Popeye in SOCK-A-BYE BABY (1934) – With a cameo appearance by Harpo Marx

SockAByeBaby

This short has the most ominous opening credits of any Fleischer Popeye cartoon. Behind the credits, we hear the familiar lullaby “Rock-a-Bye, Baby,” punctuated with loud punches. This is not going to bode well for somebody.

At least, happily, Popeye is not socking the baby he’s caretaking — he’s socking those who might wake up the baby with their loud noises. The first person to receive such a socking is no less than Harpo Marx (or at least a recognizable caricature of him), who is loudly playing his harp on the street corner (happens all the time). After Popeye whacks him, Harpo continues playing, albeit with a halo over his head as he ascends to heaven.

It only gets more bizarre. In an apparent attempt to placate the squalling infant, Popeye gives him a ukulele (would Dr. Spock have recommended this?). When the kid can’t tune the instrument to his satisfaction, Popeye grabs it back from him and strums and sings a lullaby. The song mellows out the babe so much that he grabs Popeye’s pipe, which unsurprisingly knocks the kid out.

Popeye happens to pass a music school filled with students and teachers in full orchestral mode. One by one, they live to regret it.

Then Popeye sinks an entire ship that has a tragically (for them) loud foghorn. And when he comes across a loud radio, rather than unplugging it or turning it off, he sends a resounding hit through the radio’s airwave, knocking out the offending singer. This guy certainly takes the long way around to reach a simple destination.

And heaven help those skyscraper builders making all that noise, and those cars that are honking about the baby (that Popeye has left in the middle of the road!) — can’t you guys see this kid is trying to sleep?? Popeye pops some spinach to knock out the cars, I guess because tearing down that half-finished building knocked all the strength out of him.

Ironically, a single safety pin falling out of the carriage wakes up the baby and starts him squalling again. So Popeye literally zips the kid’s mouth up and bleats his theme song at him. When all else fails, parents, dominate the little bugger! If Olive Oyl had seen this cartoon, she’d never have let Popeye get within a mile of Swee’Pea.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCan

A question for bloggers and blogathoners

When bloggers participate in a blogathon, why are the participants so slow to post their entries? I’m currently participating in a ‘thon that is being held this weekend, and as of right now (Sunday morning), less than half of the entries are posted. I’ve participated in other ‘thons where the same thing happened. Doesn’t that seem rude, especially when the whole point of a blogathon is to entice people to read your and other people’s blogs?

One Saturday morning many years ago, I helped out my mother-in-law by trying to set up a garage sale she had wanted to hold. The sale was advertised to begin at 8:00 a.m., but I knew from experience that many customers arrive earlier than the scheduled start time, to see if they can get good deals. Mom, however, did not grasp this concept. When early-birds would roll up, she would actually yell at them, “Go away! We haven’t started yet! Come back later!” I daresay that nobody obeyed her last command.

That sounds pretty similar to this blogathon “late entry” situation. After a while, people are going to get tired of nothing new being posted, and they’re going to quit stopping by. Can you blame them? Imagine if you’d been anticipating the premiere of a certain movie, and when you arrived at the theater on Friday, the theater manager told you, “Eh, the movie’ll be in some time this weekend. Keep checking back!”

So if you ever hold a blogathon and you get a low turnout, you might keep this in mind. Just sayin’.

closed

“31 Days of Oscar” Blogathon

31DaysOfOscarBanner

My blogathon addiction continues! This time, it’s the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, sponsored by the three wonderful movie blogs listed above. To find out more information about the ‘thon (and to participate yourself, if you’d like), go to http://aurorasginjoint.com/2015/01/05/31-days-of-oscar-blogathon-2015/

I’ll be participating in the ‘thon’s “Oscar Snubs” section on Feb. 9-10, but with a different twist. I’m going to blog about famous comedians who have won Oscars, but for the wrong reason: They were given “Special Achievement Oscars” by way of the Motion Picture Academy’s guilt over denying these comedy greats “real Oscars” during their movie careers.

Enjoy the blogging fun in February!

COAL BLACK AN DE SEBBEN DWARFS (1943) – Watch this cartoon and make your own judgment

images

(WARNING: Major, major spoilers abound!!)

In the late 1980’s, a documentary titled “Amos ‘n Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy” looked at the infamous comedy show. Despite the doc’s own testimonials by famous black performers who found the show funny, the only way to get the show looked at or praised these days was to surround it with politically correct analysis.

That’s most likely the only way that cable TV’s Cartoon Network, which owns the rights to Bob Clampett’s Snow White parody Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs would ever be able to air this cartoon. Most likely, the Cartoon Networkers won’t consider even that ploy, as they have seen fit to remove any possible inflammatory material from their huge backlog of cartoons. That’s a great pity, because most of those who have been fortunate enough to view Coal Black regard it as one of Bob Clampett’s most jaw-droppingly funny creations.

