NEEDLE DROP NOTES
April 19, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Color Classics 1934-35

1935 was a big year in the industry of animated cartoons. Everybody except Paul Terry (who was busy cleaning copper stains off his thumb and forefinger) was showing an interest in making color cartoons. Walt Disney had stolen a march on his competitors by getting an exclusive on the three-strip Technicolor process until December 31st, 1935. He was thus able to back up his storytelling skills with a brilliant palette. Max Fleischer was no different than Ub Iwerks, Van Buren, Walter Lantz, or Charles Mintz – he wanted to get into color cartoons as well. After doing one cartoon in the red and cyan Cinecolor process, he decided to switch over to the two-strip Technicolor process. As there were no Screen Songs in the 1934-35 season, all the energy that would have gone into those was re-directed and channeled into the “Color Classics” series. The series strove for the Disney-esque (which was not necessarily Fleischer’s forte), and frequently featured original songs by staff songwriters, some of which were quite memorable in their own right.

Poor Cinderella (8/3/34) – Who knew that Betty Boop was a redhead? This jarring truth is vividly revealed by a choice of hues that leaves her hair resembling a pumpkin pie filling. (Not at all accurate to the range of shading evident on any black-and-white episode, as black and white TV prints of this extended color production make her hair look gray instead of black.) Plotwise, the film adheres somewhat closely to the standard tropes of the classic story, avoiding broader off-the-wall humor that would predominate rival productions by Warner Brothers and the like. All the usual elements are there: bickering stepsisters, glass slippers, fairy godmother, – you name it. One of the few departures is the giving of a personality to the pumpkin for the coach, as a jack-o-lantern, who would rather become a mobile vehicle than a stack of pumpkin pies. In one of the only pre-code gags of the film, Betty loses most of her attire during the transformation to her ball gown, stripped down to her petticoats, with the godmother supplying her with the trademark garter before materializing the dress. Was this the first use of the “turntable camera” dimensional effects that would liven up so many of Max’s later cartoons? The invention, adding model set backgrounds in rotating dimension behind the animation, is used to full visual; effect in the coach ride sequences, and to a more limited degree in the ballroom dance (though characters within the ballroom maintain a very flat look). The ending is a bit anticlimactic, coming up with no plot twists to get the slipper fitted on Boop’s petite toes. The film features two original numbers, “Pretty Cinderella”, sung by the fairy godmother, singing mice, lizards, and the pumpkin, and “Poor Cinderella,” sing by Boop and featured as music at the ball (with vocal by a caricature of recurring Fleischer veteran Rudy Vallee). Both numbers were composed by Charlie Tobias, Jack Scholl, and Sammy Timberg – neither was commercially recorded.


Little Dutch Mill (10/26/34) – Two Dutch kids in their little wooden shoes are frolicking amoung the tulips and windmills. They spot an ill-tempered, disreputable-looking man, and follow him home, spotting him through the window fondling a hoard of gold coins. The miser does not like to be spied upon. That evening, the kids’ wooden shoes do not appear on the doorstep of their home as with the other children, and the community wonders what has become of them. The miser has captured the children, and threatens to burn their tongues out with a hot iron to keep them from telling about his gold. The kids’ pet duck gets away and warns the populace, who storm the miser’s mill. Notably, the townsfolk do not choose to do away with the miser or take him in, but decide to reform him by “cleaning up” his act – with buckets of soap and water, hair clippers and new clothes, transforming the mill and the miser into spit and polish neatness until they glisten and shine. The transformation is particularly striking upon the miser, whose voice rises from gravelly baritone to near-tenor, and who develops a whole new outlook of generosity and wanting to interact with his fellow man. Song: “Little Dutch Mill”, a tin pan alley song from 1934, fairly widely covered. For dancing, Don Bestor got it for Victor, Guy Lombardo on Brunswick (who would re-record the identical arrangement for a Decca four album retrospective on Guy’s career in the 1950’s), Al Mitchell (pseudonym for Sid Peltyn) on Bluebird, and Chick Bullock and his Levee Loungers on Melotone, Perfect, et al. Brunswick also had a popular vocal version by Bing Crosby. British versions included Ray Noble on HMV with vocal by Al Bowlly, Lew Stone for Decca, and Henry Hall for Columbia. The tune even found its way into a 1950’s kiddy-record release (retitled “The Little Dutch Boy ad the Little Dutch Girl”) on Peter Pan records.


