Saturday 29 December 2012

The Saturday Matinee

The movies ripped me off as a kid.

Saturday matinées where I grew up consisted of a Disney live-action feature and a really bad Woody Woodpecker cartoon. No wonder the only local theatre was torn down and turned into a parking lot (and remains one, more than 45 years later, as the photo to the right attests). But the 1940s were different. Kids could go to the movies and spend their afternoon enjoying a whole pile of cartoons and maybe some one or two-reel comedies.

Theatres advertised in the papers back then, nice big ads with drawings. Here are some random ads for different cartoon compilations.

This one’s from 1945. You’ve got to love the dog-looking Tom and the pig/bear in a civil defence helmet. And I don’t think there was a cartoon called “Confusions of Nutsy Squirrel,” though if Tex Avery made one called that, I’d watch it (I guess they mean the Norm McCabe-directed “Confusions of a Nutsy Spy”).

Four big cartoons and none of them are Woody Woodpecker titles. And kids got “Popeye’s Pappy” (1951), a cartoon where Popeye dresses up as a woman to lure his own father. Now that’s entertainment!

Someone better tell the Madison that “Jolly Frolics” is the name of a series, not a cartoon. At least the characters are more on-model in this one.

From August 1950. I’d go to a theatre today if they showed this line-up. “Three Bears in a Boat” starring Animal? Who know the Muppets were around back then (there was a Paramount short subject of that name in 1943; that could be it).

Not just cartoons, but Laurel and Hardy and the Stooges. Looks like the paper used studio publicity art.

“12 Big Units”? I thought they were showing cartoons, not big units.
I realised Beaky Buzzard had a Goofy-sounding voice, but apparently one theatre has mistaken the two characters in its ad for “Strife With Father.” And you all remember “Google Fishing Beer,” where Barney drinks then goes surfing the internet. Champion wasn’t a character, it was the name of the series of Paramount re-releases (just as MGM had the Gold Medal Reprints and Warners had the Blue Ribbons). The Edgar Kennedy two-reeler was the last one of the 1946-47 season. Plot: Edgar builds his own TV set to save money. Didn’t this get re-made into one of those hilarious Beary Family cartoons?

What better Christmas present than two hours of cartoons? This is from 1950, but “Jolly Little Elves” was released by Lantz in 1934 (it was his first colour cartoon). The Lum and Abner feature is from 1943.

Theatrical cartoon compilations like this proved one thing—kids will watch a show of old cartoons. It seems early television programmers made a note of that.

P.S.: In the comments, Mark Kausler noted the “Tom and Jerry Festival of Fun.” It seems to have been a durable compilation. I’ve found ads for it from 1962 to 1965. As the heydey of movie business was gone, few ads featured drawings of the characters, but here’s one that’s not very readable. It appeared on the bill with things like “Flipper” and a re-issue of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”


  1. 12/29/12 wrote:
    Those "bad" Woody Woodpecker cartoons you mention. Let me guess, were they directed by Paul J.Smith? probably after 1958 as well? It must be, because Mr. Lantz was just too loyal to Mr. Smith and his family during the 1960's and into the 1970's, even if his directing talents deterioated after he contacted blindness in both eyes as he was past 65 years of age. Mr. Lantz's best directors were Don Patterson, James "Shamus" Cullhane,And Tex Avery. Dick Lundy and Jack Hannah were also decent directors. Sid Marcus had a brief reign at Lantz's studio around 1964-66, and served as a refreshing alternate to the dull Smith efforts. Then there was Alex Lovy,later of Hanna-Barbera studios, who served originally 1941-43,then returned in 1955,staying until 1960. He was a decent,if not great director. He was not like Patterson by any means, but he wasn't as dull and plodding like Smith, either. It wasn't really Smith's fault by a medical means for his weak directing, really, he should have stopped around 1958, when his work became mediocre,but Lantz wouldn't hear of it, probably worried that Smith might wind up in a nursing home out of his own safety of bad eyesight. The only thing I miss about Saturday afternoon matinees was when they used to cost only a quarter!(the prices went up sometime in the mid-60's) It's just not the same to see an afternoon feature for about $10 today,compared to what it was like in the 1920's-60s!

  2. Just as an aside, back in the late 1970s I went to a double-feature down in Greenwich Village of the Zucker Brothers' "Kentucky Fried Movie", after the X-rated "Flesh Gordon". In-between ... a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. But I'll be honest, even though it was one of the early 70s Paul J. Smith jobs, it was still better than "Flesh Gordon".

  3. Rob, I don't know who directed them. This was almost 50 years ago. But I remember they were extremely unentertaining and not as good as the Woodys on TV at the same time.

  4. Yowp, so many memories you've conjured up with this post! I grew up in St. Louis, Mo. and saw many "Kiddee matinees" at local theatres like The Ozark and Loew's State. The Ozark ran mostly Famous Studios Paramount releases and some Warner Bros. cartoons. Loew's State ran mostly MGM cartoons and a few Disney one reelers. I remember how popcorn boxes sailed up in the air to a tremendous roar whenever the Warner Shield popped up with a Bugs or Foghorn cartoon, and the tepid reception a Casper or Goodie the Gremlin received. I loved seeing Tom and Jerry at the Loew's State, because the presentation was so good, the projectionist always closed the curtains during the iris down, and the "end" title showed on the curtains. "Fraidy Cat" was a Tom and Jerry I saw there. Remember the Tom and Jerry "Festival of Fun", theatrical feature, which used about 10 shorts with bridging footage from "Jerry's Diary"? I saw "Old Rockin' Chair Tom", "Mouse Cleaning" and "Jerry's Cousin" for the first time in that feature. I remember the 20 cartoon marathon shows for a quarter, and counted down the cartoons until tears ran down my cheeks at the second to the last one, because I was so sad that the cartoon fantasy palace was closing it's doors for another afternoon. I saw Chuck Jones's "A Hound For Trouble" at the Fox theater in downtown St. Louis and I remember how grand the leaning tower of Pisa gag looked on their giant screen, as Charlie Dog exclaimed, "Doesn't anybody CAPICE?" Today I participated in the 3rd Annual "Greatest Cartoons Ever" show at the Alex (Alexander Theater in the 1930s) Theater in Glendale, CA. They ran 10 cartoons, "Fast and Furry-ous", "Billion Dollar Limited", "Madeline", "Hockey Homicide", "Pet Peeve", "The Fox and the Grapes", "Casey at the Bat", "The Ventriloquist Cat", "Rabbit Seasoning" and "Rock-a-Bye Bear". The audience was very receptive, the children laughed heartily at the Tom and Jerry and the Avery cartoons. A little bit of the old time love for the Fantasy Palace came back this afternoon. I got in free because I loaned them some prints, glad I did because they wanted about 15 bucks a person to get in! And I used to think that 20 cartoons for 25 cents was expensive! Mark Kausler