Saturday, February 29, 2020

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #60

Hello my friends and happy Saturday morning. Once again that means it is time to watch some more classic cartoons. 

Today's watching starts off with a fun little Pooch the Pup cartoon, The Underdog (1932). Like many cartoons from the early 1930’s, this film centers around a song. The song here is A Great Big Bunch of You. This song was written by Harry Warren and Mort Dixon. This team also wrote the song I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store), which would be the basis of another Walter Lantz cartoon (an Oswald called Five and Dime). A Great Big Bunch of You was a big hit around this time and had been recorded by Guy Lombardo and Cliff Edwards (best remembered today as the voice of Jiminy Cricket)    

This song was also used as the basis for an early Merrie Melodies cartoon called A Great Big Bunch of You (1932). While all these early Merrie Melodies centered around a song, most of them had a basic storyline. This is not the case here, as this film is nothing but a performance of this song. The main character is an unnamed mannequin, who appeared In multiple early Merrie Melodies (including We’re in the Money) and he simply performs this song in a junkyard providing imitations of popular stars of the day. An exhibitors review in The Motion Picture Herald stated "Very good musical cartoon. When it comes to cartoons and music Warner Brothers have the best."

As a bonus here is Cliff Edwards performing the song. 

Next comes a lovely French animated short film, La Joie De Vivre (1934).

Next up comes a fun Terry-Toon staring the comedy team of Gandy Goose and Sourpuss. I admit to having a real fondness for the Terry-Toons of the 1940's. Sure they are not technically the best cartoons of their era but there is a certain charm that I simply love. That charm is found all over this film, Fisherman's Luck (1945). This is a sheer energy and willingness to entertain here. The filmmakers knew these would never be Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons so they just content to make fun little cartoons and they did. This film would later be reissued to theatres in 1954. The same gag that ended this cartoon also ended the Van Beuren Tom and Jerry cartoon, Jolly Fish (1932).

Movie Makers 1949

During the mid-1940's the Mighty Mouse cartoons would occasionally take on an operetta styling. I am not always a fan of this direction but in our next film, Throwing the Bull (1946), it works pretty well. The following is a review in The Showman's Trade Review, "If there is such a thing as caricatured music, this one has it when it delightfully presents the music of 'Carmen' as a background to the antics of Mighty Mouse as he gallantly tosses the bull (several of them), out of the ring, thus winning the glamorously Techincolored, Carmenencita. This Mighty Mouse is quite a guy."

The Film Daily, 1943
Next is a fun Ant and the Aardvark cartoon.

I first became familiar with Russian animation director Ivan Ivanov-Vano from his fairytale films. That is why Black and White (1932) took me by surprise. This is a very dark and political film.

Thank you for joining me come back next week for more animated treasures. Until then peace, love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Friday, February 28, 2020

Movie Review: Seberg

Michael's Movie Grade: D

A bland and rather forgettable biopic of a woman that deserved better.

At one point in this film a man asks Jean, "Who is Jean Seberg?" The problem is we could just as easily ask our selves the same question after watching this movie. She was a movie actress who had great success in France, she was a supporter of the Black Panthers and that got her into trouble. Unfortunately if we are to just go by this film that is all we know about her. This film never delves into who the person behind all this is.

Everything is extremely oversimplified here. Every character is either a clear cut good guy or a clear cut bad guy in the most black and white terms possible. This is an overtly political movie that jams a message we can surely understand down our throats. The message is so crystal clear, yet the film seems to believe that if it does not constantly have clumsy dialogue delivering this message in the most clear cut and obnoxious way possible we wouldn't get it. This made me feel extremely talked down to, as well as giving the film a repetitive and overlong feeling. All this made the film simply a chore to watch at times.

None of this was helped by very cliché storytelling that feels like a million biopics we have seen before. This is especially true when it comes to the dialogue. This dialogue is too on the nose and tries to sound exactly like every other biopic. This is just simply clumsy writing.

Kristen Stewart gives her whole hear to this film and turns in a surprisingly good performance (plus she looks a lot like Jean Seberg here). Still even this is hampered by the fact that she can only do so much with the dialogue she was given.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Silent Films on TCM This March

Hello again my friends. As I know many of you are like me fans of both TCM and silent films, I have complied this list of silent films that will play on TCM this March.

Sunday, March 8th

Siren of the Tropics
(1927). Director: Mario Nalpas. Starring Josephine Baker and Pierre Batcheff. 9pm Pacific. 12am Eastern.

Monday March 9th

Fatty and Mabel Adrift
(1916) Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Mabel Normand. 4:30am Pacific. 7:30am Eastern.

