Van Beuren Music 1936/A Musical Up-Roar 1934-35

A split-bill today, as we finish off the last straggler titles from the closing Van Beuren studio, then move to a new venue, beginning with the non-Ub Iwerks releases of the studio with perhaps the most flamboyant opening card of any in Hollywood – the thundering roar of MGM.

Van Beuren 1936:

Negotiations between RKO Radio Pictures and Walt Disney must have begun in 1936, and it would seem they were not kept a secret. One can only wonder what Amadee Van Beuren must have felt when he found these negotiations to be going forward. After all, he had nowhere to go, as every other major studio in Hollywood was already handling a line of cartoons. As for the cartoons themselves, they are not known to have been picked up theatrically by bottom feeders such as Astor Pictures. They went through film rental houses, and some into home movie catalogs as well. These cartoons were also among the first sound cartoons to reach television. The young baby boomers found them to be enchanting, but by the late 1950’s, these cartoons had worn out their welcome, being replaced by newer, fresher cartoon packages sucb as Warner Brothers, Paramount, and others, through packagers such as Associated Artists Productions, National Telefilm Associates, Guild Films, etc.

Molly Moo Cow and Robinson Crusoe (2/28/36) – Shipwrecked Molly Moo Cow lands on a seemingly deserted tropical island. However, the island already has one castaway – Mr. R. Crusoe, who rejects Molly’s advances. (Maybe he doesn’t realize that Molly could be a source of milk). Meanwhile, the island is also home to a tribe of natives, who perform impressions of the Mills Bothers. Crusoe winds up in the hands of these natives, and appears to be headed for the stewpot. He is rescued by Molly, who winds up with a face full of mud, which Crusoe views as blackface, thus presuming that Molly has become Friday. Songs: “I’m Robinson Crusoe”, an original sung by Crusoe in a robust baritone. And an original scat number for the natives, title unknown.

Bold King Cole (5/29/36) – Felix the Cat is sitting in a tree, singing about enjoying the bounty of Mother Nature. The weather changes abruptly from warm and sunny to dark and stormy. Felix even gets struck by lightning, which leaves him with his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Felix stumbles upon the castle of King Cole – a windbag if ever there was one. On this particular night, Cole is especially windy, much to the annoyance of the ghosts of his predecessors. The ghosts decide to take King Cole down to ye old dungeon for a session of torture, with Felix stowed into a suit of armor so he won’t interfere. King Cole finds himself tied to a machine which delivers alternating blows to his chest and stomach, knocking the wind out of him, to be collected in a tank. The ghosts give Cole a dose of his own medicine, forcing him to listen to his own bragging. Felix escapes from his plate-armor prison, and winds up directing some of the lightning bolts to dissipate the ghosts of Cole’s ancestors. Felix also finds he can turn off the light in his head by twisting his nose like a light switch. Felix and King Cole celebrate this victory, announcing that neither of them are afraid of anything at all. Songs: “Nature and Me”, “You Talk Too Much”, and “We’re Not Afraid Of Anything” (the latter sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”). All songs original.

It’s a Greek Life (8/2/36) – Hollywood had already done “Night Life of the Gods” as a feature – this cartoon tries to compress a similar idea into a 7-minute short. Mercury asks a cobbler god (a centaur) to repair his winged sandals, so he can look his best for a shindig. Most of the characters sound like popular mock-Greek dialect radio comedian Parkyakarkus (Harry Einstein). The cobbler’s two pet ducks (characters lifted from “Molly Moo Cow and the Indians”) take a disliking to the winged sandal intruders, and engage in a heated battle with them, that results in the centaur becoming an unwitting passenger of the shoes in a wild aerial chase. Needless to say, Mercury is not pleased with the shoes’ condition upon his return, but the ducks manage to stage a last-minute intervention that saves the centaur’s hide. Songs: “Dizzy Fingers”, by Eleazar “Zez” Confrey, first recorded in 1927 (below) under Confrey’s name, but actually played by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra. Subsequently recorded by a succession of organists, accordionists, and other keyboard artists, like most of Confrey’s compositions, including Charles Magnante on Melotone, Perfect, et al. (and reissued on the “Accordiana” album set for Columbia), Jan August on Mercury and possibly Diamond, Ivor Moreton and Dave Kaye on Parlophone, Percy Faith on Columbia, Benny Goodman on Capitol, the Three Suns on RCA, and Chet Atkins on RCA, to name a few. It is a challenge to play, as are most Confrey compositions.

MGM 1934-35:

By 1934, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the proudest studio in Hollywood. That year, some suits decided that the cartoons Ub Iwerks had been producing for years were no longer good enough to feature the growl of Leo. MGM cast about for a suitable studio, and found that Harman and Ising, having left Warner Brothers and currently in liaison with Van Beuren, were available. Metro was willing to spring for two-strip Technicolor, which Harman and Ising had never been able to work with at Warner Brothers. The studio that boasted “more stars than there are in heaven” sought to out-Disney Disney, so with their early “Metro Color Cartoon” (soon to be re-christened “Happy Harmonies”), they showed every intention of aspiring to outdo Disney’s charm and cuteness. Perhaps one might say this move was overdone to a great degree on several occasions, as Harman and Ising moved into levels of sweetness they had never displayed in their Warner work, sometimes considerably hard to swallow.

