August 2, 2018 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Tom & Jerry in “A Swiss Trick” (1931)

On the Thunderbean front: From the comments last week, it makes some sense to me to sometimes go more into the nitty gritty, but other times not as much. I’ll stick with basic news today. Mid Century Modern 1 is off to replication, and may be back next week- so both volumes will be here… they look beautiful— and so many cool films — I’m very happy with these upgraded sets, especially so many wonderful commercials, saved from complete obscurity through the efforts of Mark Kausler.

I’m working on getting a nearly finished Grotesqueries ready to master and particularly concentrating on the first half of the Flip the Frog series. Most of the first half of the series is now cleaned up (save a few that are out with freelances and a few left to scan). New material showed up on some of the later films, and we’re in touch with the archive that has them and working on acquiring those elements for use in the project.

On the packing front— the small staff is working on getting things out that are finished, including quite a few special sets. In summery, lots going on and the growing pains of trying to keep up with the business expanding to accommodate projects.

Big news next week on several of the projects— and if Mid Century Modern 1 is back we’ll highlight both those sets. Thanks all for making these things happen.

Onto this week’s cartoon: Van Beuren (I know, I know…)

Since we retired pretty much all the DVD-R Thunderbean titles, I’ve been getting a ton of requests for the Van Beuren Tom and Jerry set. It’s happily in retirement right now, but I do like this series a lot. As prints have shown up, I’ve been scanning them, and although few have shown up in 35mm at this point, I hold out hope that at some point a bigger effort could be made to spiff up this scruffy little series for an HD appearance.

The very first HD scan I did was A Swiss Trick (1931) from a beautiful condition 35mm print. It was somewhat of a revelation to see this film with such clarity in both image and sound. Now — if we could only get ALL of them to look that good! I think seeing a good copy really gives you a much better idea of what the films looked like theatrically.

I get the impression that the Van Beuren writers were trying to be more worldly by setting cartoons outside of New York or the farms that they may have grew up on. I’m sure many of them experienced life outside of the US, coming to the country as children, likely living in a less-than nice area of the city. If I could have any wish I think it would be to spend a day walking around in New York of 1931, visiting the city as well as many of the ethnic neighborhoods to get a better idea of what it *felt* like for the artists in that time period. The films are of course a reflection of experience in many ways. The Fleischer cartoons revel in the grittiness of the New York experience, almost taking joy in the ruin and less-than adequate living conditions, highlighting these in both story, design and many of the backgrounds. On occasion some of those ideas show up vividly in the Van Beuren shorts, but often the humor is on display with minimum graphic embellishment in backgrounds to put over the idea.

The Tom and Jerry series is really an outgrowth of the ‘Waffles and Don’ characters, just in human form. In the early films in the series, Jerry’s personality is identical to Don. The both display a level of narcissism and willingness to stand by as their best friend is scared out of his own skin. Later, they are often partners, meandering through adventures with nearly the same reaction to any event.

I think a big part of the fun of the early VB shorts is their willingness to basically be gag comic strips. The characters exist with loose personalities, with the gags driving the content of the short. Personality development was not a consideration really at this point, so I think judging the films on that basis misses the main directive of the films themselves. What do you like about the films most?

This print of A Swiss Trick is 35mm nitrate. We’ve left it tinted as the original print was. Note that the film is rounded on one end, and cut off straight on the other. This is how the actual print is made, with the left hand side containing the soundtrack. Showing theatrically, an aperture plate would be inserted into the projecter to round off the corners and have the picture fit perfectly onto the screen.

Note that the film is in ‘Movietone’ aspect ratio, where the picture is now taller to accommodate the soundtrack. Eventually the picture size would be reduced to allow it to be square again. Since so many printers were set to make an optical reduction from Academy aspect ratio films, Movietone reductions onto 16mm often are missing the very top and bottom of the picture. This more than any one thing is why I want to find as many in 35mm as I can— if we end up pursuing producing a Bu-ray of all the films.

Have a good week everyone!


  • A Blu-ray upgrade of Tom & Jerry with as many from 35mm as you can find? YES PLEASE!!!

    Thank you for the update, and for posting this fab cartoon (which is included in Thunderbean’s fantastic Technicolor Dreams And Black & White Nightmares Blu-ray set, for those of you out there who haven’t picked it up yet).

  • “A Swiss Trick” is one of my favorite Tom and Jerry shorts! One thing I love about it and the other cartoons in the Van Bueren Tom and Jerry cartoons is that you never really know what direction the cartoon is going to go in. “Doughnuts” is another one of my favorites!

    Looking forward to receiving those special sets! Keep up the good work!

  • Do I correctly spot Jim Tyer animation in this one? Esp around 3:45?

    • I noticed two, possibly three Jim Tyer scenes in this cartoon. The ending is deeply disturbing–those M. C. Escher holes all over T&J! But “deeply disturbing” is synonymous with Van Beuren…

  • I really enjoy the TOM AND JERRY set. There is always a hint of Fleischer in these shorts, especially in the scores. You sometimes wonder whether the same musicians worked on these shorts as worked on some of the one shot Fleischer titles, and no, I’m not talking necessarily about the jazz legends that have shown up on notable Fleischer titles. I’ve said this before, but aside from the TOM AND JERRY set, my favorite titles were ATTACK OF THE 30’S CHARACTERS and RETURN OF THE 30’S CHARACTERS; and it is interesting to see what so many of the major studios were doing during the 1930’s as a whole. It was truly the age of experiment since sound had just come in, but animation seemed to be miles ahead even of their live action counterparts, although they were moving into some daring directions together. Somebody really needs to get the absolute rights to all the BETTY BOOP cartoons and the remainder of the Fleischer shorts in general, perhaps even an update of the SOMEWHERE IN DREAMLAND set that Jerry Beck created years ago, although the prints were phenominal. I just like to see these things back in print, and I’m sure that the next time it would come around would be blu-ray! Good luck on teh forthcoming projects, and I await eagerly my copies of these fantastic sets. I’m also anxious to know more about the second volume of ANIMATED COMMERCIALS and how far back you’d go in locating classic animated ads…or how much Jay Ward you still have yet to unearth.

  • Van Bueren’s shorts usually have a lot of comic energy; I like that.

  • I’ve always liked Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry cartoons. The rest of their cartoons, on the other hand, are all over the map.

  • Finally got around to purchasing your Technicolor Dreams set, and am highly pleased to have such a splendid copy of A SWISS TRICK along with the Eshbaugh WIZARD OF OZ, among other treats. I’m happy to wait patiently for each title, now that the upgrade to Blu-ray is a regular occurrence. I loved the WILLIE WHOPPER release too. Thanks for your ongoing efforts and hard work.

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