September 12, 2019 posted by Steve Stanchfield

A Paramount Screen Song: “The Circus Comes to Clown” (1947)

In brief Thunderbean news: Work continues! There’s so many things on the plate that it’s best to just say we’re dubbing, sorting and sending. Noveltoons is back from replication now, but we’re finishing the package and getting the pre-orders ready first (with the bonus disc) Thanks to everyone for supporting the project. Next week I’ll finally talk about the Noveltoons set.

We’re also doing an additional disc of Noveltoons from 16mm prints. This won’t ever be an ‘official’ set, but I’ve come across too many nice prints in the course of the project to not scan them. Details here.

For the recent (unofficial) ‘Screen Songs’ special set, I was lucky enough to borrow some great old 16mm Kodachrome prints of Screen Songs from collector extraordinaire Paul Mular. The first of the ‘Official’ series, The Circus Comes to Clown (1947) might be my favorite of these.

Our own Jerry Beck once told me that a good summation of the quality of work in the Famous Studios cartoons was always ‘Professional’ The films were well produced and done to a level of quality in most areas. I wonder if the animators working on them thought of it as a good break since they were often animating non-speaking characters throughout.

The short is pretty inoffensive seen today, save an odd pair of stereotypes (how did they manage to make a Siamese twin joke?) and an unusual breast close up (I think this may be a shot unique in the golden age of cartoons) The clown design is one of my favorite things in any Famous Studios short, he somehow looks a little out of place with the rest of the designs in the film. I’m actually most fond of this one because of the character designs and the very odd appearance of Blackie the Sheep, unusually miserable in this one short. I sort of wish the three ragamuffins from the Popeye cartoon ‘The Man on the Flying Trapeze’ were here to liven things up.

Prints of the Famous Studio’s Screen Songs in 35mm seem especially rare in the collector’s world; every one I’ve borrowed has been beat up to death, even more so than the surviving Noveltoons prints. 16mm prints are generally reddish, except for some earlier prints that UM&M printed in Kodachrome. This is one of those nice, earlier Kodachrome prints. Make sure wot watch it in HD, and have a great weekend.


  • I’ve never been a big fan of the Screen Songs. If, by “professional”, you mean, “minimally competent”, I agree completely.
    Some of them, like “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Little Brown Jug”, make me feel as though I’ve been living in a madhouse for many years. But they’re good fun, and it’s nice to see one in decent condition for a change.

    The seal’s sign “Petrillo says two fish” refers to James C. Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musicians, who was well-known in the forties for leading musicians’ strikes against the recording industry. Bugs Bunny mentions him at the end of “Hurdy Gurdy Hare”.

    The verse about “Senor Boni Slang”, who was “as well made as Chang” — could that refer to Chang of the original Siamese twins? He and his brother Eng were known for being very athletic, and of course they did show off their muscular torsos while displaying their connecting tissue to paying audiences. It also ties in with the Siamese twins gag in the cartoon.

    Too bad about Blackie getting dumped by his girlfriend, but it clearly wasn’t meant to be. I can’t say I blame her; to me, Blackie was just a pale imitation of the tap-dancing black sheep in Ub Iwerks’s “Little Boy Blue”. That little guy shows more personality in a few seconds of screen time than Blackie did in his entire run!

  • Thanks once again for the rare cartoon, and I’ve pre-ordered a copy of the EVEN MORE NOVELTOONS disk. Can’t wait to check out these disks once they are actually released, and I’m hoping for good things from the next week’s posting about the completion (hope, hope) of the NOVELTOONS collection on blu-ray, with all the bonus stuff already pre-ordered. Good luck with the other projects, too.

  • This was one of those Fleischer/Famous cartoons with a morbid end gag/scene. Death before the iris out was one of the things the Paramount writers and directors did on a regular basis (I think only Lou Lilly in his brief stint as storyman at Warners had a higher percentage of killing off characters at the end of his cartoons). They definitely stood out when they ended up in TV stations’ syndicated packages running weekdays or on Saturday mornings.