Sunday, March 15th

The Blot
(1921) Director: Lois Webber. Starring Phillip Hubbard and Margaret McWade. 9:30pm Pacific. 12:30am Eastern.

Monday, March 16th

The Battleship Potemkin
(1925) Director: Sergi Eisenstein. Starring Alexander Antonov and Vladimir Barsky. 8:45am Pacific. 11:45am Eastern.

Sunday, March 22nd

Battling Butler
(1926) Director: Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Snitz Edwards. 9:15pm Pacific. 12:15am Eastern.

Tuesday, March 24th

Falling Leaves (1912) Director: Alice Guy Blanche. Starring Mace Greenleaf and Blanche Cornwell. 7pm Pacific. 10pm Eastern.

The Ocean Waif (1916) Director: Alice Guy Blanche. Starring Carlyle Blackwell and Doris Kenyon. 7:15pm Pacific. 10:15pm Eastern.

The Birth, The Life and Death of the Christ (1906) Director: Alice Guy-Blanche. 8pm Pacific. 11pm Eastern.

A House Divided (1913) Director: Alice Guy Blanche. Starring Marion Swayne and Fraunie Fraunholtz. 11pm Pacific. 2am Eastern.

Canned Harmony (1912) Director: Alice Guy Blanche. Starring Lee Beggs and Billy Quirk. 11:15pm Pacific. 2:15am Eastern.

Algie the Miner (1912) Directed by Alice Guy Blanche and Mary Foy. 11:35pm Pacific. 2:35am Eastern.

Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913) Director: Alice Guy Blanche. Starring Fraunie Fraunholtz. 11:45pm Pacific. 2:45am Eastern.

Sunday, March 29th

Nanook of the North
(1922) Director: Robert Flaherty. 9:30pm Pacific. 12:30am Eastern.

Monday, March 30th

The Navigator
(1924) Directors: Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp. Starring Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire. 3am Pacific. 6am Eastern.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Movie Review: The Call of the Wild

Michael's Movie Grade: B

While this film hardly contains the depth of the book, it is a fun adventure movie in its own right.

Okay we all know what I have to get out of the way first. The dog is CGI. Not only is the dog CGI but it is very obviously so. The cartoony expressions on his face as well his stylized way of moving makes him look like he belongs in a completely different film (mainly a cartoon) than the live action human characters. There were moments I almost excepted him to start speaking English like a cartoon character. This very much distracted me as the movie started and I was worried it might ruin the film. However the further into the film I got the more I got used to this and I stopped thinking about it and was able to simply enjoy the movie.

This film brings us a very simplified version of the book's story turning it into a simple family friendly adventure movie. However if we are to judge Call of the Wild as a simple adventure movie than it is quite a fun ride. Buck and John are very likable and relatable characters and I quickly learned to care about both of them. Harrison Ford plays John Thornton with his extremely likable and easy going charm and his relationship with Buck helps you except the obviously animated dog. There is a real vulnerability and humanity to this performance along with the gruff exterior. Harrison Ford is a true movie star and any time he is on screen I could not look away from him. However John is not the only human character of note here. The man and woman who lead Buck on his sled dog journeys at one point in the movie are also very likable and even provide some good comedy. The actors who play these characters (Omar Sy, Cara Gee) have wonderful chemistry with each other and it a joy to watch them share the screen. This movie also provides us with fast moving action and a sense of scale that makes Buck's adventures seem big.

Unfortunately this film also features a rather bland and uninteresting villain in a movie that could have still worked without one.

This is not a film for purists of the book and the CGI dog can get distracting, but on its own terms this is a fun adventure movie and I recommend it.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Monday, February 24, 2020

Movie Music Monday: Someday My Prince Will Come

Quick name a Disney song that would have an after life in Jazz music. If you answered Someday My Prince Will Come, then you read the title of this blog post.

The song of course was created for the Disney studio’s landmark first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It was one of the sweetest scenes of the movie and was perfectly worked into the comedy before the scene or the horror that followed. This is what the film did so perfectly, every song moved the story forward and took the place of what could have been a scene full of boring exposition. The song itself is unbelievably lovely and is 100% perfect for Adriana Coslotti’s voice.

The song received its first major jazz recording in 1957. Dave Brubeck spent a day in Disneyland with his family and this gave him the idea to do a whole album of songs from Disney films. He did and the album, Dave Digs Disney. One of the standout tracks on this album was Someday My Prince Will Come.

Jazz Pianist Bill Evans recoded a version of the song for his 1959 album Portraits in Jazz.
Probably the most famous Jazz version of this song was recorded by Miles Davis on his 1961 album, Someday My Prince Will Come.

