December 17, 2020 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Pre-code Holiday Fun: “Room Runners (1932)”

It was a week of nonstop dubbing and sending of special discs- and continues tomorrow. It’s the most things we’ve ever sent within a week— and that was beat by the stuff from the week before. Between just sending things and finishing up duties at the school, I haven’t really had time to sit down to work on any of the almost finished sets. I’m honestly looking forward to seeing what’s there to go through (so maybe a break was good). I think I’ll be way less tired later this week and hope to start tackling more in a full-time way.

There has been a lot of progress that can be smiled about. I’m feeling pretty happy about Rainbow Parades 1 and More Stop Motion Marvels; both are super close to being finally in the can. There’s a bunch of the ‘special’ sets that are just waiting to be assembled.

A recent find of 32 original model sheets from the Rainbow Parades is really wonderful icing on the cake for that set. It also now has the most complete soundtracks that we know to exist on every film. When that title is finally ready I’ll post the model sheet gallery from the first set a majority of them I had never seen before. Stop Motion Marvels has been getting the last films tidied up just a little more, including the Cinegraph Sweepstakes. The scans look great- and I’m looking forward to a little downtime from shipping and getting back to putting these titles on your shelf rather than taking up all these hard drives.

Our good friend, Flip the Frog, has almost all the films in the series completed and cleaned up from the best possible elements, save a few films and little pieces here and there. A few whole films are still delayed from being scanned (since March!) but I hear they’ll actually be able to finally be done soon, at least the ones here in the states. There’s pieces of things in DC, Boston and Florida to get up here too, but I’m hoping over the break from school to get all those in the can. There’s also a print in a European archive that I just cross my fingers about, weekly. I will let us scan the single print left there soon. Flip has been one of the longest in progress titles ever here, and a huge challenge to get the best material, as has been semi-documented here. We’re doing right by Flip and all his assistants.

I think it’s safe to say I’m in for the long haul on all this stuff.

Now, onto the film!

That said, it seemed like a little pre-code fun for the holidays is in order, and everyone deserves a little gift – so here’s our (nearly) done version of the Flip the Frog classic, Room Runners (1932).

It’s from the only 35mm elements that survives in the master materials. The track must have been damaged many years back; the master on the track (on a separate, track-only reel) has the beginning piece replaced from a dupe of the opening track, with an abrupt splice into the opening music. So far, we haven’t been able to find a master track that appears to be much more complete, although there are 16mm tracks that seem to yield a sightly better transition at the beginning. I’m still looking, so if you have a print that you can easily pull out, please take a look for me!

Our own Devon Baxter did a really nice job giving this film a good amount of care and love. It’s all the better for it. ASIFA Hollywood helped to fund this and six other Flip the Frog scans and cleanups.

I hope as each of these projects help to keep these wonderful films accessible to those that love them as well as gaining a new audience. As I work on these things I get the same thrill I got when I first saw the Black and White Popeyes on television, or first saw a silent Felix the Cat on 8mm, or first saw the Little King in Christmas Night, from the first 16mm print I bought from Clifford Thomas in 1982 for $5 (and $1.75 postage).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Room Runners, one of my favorites of the series. I hope you enjoy it and make better choices than Flip seems to make.

Have a good week everyone!


  • Ah, “Room Runners” — a pre-Code masterpiece, and it’s never looked better (not in the last 80 years, at any rate). But I’ve always wondered about the gag where the policeman is looking through the keyhole and Flip calls him “Walter Winchell”. I know that in 1932, before he started crusading against Fascism and Communism, Winchell was a gossip columnist who published rumour and innuendo about the sex lives of famous people. So could “Walter Winchell” have been slang for a peeping Tom?

  • You may recall hearing some of the soundtrack in “Crumb,” the scene in which the great cartoonist is trying to introduce classic animation to his daughter Sophie who isn’t having any (“Everything has to be old-fashioned! Everything has to be black and white!”). So where’s Sophie Crumb today?

    The manager seems to be one of Ub Iwerks’ stock characters, appearing also as the teacher in “Mary’s Little Lamb.” And Flip may recognize the scantily clad young woman as the secretary in “The Office Boy.”

  • Well, Winchell in the 30s had a reputation as a keyhole peeper, at least in a metaphoric sense. Tashlin would have a Winchell caricature peeping through a keyhole in one of his things-come-to-life cartoons about five years after this, for example (1937’s “Speaking of the Weather” at about 4.37). And the poster for the 1932 Warner Bros. film “Blessed Event” (with Lee Tracy as a Winchell-type) features a keyhole in the poster and in the advertising. By 1932, Winchell had expanded from newspapers like the New York Mirror to radio; he was a featured player on Lucky Strike’s radio show. (One of the earliest surviving usages of the NBC Chimes is introduced by Winchell with “Here’s that fellow with the chimmies [sic] again!”) It wasn’t so much slang, as something associated with Winchell.

