Monday, February 25, 2019

Movie Review: Fighting With My Family

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: Excellent film, that even excited some one who cares as little for wrestling as I do.

Now I personally could not care less about wrestling. To be honest I am someone who has never watched a wrestling match (not even on TV). So I came into this movie not knowing who Paige was in the slightest. Despite this I found myself completely and utterly rooting for her by the end of this movie. The reason for this was simple. While I am not passionate about wrestling it is easy to tell that the filmmakers are and that passion is completely felt when watching this movie. Though this movie certainly has its clichés, it never feels like it once goes through the motions. This movie feels like a labor of love.

Again I don't know anything about the real Paige so I can't tell you how much the character Paige is like the real person. Despite this I found this character very hard to resist. She was so completely real and relatable. While our dreams may be very different from Paige's we fully understand and feel her passion and her fearing of messing things up. She has a dream in which at times if one little thing doesn't work out it could be shattered. This is something that is really scary and would cause heavy anxiety in anyone. This makes us fully on her side whenever it looks like things won't work out for her. It is hard not to care because it is so easy for us to put ourselves in her shoes and feel what she is feeling. However what we feel for her goes beyond just sympathy or empathy. We feel pride. This is something that is much harder to achieve and much more special. This is a feeling so many underdog movies wish they could make us have. All of this is enhanced by an excellent performance by Florence Pugh and a surefire script by Stephen Merchant (who also directed the film). Just as relatable as Paige is the treatment of her brother Zac (Jack Lowden). It is hard to dream of something your entire life and then be told "no" and it is even harder to see someone you love succeed at what you want to do. So many of us have gone through a situation where a family member or friend successeds in something we want to happen to us. At once we want to cheer because they succeeded. At the same time we feel like giving up on our hopes and dreams and accept that we are doomed never to succeed in life. This is a hard way to feel and a harder way to live and these scenes can be heartbreaking. It is incredible to see this powerful emotion of despair in what is mostly a feel good movie. However those scenes make the movie feel all the more real and powerful. Also adding to this movie is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's pure likability and charisma in a brief but great role as himself. A tough love coach played by Vince Vaughn (in a great performance) is also delightfully real. I also like how the other women who want to be in the WWE are more than the bland stereotypes, they could have been but instead fully realized characters.      

This is not a perfect movie at all. Sometimes the humor can fall flat, certain plot points can feel rushed and there are some clichés to the story. Still these faults are more than worth it for how excellent the rest of the film is.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Some Cartoons for Saturday Morning #5

Happy Saturday Morning again my friends. It is time to look at some more classic cartoons.

To start off we have one of Walt Disney's silent Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. One thing I love about these early silent Disney cartoons. is that they broke rules Walt Disney would later place on his cartoons. While his later animated cartoons would eliminate such ideas as parts of the body coming off and going back on feeling that they cut into the believability of the characters. This cartoon though is full of those type of gags. Hugh Harmon was one of the animators on this film. He would later direct a Looney Tunes cartoon entitled Bosko the Doughboy (1931) that would be quite similar in terms of story and gags. So without further ado here is Great Guns (1927).

Now for two of those great bumpers that played between the main cartoons for The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958-1962).

Next up is a classic Looney Tunes cartoon. You may be familiar with Chuck Jones' great Charlie Dog and Porky Pig cartoons. Well in many ways this Bob Clampett film is the precursor to those. Like in those cartoons here an obnoxious dog is trying to get Porky to adopt him. Though the design and voice are quite different, the personality makes him a clear precursor to Charlie. This film does not feel like a precursor of things to come though instead it is a great film in its own right. Notice how many of the backgrounds are in fact live action photographs. Clampett would later use the same technique in another great black and white Looney Tune, Eatin' on the Cuff or The Moth Who Came to Dinner (1942). Also notice how Porky's apartment is called Termite Terrace. Termite Terrace was the affectionate name for the building where many of the great black and white Looney Tunes were made. So enjoy Porky's Pooch (1941).

Next is a really clever and fun silent Felix the Cat cartoon, All Puzzled (1925). This is one of the shorter Felix cartoons, only running about three minutes. At this time many cartoon shorts were still heavily inspired by comic strips and this one is no exception. It feels like it could have easily been a Sunday comic strip. Like many of the Felix the Cat cartoons of the silent era, I love the pure imagination here. Like all the Felix cartoons of this era, this cartoon was directed by Otto Messmer and produced by Pat Sullivan.

Easily some of the best cartoons of the silent era were the Fleischer Brothers' Out of the Inkwell cartoons. In these films, an animated Koko the clown would enter into a live action world and wreck havoc. One of the most fun parts of these cartoons is to see Koko battle with his live action boss, Max Fleischer. The star of these cartoons, KoKo the clown would continue on into the sound era, as a supporting character to Betty Boop. Like the later Betty cartoons, these Inkwell films were chock full of imagination and the pure amount of great ideas in one cartoon is staggering. Here is one of my favorites in the series, Cartoon Factory (1924).

    Last but not least for the day is the Donald Duck cartoon, Clown of the Jungle (1947). This film finds Donald as a wildlife photographer who tries to get a picture of the wild Aracuan bird. This character is one of the wildest and craziest created for the Disney studios. He first appeared in the feature film, The Three Caballeros (1944), which was already the studio's wildest and cartooniest films. This short is another wild and cartoony film from the Disney studio with laughs galore. Not hurting that is that the cartoon was directed by Jack Hannah, who was handling most of the Donald Duck shorts at this time and proved himself to be a great director of cartoony cartoons. The backgrounds for this cartoon where borrowed from a Donald cartoon from the previous year, Frank Duck Brings 'em Back Alive (1946, also directed by Hannah). The working title for this picture was Feathered Frenzy. I love the cute and charming animation of the humming birds at the beginning (animated by Bill Justice), it fools you into thinking you are going to watch a cute little cartoon, making the craziness that is going to come all the more funny. The humming birds return later in cartoon only to be interrupted by the zaniness of the Aracuan bird (this scene also animated by Bill Justice). The film also contains a gag involving the Aracuan bird drawing a real working, elevator with a pencil (this scene is marvelously animated by Hal King with perfect split-second comic timing) which may remind one of a similar gag in Bob Clampett's classic Looney Tune, Porky in Wackyland (1938). So without further ado here is Clown of the Jungle.

For the section on Clown of the Jungle JB Kaufman's great book, South of the Border With Disney proved to be an incredible resource.

So stay tooned for more classic cartoons next Saturday. Until then peace love and cartoons.

   -Michael J. Ruhland

Friday, February 22, 2019

Happy Birthday Pebbles Flintstone

On this day in 1963, the littlest Flintstone, Miss Pebbles Flintstone made her first appearance. Pebbles' birth was actually the last episode in a story arc, something that was very unusual for a cartoon series during that time period. True it was a pretty short arc but most episodes of cartoon shows at that time were stand alone affairs that would have no effect on future episodes. The times it had been done previously were all in a serialized fashion with each episode ending a cliffhanger and then we see how they got out of it next week. Examples of this being Rocky and Bullwinkle and Ruff and Reddy. The Flintstones handled this a completely different way. Each episode had a clear, beginning and end, but each revolved around the idea of The Flintstones having a baby. This began in The Surprise (season 3, episode 19). In that episode Barney and Betty are babysitting a baby. With this baby Barney is too busy to do anything with Fred. This leads Fred to go on about how he hates babies. At the end of the episode Wilma in tears confesses that she is going to have a baby, thinking Fred will be unhappy about this idea. Instead Fred is ecstatic giving a trademark "Yabba-Dabba-Doo." The next episode Mother in Law's Visit (season 3, episode 20) would involve Wilma's mother visiting due to the news of Wilma being pregnant (the word pregnant is never said once in any of these episodes but anybody who knows that babies aren't delivered by the stork will have no trouble knowing what is going on). The next episode Foxy Grandma (Season 3, episode 21) features Fred trying to find someone to help pregnant Wilma around the house. Next in Fred's New Job (season 3, episode 22), Fred tries to get a raise from Mr. Slate to help take care of the coming baby. Finally in The Blessed Event (season 3, episode 23), Pebbles would be born. The Blessed Event is in some ways a remake of the I Love Lucy episode Lucy Goes to the Hospital (season 2, episode 16) in which Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky after a similar story arc. 

