THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
August 22, 2019 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Walter Lantz “House Of Magic” (1937)

A few things happening in the Thunderbean office:

I have my head pretty close to finishing just a few projects here right now, but we also managed to get three of the ‘special’ sets all finished as well, and almost finished the Thunderbean Thursday 2018 edition. Terry/ Lantz/ Famous and one other will also be done and dubbing hopefully next week. We’re in an August push to get as many things done as possible, and will be sending the ones that are done and the Grotesqueries pre-orders at the same time.

In other news:

Some beautiful material for the Bunin set showed up here this week.

I’m needling through the last elements of the Noveltoons Blu-ray. It has a good working master, and if all tests out, it is looking like the set will be heading out to replication this week. It’s been in progress well over two years.

Rag Dog and Japanese Lanterns just made it through clean up. All the film for the first volume to Rainbow Parade have finished versions. We’re probably going to go back and update The Hunting Season and Scotty Finds a Home since better material on some scene were just scanned.

The Cartoon Commercials volume 2 project, in progress for a while has been moving along nicely. There’s a handful of things to add to the set that we’ll be doing in the coming week or so. More Stop Motion Marvels is as well. Stop Motion marvels 1 also will be having a big scan session in the coming week or so.

To help move things forward faster, we’re doing a special set, available for one week, called On Hold – Cool Things from Unfinished Projects. They’re all pieces of projects that, for one reason or another, we can’t make an ‘official’ release of right now. This disc includes some black and white cartoons I dearly love, two episodes of a beloved 60s TV cartoon (from the original network negatives including commercials), some cartoons starring a famous character, and other rarities. Proceeds will be used to move the current green light projects forward- and all the shipping! Details are here at Blu-ray.com.


On to today’s cartoon: House of Magic (1937)

It’s understandable why the Meany, Miny and Moe cartoons are less seen than most of the other series that the Lantz studio produced. While there’s quite a few of them, there’s not enough to support a whole tv package. Some were part of the Oswald b/w package.

Something rarely mentioned is the use of the old rhyme was used both innocently and with a racist connotation (in the states) at times. I heard this myself as a child, even before I knew what the ’N’ word meant. This combined with the characters being Monkeys seems like it might be enough to make some later showings a little more infrequent. I have to wonder when that may have become a concern. One company (Modern Sound Picture’s Keith Smith) told me in the 80s they removed these films from their rental catalog in the 60s.

The characters themselves are not portrayed as any particular race in any of the shorts I’ve seen. If anything, they seem like New York Kids from the 20s or 30s. They first show up as supporting characters in the mid-30s Oswald cartoons, graduating to their own series by late 1936.

In some ways the flavor of these shorts remind me of both the live action ‘Three Stooges’ shorts from the 30s as well as the Mickey, Donald and Goofy cartoons from the mid to late 30s. My guess is that both series had some influence on the direction of them.

House of Magic (1937) is the only one of these shorts in the public domain. Luckily, it’s a pretty fun one. Our heroes enter a ‘magic store’ that seems haunted in addition to magic accessories.

Since the characters don’t do a lot of talking, the majority of the cartoon is spent with character acting/ pantomime gags. I think parts of the ‘player piano’ sequence are particularly well timed and animated. I also really enjoy the live action rain composited into the early scenes of the film.

I feel like, for the interested fan or viewer, the films in this period in the history of the Lantz studio have always been difficult to see. I do hope that changes someday. What you do you think of this one?

13 Comments

  • I enjoyed “House of Magic” when I first saw it on the Thunderbean Lantz Studio Treasures DVD. I can’t say anything about the other Meany, Miny, Moe cartoons, but I can’t discern any racist connotations in this one — especially when seen as part of a collection that also includes Li’l Eightball and the notorious “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat”! When I was a boy half a century ago, the second line of that rhyme was invariably “…catch a TIGER by his toe,” and it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered it had ever been anything else.

