THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
January 21, 2016 posted by

Don’t let the bed bugs bite! “The Flop House” (1932)

No new Thunderbean news this week, but some coming soon. Instead, in light of the resurgence of bed bugs in many areas, we bring you this humorous take on not only bed bugs, but also homelessness, sibling abuse, and the fine art of using a gun to wake up a line of people!

scrappy-title-sambaIf you’ve been reading this for any length of time, it’s easy to see that I might have an unhealthy affection for Scrappy cartoons, produced from 1931 though 1940. Scrappy had his own series though 1939, ending his screen career as part of the ‘Phantasy’ series. There are worse addictions.

When I was first collecting cartoons, the Scrappys were more than a little hard to find, although on occasion a few would show up, often together. At one point, a large collection of them showed up at the same time, likely all from the same TV package, and I saved every penny to get as many as I could. In those days, The Big Reel arriving in the mail was the day to call al the collectors that had ads to see if films were still available, and, pretty frequently, most of the films I wanted had been snatched up by one of the other collectors- and, more often than not, usually one of about six people who were die hards like me – though I was the ‘new guy’ and much younger than any of the other folks. I knew nearly all of them at least a little, although not all, and more than once, when I was still a teenager, I’d ask the seller if Collin or Bill or Mark got it before I did. Sometimes they’d actually say yes. Sometime in the early 80s, Joe Dante beat me out of a print of Van Beuren’s Red Riding Hood, calling Cliff Thomas just a half hour before I did. I must have really annoyed one collector in New Jersey; he told me to call back when I was 18! Still, I got a lot of good stuff, so I’ll stop my complaining. I’d really love to hear a handful of their stories of finding films back then!

scrappy-flop-houseWhen the film was something especially odd, there really were only a few of us trying to get it I think. My guess is I got those ones only when one of the other collectors already had it. A collector named Barry Siegel always had really cute drawings, with Barry as a cigar-smoking hipster, telling the buyer ‘Buy from me with Confidence!”

If it was something better known, I imagine the pool of people that wanted it was bigger. I would always hope to get the things I really wanted, but I did know that almost no matter what, I’d be able to get a Scrappy or two. These were no consolation prizes though— they were my absolute favorites, taking a seat directly across from Popeye, and they remain favorites. I especially like the really early entries in the series.

oopy-flop-houseThe Flop House (1932) is one of my favorites, with lots of really fun gags and some really nice character animation. Posing and timing at Columbia are taking leaps forward at this point, largely due to the brilliance of director Dick Huemer. these cartoons all have a really joyful, musical sensibility. These aspects combined with often really bizarre subject matter leads to a strange but enjoyable experience.

The idea of children playing adult is a constant theme in early 30s shorts, but I’m pretty sure this is the only one where a little boy actually runs a Flop House. Paul Etcheverry and Will Friedwald wrote a great series of articles on Scrappy in the early 80s for Animania, and these two issues were gold to the 13 year-old cartoon fanatic that I was then. In the article on Scrappy, the synopsis for this cartoon started with “Scrappy, the cute little early thirties cartoon character, runs his own sleazy flop house”. Whenever I see this cartoon, I think of that description.

The film centers around Oopy (unnamed here, sometimes referred to as Vontzy). Usually Oopy is Scrappy’s brother, although here he’s an annoying guest, and oddly the only other human. Scrappy runs this ramshackle depression-era flop house for the otherwise homeless, collecting money from the poorest of society and offering them a less-than-savory barn-like resting place. They’re all happy enough to enter, though by the end of the film…

The cartoon is full of Fleischer-esque gags. I think it’s a really great example of the evolution of timing and acting in animation, with often really solid posing and variety in timing, as well as story pacing, though I think the ending doesn’t work as well as the rest of the film. The score in this cartoon is really fun too. I really love the ominous music that plays as Oopy attempts to walk to his bed without waking everyone. There’s a great scene in the middle of the film where Oopy attempts to drink water, leading to him creating a whole series of little annoyances for the rest of the animals, er, guests. There’s a bedpan joke at one point, though I think modern audiences likely wouldn’t get it. In the end, despite Scrappy’s attempts in the first scene to destroy them, the bed bugs win out.

bed-bugs-flop-house

I once showed this film at a kid’s party, and when the shot of Oopy lifting a sheet and revealing bugs, several children screamed ‘Ewwwww!’.

Here is an HD transfer of the print I got when I was still in high school, purchased from collector/seller Jerry Nelson back in 1983. He isn’t with us anymore, but still, thanks so much Jerry for selling all those films to a squeaky little teenager calling you once a month. I’m still sharing them.

Have a great week everyone!

9 Comments

  • Oopie’s other name “Vontzy” comes from “vontz,” the Yiddish for “bedbug.”

  • “No new Thunderbean news this week, but some coming soon”

    I wonder how soon is that? Next week or further into the future? I wonder, because one of the greatest parts of reading “THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY” are the exciting announcements from Steve that generally come along with it 😉

    • Ok Kristjan- here’s the long and the short then of the news at the moment:

      -Scans of Iwerks cartoons coming along beautifully. Can’t believe how beautiful original negs look on some of these.
      -Sorting out rights for something I’ve wanted to release for 10 years
      -Some film coming from France on a trade that are amazing- now, if I can only get the rest of the series…
      -Working on cleanup on an unannounced-yet project… 😉

  • I do remember Big Reel, and all the interesting and entertaining ads therein… not all of them selling films. For instance, there was this Hawaiian fellow named Herbert Yuen who would place about three or four ads in each issue, proclaiming himself the next Edgar Allan Poe, or peddling a script with himself as the lead.

  • Okay, I have to tell ya that I like 1930’s cartoons for almost the same reasons you do; the sadism among characters and the amounts of times that adult situations are hinted at, and this goes beyond the Hays Code if you watch carefully. Hey, we never really know Buddy’s age, but he ran a beer garden for some very seedy customers, one of whom groped his girlfriend, Cookie, and then, in “BUDDY THE GOB”, he was a sailor embroiled in Eastern “intrigue”; throughout that whole series there are sections that suggest other exploits that kids might not and should not understand, but hey, that is why I like such cartoons, and I’m sure that the SCRAPPY series is chock full of stuff like that. You reeled me in with talk of this cartoon. I’m already imagine some of the most bizarre gags. Cartoons of the 1930’s can scare as well as keep the viewer glued, and I’m glad that you were seduced at age 13. As Mel Blanc jokes in the HOLIDAY PARTY gag reel, “Gweat stuff! Gweat stuff!”

  • At 3.19, when that little kid is gargling, he looks like he has stubble!

  • I don’t look at Scrappy as first tier, and Popeye obviously was, but I do enjoy the few I’ve seen.

  • I’d love a BluRay of all the Scappys. After getting an 8mm Columbia one for Christmas, he became one of my favorite, too.

    I once had a 16mm cartoon that was my dad’s as a kid. The only scene I remember is a down shot of an upright piano being hoisted up the side of a skyscaper by a rope and pully with a cat on either end rocky back and forth like on a teeter totter. As I remember they weren’t angler like Felix or as soft as Crazy Cat. With that limited bit of information, do you have any idea what it might have been.

  • FLOP HOUSE is terrific. It’s one of a bunch of Scrappys I made 35mm prints of while I was at Sony, and I believe we may have run it at Cinecon several years ago. Assuming they didn’t spitefully junk the print after I left, it might still be available for any theatre wishing to book it.

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