There was debate about The Flintstones having a kid from the very beginning of the series' creation. Most of this had to do with a little boy named Fred Jr. In fact Fred Jr. appeared in a Little Golden Book made before the series' release. The original design for Fred Jr. was by Ed Benedict, who designed many classic Hanna-Barbera characters.

Plans to have a Fred Jr. one day counited. However when the Flintstones were going to actually have a baby it was changed to a girl, due to insistence on the part of Ideal Toys (you see a girl toy would sell better than a boy toy). So Gene Hazelton designed a baby girl and the rest is stone age history. Naturally a baby boy would later be added to the show with the addition of Betty and Barney's adopted son, Bamm-Bamm. As indicated in the page from Sponsor magazine below, the birth of Pebbles was considered an event and boosted ratings for a short time.


When recording the voice for Wilma on the episode in which Pebbles was born, Jean Vander Pyl was pregnant with her son and remembered crying. Along with being the voice of Wilma she would also be the original voice of Pebbles.

Unlike most cartoon children, we got to see little Pebbles grow up. However this never happened during the original show. A spin off series called The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show (1971-1972) would feature her as a teenager. The TV movies A Flintstones Christmas (1977) and The Flintstones:
Little Big League
(1978) would feature her still as a little kid, but no longer a baby. We would actually see Pebbles get married to her childhood playmate Bamm-Bamm in the TV movie, I Yabba-Dabba Do! (1993), and they would have babies of their own in another TV movie Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby (1993). These babies would later reappear in another made for TV movie A Flintstones Family Christmas (1993).

Here is the theme song to The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show.

Below is a clip of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm having their children from Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby. Notice how this is not as squeaky clean as you might except. The original TV series was meant for adults and one has the feeling that this movie was trying to get back to that.

Now in honor of Pebbles' birthday let us bring on the dancing girls.


-Michael J. Ruhland


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Secret Life of Pets 2 "Rooster Trailer"

As I have said before I love the way Secret Life of Pets 2 has been doing its trailers. Each trailer focuses on a different character giving you a good look at each character with out giving much of the plot away. The new trailer introduces a new character, Rooster. He is a tough sarcastic alpha dog voiced by Harrison Ford. Unlike the previous trailers this one does not focus on him, but instead on Max and Duke. Still the last line in this preview given by Rooster is downright funny. By the way I can't be the only one who hears the name Rooster associated with a tough character and thinks of True Grit.

The movie is set to be released on June 7th.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Charlie Chaplin's The Kid Called Unfit for Kids or Adults

With the amount of pure vulgarity and raunchiness that finds its way into so many movie comedies today, it is hard to believe that anyone could have ever found a movie like Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) objectionable. However certain censors were not happy with the film. This actually ended up backfiring as even back then people knew that the movie was a brilliant work of art and definitely not objectionable. This story is told in an article from Exhibitors Herald (dated October 9, 1926). Here is that article.

"Death of Chief Justice Timothy D. Hurley of the superior court of Chicago recalls his historic debate with William A. Bradley on the motion at an open meeting of the Chicago City Council several years ago.

"Judge Hurley was leader and spokesman for a large group of women's organizations, who were demanding more rigid censorship of films in Chicago. Several newspapers sided with them. Brady at the time, was president of the N. A. M. P. I. and heading a large delegation of film people, who came to Chicago to fight the proposed ordinance.

"Censorship advocates seemed to be gaining the upper hand, when Judge Hurley made the mistake of attacking 'The Kid' Chaplin's masterpiece, as 'unfit for any child or adult to see.'

"Newspapers the following day branded the entire movement as 'fanatic,' basing their conculisions entirely on 'The Kid.' The new ordinance was defeated in Chicago and many believe that Judge Hurley's widely quoted attack on 'The Kid' turned public sentiment against the censorship movement which was gaining headway in all parts of the country."

It is telling that in 1926 (the year after The Gold Rush), The Kid was still being heralded as Chaplin's masterpiece. While Chaplin has made too many film I love for me to hail any as his masterpiece, The Kid certainly shows the filmmaker at his absolute best. It blends comedy and drama together perfectly. An opening intertitle of the film states "A picture with a smile - and perhaps a tear." The Kid definitely supplies both featuring some Chaplin's funniest moment as well as some of his most touching. You can watch the film below.

Update: Some times a researcher finds something accidentally after he has published a post. Maybe he (in this case its a he) should have maybe waited to publish the post until later so he could have found this first. So I found an article in Moving Picture World (dated February 19, 1921) that gives further insight into this. Here is a brief quote that is important to this conversation, "but the high point of comedy reached in the proceeding, which decidedly farcical value was touched on by Mr. Hurley in making a charge against the popular picture, 'The Kid,' recently released, which he said displayed the extreme ignominy of prenatal neglect, in showing a mother leaving her child in an ash barrel." Maybe I'll post that whole article in a later post, but I feel adding this brief quote adds more important insight to this point.    

-Michael J. Ruhland          

Movie Review: What Men Want

Michael's Movie Grade: F

Review: Bottom of the barrel comedy, this is as bad as it gets folks.

Despite this being called a "comedy" I never laughed once watching it. In this near two hour movie there is not one funny joke to be found. Much of the humor is of the vulgar variety. While vulgar humor can be funny it is not funny simply because it is vulgar and it especially doesn't get funnier the more vulgar it is. This movie however has a sense of humor that seems to think these things are true. The film gets extremely raunchy and thinks that is enough to make it funny. It isn't. The jokes that are not based on vulgarity are instead simply focused on male stereotypes. You know men aren't too bright, they constantly think about sex, and they are gross. Whether or not you are offended by these stereotypes the jokes aren't funny either way. Like with the raunchy humor, the film seems to think these stereotypes are funny just because they are there. That simply is not true and they just seem like cheap and easy jokes that completely miss the mark. Though not as bad as the humor itself (what could be?), the attempts at adding heart to this film is horrible. It feels so forced and like it belongs in another movie. It is hard to take a message about truly listening to others and learning that there is more to them than you think seriously when almost all the characters are nothing but stereotypes. True the love interest, the assistant and the sports star are nice guys, but that doesn't change that they are a minority in this movie, as all the other guys are completely and utter shallow. There being more to people than meets the eye must simply apply to a small minority. Even with this the nice guys are nothing but bland and forgettable. Also a sweet little message is completely overwhelmed by the raunchy humor and is completely defeated by that. When the "heart" comes in it felt like it comes in from nowhere. Not helping any of this is that our main character is not likable or pleasant to watch and the storyline is one cliché after another. Worse of all there is not one good quality about the whole movie.

This movie is not only bad, it is astonishingly bad. It may be only February but I have no doubt this is going to be one of the worst movies of the year. Avoid at all costs.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, February 17, 2019

TCM Big Screen Classics: My Fair Lady (1964)

Thanks to TCM and Fathom Events, today I was able to see My Fair Lady on big screen for its 55th aniversity. This was not an art house or old time theatre type thing either, but rather shown at AMCs. Maybe someday later I'll write a large article on this film going over its history, but for now I am just going to write a brief little post about how much I loved seeing this movie the way it was meant to be seen.