    More likely these cartoons became obscure simply because of a perceived decline in popularity of black-and-white film generally after colour TV had become more or less universal; for example, the early black-and-white episodes of “My Three Sons” and “Petticoat Junction” were never included in their respective syndication packages. Here in Australia, which did not begin broadcasting in colour until 1975, many old black-and-white shows like “Rin Tin Tin” remained on the air longer than they did in the US.

    I’ll always be grateful that the Popeye syndication package I watched in my teens included the old black-and-white Fleischer cartoons. That is where I learned that early cartoons were superior in many ways to their Technicolor successors, and decidedly so when compared to the contemporary product.

  • Love the spats!

  • I like that live action rain effect too. Disney used it in movies like “Dumbo,” “Saludos Amigos” and ‘Beauty and the Beast.” That thunder sound effect at the beginning was used in “The Sound of Music” and many Disney movies, cartoons and TV shows.

  • Hot darn! Just ordered “On Hold.” I’m probably not the first, but I sure hope I’m not the 66th!

  • Chuck Jones would follow on this theme twice, with “Prest-O Change-O” and “The Bird Came C.O.D.” Interesting to compare this earlier entry (which I’d not seen before) with those two. I do like the jazzy music underscoring the banana sequence.

  • Did I read that Meany, Miny & Moe were a product of Charley Bowers brief stint at the Lantz studio?

    • The characters first appeared in the November 1935 film “Monkey Wretches” which was two years ahead of the 3 films that included Bower’s dumb chicken character ( in late 1937). “Monkey Wretches” is notable as being the last cartoon to feature Oswald in black rabbit form. It is also notable for it’s lively theme song “Just Do Like The Monkey’s Do” which would be reprised instrumentally in the next title, “Farming Fools”. “Battle Royal” was the final try out film for the trio, and probably one of their best.

      When Lantz decided to give them their own series for the 1936-37 release season, he beefed up the character designs so that they were much easier to tell apart. As the series progressed he also gave them distinct voices which was a significant change from their earlier pantomime comedy.. This worked sometimes well, and sometimes not.. These films had to be more expensive to make than the Oswalds, given the work needed to animate and write for three separate character, and one gets the feeling Lantz was really putting some effort behind them. Sadly it appears it didn’t pay off, as the series only lasted for the one release season, with 12 titles in all.

  • I never knew they CHANGED it to catch a TIGER by the toe until I was an adult. Well, live and learn, I suppose.

    • It has a more complex history than that even-and started without any racial it goes much further back. The Wikipedia is pretty interesting now that I’m looking at it!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eeny,_meeny,_miny,_moe

  • I never heard of these characters. We never got to see much Walter Lantz on TV except for Woody. These may not be up to the standards set by Warners and MGM, but they’re enjoyable nonetheless.

  • Oh, man, another rare disk; I ordered, and I cannot wait to check out its contents. As always, I have to wish you much luck on these pre-orders and projects close to completion. Yes, these have been a long time coming, but I’m sure you’re giving us the best quality that you could cobble together or have luck in locating! Can’t wait to hear more on FLIP THE FROG as well. As for the cartoon included here, the score almost sounds like a lost Scott Bradley score. One aspect of the WOODY WOODPECKER AND FRIENDS collections that managed to get out the door thanks to Jerry Beck, I like gaining some of these one shot or lesser known Walter Lantz series. Like other have said, no, this isn’t anything like Warner Brothers or MGM, but these are golden age theatricals of the 1930’s and you know how I feel about most such titles. Good luck in your continued archeological dig, as I like to call it.

  • There was a Lantz cartoon, probably The Golfers with Meany, Miny & Moe that I saw numerous times as a tot on TV. I was fascinated because it had some sort of mechanical golf machine that caused trouble for the boys.

    I’ve never read much about the music in the Lantz cartoons of this vintage – always liked it, with lots of piano and those tuned hollow wooden balls (I think they’re called temple blocks) used a lot and giving it a cartoony zing. Who did it?

  • Just ordered “On Hold”. Never seen this cartoon (House Of Magic) before. Very cool!

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