Oscar Peterson and Milt Jackson did another jazz version of the song on their 1971 album, Reunion Blues.

Outside of jazz, Tanya Tucker recorded a country version of the song. 

Another country artist who recorded the song was Chet Atkins.

Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki recorded the song for a  2002 rerelease of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Japan. 

Disney Chanel star Tiffany Thornton recorded the song for the 2009 Blu-ray release of Snow White. 

Now let us all sing along. 

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Cowboy Church #45

Hello my friends and welcome back to another round of Cowboy Church.

Today's musical selection begins with Gene Autry performing God's Little Candles in a clip from the movie, Pack Train (1953). Next comes another song from a Gene Autry film, however this one is not performed by Gene, but rather by The Cass County Boys. The song is Ezekiel Saw the Wheel and the movie is Barbed Wire (1952). After this is Johnny Cash with his self-penned, My Children Walk in Truth. Following is The Monroe Brothers with their 1937 recording of Some Glad Day. To continue with some more bluegrass fun, this will be followed by Flatts and Scruggs with their high energy 1952 version of Preachin' Prayin' Singin'. Skeeter Davis gives us her 1970 recording of We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock and Roll). I only listened to a little bit of Skeeter Davis in the past, but the more of her music I listen to the more I discover what a great talent she was. Her voice is lovely and it is hard to picture anyone singing this song better than she does. Red Sovie joins in our fun with his 1956 recording of I Got Religion The Old Time Way, a song he co-wrote with country music legend Webb Pierce. This is followed by Roy Rogers and Foy Willing singing May the Good Lord Take a Liking To Ya from the feature film, Trigger Jr. (1950). After this is one of my favorites as The Sons of the Pioneers' 1937 version of Power in the Blood. Sons of the San Joaquin take it from there with Precious Lord, Take My Hand from their 1997 gospel album, Gospel Trails. Today's musical selection ends with Charlie Daniels Band with Tribulation from their 1997 Christian album, Steel Witness

Today's musical selection is followed by the silent short film, Broncho Billy's Sentence (1915), staring Broncho Billy, the movies' first cowboy star.

Psalm 91
 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,

 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

                                                               Psalm 93

 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

 Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.

 The seas have lifted up, LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.

 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the LORD on high is mighty.

Your statutes, LORD, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days.

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.” “Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.” “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 8:4-8 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 1 Timothy 1:15

Thank you for joining me come back next week for another Cowboy Church post. Happy trails to you until we meet again.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #59

Hello my friends and happy Saturday morning. Once again that means it is time to enjoy some classic cartoons. 

The first cartoon for the day is a delightfully odd Betty Boop cartoon (because there are so many normal ones), Betty Boop's Up and Downs (1932). This film is a perfect example of why I love the early Betty Boops so much. They are full of the odd innovativeness that made 1930's so special. Of course when it comes to this sheer creativity, no one topped the Fleischer studio and this film shows them at the height of their powers. A review in The Film Daily stated "Max Fleischer has put an extra touch of novelty into this cartoon."

Continuing with the theme of strange but highly entertaining 1930's cartoons, here is one of my favorite Pooch the Pup films, The Lumber Champ (1933). This is a fast paced fun cartoon full of extremely creative gags from start to finish. This is a film that is a cartoon and never ashamed of it. Every cartoony thing that can happen happens and I love it. This film contains some scenes that are visually reminiscent of some of Disney's Silly Symphonies (Flowers and Trees (1932) and Springtime (1929)), yet this is completely a Walter Lantz cartoon through and through. According to an issue of Universal Weekly, this was the first cartoon to feature Pooch the Pup having darker ears. In that issue Walter Lantz stated "The other day, we discovered that Pooch looked better with dark ears. The whole lot was enthusiastic about the new sideboards, and we feel that Pooch's admirers will be greatly amused by Pooch's new ears." You can read the page where this quote is from on a previous post from this blog by clicking here.

                                                      Universal Weekly, 1933

Next we jump a couple decades forward for a fun Gandy Goose cartoon, Wide Open Spaces (1950). An exhibitor's review in the Motion Picture Herald described this film perfectly, "This is a shoot-'em-up western and good."


I enjoy the Filmation DC superhero cartoons, not despite how corny they are but because of it.

As a film buff who loves old cartoons, I always have a special fondness for the cartoons, that use a lot of Hollywood caricatures. One of the lesser known but still very enjoyable of these cartoons is The Autograph Hunter (1933) starring Krazy Kat. This is a very fun, see how many you can name cartoon. I especially enjoyed seeing Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery caricatured together. What immediately struck me about this film is how much it reminded me of the Donald Duck cartoon, The Autograph Hound (1939), both with the title and a very similar ending gag. While the endings are handled quite differently, the basic punch line is very similar. I doubt that Disney borrowed from this Columbia, Krazy Kat cartoon, but the similarities to the two films are quite interesting.

