Monday 29 February 2016

Death of the Pincushion Man

Ub Iwerks’ cartoons could be really imaginative at times and one of them is that favourite of public domain cartoon DVDs—Balloon Land (1935). The concept of a land of living balloons in the sky is a good one.

This is not a cartoon comedy. There isn’t much humour in it, other than the opening balloon caricatures of Laurel and Hardy and Chaplin and the comic relief character with the gooney toothy face seen in a few other Iwerks cartoons. But the design of the villain, the Pincushion Man, is terrific, the backgrounds are imaginative and there’s a great climax where the balloon army fires the rubber that makes the balloons and sends him plunging to his death. So instead of the Pincushion Man killing the balloons, the balloons kill him. The sequence is heightened by a great dramatic score by Carl Stalling. I wonder if the background cue is by J.S. Zamecnik; his music is found in Stalling’s early cartoons at Warner Bros. just a year later.

The Pincushion Man, perfectly voiced by Billy Bletcher, tries grasping at the balloon flowers (which pop in his grip) and then at the edge of the balloon world to stop from falling. One last blast of rubber does him in. I love the change in perspective before the death drop scene.

It’s a shame the artists were never credited on this cartoon. We do know what the tune is over the opening scenes. It’s Buffoon, written by Zez Confrey (copyright Jan. 23 and 30, 1932). You can hear his version of it below.

Sorry for the oversaturated colours on the frame grabs. They’re the best I can find.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Tralfaz Sunday Theatre – The Romance of Transportation in Canada

Welcome to Tralfaz Sunday Theatre. This new programme on the Tralfaz blog will feature various short films from around the internet that may be fun, interesting or odd.

I’ve avoided doing this for the longest time because a) video links tend to die and I don’t want to deal with dead links and b) I really don’t have the time to hunt down material to maintain this feature indefinitely. But I have a few posts banked so it’ll continue for several weeks, which is longer than “Turn On” lasted on ABC.

Our premiere episode features an animated short from the National Film Board of Canada. Back when I was in elementary school, we’d periodically have stuff from the NFB screened in class. I don’t recall whether I saw this film way back then, but I wouldn’t be surprised. The NFB web site describes “The Romance of Transportation in Canada” thusly:
A light-hearted animated short about how Canada's vast distances and great obstacles were overcome by settlers. The story is told with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness and takes us from the intrepid trailblazers of long ago to the aircraft of today and tomorrow. A 1953 Cartoon Short Subject Oscar-nominee.
Because we’re into the ‘50s and because the NFB basically let creative people be creative, you won’t mistake this for a Disney cartoon. Robert Verrall’s designs are enjoyable. Eldon Rathburn’s jazzy score is a bonus, though it sounds like the mikes were placed in the back of the room at times.

The NFB site will let you view this in high-definition. You can choose the 1080p setting below.

Isaac Stern One-Liner Tops Jack Benny

If there was anything that delighted Jack Benny more than making people laugh, it was making them enjoy his gift of music.

There are varying reports about how good a violinist Benny really was. For the untrained, and even average, ear, he was likely more than good enough.

Benny loved playing the violin in concert with professional orchestras. Perhaps there was some psychological thing going on about compensating for disappointing his parents as a child by not becoming a classical musician. Whatever the reason, Benny did a tremendous amount of good for the music arts with his charity violin concerts, raising millions to keep orchestras and old concert halls/theatres in existence.

Just as he had played the pinnacle of the vaudeville venues, the Palace, in the 1920s and ‘30s, he appeared in the mecca of serious music—Carnegie Hall. The concert with Isaac Stern and others was taped and broadcast twice on CBS.

Here’s a short story from the Associated Press from April 4, 1961. I pass it on mainly because of the punch line at the end, which was cut by some papers for space. There’s no byline on this but I suspect it’s by Robert Holton, who wrote another story for the AP on the event with the same date and includes some of the same quotes. The photo is the best version I can find that accompanied the story. The cute headline comes from the Norwalk Hour version.

39-year-old Violinist Stars at Carnegie Hall
NEW YORK—(AP)-Jack Benny of the receding hairline and screeching fiddle plays a pretty good long-hair violin.
That's the opinion a Carnegie Hall audience of 2.700 expressed via applause last night after the comedian paused between witticisms and performed a duet with violinist Isaac Stern.
When the last strains of the first movement of Bach's Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins died away, the audience signaled its appreciation and Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony, shook Benny's hand.
To Benny, who has appeared in the tradition-steeped hall before, it was a special night.
The program, a fund-raiser-for Carnegie Hall Inc., was titled, "Carnegie Hall Salutes Jack Benny."
He was honored for his efforts in raising funds to support, symphony orchestras throughout the country and was described by Stern as "a man who has done much . . . in the cause of good music."
"This is the finest compliment I believe I have ever received in my life," Benny replied.
Benny's concerts in 18 cities have raised more than $2,000,000, with music and musicians the principal beneficiaries
. The performance last night, in which Roberta Peters, Van Cliburn, and Benny Goodman and his sextet also appeared, was video-taped for public viewing Sept. 27 over the CBS television network.
At a rehearsal earlier in the day, Benny and Stern engaged often in tongue-in-cheek palaver.
During a break in the music, Stern said to Benny: "I wish you'd play C-sharp."
"Where?" Benny asked, deadpan.
"Where it's written," Stern advised.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Maurice Noble Meets John of the Bon Ton