An Elephant Never Forgets (12/28/34) – Hijinks in a jungle school, with the animal kids happily heading for class with a musical sing-song, seeming to be really enjoying themselves (an unusual attitude indeed for kids of the time). Perhaps their attitude may be best explained by what follows, as the classroom erupts in a total free for all whenever the teacher’s back is turned. The largest student (an elephant) is bullied by an ape, who smashes a washboard over his head. This eventually leads to every kid in the class throwing every object not ailed down at each other, until the teacher returns, and they put the brakes on the fight. Despite the room being in shambles, the teacher is satisfied merely at the class being quiet, and sends them home without punishment. The elephant, who has insisted he never forgets throughout the picture, gets final revenge on the ape, by placing the ape’s washboard in the seat of his trousers, to absorb blow of the ape’s swift kick, and smash his toes but good at the same time. Two more original tunes underscore the film, “We’re On Our Way To School Today”, and “An Elephant Never Forgets”, both written by Jack Scholl and Sammy Timberg, again with no commercial recordings.


Song of the Birds (3/1/35) – A little boy, playing with firearms, goes out and shoots down a bird. Realizing what he has done, he is all sad and morose, as the birds perform the ceremony of a woodland funeral – until the boy’s prayers are answered by a rain shower, which revives the little bird, only stunned and still very much alive. The boy throws away firearms forever, and feeds his new forest friends instead of firing upon them. The film was remade under the same title as a Little Audrey episode in 1949. A title number is instrumentally presented, composed by Sammy Timberg, and again not commercially recorded.


The Kids in the Shoe (5/19/35) – The woman in the shoe has the usual problems with so many mouths to feed, and so many kids to keep in line. When the kids cheat on washing up for dinner, they get sent to bed with orders to go right to sleep – and no music. This leads to a rebellious riot, with pillows flying and bedroom fixtures converted into musical instruments (predicting a later effort from Famous Studios for the Popeye series, “Me Musical Nephews”). Mama is awakened, and forced to break out the castor oil, causing the kids to cease fire and drop off to sleep immediately. The bottle, however, turns out to be a subterfuge, with a false label that conceals a bottle of sweet cider for Mama. The featured song is ‘Mama Don’t Allow It” (aka “Mama Don’t Like Music”), a ditty written by Cow Cow Davenport. The version used in the film is a needle drop by “Smilie”(sic) Burnette on Melotone, Perfect, et al. Julia Lee and her Boy Friends released am early 50’s version with some jazz cats, including Benny Carter and Red Norvo, on Capitol. A 50’s Columbia issue was released by a dixieland group called the Cell Block 7. Frankie Lymon recorded an updated version for Roulette. An interesting late television version exists with Roy Acuff, and a rather out of place duet version by Bing Crosby and Jose Feliciano.


Dancing on the Moon (7/12/35) – Honeymooning gets a new twist, with a rocket ride to the moon for only $1.00. Newlyweds of various species board, but a pair of cats are late, and only the male manages to get aboard, with the wife is left at the post. She assumes he will be up to no good all alone, and calls him an “alley cat” Instead, the tom is left alone and totally bored, taking solace in a game of solitaire, while the remaining couples enjoy themselves immensely in dancing amidst the moon’s craters, and romancing in a lovers lane. (The giraffes comment that “This is a great place for necking”.) When the rocket returns to earth, a line of storks are waiting to deliver each couple their new arrivals. But since the missus missed the flight, the cats wind up empty handed, and the missus clobbers her tom for all his troubles. The title song is a memorable and engaging original by Charlie Tobias and Murray Mencher, never commercially recorded – bit it should have been. Other returning favorites include “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, and “By the Light Of the Silvery Moon”.


Time For Love (9/14/35) – Two white swans are necking in a lake in the park. They are met by a black swan, who immediately cuts himself in, and demonstrates his skill at fishing. This leaves the male white swan disconsolate, as he can’t get the hang of it. The black swan proves a villain, eventually forcing the female to do all his fishing for him, but ultimately receives his come-uppance as the white male comes to the rescue. “Love in Bloom” provides the primary theme behind the action, a song from the motion picture, “She Loves Me Not”. Recorded as a vocal by Bing Crosby (who introduced it in the film) on Brunswick, and by Georgie Price on Melotone, Perfect et al., and as a dance record by Paul Whiteman on Victor, Ernie Holst and his Central Park Casino Orchestra on Bluebird and Montgomery Ward, and Hal Kemp on Brunswick. The song would of course become indelibly connected with Jack Benny as his de-facto theme song. Later, the piece was given “the treatment” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers on Victor. There is also an aircheck (embed below) from a Bing Crosby show which provides the rare opportunity to hear the song’s originator collaborate with the Spike Jones orchestra in their uproarious sendup. The song was also performed as an album cut by the Platters on Mercury, who spent much of the 1950’s raiding the Great American Songbook.


Musical Memories (11/9/35) – No plot to speak of. Miscellaneous nostalgic vignettes are visualized through the photos of a stereopticon in the collection of an elderly couple. The primary strength of the film is in its use of third-dimensional sets for the turntable camera, ranging from Bowery to ballroom. “Love’s Old Sweet Song”, “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”, “The Sidewalks of New York”, “The Bowery”, “Little Annie Rooney”, “In the Good Old Summertime”, “Daisy Bell”, “After the Ball”, “On a Sunday Afternoon”, “Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet”, and “Silver Threads Among The Gold”, all visited before, receive reuse.