The Discontented Canary (9/1/34) – The only entry officially billed as “A Metro Color Cartoon”, its original titles undergoing several color changes on screen (an effect not currently seen on “restored’ prints, presumably through evident deterioration of the negatives). A canary (presumably female) is bored with her life in a cage, and wants to get out into the world. One day, the cage door is left open, and the canary flies out for adventure. She quickly encounters same in the form of a hungry alley cat. She further finds it difficult to mix in with birds of the wild. One cuckoo (assuming the guise of Napoleon), marches her off a limb. Hummingbirds give her the “needle” with their beaks. And when a pending storm approaches, she is left on the outside looking in, as all the wild birds cram a small birdhouse to overflowing. The cat masquerades as an alternative residence with a vacancy, but the canary is saved from entering his mouth by a strong wind. A wild chase leads to the rooftops, where the cat attempts to snatch the bird from a twirling weather vane. However, a lightning rod next to the feline is struck by a bolt, lighting the cat up like a neon sign. Another bolt bends the weather vane into a pointer that spells to the bird in twisted letters “SCRAM”. There is, after all, no place like home sweet home. Songs: “The Man On the Flying Trapeze”, with extended new special lyrics that serve as an overall narrative for the film, and “Home Sweet Home”, whistled by the bird upon her return.

Tale Of the Vienna Woods (10/17/34) – A spritely cherubic Pan-like character materializes from a statue when sunlight hits it. A small deer is wise to the secret, and has a mischievous friendship with the sprite, as they cavort through the woods, playing tricks on one another and any that may come their way. The deer winds up needing help to escape from a pack of hunting dogs, and as sundown nears, the sprite is forced to heroically abandon his post on the statue base to effect a nick-of-time rescue, barely making it back to his base before sunlight disappears, freezing him in place until the next morning. The light fades from the scene on the happy deer, for the fade out. Song: “Tales From the Vienna Woods”, by Johann Strauss. There is an English Columbia version billed as “Johann Strauss and Symphony Orchestra” – presumably referring to a descendant of the composer, as the composer would have been long deceased. Another English Columbia electric was credited to the Vienna Philharmonic. Electrola featured a version by Marek Weber and his Orchestra, also issued on HMV. Victor issued a Philadelphia Orchestra version with Stokowski. The Band of H.M. Life Guards issued a short version on 8″ Broadcast. Andre Kostelanatz had a version in the 1940’s on green label Columbia Masterworks, also with an issue on V-Disc. Decca had a dance version by Harry Horlick. As one would expect, the Boston Pops got their hands on it for Victor Red Seal. The Berlin State Opera Orchestra issued an Electrola version.

Bosko’s Parlor Pranks (11/24/34) – If you were to look ip “Cheater” in a glossary of cartoon terms, you’d come up with this film. Honey is trying to take care of an obnoxious kid named Wilbur, who is single-minded about his desire for an ice-cream cone. Any attempt at musical practice takes a back seat to his desire for frozen goodies. Bosko comes along and agrees to take care of Wilbur while Honey goes to the store and back. Using footage from earlier Warner Brothers cartoons, Bosko spins tales of his exploits to try to entertain Wilbur. It’s a mess of a film, that seems to go on forever. Songs: “Hot Dogs and Sasparella”, a 1934 pop song. A bluebird release was by Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra (embed below). Ted Fio Rito also issued it on Brunswick. “I Wanna Ice Cream Cone” seems to be an original. “I Love You and You Love Me” also appears to be original. Bosko’s old theme, “Whistle and Blow Your Blues Away”, also reappears, left over from the Warner days.

Toyland Broadcast (12/22/34) – A similar idea to a Warner film that would be produced two years later, “Toy Town Hall”. A radio broadcast on station ABC (seven years before the Blue Network would actually adopt such letters for a genuine network), conducted by toys in a playroom putting on a musical revue. Celebrity caricatures of Paul Whiteman, Kate Smith, the Dolly Sisters (as the Doll Sisters), Rubinoff, and the Mills Brothers appear. A substantial portion of the film is presented in blackface, in a jungle rhythm fantasy, accounting for scarcity of telecasts of this title on TV. A wind-up “Sambo Jazz Band breaks down at the ending, popping gears and mainsprings all over the place, as the toy MC bids the audience a flustered “Good Night!” Songs: “Ooh Wah Wah”, by the Doll Sisters, which appears to be an original, “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” , a 1929 song from “The Broadway Melody”, introduced by Charles King, written by Nacio Herb Brown and Artur Freed, “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, a 1931 pop song which became theme for Kate Smith (a talent of huge proportions), recorded by Smith both on Harmony/Velvet Tone, and Clarion, then two versions for Columbia about nine years apart, and possibly remade on later labels. Leo Reisman on Victor, Frank Ferera on Okeh, MacFarland and Gardner for the hillbilly Trade on Melotone, Bert Hirsch and the Hit if the Week Orchestra for cardboard Hit of the Week, the Roy Smeck trio on the ARC dime store labels, and Bert and Bob on British Decca, all had disc issues. “Jungle Fever”, a 1934 pop song featured in the film’s finale, was recorded by the Mills Brothers for Brunswick, and by Joe Haymes for Melotone, Perfect, et al.

Hey-Hey Fever (1/9/35) – Another Bosko cartoon. Here, Bosko and Bruno, down on their luck and hungry, come across a fairy tale kingdom, where Mother Goose and all her friends – even Old King Cole – are hungry too, in the grip of the depression. Bosko proposes that their recipe for success is to all go back to the farm, where they can restore prosperity in an agrarian lifestyle and grow their own provisions. Everything ends happily in this morale booster, which takes a different slant than other anti-depression cartoons such as “Let’s Go”, where industry rather than farming life seems to be promoted as the ticket to happiness. (This film further avoids entirely considering the problem of the Dust Bowl.) Song: “I’ve Got Hay Fever”, an original for Bosko and the community.

Next Time: 1935 Happy Harmonies.