  • I’ve had to reasses my feelings on Famous after viewing some of the beautiful Popeye releases lately. Famous hit a sweet spot in the mid-40s when they hadn’t turned to hackery. Some of their usage of color is unique, and pleasing. I think Popeye Volume 3 from Warner Archive will be the last quality release of Famous material.

    • Famous’ output gets more interesting, story-wise, starting somewhere around mid-1955 and running through the end of the decade and the sale of all their other characters to Harvey. The 1955-’57 time period would also include the final group of Famous Popeyes, but since United Artists failed to renew the copyrights, those already are in public domain, and I don’t know if Warners is going to put up the $$$ to restore cartoons everyone already has (in poorer quality versions), especially if any releases covering the 1949-55 period don’t sell well.

  • I agree that the best part for me is the Disneyesque animation of the clown which feels out of place here. I kinda enjoy the opening shots of the big top, but they are still vastly inferior to Famous’ earlier TERROR ON THE MIDWAY.

    The Siamese twins eating watermelon is so outrageous that it would be interesting to read anything Christopher P. Lehman could add here. Apparently the George Pal Puppetoons being released under the same mountain-of-stars banner were subject to a lot of criticism at this time, but I sense these gag writers so loved watermelons that they needed to find an alternative way of getting that gag in.

    Despite some obvious comparisons to MUCH ADO ABOUT MUTTON and music “sending” sheep to wolfish charms, having Blackie and his white lamby girlfriend dealing with a trapeze wolf is still a nice alternative to the usua lBluto transforming into one around Olive gags that were milked to death. Funny… I think the bosom emphasis was totally unintentional since it is obvious they are recycling Olive’s and other female hearts “following” the movements of “some strong man”. Then again, I can only wonder what Robert Clampett would have done with this had Private Snafu been involved.

    • The Famous Screen Songs (including the ones tested as Noveltoons) heavily relied on racial stereotyping …..

    • That’s quite a crude gag, but I give the studio credit for at least making the African Americans look human. For example, the lips do not take up the entire lower one-third of the face (as in the figures in the infamous Censored 11).
      Overall, Famous Studios is complicated. On the one hand, you have the watermelon gag here, the maids of Little Lulu and Little Audrey, the Stepin Fetchit-ish figure in LOOSE IN THE CABOOSE, the “cheaper by the dozen” gag in POPEYE’S PAPPY, and Buzzy’s dialect. On the other hand, you have the designs for the Siamese Twins, Buzzy’s role as the protagonist who always outsmarts the larger Katnip and inflicts violence on him, and a “white” mammy-figure in SHORTENIN’ BREAD.

  • Study in contrasts: The Popeye version, back in the Fleischer glory days, and the UPA version in ’54.

    The UPA take is odd, less funny than bitter — story and gags were almost an afterthought in a lot of UPAs. Note that the song is not quite the familiar version — an artistic decision or a copyright issue?

  • Hey Steve

    I just sent my order of 19.95 for EVEN MORE NOVELTOONS. Tell me did you get it?
    When can I expect to get my order.

  • They didn’t even get the lyrics right. It’s “maid in her tease” (to rhyme with “please” and “ease” and “trapeze,” you sees), not “teens.”

  • Looks like it is actualy “teens” in the lyric. It is not supposed to be rhyming with any other words in that part of the song.

  • Johnny Gent did most of those very uncomfortable scenes with Blackie’s sweater gal and the wolf. The “operetta” voices along with Gent’s natural drawing style really gives it a Terrytoon vibe. Also, nothing says incompetence like the biggest and only laugh in a cartoon is when a character is killed.

  • I’ll say this for the Screen Songs. Even when it’s a song I thought I knew, I’m usually surprised to see there’s an extra two, three or even four stanzas I’d never heard of.

  • The reference to Chang is as suspected above. Here is the sheet music- from 1868!

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