Lantz being Lantz: Henpecked

Hello all, after a week of some heavy work, it's great to be back writing this little startup blog. Admittedly, I may only have more weeks to come due to school, and eventually work where these breaks happen and I may not set it from "Every Tuesday" to "Once sometime in the Week". Happily, this isn't the case yet, and I have even begun work on some bonus pieces documenting other stuff, including the animation work of someone better known as a director! But let's get back to the main point of this piece! 

The Lantz/Nolan Oswalds from 1929-35 are some of my favorite black and white inkblot cartoons, and the ones from 29-31 are a particular interest. They start out very crude in draftsmanship, and a sketchy backgroup to compliment this, with the earliest cartoons being dominated by Bill Nolan's work in animation and backgrounds, which I suggest was necessary for the "one every 2 weeks" schedule, common for many cartoon studios during the silent and talkie era. 

Henpecked was the last of the first season of Oswalds that never made the original TV Package of B&W Lantz, which has caused some to unfortunately become lost, but luckily this one is a survivor. Compared to the earliest reasons, it shows substantial improvement in Lantz's efforts of creating sound cartoons; gags take advantage of sound, and the overall art has become more polished, thanks to an increase of employees. 

We open up (after hearing what sounds like James Dietrich shouting "Alright" to the orchestra in the opening titles) with some fun Bill Nolan animation of Oswald playing piano, singing a song called "My Baby and Me". It's got some fun scat and is carried well by Nolan's energetic animation. Pete, the manager of the apartment complex Oswald is living at, comes down to complain about the noise. It begins to get weird in the way only a Lantz Cartune does, with the unexplainable and unexpected happening of course! Pete speaks with a French-Canadian accent ("FROM YOU ANUTHER PEEP GONT") done by Pinto Colvig, who seems to be doing every voice in this sort. Afterward, a French Frog with the same accent tells Pete not too, and he relents and lets him go, but not without a harsh warning, even throwing out his piano! 

I think you can see where the story goes 

Immediately afterwards, the phone rings for Oswald and he quietly picks up. It's his nephews, wanting to come over and play, as the kid says slowly to a metronome beat (hey, everybody was doing it that way then!). Oswald gives a hard no, but unfortunately, the hoard of kids decide to come right away! They sing a really funny chant about seeing their Unk'Ozzie, helping to change the speed and sound of the cartoon into something snappier and funnier, as Dietrich gives his all with the score, incorporating "The Gang's All Here" into the score during a funny scene of Oswald disturbing Pete's bath! 

It's here where my favorite part of the early Lantz Oswalds shines, using Bill Nolan's eccentric, loose, but intelligent animation to pull off outlandish gags! After Oswald falls back to the room level, one of the nephews shoves an umbrella into him, causing him to float around the room, allowing for Nolan to animate Oswald weightless, perfect for the gag! 

The film then goes to a quick gag of the nephews jumping on a bed and bedbugs coming out. Funny little way to grab your attention after the sluggish scene (in a good way!). We get too what appear to be Oswald's only niece causing trouble for Pete's Wife. I must question: why are his nephews and niece cats, are they on Kitty's side?
Anyways, we get some some funny noises from Colvig again giving a few strings of Goofy, whose voice shows up in small doses in this era of the Lantz Oswalds. It's honestly really fun seeing Pinto do a variety of fun voices in these ones, as it shows he would more than just the Goof and Pluto. 

Since the footage quota is almost fullfilled, the film begins to connect the gagstrings to each other, having Pete come down from the bath, the kids step on him (animated by the small animator who stands out in a few films from the later part of the first season) and, well, you watch it and enjoy it. Bill Nolan gets more footage towards this part in some of the most fun of his animation that survives, my god is it beautiful! The only thing I will note is I like the way it ends, and James' piece of brass band fanfare at the end. Here's some photos (and a Film Daily review) if you can't watch it yet! 

Originally, I was going to make an instrumental for this post, as it seems to share apart of the soundtrack with "Hell's Heels", but alas I'm out of time. Eventually, when I cover that cartoon I will make it. Also hoping to do more Lantz pieces with that same title, as it kinda fits for any Cartune he produced. Hopefully this post is good enough for all here! 

I hope you all enjoy that cartoon, and I'll see y'all next week! 


What's Okay is Good Enough: The Calico Dragon

There's something appealing for me in 2 strip color palettes. Perhaps their cheery, but limited designs make a nice look when they aren't over saturating and make the most of their colors? I don't know, but there is something nice when watching this week's cartoon, "The Calico Dragon", directed by Rudolph Ising, that even if I think despite it's impressive animation, it's far from perfect.