This is a big screen movie there is no doubt. It looks good on a small screen and the story and songs are excellent no matter how you watch it. Still this movie was intended as a huge spectacle. It is rare to find a movie that uses color as incredibly as this film does. The opening shots of flowers as the opening credits roll, the beautiful shot of Freddie waiting outside for Eliza and the fantastically visually stylized horse race are images that when seen in a theater are jaw dropping. The beautiful choreography for many of the musical numbers can be fully felt here in a way they never could at home. In fact the pure scope of spectacle in this film is overwhelming when seen this way. Unlike so many movies today, this film truly feels like an event. Even for someone who goes to the movies as much as I do, can really feel like they are going to a special event seeing this in the theatre. Adding to this is the fact that the showing included a five minute intermission. It is almost hard to describe the effect an intermission can have on a longer film. A carefully placed and well planned intermission (much different from the horrible barrage of poorly placed commercials seen when you watch one on TV) can really increase the feeling of scope a film has and again make it feel like you are going to an event rather than just another movie.

Naturally this is still a great movie no matter how you watch it, it is just better in a cinema setting. Even on a small screen you can feel how incredible Audrey Hepburn's performance is. She is simply incredible in this role and brings such a charm and humanity to this film in a way no other actress could have. Her chemistry with Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway is also fantastic and the scenes they share together are a delight. The songs are fantastically memorable and Marni Nixon's (who dubbed the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn) is beautiful. Songwriters Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Lowe are truly incredible songwriters and each song is very sophisticated and complex, but catchy and fun at the same time. That is truly an achievement. Of course it doesn't hurt that this movie was directed by George Cukor, who was already an old pro by this time having directed movies since 1930. He was truly a master of his craft and this film shows that perfectly. This is a perfectly loverly film and I could not recommend it more.

This will be shown again in theaters Wednesday February 20. If you missed today's showing, and are interested try to make that showing. You won't regret it.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Our Gang in "Mary, Queen of Tots" (1925)

Release Date: August 23, 1925. Director: Robert F. McGowan. Supervisor: F. Richard Jones. Story: Hal Roach. Titles: H.M. Walker. Cinematographer: Art Lloyd. Producer: Hal Roach. Editor: Richard Currier. Cast: Our Gang (Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Joe Cobb, Farina, Jackie Condon, Pal), Lyle Tayo, Richard Daniels, James Finlayson, May Beatty, Charles Bachman, Charley Young, Helen Gilmore.

Hello my friends, today let us look at one of my favorite silent Our Gang shorts, Mary, Queen of Tots. This is one of the most unique Our Gang shorts, because it flirts with the fantasy genre, but never becomes a full on fantasy.

Mary (Mary Korman) is a lonely little rich girl. Her parents ignore her and her governess (May Beatty) doesn't let her go out and play like other kids. Her only source of joy in the world comes from dolls that look a lot like the boys of Our Gang. At night she even has wonderful dreams of them coming to life. However while she is sleeping and dreaming such happy thoughts, her governess throws the dolls out the window. When she awakes she sees the Our Gang boys outside and believes that her dolls have come to life. She is so happy she could kiss each of them, but the boys flat out refuse. The boys let her know that they were paid to pose for the toymaker who made the dolls. With this Mary gets an idea. The boys run amuck through the house causing the governess to become very annoyed. The governess calls the cops but when the cops come in, all there is are the dolls, making the cop believe that the woman has gone insane.

This film features one of the most charming scenes in the history of Our Gang. This is the dream sequence Mary has of her dolls coming to life. The special effect is extremely good and still holds up very well today. To achieve this effect a split screen was used along with giant props. A similar effect was later used for the classic Laurel and Hardy short, Brats (1930). This scene as it plays out on screen is simply magical. It feels like all those child dreams we had of our toys. For this brief moment we get to relieve that sense of childhood wonder and imagination and it is fantastic.

The effectiveness of this scene was not lost on anyone at the time. An issue of Exhibitors Trade Review (Dated August 22, 1925) stated "...'Mary Queen of Tots' the latest Pathe 'Our Gang' comedy which sets a new high water mark in the field of novelty tricks of photography, and clever gags." Another issue of Exhibitors Trade Review (dated July 18, 1925) stated "Exceptional effects were obtained through the building of special 'props' and trick photography."

Naturally also being an Our Gang short, this is a very funny film. These kids are just as talented as any adult comedians of the same era. As mentioned before Mary attempts to kiss all the boys at one point. Farina's facial reaction to this is completely hilarious and I couldn't love it more. This was truly a take most adult comedians then and now would be completely jealous of. Mary is as adorable and charming as possible. However she is naturally so. She is never cute because the filmmakers say she is, but rather because she actually is. Her acting in this film is also suburb and can win over any audience then and now. There is also plenty of typical but quite funny slapstick around the big house. This is not sophisticated humor, but it doesn't need to be. The gags get the laughs they desire perfectly. And isn't the reason we watch comedies to laugh?


The following is a review from Motion Picture World (dated August 22, 1925).

"Hal Roach in a novel way introduces the majority of the 'gang' in 'Mary Queen of Tots.' Little blond Mary essays the role of a rich girl tired of her long lashed and beautifully gowned dolls. She is delighted with a gift from her mother's gardener of four crudely clad images. These represent the handicraft of an Italian workman who uses living models from which he fashions his wares. The images are readily recognized as the rest of the 'gang.' After setting them about in her room amid her toy dogs and horses, the little girl falls asleep. Trick photography permits the substitution of Mickey, Farina and the rest of the crowd to appear in diminutive size. They romp about the sleeping form of Mary who looks like a giantess in their midst. When she awakes the dolls are all back in their original positions. A nurse throws them in an ashcan and when Mary finds the models playing on the street she believes that they are her fairy dolls returned to life. She dines them in her spacious home, where they resort to the antics characteristic of their other productions. This two-reeler will help raise the standing of any theatre in any community. Some of the myth like shots are beautifully executed. Children will be immediately sold on this and grown-ups will find it in an abundance of laughs."

The following is an exhibitors review from the Exhibitors Herald (dated January 23, 1926).

"Mary, Queen of Tots: Our Gang - This is one of the gang's weak ones, but even at that it is a good comedy and Mary's dream is real good. - W.J. Shoup, DeLuxe Theatre, Spearville, Kan. - Small Town Patronage."

Though I'd disagree with calling this one of Our Gang's weakest, it is true that during the silent era, even the weakest Our Gangs were still great comedies in their own right. Often it is disappointing how overlooked the Our Gang silents are, considering how consistently great they are.

The following is a review from the Exhibitors Herald.

"Mary is a poor little rich girl who was not permitted to play with kids or indeed to enjoy nice germiaden dolls. Her doll, the gardener sees a peddler selling dolls and purchases several. She spirits them to her room and then falls asleep. The governess throws them away and in searching for them Mary finds 'the gang,' who are models for the dolls. A good time is had for all and the governess, seeing the living 'dolls' acts so irrationally that the wagon takes her away.

"This 'Our Gang' comedy is different from any of its predecessors and has some decisively novel effects. For instance when Mary falls asleep the dolls come to life including the donkey and the dog. This is most realistic by having the gang do its stuff on a set composed of monstrous pieces of furniture which make the kids look as large as dolls.

