February 17, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Van Beuren’s “Old Hokum Bucket” (1931)

In Thunderbean News:

It’s a Van Beuren sort of week here. Last night, I finished working on the clean up of one of the last Aesop’s Fables for the first blu-ray set, and now I’m waiting for one other to get back here for getting cleaned up. There’s an additional film for the set that I want to borrow a better print for, but otherwise this little set is almost done too. I was never happier that Chris Buchman’s bonus features (from 2005) were designed much bigger than the final resolution, so there’s not a lot to redo for those particular things that we want to include.

Several Van Beuren Tom and Jerry cartoons have been getting cleaned up pretty fast too. As these next few films are getting finished for these two sets, I’ll be helping out on a colleague’s project a bit to help move things forward a little faster. Getting these sets over the finish line is in sight now, with others very close.

I got a chance to go back and listen to commentaries recorded for the Stop Motion Marvels DVD back in 2010. It was wonderful to hear my friend Larry Larson’s voice again, talking about Willis O’Brien’s stop motion work. The Blu-ray upgrade will be dedicated to Larry, who was a wonderful fabricator, sculptor, musician and animator. We miss both his knowledge and gentle leadership at the College for Creative Studies, where I teach, in Detroit.

And.. today’s cartoon!

One of the Aesop’s Fables that just got cleaned up is Old Hokum Bucket (1931)— so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a nice old print from the 50s. I’m working on some additional tweaks on it, but here’s how it’s looking right now as we’re getting close to finishing off the set.

Van Beuren had a way of having the simplest cartoons have all sorts of bizarre ideas in them. In this odd little short, a Jewish snake oil salesman sells some ‘Peppo’, a magic elixir, to a poor farmer with a farm full of lazy animals. To prove the potency of his pills, he pulls a dead cat out of his bag and drops the magic formula into its dead carcass. Whatever reanimates this poor soul at least has the appearance of life, and this is good enough for our hero. This particular drug must make the farmer delusional since he sees all his animals—everything he owns- as a testing ground for this zombie resurrection formula. After watching a dancing egg split open and ‘hatch’ the salesman (proudly waving a US flag), he end ups dancing with a cow and gets betrayed by a bull and a batch of his own animals and frogs after falling into the deepest well in any cartoon.

The most disarming thing about the Van Beuren Studio this period is that everything happens without much fanfare. It’s clearly an odd, maniacal world that everyone populates in these cartoons, but the outright bizarreness of everything is a generally accepted state. While the films share some of the same freewheeling nature as the much slicker Fleischer cartoons, there seems to be a purposeful dismissal of further story development. This particular world is fun to visit, and forces us in many ways to not think further. Maybe that’s the best strategy, and maybe it’s a fool’s errand to analyze this film even this much!

A similar story setup takes place in the next year in both Barnyard Bunk (with Tom and Jerry) and The Farmerette. They both reuse animation from this film as well— and both replace the idea of ‘Peppo’ with music. In The Farmerette the characters are especially enthusiastic from having the chance to hang out with a Betty Boop-esque cat, voiced by Margie Hines.

Make sure to watch in HD.

Have a good week everyone!


  • The patent medicine Peppo (“It bucks you up”) figures in P. G. Wodehouse’s 1924 short story “Ukridge Rounds a Nasty Corner”. Ukridge, the aspiring entrepreneur, assures customers that “Two doses, and cripples fling away their crutches and join the Beauty Chorus.” The chief ingredient in the elixir appears to be alcohol: when Ukridge’s fiancée feeds her parrot a slice of bread soaked in Peppo, it sings a chorus of “Annie Laurie” before falling off its perch in a drunken stupour.

    Also in the mid-’20s, Peppo was mentioned in Eimar O’Duffy’s satirical novel “The Return of Cuchulain”. The legendary Irish hero, awakened in the twentieth century, is puzzled by an advertisement: “Are you jaded, weary, dispirited? Have you that tired feeling? Then try Peppo!”

    Patent medicines with band names ending in the suffix -o seem to have been all the rage in the early 20th century, to the point where they were subjects of satire. O’Duffy’s novel also mentioned advertisements for “Mixo” and “Absoluto”, while Wodehouse wrote several stories about a potion called “Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo”, which renders people totally fearless. And then, of course, there’s the “Gyppo” purveyed by Betty Boop’s traveling medicine show.

    As for Slippery Slim the Peppo salesman, that rubber-hose animation has got to be the rubber-hosiest I’ve ever seen!

    • You could also add, clear into the early 1950s, the cartoons of Carl Giles in the (London) Daily Express, for use of the “-o” type humorous products (“Footo for the Feet,” and so forth). A real-world “-o” example would be the Sapolio cleanser, which had nearly ubiquitous print and outdoor advertising for a good chunk of the early years of the 20th century.

      • Not to mention the wonder cleaner SPHINX-O… ;D

  • Would this farmer be a replacement for Farmer Al Falfa after Paul Terry won back the rights? I’m guessing they started out making it with Al Falfa but then had to change the design midway through production.

  • Wowsers : for 30+ years I’ve wondered what the title of this cartoon was! I’ve had it all this time on a VHS, recorded off air from a strange little UK show called Cartoon Carnival, where ventriloquist Ray Alan and his puppet Lord Charles introduced random cartoons from the 30s and 40s.

    It was the first Van Beuren cartoon I was lucky enough to stumble across – and what a way to start. Thanks for posting – your upcoming Aesop’s Fables set has gone from a ‘must-have’ to an absolute necessity!

  • Was “Slippery Slim” really that guy’s name? He was seen in silent Terry-era Fables cartoons (once as a nasty kidnaper, in “One Man Dog” nabbing Farmer Al’s kid – wait, Farmer Al had a kid? (actually he once had a whole brood of lookalike miniature Farmers; see his Ape Girl adventure, woo-woo).

    Some salesman! Farmer Not-Al didn’t even pay him. In later Terrytoons he also pops up from time to time, and he’s such a flexible character he’s always fun to watch. But I never knew him to have a handle.

    • I was wondering if that was the same skinny guy from the Paul Terry shorts.

    • David Gerstein commented on a recent Animation Trails post that early publicity from the Terry studio gave the salesman’s name as “Slippery Slim”. The moniker certainly suits him. Slippery Slim was also the lead character in the 1914 silent film “Slippery Slim’s Inheritance”, based on an earlier comedy play. I’m also a fan of the Ape Girl.

  • Amazing how Felix lookalikes abounded in those years, but the Mouse would surely attract a cease and desist these days….

  • I’m curious how you deduce the salesman was Jewish.

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