March 9, 2023 posted by Steve Stanchfield

“Movie Phoney News” (1938) – A New Universal Cartoon!

It’s spring break this week at the school, and I’ve been attempting to make the most of the week by catching up with lots of little projects here as well as Thunderbean stuff. The extra time so far has been put into getting “The Little King” Blu-ray nearly finished. At the moment there are not permissions to scan the original camera negative for the one Little King that has a master element intact, so we’re cleaning up the 16mm scan (from film hero Dennis Atkinson’s 16mm original print). I’m of course relentlessly pursuing permission still and hoping we’ll be able to move forward.

Flip The Frog is in a similar waiting pattern, but for not much longer. We’ll be sending both these sets to replication in March, finally, one way or another! The rest of the in progress sets need our attention, and both these projects really look great, thanks to the talents of all the folks that made them, with a little help from all of us. I’m looking at all the things we want to accomplish this year with the goal of getting material out monthly. Many of the releases this year are things we’ve been working on for a while- I feel a little against the clock in trying to get the official sets both as good as we’re able and keep them rolling out.

We’re working with the Diamant film restoration package now, thanks to our association with the Fleischer’s restoration project. It’s been a tremendous help in getting things done much faster than the software we had been using- so it’s a big boost to the Fleischer restoration project as well as the things Thunderbean is doing. We only have one chair of the software currently, so the freelancers have been working up at the office, then I grab the computer and drag it back home to clean more material up at night. It’s been pretty dizzying, but also an excellent crash course is how to best use the new software for the best results. We plan to get more chairs as soon as we’re able to!

The new software package has really made us re-evaluate a lot of the elements on the Van Beuren Tom and Jerry set and get them looking as good as possible- and the Rainbow Parades we’ve been scanning. I’m looking forward to getting more scans from the ComiColor project as well and I’ll share things here as they start to roll in more regularly.

A big piece of me loves the idea of getting a lot of these things back to actual film. The advancements in recent years are astonishing to me in terms of the quality of scanning as well as restoration software- and I’m sure those advancements will continue. We have big plans this year for some of these things.

We’ve got a new special set pre-order up at the Thunderbean Shop called Secret Cartoon Set 2023. It’s the usual, unusual collection of prints we’ve managed to scan. I know we won’t do these forever, but it’s a lot of fun to gather all these rarities and make them available. Thanks to all of you that have helped support all these things through these years.

And— this week’s cartoon!

I’ve always been fascinated by the really odd films that are a part of the regular release schedules at pretty much every studio. Movie Phoney News (1938) is one of those sorts of shorts – in this case, it’s a ‘cheater’ using footage from lots of different films as part of a Newsreel Spoof (“Movietone” is likely their target), with Billy Bletcher as the narrator. In some ways it’s the best reuse in terms of a framing device (although I’ve always liked The Adventures of Popeye and the live action footage in it.

This short is still puzzling — a strange mix of clips from various Lantz cartoons from the few years before it was made. Oddly, in a way it’s a nice review of the films they were making at that time. The disjointed aspect of their presentation works really nicely with the newsreel format, although the overall flavor of the short seems a little odd. I’d love to hear your opinions.

Ron Schwartz was kind enough to sell this print to me, so, just as if I was projecting this for friends, I’m sharing it here. Who knows if Universal will ever release these things- but I don’t think this one is at the top of anyone’s list! Enjoy!


  • This sounds like it would have been a great piece to add to any of the installments of “the woody woodpecker show“. It might have even have made a great special feature on a collection of Walter Lantz cartoons. perhaps, someday, you can upgrade that fantastic Walter Lantz disc that you released some years back. There were some great cartoons there. I very much look forward to the Blu-rays that you finish up and get into our hands eventually. I know the wait will be worth it, as I’ve always said. Good luck.

  • They had the nerve to call it “a NEW Universal cartoon”?!? I’m not a big fan of cheaters generally, though I don’t object to them on principle; “Customers Wanted”, for example, has a clever framing structure and some good original animation. But “Movie Phony News” isn’t even done very well. Take the bit from “Music Hath Charms”, where the swarm of locusts eat all the leaves off a tree to reveal pairs of birds kissing each other. Fine, but then they cut out the ending of the gag, the funniest part, when the locusts return and strip the birds of their feathers. And I don’t know why they credit Frank Marsales with the music, because as far as I can tell it’s all needle drops: everything from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony to the fiddle tunes “Soldier’s Joy” and “Chicken Reel”. The original cartoon “Monkey Wretches” — source of the clip with the monkey playing clarinet in front of the cuckoo clock — was accompanied by a very catchy novelty song:

    “Do like the monkeys do!
    Umba zumba, umba zumba!
    Do like the monkeys do!
    Umba zumba zoo!”