"It is a delightfully pleasing novelty to have the dolls join Mary as playmates, and there are a number of clever touches as when the little girl, only half awake, rushes out to the gang and calls them her dollies. The expressions on the face of Mickey, Fatty and the rest may be imagined. The villain in the form of the governess, receives her just deserts when the officer believers her a triffle daft upon being summoned to eject the gang from the house and finding only dolls

"You will not go wrong with this one. It should please all comers and should be exploited to the best of your ability."

Notice that that review referred to Joe Cobb as 'Fatty,' despite him not having that nickname in the actual films.    

Now here is the film.

Thank you for joining me for this discussion and I hope you enjoyed it. See you later with more musings on classic films.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Some Cartoons for Saturday Morning #4 - Silent Edition

Happy Saturday morning again my friends. Of course you know that means it is time to look at more classic cartoons. Today let's try something a little different and look at some great silent cartoons. 

First up is a cartoon staring the most famous cartoon character of the silent era. This is of course Felix the cat. Felix as many of you know is turning 100 this year having debuted in 1919 with Feline Follies. By the cartoon we are going to look at today, Felix was as popular to movie going audiences as any of the great silent movie live action stars. Speaking of the great live action stars you will see animated versions of many of them here including William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks, Ben Turpin, Will Hays, Gloria Swanson and most delightfully Charlie Chaplin. Yes the scene with Charlie Chaplin is fantastic. When our hero shows Will Hays his acting ability, he does an imitation of Charlie Chaplin. Charlie accuses the feline of stealing his stuff and gives chase. There is some actual history behind this joke. Producer Pat Sullivan and animator Otto Messmer had previously made a series of animated shorts featuring an animated version of Chaplin's little tramp and this work with the tramp inspired much of Felix's personality and movements. This is maybe one of the most popular silent Felix shorts and certainly one of the best. In fact it received a spot in Jerry Beck's book, The 50 Greatest Cartoons. So without further ado here is Felix in Hollywood (1923).

Since I mentioned them earlier, I feel this is a perfect time to share one of Pat Sullivan and  Otto Messmer's Charlie Chaplin cartoons. The story of having the Tramp as a farmhand was done in Chaplin's live action short, The Tramp (1915). Borrowed directly from that short is a gag involving milking a cow. So here is Charley on the Farm (1919).

The next film is one of Walt Disney's excellent series of Alice Comedies. This series was intended as a reversal on the Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell cartoons. Those films featured an animated KoKo the clown entering a live action world. The Alice comedies on the other hand featured a live action girl entering an animated world. The effect was fantastic and many of the Alice Comedies are just fantastic entertainment. The live action little girl was originally played by Virginia Davis. After her contract was not renewed because her parents were not happy with her being payed less, the part was taken over by Margie Gay who plays the role here. This is Margie's first time playing the lead in an Alice Comedy. It also marked another first, this was the cartoon debut of Pete, who would later be the nemeses of such Disney characters as Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. The character is still in use today thanks to shows like Mickey and the Roadster Racers or video games like the Kingdom Heart series. So here is Alice Solves the Puzzle (1925).

Speaking of Walt Disney here is one of his classic Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. The story of this film will seem familiar to Disney fans, as it was remade as the Mickey Mouse cartoon, Building a Building. I have written about that Mickey Mouse cartoon, here. Notice in both the Oswald and Mickey Mouse Pete is the villain. This however is an excellent cartoon in its own right, so here is Sky Scrappers (1928).

Last but not least is one of Earl Hurd's great Bobby Bumps cartoons. Earl Hurd is probably best remembered today for being one of the creators of cel animation. However he should be just as remembered for the Bobby Bumps cartoons, because they are fantastic. I love all the fourth wall jokes here as well as the gags that could only be done in silent cartoons. This is one of the best of the series and a must watch for all fans of silent cartoons. So here is Bobby Bumps Puts a Beanery on a Bum (1918).

So stayed tooned next Saturday morning for more cartoons. Until then peace love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland


Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Three Stooges in "Men in Black" (1934)

Running Time: 19 minutes. Release Date: September 12, 1934. Shooting Dates: 8/29/34 - 9/1/34. Production Number: 152. Director: Raymond McCarey. Writer: Felix Alder. Photography: Benjamin Kline. Editor: James Sweeny. Cast: The Three Stooges (Moe, Larry, Curly), Dell Henderson, Jeanie Roberts, Ruth Hiatt, Billy Gilbert, Little Billy, Bud Jamison, Hank Mann, Bobby Callahan, Phyllis Crane, Arthur West, Joe Mills, Irene Coleman, Carmen Andre, Helen Splane, Kay Hughes, Eve Reynolds, Eve Kimberly, Lucille Watson, Billie Stockton, Betty Andre, Arthur Rankin, Neal Burns, Joe Fine, Charles Dorety, Charles King.

Hello again lamebrains and knuckleheads, it is time to look at one of the earliest Stooge shorts for Columbia and the only one nominated for an Oscar. Despite the title, Men in Black, this film has nothing to do with Johnny Cash or aliens. Instead the title is a parody of a recent film called Men in White (1934). That film, which stared Clark Gable and Myrna Loy was a drama about doctors.
Ray McCarey was not one of the typical Stooge directors, having only directed this and Three Little Pigskins (1934) for the team. However he did direct Shemp (without any other stooges) in a short entitled Salt Water Daffy (1933). Comedy fans might know McCarey best for directing the Laurel and Hardy feature, Pack Up Your Troubles (1932). He also directed an excellent Our Gang short, Free Eats (1932). He would go on to direct such feature films as You Can't Fool Your Wife (1940), Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939), It Happened in Flatbush (1942) and The Falcon's Albi (1946). Ray McCarey was the younger brother of one of my favorite directors, Leo McCarey.

To advertise the film publicity stills were shot with the Stooges and Jeanie Roberts (who played the nurse in the short). These were adlibbed by the Stooges during a break from filming. They can be seen below.

Because they have been in the senior class too many years, the Stooges are now doctors as long as they devote their work to duty and humanity. This short ends up not having too much of a storyline as the rest is pretty much little skits involving them as a doctors.

This is an excellent and very funny short. I love the running gag of the boys entering and coming out of a door with a different mode of transportation including a horse and mini-racing cars. I love the scene with the Stooges in the room with a mentally unstable man. That is especially great as the Stooges get to work with Billy Gilbert one of the greatest character actors of the era (probably best remembered today as the professor in Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box (1932), Joe Pettibone in His Girl Friday (1940), Herring in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) and the voice of Sneezy in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). He would also later appear in the Stooges short, Pardon My Scotch (1935).) Another highlight is the hilarious surgery scene. The great ending doesn't hurt either.    

The building used in the film's opening was The Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Joan Howard Mauer (Moe's daughter) gave birth to her two sons there. It is now a Church of Scientology.