As has been well-documented elsewhere, the unfortunate fact is that, at the time of Coal Black‘s making, African-Americans were rarely treated as equals to whites on the silver screen. (Dooley Wilson’s Sam in Casablanca [1942] is a notable exception, depicting a warm friendship with Humphrey Bogart’s Rick. Yet even Sam clears out of the room as soon as Bogie and Ingrid Bergman, the movie’s iconic white lovers, reunite.)

And unsubtle stereotypes abound. Just to hit the highlights, “Prince Chawmin'” is a jive-spouting hero with dice for teeth (and he literally turns yellow when So White calls for him to rescue her). “De Sebben Dwarfs” are little more than thick-lipped comic relief. And the movie begins with the tale being told by a loving “mammy” to her child.

Yet the underlying irony is that the racial aspect is merely a smokescreen for what this cartoon is really about: sex. This film’s Wicked Queen doesn’t even consider whether she’s the fairest one of all; her first words in the story are “Magic mirror on the wall, send me a prince about six feet tall.” So White, far from Disney’s virginal image of Snow White, wears a low-cut blouse and thigh-high shorts, and she sends blazes of erotic ecstasy through every male she meets. If it weren’t for the movie’s parody approach, it’s difficult to believe that the same censors who got all worked up about Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood series would have let Clampett get away with such brazenness.

The irony is that Bob Clampett intended his cartoon as a tribute to black culture. The movie’s hot jazz score (by Eddie Beals) surpasses even Carl Stalling’s usual high standards, with some incredible scat singing and white-hot trumpet playing. And So White is voiced by Vivian Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge’s sister, and the Evil Queen is voiced by their mother Ruby, which is enough to at least give the movie a legitimate pedigree.

Beyond that, this cartoon is to Clampett’s oeuvre what What’s Opera, Doc? is to Chuck Jones’s canon — a look at a Warner Bros. cartoon director at the height of his control. Like Jones’s opera parody/tribute, Coal Black goes beyond funny to just plain astounding. Even in fifth-generation bootlegs, the cartoon is rich in the sort of frame-exploding work that made Clampett’s reputation. Even though many of the wartime references (to shortages and the military) date this cartoon far worse that most WB efforts, the jokes still come across quite clearly. (When Mammy tells us how rich the Evil Queen is, the camera pans across her riches: piles of stockpiled sugar and rubber tires.)

There is plenty to be offended about in Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs, if offense is all that you seek. But the most memorable cartoons are usually the ones that get somebody’s dander up. In an era where Keenan Ivory Wayans makes the most profitable Afro-American movie ever (Scary Movie, 2001) by taking R-rated swipes at penises and mental retardation, surely there’s room in our culture for a comparatively benign (and far funnier) six-minute cartoon.

Charlie Chaplin in MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947) – Way too lovable of a killer

contrary-blogathon-8

The following is my entry in the “Contrary to Popular Opinion Blogathon” being held at the blog Sister Celluloid on Jan. 17 and 18. The blogathon’s purpose is to laud some critically un-acclaimed movies, as well as take some long-regarded-as-classic movies down a notch or two. Click on the image above to visit the blogathon, and watch (or read) the fur fly!

Monsieur_Verdoux_poster

Am I the only one who thinks Monsieur Verdoux is overblown and overrated? When it was first released in 1947, there was no way it could be fairly judged critically; Chaplin’s reputation as a supposed philanderer and Communist gave him and his movie no chance in the public court. Then the movie was re-released in 1964 and 1972, and a world that had had to suffer through the scare of The Bomb and the relentlessness of the Vietnam War was all too eager to embrace its black comedy.

Yet the primary problem with Verdoux is that everyone salutes its intentions rather than its execution. We are told that Verdoux (played, of course, by Chaplin) was a bank clerk who lost his job in the Great Depression. Then, in order to support his invalid wife and young son, Verdoux began a double life, wooing and marrying rich women, murdering them, covering his tracks, and snatching their fortunes.

VerdouxSon

And that’s the problem: Throughout most of the movie, we’re told everything rather than having it shown to us. The movie begins with a shot of Verdoux’s tombstone, followed by Verdoux’s off-screen voice hurriedly starting his narration of the story, as if Chaplin had such a whopper of a tale on his hands that he couldn’t wait to get started. (For all of the movie’s ballyhooed black comedy, Chaplin doesn’t even have the wit to use his beyond-the-grave narration as a gag, as director Billy Wilder would do with William Holden in Sunset Boulevard [1950]).

Then we get a real lulu of an exposition: a few loud minutes of the Couvais family, whom we’re told are vintners but bicker like the cast of a white-trash reality TV show. It seems that a member of their family was taken in by Verdoux’s winning ways, and why did she clean out her bank account and then suddenly disappear?

The answer lies in Verdoux’s outdoor incinerator, which annoys his female neighbors because the smoke won’t allow them to hang out their laundry, but they’re too charmed by Verdoux to complain. And there’s Verdoux tending his garden, nearly stepping on a caterpillar and then moving it to a safe place. He cares for the life of a small creature but not a human being. Ah, the irony!