  • Can’t… un-see… ‘teacher’ head… on curvy body…

  • So where’s Sophie Crumb today?
    She married a tattoo artist in Brooklyn…

  • The 1933 motion picture “Broadway Thru a Keyhole” featured a story by Walter Winchell (in fact, the main title in this link actually reads “Walter Winchell’s ‘Broadway Thru a Keyhole'”) and, while this cartoon boasts a 1932 release date, it’s certainly possible that the Iwerks crew knew of the upcoming film as it was based on a story written by Winchell, which may or may not have seen print when “Room Runners” was in production. Winchell was all over radio, print and even motion picture media in that timeframe, and he likely plugged the hell out of “Broadway Thru a Keyhole,” as it’s one of only three Hollywood studio movies that he was involved with at this level in the 1930s. This is a battered print and a poor video transfer yet one can still read the opening main title credit, boasting of Winchell’s association with the title, which is all the Iwerks gagmen really needed to work with:

  • Grim Natwick animated the scene with the old lady stuck in the nude figure painting. Grim was considered to be a master of the female form, having designed Betty Boop for Max Fleischer, so Ub casted him well for this shot. Grim also animated the long scene at the slot machine with Flip and the Cop. Good looking scan, Steve, except for that fine hairline scratch on the right hand side of the screen.

  • Iwerks’ old crone may have only sporadic roles, but nonetheless deserves note for appearing across nearly all of the studio’s series and for sheer longevity. Aside from previously mentioned Flip and ComiColor appearances, she makes her way into the Willie Whopper series as well as Willie’s teacher in “Insultin’ the Sultan” (1934) and even shows up as late as the 1940 Color Rhapsody “Blackboard Revue”, thus outlasting all of Ub’s other recurring characters.

  • I enjoy all the descriptive discussions here, and as always, I like pre-Code cartoons! This is a special Holiday gift, Steve, and as always, thanks for all you do! I wish you much good “fruit” on the continuing search for the best elements of the “FLIP” series as I still enjoy the “WILLY WHOPPER” collection. Ub Iwerks has to be appreciated in order to understand the full enjoyment of 1930’s cartoons, even when you discuss the later antics in black and white of Robert Clampett or Harman and Ising. It wasn’t just Walt Disney that they might have tried to emulate; it was Ub Iwerks’ edge and surreal fun.

  • The Iwerks spinster seems a direct forerunner of Lantz’s Ms. Meany, who appears to have been introduced—and used most often by—story man Cal Howard, formerly an Iwerks veteran.

  • So was a spinster’s cuss edited out at 2:20?

  • Another Frank Tashlin keyhole gag, 15 years later!
    In Paramount’s very cartoony “Son of Paleface” (1952).
    Watch from 36:50 – 40:10:

  • After reading her lips with the sound off several times, I’m sure the spinster is saying “Well, I’ll be damned!” Even though Flip utters “Damn!” earlier in the cartoon, perhaps the spinster’s remark was seen as too unladylike to pass muster even in pre-Code times. It’s certainly a sloppy redub, noticeably out of sync.

  • Wonderful. Can I get more of these?

  • I often wondered what films would have been like if the Hays code never happened.
    Great looking cartoon by the way!👍

  • Gerstein- Funny, I was wondering about that too. Although, the only two Lantz era short I like with her were the two by Sid Marcus. Come to think of it, didn’t Marcus help with some of Iwerks made shorts for Screen Gems?

  • Looking great, but isn’t the opening MGM logo supposed to have some printed-in weave?

    That did strike me as possible Natwick animation on Flip and the cop at the slot machine when I watched this recently, but it’s still a far cry from his earlier work on the Fleischer Talkartoons and Screen Songs at showing his personal style.

    Nic: what makes you think Marcus was involved with the Iwerks-made Columbia cartoons when he was busy directing his own?

  • Well, Marcus might’ve helped with the story.

  • For Paul Groh – in 1933 20th Century Pictures (before they merged with Fox) released a film called BROADWAY THROUGH A KEYHOLE, based on a story by Walter Winchell, who was a famous gossip columnist known for using sources that actually looked through keyholes at NYC hotels to see if anyone famous was up to shenanigans then putting it in his columns and coming close to naming names. This made him one of the most feared columnists in the US for years.

  • Thanks for all the extra information about Walter Winchell at the keyhole. Flip, by the way, also peered through a keyhole while tracking down an escaped convict to a speakeasy in “Jail Birds” (1931).

  • Did the younger female lead in this cartoon have a name? I’ve seen comments on other pages stating that Flip had a girlfriend called Fifi, but she was more of a Betty Boop clone than this gal. I don’t think she was a one-off, as I swear I’ve seen her in other shorts as well. What’s the story – nameless, like the recurring old lady, or is there more to the character?

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