A lot changed from script to screen in this movie. One of the strangest was a switching of Moe and Larry's lines in one scene. In the original script, Larry asks a patient what her name is, she responds "Anna Conda." Moe would have said to this "Anna Conda - 95th and 1/8th." In the actual film, Moe asks the patient for her name and both Larry and Moe get the punch line. The Stooges themselves adlibbed a scene in this film. In this scene Moe tells Larry "Move that cart." Larry responds "I'll move it when I'm ready." Moe says in a tough voice "Are you ready?" Larry says "Yeah! I'm Ready!" This routine later became one which would be associated with the team. They would preform it again in Three Dumb Clucks, We Want Our Mummy, I Can Hardly Wait, Who Done it? and The Three Stooges in Orbit. Also cut out was a joke involving Curly vaccinating a woman. Curly would have asked if she wanted it on the arm or the leg. She would have responded "Where it won't show." Curly would have asked "What business are you in?" She would have responded "I'm a fan dancer." Curly would say "Stick out your tongue." A running joke in this film is that the Stooges would always run through a glass door in break it. There was one joke involving this that did not make the final cut. Here is how the script describes that joke, "The three stooges dash madly towards the door, but as they open it the laborer, in the corridor, had evidentially been picking something up in front of the door and the impact of his body against the door breaks the glass again, spreading it all over the floor." Joan Howard Maurer believed that the gag was probably cut out because it was too violent and also wasn't funny. Another scene cut involved the stooges working on a man whose knee hurts. He would have said "Oh my knee - oh my knee" to which Moe would responded "What's the matter? You being singing mammy songs?" Latter Larry would have said "I'll take his reflex." Curly would have responded "I'll take his watch." They would have later been in raincoats with beer spigots and mallets to test his reflexes. This film would have also had a completely different ending. Beautiful triplets would have told the stooges they would marry our heroes, "providing you do the most wonderful thing in the world for humanity." They would have got out an axe and said "We're going to subdivide you." Yes that ending deserved to wind up on the cutting room floor. It is interesting to note the Curly is not called Curly in the script but rather "Dr. Jerry."  

This is of course the film one of the lines most associated with the Stooges comes from. This line is of course "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard." This phrase can be heard in countless movies and TV shows to reference the Stooges.

The following are exhibitors reviews from the Motion Picture Herald.

March 9, 1935"Men in Black: Three Stooges - Maybe you call this a comedy but my patrons did not. Who told the stooges they could act? This is poor comedy and entirely too silly to be funny. Let's have better shorts and less of this kind of entertainment. Running time 19 minutes. -J.J. Medford, Orpheum Theatre, Oxford, N.C. general patronage."

March 27, 1937"Men in Black: Three Stooges - Very good. Played it twice so you know what we think of it. - Harlan Rankin, Plaza Theatre, Tilbury, Ontario, Canada."

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe Three Stooges: Book of Scripts by Joan Howard Maurer.

The Three Stooges Scrapbook by Joan Howard Maurer, Jeff Lenburg, Greg Lenburg.  



Movie Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Review: A great lead character enhances a rather ordinary but enjoyable action film.

It seems strange to me that so many action movies have such boring lead characters. To me action is the genre that is in most need of great characters. To me the excitement of an action scene comes from wanting to see a character come out on top. If I don't care what happens in an action scene then why would I care to watch it. That's why I'm glad to say Alita herself is the greatest strength of the movie. Despite her having the line "Does it bother you I'm not fully human?," she is actually by far the most human character in the movie. She could have so easily just been a wide eyed (pun intended) innocent in a harsh world, but she is more than this. Due to her loss of memories, there is a bit of the innocent to her, but this only makes up a small part of her personality. She is intrinsically drawn to danger for reasons that are beyond her comprehension. While the rest of the world just accepts the dystopian world around her, she fights for what she knows is right almost as an instinct. This endears her to us because we want to be like that. Helping make this character work is a very good performance by Rosa Salazar. The character also makes the action scenes more exciting. The action scenes while nothing too special are quite good and I couldn't help feeling that excitement at times.

It is too bad the rest of the movie couldn't be as great as our lead character. The rest of the film is not bad by any means, but it is nothing that great either. The story often seems made up of movie clichés and there are quite a few moments when you feel you have seen what is happening on screen before. There are also so many lines of dialogue that are as cliché as can be. While Alita is great the other characters can feel more than a little bland at times. While the environment is visually pleasing, it is not anything unique. It looks like so many dystopian futures we have seen in so many movies before. Not visually pleasing however are the non-Alita cyborgs. The human faces on machines is just unpleasant to look at. It is strange that with how the filmmakers made Alita look good, that the other cyborgs should look so terrible.

By the way I am actually kind of shocked this movie got just a PG-13, it is pretty dang violent at times. I guess the MPAA is softer on violence to cyborgs than violence to humans.

Overall if you want an enjoyable little action movie, this is a good one, but if you are looking for anything more look elsewhere.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Frozen 2 Trailer

Yes you read that title correctly, my friends. After all this time of complete secrecy, Disney has finally released a trailer for Frozen 2. Honestly we still don't know much more about the movie from this trailer. We can make some guesses but those would be pure speculation. The film looks like it might be a bit darker and more epic. However keep in mind that this could simply be the trailer. The first trailers for the first Frozen hinted at a silly comedy, which was only a smaller part of the actual film. It could be possible that maybe Frozen 2 won't be as dark or epic as its first preview makes it look. It certainly looks like they are leaving Arendelle, with Elsa trying to cross the water at the beginning. However where they could be going or why is a complete mystery. Heck even if they are leaving Arendelle remains speculation. It could be possible that she is trying to cross the water for a different reason after all. What is clear is that the trailer is filled with great animation and lots of atmosphere. By great animation I mean it is pretty darn breathtaking. This is especially true of the beginning of the trailer. The effects animation of the waves is incredible and the character animation of Elsa is fantastic. As mentioned before this trailer has a darker and more epic feel. At least in the trailer this works perfectly. I also will admit I love how Anna's new outfit even contributes to this atmosphere. This is what a movie trailer should be, it doesn't give much away but still gets you excited and curious about the film. Let's hope the actual movie is as good as this trailer.

The film is set to be released on November 22. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee will be returning to direct this sequel.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, February 11, 2019

Movie Review: Cold Pursuit

Michael's Movie Grade: B

Review: Effective offbeat dark comedy/thriller is a lot of fun.

This movie is far from a straight thriller. It is often more of a dark comedy as it is an action movie. There are very little of the explosions or cases one might expect from a Liam Neilson thriller. True there is quite a bit towards the end, but there is even a bit of slapstick to these scenes. The movie starts off in a way that would make one think that what will be proceeding will be dead faced serious, but that is not the case here. This does not mean that this movie is fast paced jokes proceeding another. Instead this movie is a rather delightfully leisurely paced. This works perfectly as the jokes are much more unexpected when they come up, making them much funnier. This movie isn't all humor though as it is extremely atmospheric. The leisurely pace only makes this atmosphere feel more real. The look of this movie is fantastic and there are many scenes which exist to make this atmosphere much greater. This small town feels perfectly real and like one we could visit anytime. Our main character is also extremely fun to watch making the movie all the more delightful. The main villain is just as delightful and many of the funniest moments come from him. The story never goes in the direction you expect it to. This is maybe one of the most unpredictable thrillers to garner a mainstream release in quite a while.

This movie is not perfect by any means though. The two cops are not very interesting characters and too much time is spent with them. Whenever the movie turns to them, it can become rather boring. Most of the side characters are seemingly uninteresting. Many of them just movie character stereotypes we have seen a million times. There also at times feels like there is too many characters and too much going on. This can make the movie seem unfocused and make it drag at times.

Overall this is a very enjoyable and very offbeat movie.

-Michael J. Ruhland    


Movie Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: While not as great as the first movie, this is an excellent film in its own right.