See, no film will ever be perfect imho, and nor should anyone try to make THE perfect film. And even for films that just okay or meh, there is stuff much to appreciate and respect. Sometimes the best of animation can be well animated and just tell a story that's pretty bad. Sometimes, a cartoon may have a great soundtrack and funny gags, but the timing and drawings hold back the potential. The Calico Dragon, like many Happy Harmonies, is quite flawed in story, but has enough charm & likability to make it worth watching. 

Harman-Ising really had a bit of a struggle when it came to story in particular. After leaving Leon Schlesinger/WB and moving to Metro, their cartoons often dedicate too much time to the pure lavishness of the animation, and just decide to end once they write themselves out, leaving many plotholes loose. We will see this happen here, but it isn't a dealbreaker in some regards, as the visuals do leave enough for good watchability, as long as you don't binge watch these cartoons, otherwise they get annoying really quickly. But enough bickering, let's cover the cartoon itself! 

We open with a little girl reading a bedtime story to her plushes before going to sleep. It helps to open the cartoon well and the zoom out down in the first shot is a nice touch. I must address one thing already: the design of this girl, and most of the designs of the characters for the first two film seasons of the Happy Harmonies are REALLY UGLY! I get that they wanna push in a more realistic move, but like Disney, struggled to get towards that goal right away, causing this wonky look that I can't describe any other way but ugly. With that said, the dolls, and most of the plush characters have really nice designs! 

As we move towards our hero, the little doll boy, deciding he should go save the Princess in the story, with his Polka Dot Horse & Scotty Dog, the true star of the cartoon emerges: the fabric look. Besides the little girl, every character are dolls with various textures, drawn to the best degree, very impressive for 1935! This little post could do no justice to these animators, so I link Devon Baxter's Cartoon Research Post highlighting the animators using the original studio draft. You can learn the names of each animator & what scenes they do, and I suggest you read it before continuing! 

Back on track, our hero begins his adventure and a song kicks in to describe the forest around him as he travels to the castle to slay the dragon. It's here where the storytelling first becomes flawed. Ising decides to spend a full minute dedicated to some side pieces of the rabbits playing happily (with the most impressive textures animated on them!), and then going into them heckling the Scotty Dog, but unfortunately it doesn't connect to anything in the main story, becoming pointless. It seems they got carried away in a little of the song just by highlighting them.

Luckily after this we focus back with the boy progressing his journey to the castle to defeat the Dragon, passing overly a river and a bridge that wisely use the texture theme very well (as well as the sky in the horizion, being a window cloth). We are then introduced to the 3-Headed Dragon in a charming song, also highlighting a noisemaker tongue that the middle head, before the battle commences. Our Hero is initially unprepared in some ways and struggles, but luckily the Scotty Dog manages to save the way and do most of the heavy lifting to defeat the Calico Dragon (using the noisemaker tongue) once and for all!

Our final issue comes into play here as we have a letdown ending with the little girl waking up after being scared from the wind, under her bed. It does leave a lot of things left out, such as the boy actually rescuing the princess, which I hoped would happen, and if it was all a dream (you only really assume that with the way it transitions back to reality).

That said, it's easy to appreciate other elements even with a loose story, but even then, considering you only were supposed to see for a few minutes once in a 70 year life, it's a good piece of entertainment for just that one or second watch. The animation and usage of cloth textures and patterns is highly impressive for 1935, and probably shined on screen very well on. I do hope eventually Warner Archive restores the Happy Harmonies to allow people to appreciate these things in a more clearer view than the typical copies floating around. Film Daily seems to of agreed with these points in mind, giving two reviews; one in April that is really in love with the way it's animated, and another in October that still promotes the draftsmanship, but overall seems to more explain the plot than anything.

Regardless of these shortcomings, The Calico Dragon managed to gain an Academy Award for best animated short, but lost to Three Orphan Kittens, a So-So Silly Symphony (imo) from Disney. Eventually, Ising would win an Academy Award in 1940 for his own Kitten short, The Milky Way

Tally-Ho all, I hope you have enjoyed this read! 


A Itchin' to Fly: Howard Post's The Itch

It's amusing to me, compared to last week's cartoon of pick, this week I'm going to be giving some thoughts of something the complete opposite! Think about it, 30s to 60s, B&W to Technicolor, Inkblot to Modernism. A bit inconsistent, but I fear overtime I will fall into certain repeats between series and times based on what I watch, but I won't be able to help that if it occurs.

  The Itch is one of those 60s Paramount shorts after Seymour Kentiel passed where it quickly went through 3 quick leader changes all trying different things, each more unique than the one before. I am up to the opinion that when the shorts of this era are good (because a lot of them get just as bland and hard to watch as the Famous Studio Shorts before), they are some of the best the 60s offer! With that said, let's dive into this one off oddity. 