The changing look of animation in the 1950s was something that John Sutherland Productions adapted to very easily. Having big-moneyed corporate clients meant Sutherland could go out and hire the best designers available. The great Tom Oreb and Vic Haboush co-designed my favourite Sutherland short, Destination Earth. And, for a while, Sutherland had the services of Warner Bros.’ most adept layout man, Maurice Noble.

Noble was the art director for It's Everybody's Business, which told the story of American free enterprise and freedoms (as big business saw them) in 1954. Noble moved away from the Disney style of settings, just as he had been doing for Chuck Jones at Warners. An uncredited background artist worked up these scenes from Colonial times from Noble’s layouts. Forgive the poor quality; this is from a well-used print posted to

The main character of the first portion of the cartoon, Jonathan, goes into the ladies hat business. “First, he had to advertise,” oozed narrator MacDonald Carey. Writer Bill Scott came up with an inverse of the famous Kent-Croome-Johnson Pepsi jingle of the 1940s that Jonathan (played by Herb Vigran) sings in the street, accompanied by a bell, to lure customers.

Shop at Bon Ton, it’s the spot
Twelve new hat styles, that’s a lot!
Ladies, get that new hat thrill.
30 days to pay your bills!

E.I. DuPont DeNemours and Company really pushed this cartoon. It was featured in a three-page spread, with frame grabs, in Business Screen magazine shortly after it was released. Sutherland had just won an award for its clever and attractive industrial A is For Atom and would do the same with this short. Business Screen reported (Vol. 16, No. 1):

Freedoms Foundation Honor Medal Award to "Everybody's Business"
It's Everybody's Business, an animated cartoon documentary of the American economy in Technicolor, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, has crowned its record first-run year in the field by winning the Freedoms Foundation gold honor medal award at ceremonies in Valley Forge. Pa. on Washington's Birthday.
In the eight-months' period the film has been in circulation, It's Everybody's Business has had more than 9,000 showings by local chambers of commerce, trade associations and business firms in addition to telecasts by 266 stations.
Chamber Vice-President Receives Medal
The Foundation's top motion picture prize was presented to Arch N. Booth, the Chamber's executive vice-president, in traditional Washington's Birthday ceremonies at Valley Forge, Pa.
It's Everybody's Business was sponsored by the U. S. Chamber in cooperation with E. I. duPont de Nemours and Company, Wilmington. Del., and was produced by John Sutherland Productions, Inc. of Hollywood. It's animated technique shows how the free enterprise system, based on a foundation of fundamental liberties and financed by individual savings, has made American business the most productive in the world.
Besides showings to business firms, fraternal and civic organizations, the film has gained audiences in junior and senior high school classes and adult education groups in hundreds of communities.
Running 22 minutes, It's Everybody's Business is available in 16mm or 35mm from state and local chambers of commerce or the Education Dept., Chamber of Commerce of the United States, 1615 H. St., N.W. Washington 6, D. C.

Animation credits went to Abe Levitow, Bill Melendez, Emery Hawkins and Bill Higgins, with music by Les Baxter and Gene Poddany. Ex MGM animator Carl Urbano was the director.

Friday 26 February 2016

The Owl and the Woodpecker

Someone at the Lantz studio in the early ‘40s loved outline drawings of Woody Woodpecker. If nothing else, it made action a little faster. In his self-titled cartoon, Woody is threatened by a large owl (played by Danny Webb).

Woody twirls around. These are consecutive frames.

Woody is backed into a tree. Note the size of his head in the first drawing.

Woody becomes multiples as he tries to escape. These are consecutive frames.

Alex Lovy and Ray Fahringer receive screen credit for animation credit but logic dictates more people worked on this one, perhaps Les Kline and La Verne Harding.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Soggy Sylvester

Sylvester’s spraying all over the place in Hop, Look and Listen when he catches a mouse as he would a fish (with a rod, reel and net) and sees the rodent is under the limit. Is this Manny Gould’s animation?

Gould, Izzy Ellis and Chuck McKimson get screen credit in this 1948 debut of the “giant mouse.”