Donald's Better Self (1938) is a rather unusual Donald Duck cartoon. In this film Donald is not an adult but rather a child. This is especially interesting considering about a month later Donald's Nephews (1938) would be released and that film would cement Donald as the adult in an ongoing adult vs. child conflict. Donald's Better Self actually began as a Silly Symphony that would not star Donald but rather a little farm boy who would torture farm animals but learn his lesson in the end. That story line was suggested back in 1934. The title for that film was going to be Streubel Peter and was based off of Heinriech Hoffman's Der Struwwelpeter. The idea to adapt that story actually came from Eleanor Roosevelt, who remembered the story fondly from childhood and wrote Walt Disney about making a cartoon about it. Walt replied "I have just finished reading 'Streuble Peter,' and liked it immensely. I believe it could be made into an interesting Mickey Mouse or Silly Symphony subject, and I am now trying to find a way to incorporate the thoughts and ideas of this story into continuity form." However Walt and his staff found it hard to make Peter an appealing character and the idea was dropped. It was revived again in 1937 as a Donald Duck cartoon, called Good and Evil. Writers Tom Armstrong, Harry Reeves and Carl Barks ending up changing so much that the finished film (retitled Donald's Better Self) bared little resemblance to where the idea originated. A review in The Film Daily stated "Raucous Donald Duck reaches a new integrating high in this most recent of his vehicles, which is filmed entirely in Technicolor. Further the reel is one of the best and certainly one of the most amusing, ever made by Walt Disney. It is the type of short that is immensely human and as a consequence will score heavily."

Exhibitors Herald World, 1930

Surogat (1961, also know as Ersatz) was the first foreign animated film to win an Academy Award. This Yugoslav film certain deserves this honor and is a must watch for all film and animation fans.


Thanks for joining me until next week, peace love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used
Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt.

Animation Art edited by Jerry Beck

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pooch the Pup Keeps Oswald the Rabbit Company

Hello my friends. I assume many of you who read my blog are like me, fans of early 1930's cartoons. They have a style all their own that is completely separate from anything that came before or anything since. Even in their crudest incarnations there was imagination and sheer embracing of being a cartoon, that I simply love about these films. Some of my first introductions to this period of cartoon history were the Walter Lantz cartoons and I still have a fondness for those films today. This following page from a 1933 issue of Universal Weekly celebrates the Walter Lantz Studio's two main cartoon stars Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Pooch the Pup. If you have trouble reading the page click on it and use your touch screen to zoom in.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Classic Cartoons at Old Town Music Hall

So many of us have grown up watching classic cartoons from the 1920's, 30's, 40's and 50's on TV, that TV seems like the natural way to watch them. Still it must be remembered that this cartoons were not TV shows but rather short films made to play in movie theatres. Though many of us are fully aware of that, because of the way were introduced to these films, we still associate them with the small screen. That is why any chance to see cartoon shorts in movie theatres is a great experience for any film buff. In their proper setting you discover that cartoons are not only fun to watch but an important part of film history as well.

Well good news to my Southern California readers. A whole show of classic cartoons is being shown at the Old Town Music Hall this weekend hosted animation historian Jerry Beck. The address is 140 Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245. The showtimes are this Friday (February 21) at 8:15pm, This Saturday (February 22) at 2:30pm and 8:15pm and Sunday at 2:30pm. For more information about the Old Town Music Hall visit their website.

Peace, love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Movie Review: Ride Your Wave (Kimi to, nami ni noretara)

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

An excellent animated romantic fantasy from Japan.

Despite this movie's prominent fantasy element, the fantasy is never the focus of this film. In fact many times the fantasy seems more like a visualization of the inner turmoil the main character is going through. This film deals with the tough subject of having to move on and keep living your life, after someone you love has passed on. This is  something that many of us have had to go through and struggled with, whether in your case it was a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner, you can easily relate to what you are seeing our main character go through. This is handled very intelligently and maturely as the film openly discusses the unhealthiness of obsessively clinging to an image of that loved one, but yet the importance of letting that image live on in our hearts. The movie also discusses the importance of being able to stand on your own two feet. Others can be there with us to help us get through the hard times, but we have to believe in ourselves instead of counting on others' belief in us. One reason these messages ring so powerful is that they are told to us through a very likable and fully formed protagonist. She is not the simple cliché character we see in so many movie romances. She has many little small nuances that make her herself, and despite her obsession with the man she falls in love with, the character would be just as relatable and likable if not in this relationship. The supporting characters are not completely overshadowed by her though and fully get their own moments to shine. Some of them even have complete character arcs that are excellently done and yet never distract from the main story.