Next Time: Betty Boop 1934-35.

12 Comments

  • Great article. Until now I’ve never properly realised just how many old shorts are actually on youtube.

  • “Musical Memories,” among other things, features a somewhat rarish caricature of former New York governor and former (1928) presidential nominee Al Smith, during the “Sidewalks of New York” segment. “Sidewalks” was a song long associated with him, and had been a campaign song used by him (Smith, famously, came up from poverty in the Lower East Side). At least one other Fleischer cartoon, 1932’s “Betty Boop for President,” also features a Smith caricature.

    • Smith was also caricatured in a couple of Terrytoons, “Robin Hood” and the Fanny Zilch melodrama “Hypnotic Eyes”, both from 1933.

  • People my age probably remember Smiley Burnette best as the engineer who drove the Hooterville Cannonball on “Petticoat Junction”.

    Cow Cow Davenport claimed to have written “Mama Don’t Allow It”, and he also claimed to have written “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You”, featured in an earlier Fleischer cartoon. There’s no evidence to back up either claim, but the two songs are remarkably similar.

    I think the birds’ funeral chorale in “Song of the Birds” was modelled on “Ase’s Death” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 (whose final movement is the famous “In the Hall of the Mountain King”). They’re not perfectly identical, but they share the same homophonic texture, melodic rhythm and phrasing pattern.

    The song “Dancing on the Moon” is indeed memorable and engaging, but the singing in the cartoon is so terrible that I simply can’t enjoy it.

    On the other hand, I’m quite fond of “The Little Dutch Mill”, one of Willard Bowsky’s few contributions to the Color Classics series. The bit with the men smoking gives me a laugh every time. There’s an inn in the town called “Het Witte Paard” (the white horse) — but the horse on the sign is black! The most hilarious thing about it is that when the angry mob catches the sociopath who abducted and attempted to mutilate their children, their idea of vigilante justice is to give him a bath and clean his house. Hence the expression, “Neat as a Dutchman.” Though my wife, who worked for a Dutch boss for many years, insists the expression is “Cheap as a Dutchman.”

    • Smiley Burnette was his movie billing from 1935.- is that record spelling of “Smilie” a mistake?

      He made his name as Gene Autry’s sidekick,at Republic prior to World War 2, then at Columbia in many of the Durango Kid movies, before briefly reuniting again with Gene Autry.

      He sang at least one of his own songs (often more) in each of these movies.

      He wore a black hat about 3 sizes too big in them, and he mugged horribly –
      completely different to his rather serene characterization on “Petticoat Junction”

    • The late Ron Hutchinson, of the Vitaphone Project, hired Vince Giordano and His Nighthawks orchestra for a family wedding, and that great outfit gave out with a velvety-smooth rendition of “Dancing on the Moon.” The reception was held at the Loew’s palace theater in Jersey City. You can hear it here: https://soundcloud.com/vitaphone/15-dancing-on-the-moon

  • VCI’s respectable DVD set “Somewhere in Dreamland” includes all of these plus later Color Classics, up through the Hunky and Spunky toons. Still available on Amazon comparatively cheap.

  • Interesting how “Poor Cinderella” came out aqua and orange instead of sea foam green and blood red like most two-strip color cartoons of the time. The lizards are very cute, and the off-key singing mice are the best. Betty Boop plays it relatively straight with an air of a burlesque queen trying to go legit. Subsequent Color Classics represent more valleys than peaks with unpleasant character design, uninspired stories, no better than adequate animation, screechy voices, but occasionally a catchy tune.

    • I thought some of the shorts were standouts such as “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” starring Grampy and “Hold It”.

    • Poor Cinderella was filmed using the Cinecolor process, which brought out more blue than green. (Cinecolor is noted in the title cards) Afterwards Paramount used the 2 color Technicolor process for the Color Classics,, I believe until the release of “Somewhere In Dreamland. In my opinion Cinecolor was the better process over 2 Color Tech.. The first two Color cartoons from WB in 1934, were produced in Cinecolor as well, before the series moved to two color tech for the 1934-35 release season. It’s an assumption on my part, but this may have been done by both studios to be in the good graces of Mr. Kalmus, once the superior 3 strip Technicolor process was shaken free of Disney’s contractual grip.

  • The CCC print of “Poor Cinderella” is the best looking of all the Color Classics offered here, as it appears to be the same restored print from the UCLA Film & Television Archives that I saw in the late 1980s on AMC (back when they were ad-free). Boop may have not looked exactly as she did in black and white, but the print is sharp, almost free of scratches, and pristine. Beware of the UM&M B/W print that is out there, especially on YouTube.

  • I remember “An Elephant Never Forgets” from a Digiview DVD as a kid!

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