What this movie definitely has going for it is a clever and engrossing story and great characters. As predictable as this movie's story seems like it will be at first it delightfully takes it in unexpected and very well thought-out directions. Each plot twist makes perfect sense and even enhances what you have seen before. This movie also allows us to take a different look at the characters we thought we completely knew (except for Benny, he still only likes spaceships). Sometimes this is done for reasons of humor and other times much more seriously. We see how these characters could have become somebody completely different if only they had done things a little differently. While it has become a cliché in current animated movies to have a message about being yourself no matter what, many of them don't use that message as well as it is used here. Perfect for a movie about Legos, we see here that we shouldn't always repress the more childlike parts of our personality to become what society says we should be. Maybe just because the world becomes tougher and more cynical that doesn't mean we have to get rid of everything that is not cynical about us. There is a power to optimism and that is what this movie speaks to most of all. This is deeper than the usual be yourself message you find in most of these films and is important to keep in mind as the world's cynicism seems to be growing and innocence seems to be dying. This movie also contains a great message about the importance of embracing and understanding the differences between us and our loved ones. All these messages are told in a way that never feels preachy or out of place, but rather it all flows naturally from the storyline in an entertaining way.

The humor is both a fault and a strength of this movie. This movie can be a bit too eager to please at times and will just throw joke after joke after joke at us. There are many laugh out loud funny moments in this movie and many of them are extremely clever. However with the bigrade of jokes there are quite a few that don't hit as well. Jokes like the Queen singing about how she is not evil, the methods of "brainwashing," the sheer amount of things Rex Dangerfield says he is, the dialogue between the raptors and the song over the closing credits are absolutely hilarious. However jokes like the intermission, and a banana tripping over his own peel, seem to do nothing but be unneeded and unfunny breaks in the story, that couldn't feel more out of place. Also references to the Everything is Awesome song are not funny, but instead forced as if they just wanted to remind us how memorable that part of the first movie was without any of what made it memorable.

Again though this is certainly an excellent movie in its own right.

-Michael J. Ruhland              

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Exhibitors Herald on "The Big Parade" (1925)

The Big Parade (1925) was one of the largest and most ambitious films of the silent era. It is also one of the finest war movies ever made. The scale and quality of this movie was not lost on Martian J. Quigley, a writer for the Exhibitors Herald, who felt that this might be the greatest movie ever made. The following is the article he wrote about this movie for Exhibitors Herald (Dated December 5, 1925).

-Michael J. Ruhland

"New York, Nov.24. -The opening of 'The Big Parade' here last Thursday evening at the Astor theatre turned out to be a great event. It was the presentation of a subject which many will call the greatest picture ever made.

"Good Reasons to Consider it Greatest Picture"Whether it shall enjoy this position of supremacy with the general public remains, of course to be seen ; It is sufficient, however for the moment to say that there are good reasons for it to be considered the greatest picture ever produced.

"It is inevitable that 'The Big Parade' should be compared to 'Birth of a Nation,' which has been commonly accepted at the outstanding production of the screen. A picture can be no greater than its theme and as the theme of each is patriotism, they can enjoy a common advantage.

"But aside from its theme 'The Big Parade' has many advantages over 'The Birth of a Nation.' The many years of technical progress which the industry has traversed since the production of the Griffith masterpiece leave an effective imprint on the newer creation; also it has a greater spirit of genuineness  about it, doubtlessly due to the fact that it has an author who lived through the events he has written about and his pen has been that of a participant rather than that of a historian and novelist.

"Written By Laurence Stallings"In order in bestowing credit where credit is due, the first personality involved in the making of 'The Big Parade' is Laurence Stallings, a former newspaperman, member of the Marine Corps during the World War and coauthor of 'What Price Glory,' the most successful stage production based on a story of war. Mr. Stallings lived through the war and came out of it with a mind chock full of vivid impressions of the trials, suffering and triumphs of the doughboy and these he has set down in both 'What Price Glory,' and 'The Big Parade.'

"'The Big Parade' has about it a vividness, a genuineness and a reality that could only be achieved by an author who has lived through the drone of German gun fire, trench mud and the peculiar psychology that came to be imposed by the participants in the Great War. Mr. Stallings does not picture the war for the spectator, but rather takes you into it. He does not moralize about the subject matter and he does not even dramatize it; he simply takes the spectator to France with the American doughboys in the great days of 1919 and permits him to experience sensations, situations and events that range from the ridiculous to the tragic.

"King Vidor Makes it Great"Mr. Stallings has been the indispensable factor in the production of 'The Big Parade,' but his great story and treatment which might either have remained a mute and lifeless thing or, worse still, might have been butchered into an ordinary 'movie' have been immortalized and builded into an entertainment epic by King Vidor, the director. Stallings made 'The Big Parade' possible but Vidor has made it great.

"The direction of 'The Big Parade' is a thing of marvelous strength, consistency and realism. It is not merely a workman like job; it is an inspired piece of work - uniform in its merit, yet the span of its appeal touches practically every emotional reaction that man is subject to. Not in a few but in dozens of sequences the direction of 'The Big Parade' is brilliant, unusual, and triumphantly successful. Its broad sweeps of spectacle are awe-inspiring and thrilling; its intimate drama strikes unerringly to the heart of the spectator and its comedy touches scintillate with unescapable humor.

"Mr. Vidor has realized that he has a patriotic subject but does not lean too heavily upon patriotism. The patriotic appeal flits in and out of the picture but it is unmixed with sentimentality and there is no tawdry use of it. He has kept a nice proportion between intimate drama and spectacle and each seems to enter the picture logically and without recourse to theatrical effect. His handling of the players makes each of them seem like a greater artist than ever before. The action throughout is swift and sure and there is not a lag in the entire twelve reels.

"Sequences Nicely Timed"On the opening night the entire twelve reels seemed to pass more quickly than the average five reel feature. Although a great deal of subject matter has been compressed into production, the sequences are so nicely timed that they cut at the moment of the spectators greatest interest.

"This is, of course, the type of production where the musical score plays an all-important part. The musical score that has been prepared for 'The Big Parade' is a feature of the show. The entire presentation on the opening night under the direction of J.J. McCarthy, was notably effective.

"The players who will march to fame in 'The Big Parade' will be John Gilbert, as the American doughboy; Renee Adoree as the French peasant girl; Tom 'O'Brien, a bartender recruit to the A.E.F., and Karl Dane, who has left his job as a structural steel worker to go to war. Other of lesser significance in the story are Hobart Bosworth, Claire McDowell, Claire Adams and Rosita Marstini.

"Credit to Mayer and Thalburg"Two figures in California who might be seen smiling as broadly as 'The Big Parade' goes by are Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalburg. The production organization which made 'The Big Parade' is headed by Mr. Mayer. His associate executive, Mr. Thalburg, was in charge of the unit which made the production. Just what credit Mr. Mayer and Mr. Thalburg may be entitled to for the making of this picture - which is at least the greatest of recent years - cannot be told or proved. But this much is evident: That the plan of administration erected by these men at the Culver City studio of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor and the system of production perused there has permitted of the creation of this most extraordinary picture.

"The stirring and appealing scenes of this production are many. There is one in which a French girl is seeking to find her sweetheart, John Gilbert, among the multitude of doughboys who have been called about suddenly up to the front of town in which they have been billeted. The troops have hurried into formation and then quickly mount lorries which are to take them to a distance on their way to the front. The French girl stands as a pathetic and heart rendering figure alone in a roadway where hundreds of motor wagons and motor cycles flashes past her as she frantically seeks for her sweetheart among the throng in uniform. The treatment of the solitary figure against the background of the swift moving throng is most effective.

"To Render War Less PopularIn another scene John Gilbert comes out of a shell hole into no man's land to rescue a comrade who has been hit. There he engages an enemy solider and pursues him to another shell hole. They both drop low in the hole to escape the barrage overhead. Gilbert is about to finish off his opponent when he discovers the enemy is wounded The German asked for a cigret and Gilbert takes from his helmet the last one he has and puts it in the enemy's mouth. In a moment the German expires. Gilbert in the stoic manner of the war-ridden doughboy, takes the cigret and smokes it himself.