Per usual at Famous (see The Plot Thickens & In the Nicotine), the married couple presented has issues, with the wife being overbearingly nasty towards her naïve, and undercut husband. It presents us a nice exchange to show us his life at home, just so happening to be in England. This also gives us some nice accents throughout, done by (among others) Hermione Gingold. I do think this film gets a bit carried away in the dialogue but it's understandable, as almost every film of this period used excessive dialogue for budget reasons (even the earliest Pink Panthers). Despite this, a lot of the lines are funny and creates some funny lines (like when the wife says she's "watching an important exchange program from America" and it shows us a typical western) 

 After some mishaps with our hero on the bus and some belittling by his wife, he eventually gets an itch that eventually grows him some wings! The use of an itch did come off interesting to me, most writers would've had a standard backpain before the wings grow. He immediately tries them out, and hilariously, on a reused BG from a Superman cartoon! 

I do like how the film also doesn't fall into just him flying, getting into trouble flying, and ending there (I feel like some Hanna-Barbera cartoons around this time used a plot similar to this, but I do know Terrytoons occasionally did their barnyard flying 'ventures as late as 1940 with Plane Dumb!), and we get our protagonist in a bit of trouble, but quickly working things out to get a license in order to continue flying (though nobody questions how his wings came from a simple itch in the back), and is off to figure things out with it. You can tell during the scenes of him flying that the budget was a struggle to commit too, but again, typical of the era, I won't hold it down too hard

From here, we get some more English-humor with the exchange between two hunter types accidentally shooting the star of the picture into the grow, losing his wings, there and done. So you think. You would expect it to stay sad, and have some harshness in him going back to normalcy, but I won't quite spoil what happens, just take the image below as an idea of what happens

It doesn't seem like many to got this see this one in theaters sadly, as by the 60s most theaters weren't regularly booking cartoons, and were mostly booking the reissues from other studios, so this little odd gem was already by the B-Side then. As noted on this Cartoon Research Post on Academy Submissions, it was submitted to contend for best Animated Short, along with "A Leak in the Dyke" (another good short from Post's time), but alas was not nominated. A Shame, I think either would've made a good nomination

Admittedly, due to a flood of schoolwork I felt like this post was a bit rushed, but I'm happy with it. I promise next week's post will be with a film that's less talky, maybe not much better, but definitely one that'll be fun to watch 

Cheerio, see you next Tuesday!


A Beginning with Meaning: Krazy Kat in The Restless Sax

 When I was elementary a while back, I played the saxophone for music class (being in band was required for most, including me). I remember not being that good and just syncing in most performances when I ran out of air. So when I saw The Restless Sax for the first time, it got a bit of a personal laugh for me, as it reminded me trying to play the instrument and being just as good as Krazy.

For one interesting note, it credits Gould only instead of both him & Harrison. Would this mean Gould solely directed this one? Then again, the "By Harrison & Gould" credit would return eventually, and Al Euguster said that this credit was a bit misleading: Harrison wrote the stories & handed out scenes while Gould just animated. I do suspect Gould would eventually do layouts and may have contributed to timing, but I have no lead to prove this.

One interesting part is the beginning, how it shows Krazy receiving his sax through a early animation montage, perhaps the first of its own kind? Compared to montages in later Columbia Cartoons & Frank Tashlin's montages, it plays out slower. I also wonder how audiences would've seen such a montage in 1931, because it does make a big impression on me, but maybe that's just for me. 

From here, we see various gags of people reacting to Krazy's poor rendition of "The Old Oaken Bucket", and Krazy refusing to accept he's a mere beginner. Hell, even his own saxophone rips his diploma (which the audience in this video reacted to well), and he goes on with a solution: honey to make it sweet! Also to appreciate is how Krazy doesn't even try to follow along to the street band playing "O, du lieber Augustin", who aren't playing that much better than Krazy is. 

Perhaps my favorite gag is this cartoon (which was hard to pick!) with the 2 deaf guys, the timing works out really nice for it. We first get curious why they don't react in anyway, and then the realization dawns on you a little, then they play out the gag, with some hilarious noises for the fingers included! I also really like how it ends with Krazy doing an impression of Rudy Vallée, singing "I'm just a Vagabond Lover". You can hear the real deal preforming it here.

And with that comes an end to the cartoon, with a nice iris to the end title, surrounding by some nice ribbon. Overall, a really funny one with well timed gags and pleasant music (when Krazy isn't on the sax!). I hope all reading this enjoyed this cartoon as much as I did! 


A Welcome to Inbetweens

Hello to all, and welcome to the beginning of the Inbetweens blog! I'm hoping to use this little space to talk about those little oddities that slip out of focus, cult or not, that have some value, at least to me. I'm hoping to put out a post each Tuesday, and the occasional post talking about things surrounding these cartons. Eventually, I'm also hoping to create some custom art to make the layout look nicer. This may not be much of a first post, but more to come this Tuesday! Try to guess with this hint: 2979

                                                    Until then, so long folks! 

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