.
A Swiss Trick (1931) Dir. John Foster, George Stallings. Starring Tom and Jerry (the men, as you cartoon diehards know). I always get the feeling that the Van Beuren shorts would be considered in higher regard if better versions were available of them. In this case, the 35mm Nitrate print at least gives a better idea of what the film looked and sounded like in it’s original theatrical release. The animation and soundtrack are a lot of fun, though of course the short doesn’t have the polish and design that Fleischer’s or many of the other studio’s films from the same period do. As in Van Beuren’s other efforts, there are funny ideas aplenty, some working very well, others not living up to their full potential. It’s nice to hear crisp versions of Gene Rodemich’s enjoyable musical scores, and the Van Beuren free-wheeling-all –singing-all-dancing-without-reason musical interludes are enough to carry this little film along. I do think the Swiss in general are a little mean to Tom and Jerry here, but in viewing the entire series, it’s really not unusual for these two stars to be left in peril at the end of each of their cartoons!
Silvery Moon (1933) Dir. John Foster, Mannie Davis. It seems that if the Van Beuren Studio was being highlighted in a show, most likely Silvery Moon would be shown. It was one of the first Van Beuren cartoons I ever saw, from this exact print in a new HD transfer for this showing. I’ve had a lot of films come and go since then, but somehow I’ve held onto this one and so many others. I’ve always loved the music especially in this cartoon, and unrelenting consumption of sweets, followed by swift punishment by an evil looking spoon and caster oil bottle. Thinking about it, pretty much ALL of these cartoons in this program have an aspect of crime and punishment, with the exception of Eshbaugh’s Wizard of Oz and Pastry Town Wedding. As Chris Buchman pointed out in the liner notes of the Thunderbean Aesop’s Fables DVD, The Siamese Patrol March by Paul Lincke is featured in both this cartoon and the earlier “Toy Time” (1931). They utilize the same action and layout design, redrawn to match the second film- with the timing of the action almost identical.
Rough on Rats (1933). Dir. Harry Bailey. A favorite among the Aesop’s Fables, and the last of the long running series. Rough on Rats is truly a transition film for the studio, not only in ending a series, but in style and animation quality. Well structured and timed, the film has well animated sequences next to very mediocre ones, though all work just fine to convey the story. I was fascinated at just how violent this film was when I first saw it as a teenager. The manic sequence near the end of the film features the tune “Zombie” as these formally helpless kittens torture and ultimately kill their rat tormenter. I do think he deserved it for almost chopping one of them into meat slices. In looking at the films made before this at Van Beuren, the leaps forward in timing, film construction and animation are evident. Still, I think it’s fitting that they end this film with one of the little kitten’s faces coming toward the camera, as is common in so many of the very early Fables.
A Little Bird Told Me (1934). Dir. Burt Gillett. The third and last cartoon of the “Toddle Tales” cartoons, at least sort of. It lived on in two other cartoons, produced in Cinecolor and released as part of the Rainbow Parade series. My guess is that both films were in some kind of progress when it was decided that the studio would switch to all color production. In this short, Bobby and his otherwise unnamed sister discover how the Little Birds tell each other about obvious events, playing off the popular phrase that is also the title of this film. The oddness of this hybrid live action/animated is only topped by the first cartoon in this same series Grandfather’s Clock. My friend Ken Preibe has told me he is unable to watch that film because of how creepy the live-action man’s face and voice is. I’ll grant him that- it’s pretty terrifying.
The Wizard of Oz (1932/33). I’ve talked a good amount about this cartoon before, and even managed to talk a little about it on the Turner Broadcast (I hope those comments make the cut!). I love the fact that a great copy of this short is about to be seen by a wide audience. I think Ted Eshbaugh would be very happy about that, and that his accomplishment is mentioned despite the larger voices of animation history.
Pastrytown Wedding (1934) Dir. Ted Eshbaugh. It’s fitting to me that Ted Eshbaugh’s films finish off this program, all in very nice prints. The good guy is this cartoon has evil-looking eyebrows, and that always struck me as bizarre. Maybe he is up to something after the cartoon ends, or maybe he can live up to his evil looking brows in a long awaited sequel. The print of Pastrytown Wedding we used for the broadcast is from Eshbaugh’s own archive originally. The ‘Cushman’s Flour’ version from the 1940 release, with Cushman’s inserts intact. Giant thanks to George Willeman at the Library of Congress for this and other rarities in recent times.
The Sunshine Makers (1935) Dir. Ted Eshbaugh. Sun worshipping elves fight and win the cosmic battle between good and evil by bombing those not like themselves off the planet and converting /emasculating them. The ‘Glooms’ are forced to drink the sunshine makers ‘product’, turning them into happy subservient drones with glowing bones. Maybe my favorite film of the night. Despite what my description here suggests, there is something so gentle and nice about this little cartoon other than the undertone of the message- it’s still about crime and punishment, and even bears a little resemblance to the crusades. Funny enough, Columbia’s later Let’s Go (1937) is similar as well, with the idea of war and bombing as a way to rehabilitate a community. A beautiful 35mm print of this film, in a new High Definition transfer made especially for this showing.
See all of the films above Sunday night December 7th at 12 midnight/9pm PST on Turner Classic Movies