"While 'The Big Parade' is great entertainment - and that is all it is intended to be - it may also be noted that it is destined to render war less popular by making it understood by persons who get war fever at a safe distance from the mental and physical torture of the battle front."

Note: I kept in the grammatical and spelling errors that were present in the original article.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #3

Happy Saturday morning again my friends. It is time to look at some more classic cartoons. 

Let's start with a fantastic black and white Daffy Duck cartoon. This cartoon was directed by the one and only Bob Clampett. Clampett directed many of the funniest and wildest Looney Tunes shorts and this film shows him at his best. Fitting with the director's wild and crazy sense of humor, this cartoon features that great early wild and crazy Daffy Duck, who enjoys jumping up and down and shouting "Wooo-Wooo." This cartoon also features a much more sympathetic depiction of Daffy than later cartoons would, and it is extremely effective. Porky Pig has a part as the judge and there was a reason for this. At this time nearly all the Looney Tunes cartoons featured Porky Pig, while the Merrie Melodies did not have to. With this in mind it was common in Looney Tunes of this period for Porky to simply have a small part to meet this quota. So without further ado here is The Henpecked Duck (1941).

Up next comes a very unusual Popeye cartoon. This cartoon is unusual because Popeye does not play the hero but instead is the fall guy. He plays somewhat of an Elmer Fudd to a wisecracking goat's Bugs Bunny. In fact one could easily argue that the goat is the main character of this cartoon. This film certainly at times feels more like a Looney Tunes cartoon than a Popeye. There is even a lot of fourth wall breaking here in the way you would except more from a Tex Avery film than a Popeye. The unusualness should not be held against this cartoon as it is very funny. This is a Famous Studios Popeye. The early Popeye cartoons had been done by Fleischer Studios. However due to disputes (this is a topic, not to go into full now as it would need a whole post of its own), Paramount (the distributors) would fire Max and Dave Fleischer and replace them with there own Famous Studios. The later Famous Studios Popeyes could be rather weak and because of this the Famous Studios Popeyes have a bad reputation among cartoon fans. This is not fair as the early Famous Studios Popeyes are actually excellent cartoons that deserve greater attention. Case in point, The Hungry Goat.

Next up is a cartoon starring the one and only Scrappy. No I am not talking about Scrappy Doo. Rather I am talking about a cartoon series from Columbia staring a little boy who had many strange adventures. These cartoons have what make 1930's cartoons so popular among vintage cartoon fans. They are so full of imaginative and plain old strange gags that you would not find in any other era of cartoons. Having such talented artists as Dick Huemer, Art Davis and Sid Marcus working on this series certainly helped make these highly enjoyable cartoons. Here is one of my favorites from the series, The Flop House (1933).

Speaking of strange 1930's cartoons, here is the best. Before Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the Fleischer Studio made one of their animated masterpieces a Betty Boop cartoon entitled Snow-White (1933). Completely animated by Roland Crandall and featuring jazz legend Cab Calloway as the voice of Ko-Ko the clown. This is one of the most imaginative, fun and simply strange cartoon shorts of Hollywood's golden age.


In the 1980's DePatie-Freleng and Hanna-Barbera teamed up to create a new TV series based off DePatie-Freleng's most popular character The Pink Panther. This was Pink Panther and Sons (1984-1985). Pink Panther's sons were actually the main characters of this series with the famous panther taking the backseat. Here is an episode entitled The Pink Link.

What do you say we end with some Disney. Here is one of my favorite Disney short cartoons, Hockey Homicide (1945). This is one of those fantastic cartoons with a bunch of Goofys playing a sport. This is one of the zaniest and funniest Disney cartoons, directed by one of Disney's funniest directors Jack Kinney. This is cartoon humor at its best. Notice the brilliantly funny reuse of animation from Pinocchio (1940) featuring Monstro the whale.

Stay tooned for more cartoon treasures next Saturday. Until then peace, love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland


Thursday, February 7, 2019

"The Parent Trap" (1961) is Family Friendly Old Fashioned Fun Says Minister

In the 1960's cinema was rapidly changing. Filmmakers were developing new and very experimental ways of telling their stories, as even Hollywood was becoming more and more influenced by the art house films being made overseas. Something else was happening as well. Censorship was becoming looser and it was no longer that one could take a child to any movie playing at the local cinema. One must keep in mind that in 1960 movies like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Billy Wilder's The Apartment were released, neither of which could ever be considered family entertainment.

During this time though Walt Disney would be the one keeping family friendly entertainment and classic Hollywood conventions alive. This may seem kind of strange as Walt was one of the biggest experimenters in Hollywood in the 1930's and 40's. However the reason for this was not Walt playing it safer as the years went by. The reason for this was the same reason he had worked on much more experimental film ideas earlier in his career. Walt always stuck to his guns and made the type of movies he liked and movies like The Parent Trap were the type of movies he liked. What Walt also knew was that being family friendly was not enough. His movies had to be good films. This is why the live action Disney movies of the 1960's were so popular with audiences. They were good movies. They may not be critic's movies or as daring as much of 1960's cinema, but they were pure crowd pleasers and still are today. I am second to no one in my love of movies like Psycho or the French New Wave overseas, but the Disney movies of this era are just as good in their own right.

Of course being family friendly certainly helped the films win audiences at the time. It is important to remember these were not kid's movies, but family movies, and there was little coemption that could actually compete with them in that decade. The following is an article from Boxoffice magazine (dated August 7, 1961) that shows the effect The Parent Trap had on its family audience.

"LINCOLN- 'The best picture I ever saw.'

"One of Lincoln's leading ministers and civic leader, Dr. C. Vin White of First Presbyterian Church looked up Varsity Theatre Manager Walt Jancke to tell him this says Walt.

"The picture?

"Disney's 'The Parent Trap' which had played to top crowds for two weeks at the Varsity and moved over to the state theater August 1 for what Walt and State Manager Bert Cheever hoped would be another good house.

"Walt reflects the enthusiastic reception young and old have given the picture in Lincoln.

"'Its like old times,' he remarks 'standing in the lobby and hearing the people laugh and knowing that they are all enjoying the picture.'

"He sees in the public's reception of 'The Parent Trap,' a return to some of America's better movie days.

"'The boxoffice for this one will show this is the kind of picture patrons want,' he said.

"He sees the success of 'The Parent Trap' as a tribute to Disney's foresight and work.

"The Varsity opened with Jimmy Stewart in 'The Two Ride Together' August 1. After the state's 'The Parent Trap'  run another Disney production 'Nikki,' is scheduled."

The Parent Trap is one of my favorite live action Disney movies. The reason for this is very simple, it is pure entertainment at its absolute best. It never fails to put a smile on my face. It was remade rather well in 1998, but nothing can ever quite top that pure natural unpretentious charm of this movie.

Before we close this post, what do you say we sing one we all know.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Movie Review: Miss Bala

Michael's Movie Grade: D-

Review: Bland and boring film that simply gives you no reason to care about what is going on.

The main problem with this film is the characters. There is never a second when any of them feel real. Our hero (Gina Rodriguez) is the only one that even comes close, but that is just because her fear in the situation is perfectly relatable (and Rodriguez's talent as a performer) and not because of any semblance of personality. Her best friend (Christina Rodlo) can only be viewed as a plot device and not an actual character. The rest of the characters are absolutely horribly written. They seem to do nothing but spout the most cliché dialogue imaginable and move the plot. This gets embarrassingly bad at times and it hard to take so many scenes seriously. This movie at times tries to make the characters morally complex but because you can't take it seriously, this is laughably bad. To make matters worse this film has you watch the main character go through horrible things including sexual harassment. This makes the movie very unpleasant and since this is a movie without any depth, there is nothing to justify this. This movie has twists and turns as you might except from a thriller. Now I have grown used to expecting the twists and turns in this sort of movie, but this film does worse than being predictable. When the twist and turns come, I just plain old didn't care, because the movie gave me no reason to.