And therein lies the other main problem with the movie: In a story where woman after woman is being knocked off, it’s all about how Verdoux feels. Upon his first meeting with Madame Grosnay (Isobel Elsom), Verdoux falls all over himself (literally – and her as well) trying to convince us what a mesmerizing lover he is, and it gets to be pretty embarrassing to watch.

VerdouxWoman

When Verdoux wants to try out a new poison, he picks up a lonely woman (Marilyn Nash) off the street. At Verdoux’s apartment, they have an endlessly dreary philosophical conversation that, nevertheless, charms Verdoux so much that he decides not to poison her (the old softie!).Nash, by the way, is beautiful but wooden, and the latter adjective applies to most of the cast.

Annex - Chaplin, Charlie (Monsieur Verdoux)_03

In fact, the only time the movie brightens up and is about something other than Verdoux and his wonderfulness is when Martha Raye blasts onto the screen. As Annabelle, Verdoux’s erstwhile murder victim who never realizes how lucky she really is, Raye cuts through the movie’s pretentiousness and gives it the black-comedy liveliness it aimed for all along. (Apparently, Raye was just as brash in real life, referring to Chaplin on the set as “Chuck” and miraculously getting away with it.) Other than Raye and a dryly humorous scene between Chaplin and William Frawley (four years before he attained TV immortality in “I Love Lucy”), the rest of the cast is dull as dishwater.

VerdouxCourt

Finally, there’s the movie’s infamous wrap-up, in which Chaplin/Verdoux scores points off every nearby target. At his court sentencing, Verdoux gives an eye-rolling speech in which he compares his own killings with those of wars and declares himself “an amateur” by comparison. (But if he really believes he’s an amateur, why bring up the point at all?) Verdoux continues his smugness right to the end, trading barbs with a reporter (Herb Vigran, later a very recognizable TV character actor) and even the priest who has come to perform Verdoux’s last rites. Chaplin presents Verdoux as completely sound and rational, even as he has the last word over God.

VerdouxPriest

Over the years, many critics and moviegoers have criticized this movie for its antiquated cinematic “vocabulary” (the constant shot of train wheels to symbolize scene changes, etc.). None of that would matter if the story and characters were more compelling. Even more than its follow-up Limelight, Monsieur Verdoux is Chaplin at his most verbose and smugly superior – even when he’s portraying a sociopathic murderer.

The Return of Laurel & Hardy to the Jacksonville Beaches area

LHLogo

Like a phoenix risen from the ashes, my Tent has been reconstructed!

Let me explain a few things. A “Tent” is another name for a local chapter of The International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society, better known as “Sons of the Desert.” The group is named after the 1934 feature film in which Stan and Ollie lie to their wives so that they can go off to attend their lodge’s annual convention in Chicago. The group was founded in 1965 by L&H biographer John McCabe and several others, and it has grown to have chapters nationwide and throughout the world. Each Tent is named after a Laurel & Hardy movie.

I had wanted to have my own Tent practically ever since I discovered L&H as a young boy in the 1970’s. But back then, all we had were 16-millimeter movie copies of The Boys’ work, and what kid could afford that?

In the summer of 2006, I got a new job after being unemployed for several months, and my wife treated me to the British DVD collection of Laurel & Hardy’s movies (which, unlike the much-ballyhooed U.S. version, contains their silent films as well as their talkies). In August of that year, I made my wish come true and created the “Leave ’em Laughing Tent.”

For six years or so, I had meetings at a local library on the first Monday of each month, and they were very well-attended. Then at the start of 2013, the Jacksonville Public Library closed on Monday nights. I tried to carry on with the group on Sunday afternoons, but it was a bust, so I gave up in April 2013.

Now, nearly two years later, The Friends of the Beaches Branch Library (in Neptune Beach) has happily supported my cause. Since Mondays are still out, I am going to try to hold my screenings on the final Wednesday of Jan. and Feb. 2015. If the turnout is good, I’ll keep the Tent going on a regular basis again.

017-laurel-and-hardy-theredlist

I cannot properly convey my adoration of Laurel & Hardy. Like many of their fans (or buffs, as John McCabe preferred to call their followers), I started watching them on Saturday morning TV when I was about 10 years old, and I haven’t stopped enjoying them since.

I can identify with those two “likeably dumb” men more than I care to admit. When I am caught short trying to repair something in the house, or my kids and I bump heads at some point, we all quickly identify it as a “Laurel & Hardy moment.”

If you are anywhere in or near the Jacksonville, FL. area, I humbly implore you to visit my first “reconstructed” Tent meeting on Wed., Jan. 28, from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. It will be at the Jacksonville Public Library’s Beaches Branch on 600 N. 3rd St. (just south of Atlantic Blvd.) in Neptune Beach, FL. Admission is free for all attendees, and with any luck, I’ll have a few light snacks to share along with the movies.

If you can’t make it to the live meeting, please visit my Tent’s Facebook page, or its lovingly built website at http://leaveemlaughing.moviefever.com. Let’s keep this classic comedy team going for the next generation!

Good-bye!

Good-bye!