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!
If 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!
When 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.
The 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.
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!