Gina Rodriguez may have a future as an action movie star. Her performance here shows her more than capable of carrying this out. However for that to come to be she will need a better vehicle than this. The film is simply clumsy and boring.

This movie was a remake of a Mexican film of the same name. I have not seen that movie, but I am still certain it has to be better than this.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Monday, February 4, 2019

Our Gang in "Hi'-Neighbor!" (1934)

Release Date: March 3, 1934. Director: Gus Meins. Cinematographer: Art Lloyd. Editor: Louis McManus. Producer: Hal Roach. Cast: Our Gang (Spanky McFarland, Wally Alright, Stymie Beard, Scotty Beckett, Jerry Tucker, Jane Taylor, Tommy Bond, Pete, Bubbles Trin, Cotton Beard, Tommy Bupp, Tony Kales, Jean Aulbach, Donald Proffitt), Tiny Sandford, Tiny Ward, Charlie Hall, Harry Bernard, Ernie Alexander.

Hello my friends, it is time to look at one of the all time great talkie Our Gang shorts, Hi'-Neighbor.

This short introduced a new director to the Our Gang shorts, Gus Meins. Before going into films, Meins worked as a cartoonist for the Los Angles Evening Herald. Before working on Our Gang though Meins had experience directing short comedies staring kids. He directed some of the silent Buster Brown series starring Arthur Trimble (This series also featured Pete the Pup before the dog joined Our Gang) and the some of the silent Newlyweds and Their Baby series. He would direct nearly all the Our Gang shorts from 1934 to 1936. Producer Hal Roach would later state about Gus Meins "He was a good director for the gang and always did a very good job." Marvin Hatley the musical director for the studio would call Meins, "a fine director with a wonderful personality - a very happy sort of person." As well as these Our Gang shorts, Meins also directed some feature films for the Hal Roach Studio including Babes in Toyland (1933 with Laurel and Hardy), Kelly the Second (1936 with Patsy Kelly) and Nobody's Baby (1937 with Pasty Kelly). On the last of these films, Meins would get into an argument with Roach leading to him getting fired. Tragically Meins life would end in 1940 at the age of 47 due to suicide. This caused much shock among the Hal Roach studio staff.

Similarly this film introduced a new member of the Our Gang group, Scotty Becket. Born Scott Hastings Beckett on October 4, 1929 in Oakland California, Scotty was only four years old at the time of his Our Gang debut. Scotty moved to Los Angles and got his start in movies at the age of three. His debut film was Gallant Lady (1933). Scotty played a character at age three and interestingly the same character at age six was played by other Our Gang regular, Dickie Moore. The two would later both appear in the movie Dangerous Years (1947, remembered today as the film debut of Marilyn Monroe). Scotty would only be a member of the gang for two years, but he certainty left his mark. During his time with the gang he would often be paired with Spanky as the two would often prove themselves smarter than the older kids who underestimated them. These two were often the highlight of the shorts. After leaving the gang he still maintained a good movie career appearing in such films as Kings Row (1942), A Date With Judy (1948), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and Days of Jesse James (1939). He had a brief career on television as well playing the character of Winky in Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954). Tragically he would also die of suicide at a young age (38).

A new neighbor moves into the gang's neighborhood. He has a brand new shiny toy fire engine and the gang wants to take a ride. However the neighbor won't let them. When Jane walks by the new boy offers her a ride. A jealous Wally states that they have a better fire engine. Since they don't the gang builds their own fire engine. A massive one that holds all of the kids. The new kid is not impressed calling it a piece of junk. Soon he challenges the gang to a race downhill. The new kids crashes his fire engine and the gang is victorious.

Spanky would later state in an interview, "You couldn't make a series like ours today, the kids are too jaded. Remember we started out in the Depression years, when building a clubhouse or a homemade fire engine out of junkyard scraps was a fabulous imagination peaker for the kids, especially the way our prop department could put them together. Today if Little Jimmy wants a bike or a clubhouse, Dad just goes out and buys him one." It is true that a short like this reflects a different time period that will never come back. However that does not mean it has dated. This film is just as charming today as it was in 1934. That is because this film still represents what many of us wish our childhood could have been like and what kids today would still find appealing. The Our Gang kids may have been poor, but they were happy and filled with much determinism. The new kid may have been rich, but he looked down on our heroes and extremely underestimating them. How much would we today still like to show people who view us this way, up the way the Our Gang kids do. The idea of building your own fire engine is a fantastic one. It appeals to the child inside each of us. How could you not wish you could have done something like this as a kid, and what kid all these years later could not think this is the coolest idea ever? This film will still charm anyone who watches it today and in generations to come.

The big race features a mixture of footage shot on location and use of a process screen. The process screen was used rather sparingly though making the sequence look all the more real. The effect works very well here.

During later reissues this film would be retitled Hi Neighbor

The later Our Gang short, Three Men in a Tub (1938) would rework the basic story points of Hi'-Neighbor. In that film Darla is wowed by Waldo's motorboat making Alfalfa jealous. Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat and Porky create their own boat to show him up and challenge him to a race.

The following are some exhibitor reviews for Hi'-Neighbor.

Motion Picture Herald, November 10, 1934"Hi, Neighbor: Our Gang - This is the best Our Gang Comedy in many months and I certainly hope their will be many more to come. This pleased all of my patrons both young and old. Plenty of laughs and excellent entertainment for all. Running Time 18 minutes. - J.J. Medford. Orpheum Theatre, Oxford, N.C."

Motion Picture Herald, June 2, 1934"Hi, Neighbor: Our Gang - One of the best of the Our Gang series and they are all good. Running time 20 minutes. - B. Hollenback, Rose Theatre, Sumas, Wash. Small Town Patronage."

Motion Picture Herald, May 12, 1934"Hi, Neighbor: Our Gang - This comedy has laughs in it and the kids seem to like them. Running Time, 19 minutes. - A.H. Edwards, Orpheum Theatre, Orwigsburg, Pa. Small town and rural patronage."

The following is a review from The Film Daily (dated March 1, 1934).

"Kiddes will principally enjoy this one which relates the arrival of a snooty rich kid with a large new fire engine auto. The gang gathers but is refused a ride by the rich kid who takes the girl of the gang riding. Kids proceed to build a fire engine with spare parts. Then follows a race down a long hill with amusing windup."

An issue of the Motion Picture Herald dated December 29, 1934 listed this as one of its "Short Subjects of 1934 Suitable for Junior Matinees." Other Our Gang comedies listed include For Pete's Sake, Honkey Donkey and Mike Fright. This list also lets us know that the silent Charlie Chaplin short The Count (1916) received a reissue in 1934.

The following video is the short itself

The following video is a great comparison of how the original shooting locations looked in 1934 and in 2018.

The following is a later colorized version of the short.

Here is the partial remake, Three Men in a Tub.

In the 1980's Hanna-Barbera made Animated TV cartoons off the Our Gang series as part of their The Pac Man/ Little Rascals/ Richie Rich Show (1982-1983). The following is a clip from one of those cartoons which involved a snooty rich kid moving into the neighborhood, but this time it was a girl that all the boys fawned over, making Darla feel left out.

Here is the theme to that show.

Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann's incredible book, The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang served as an amazing resource for this article.

-Michael J. Ruhland