    Oh great, now that’s going to be going around in my head all night.

    • They had the nerve to call it “a NEW Universal cartoon”?!?

      it’s new to me. For the life of me, I don’t think I ever saw a Lantz cheater growing up.

      • Agreed. Odd that Lantz did a cheater.

    • “NEW UNIVERSAL” was a studio wide promotional catch phrase. Uncle Carl’s happy band had grown up, and becoming more sophisticated about their subject matter and productions. Hence, the “NEW” Spinning plexiglass globe and twinkling stars we have all come to appreciate, needed confirmation that everything was NOW going to be NEW and Glamorious!! We only got to see promotional adds for the NEW UNIVERSAL for about 2 years. Even a few serials carried the news. And you have to admit, films like “The Mummy’s Hand” were ground breaking… that time, anyway. 🙂

    • “A New Universal Cartoon” doesn’t refer to the film itself. “The New Universal” is how the studio referred to itself for awhile after Carl Laemmle and son were forced out and new management took over. A lot of their advertising from this period has “A New Universal Picture” on it.

    • I note some music that was at one time original. Some reuse of the “Youth Machine” action music from the possibly unreleased “Boy Meets Dog”. Well, waste not, want not.

    • “New Universal” refers to the post-Carl Laemmle reorganization of the company.

      • Thanks for that information on the studio’s history, everybody! I must have seen the “New Universal” logo before but didn’t think anything of it at the time, because unlike “Movie Phony News”, those films weren’t made of old footage spliced together!

  • It’s as though the studio was marking time until it could develop its big breakaway star.

    Always a delight to hear Billy Bletcher’s voice. He had more versatility than perhaps he was given credit for.

    As you said, it may not be on the top of anyone’s list, but it’s delightful all the same.

  • I’m guessing Lantz didn’t have the budget to at least add new animated bookend of Oswald or whoever spoofing the opening and closing of different newsreels to this cheater short.

  • Thanks Steve!

    I guess it’s a noble, if unattainable, goal to restore and archive each and every piece of animation history, but I’m pretty sure that if Movie Phoney News doesn’t make the cut, there won’t be a huge public outcry.

    I can relate to Bletcher’s announced intro of “misleading news” however; relevant today.

    If it was my job to hunt down and restore forgotten Lantz shorts, I’d start with Babyface Mouse (aka Willie Mouse?)

  • Interesting to see Norman McLeod and Win Smith — two names celebrated in other connections — credited for the story.

  • I’m pretty sure that’s Danny Webb narrating the cartoon. But yeah, Bletcher does some similar voices like that on a couple cartoons too.

    • Yes, Nick, Webb is doing the Lew Lehr impersonation. Bletcher’s heard at the start.
      At least we’re spared Hardaway sign gags that Lantz cartoons featured a few years later.

  • JERRY and Crew–I’ve seen all variations of the Lantz cartoon tv shows. I would guess they were all for syndicated local stations, i.e. no network. From Black and White shows (from which I’ve had black and white Woody’s that end with an iris out) to color which is when we got to see those inside views of the Lantz workplace in COLOR, unlike the B & W views up till then. ANYWAY, the late 30’s, which is what I estimate the vintage of the Phoney news reel to be,is when Walter was having to keep up with the Warner’s and do more releasing of shorts in COLOR, which was at that time more costly than the monochrome variety. So after running over budget for a few months, pulling old footage from past shorts and issuing them under a new format (Newsreel) which would save a good bit of time and money, seemed like a good idea. EH WHAT, Guvner? So there—that’s my guess and I’m sticking to it!!

    • Walter Lantz might be compared to Filmation: He and his studio are remembered far more fondly than his output.

      • Even so, Lantz cartoons are way funnier and more advanced than the so-called “animation” (“drawn-live-action”) we are strangled with today.

      • Filmation? Good grief. I thought most of his stuff (with the exception of Smith’s “legally blind period”) was quite good and way better than that second-rate television animation studio.

      • Maybe among industry professionals of a certain age, but as much as the studio blotted its copybook in later years I think there are too many high points (the early Woodys, Avery’s brief tenure at the studio) for classic cartoon buffs to have that kind of view of them.

        • Nic and Willoughbystain: Agreed.

  • I’m honestly quite surprised Lantz didn’t resort to cheaters during the studio’s later years, especially during a time where Warner and MGM were doing it. Then again, what we ended up getting from that period wasn’t much better either…

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