To be fair this film does contain some sickeningly sweet and sappy romantic dialogue that can be more than a little hard to sallow. I also was not much of a fan of the action packed climax as I felt that it was at odds with the rest of the leisurely paced and lower key movie.

Those faults can easily be forgiven with just how excellent the rest of the film is. I highly recommend this film, not only to anime fans but to those who just want to see a good movie.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Movie Review: Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made

Michael's Movie Grade: B

A very fun comedy from Disney+.

So much of what makes this movie is work is child actor, Winslow Fegley. This kid is a natural dead pan comic, and his delivery makes so many of these jokes work. The humor is delightful absurd and to have it be delivered with the upmost seriousness by our lead makes them so much funnier. This is not to say that Timmy is the only character worth watching in this film. The other characters are just as memorable. His long suffering teacher, Mr. Crocus (Wallace Shawn) (am I the only one from whom this characters name and part in this film makes me think of The Fairy Oddparents) and the meter maid that wants to give meter maids a better name (Kyle Bornheimer) also get some darn good laughs. Timmy's mom (Ophelia Lovibond) brings a real heart to this movie. She may not always be able to be there with her son, but the filmmakers make sure we know that this is because she needs to support Timmy, not because she is in anyway uncaring. While she understandably gets exasperated with Timmy at times, she also can at other times not only embrace his weirdness, but do so in a way that is undeniably loving and playful. The relationship between these two characters makes this absurd comedy still seem relatable and real as well as funny.  

The jokes come fast and furious in this film and while not all of them are great, many of them certainly made me laugh. I especially love the scenes in which we step into Timmy's imagination, when he hears something and pictures sometime completely different from what is meant. One scene involving a swiss army knife was especially hilarious.

To be fair this film's episodic nature and an hour and 40 minute runtime can make this movie feel a little long at times and there are moments where it briefly seems to run out of steam, only to get itself back on track rather quickly.

All in all this is a fun movie and well worth checking out.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Movie Review: The Photograph

Michael's Movie Grade: B

A familiar but well done movie romance.

While this may be the same basic love story I have seen in a thousand or so movies, I can't deny that this film told it very well. The characters are not the two dimensional caricatures, that you see in too many of these movies, but rather they feel like real human beings. This is due both to the acting of our two leads (LaKeith Stanfield, Issa Rae) and some cleverly written dialogue by Stella Meghie (who also directed the movie). This makes some of the cliché bits feel earned since we care about these characters and do want to see them get together.

While the main characters are not two dimensional caricatures, pretty much all the supporting characters are. Also while our main characters are given some smart dialogue, the supporting cast is given much more cliché and less interesting things to say.

There is no way to talk about this movie without praising its fantastic musical score. Robert Glasper's lovely jazz influenced score is beyond lovely to listen to. Glasper has said in the past that Miles Davis was a major influence on him (he even scored a movie about Miles Davis, Miles Ahead (2015)) and that influence definitely can be heard here. I admit to being a bit of a newcomer to Miles Davis' music (re-watching the movie, Elevator to the Gallows (1958), for which Miles did the score converted me), but I would be lying if I didn't say I was in love with the music. While no one can sound quite like Miles, Robert has some of the same pure passion that makes his influence's music so powerful. There is a soft powerful beauty to the music here, that just captured me from the second the film started. This movie has made me want to check out some of Robert Glasper's non-film music and I think that is one of the best compliments I can give a film score. This movie also uses some R&B songs on the soundtrack and each one is used perfectly.

This film also features lovely cinematography from Marc Swartzbard, who makes the movie feel like you are stepping into the way an artist like Mae's mother sees the world around her.

This is far from a perfect movie, but there is a lot to recommend here. Heck the score alone is reason enough to see this film.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Monday, February 17, 2020

Movie Music Monday: Ghost Riders in the Sky

With its vividly haunting lyrics and melody, Ghost Riders in the Sky is one of the all time great cowboy songs. This song was written by Stan Jones in 1948 when he was still a forest ranger writing songs on the side. He often stated that this song was based off a ghost story a cowboy had told him when he was 12. Many believe the story he was told was the story of Stampede Mesa. Here is what Texas folklorist, J. Frank Dobie wrote about the legend. 

 Early in the fall of ’89 an old cowman named Sawyer came through with a trail herd of fifteen hundred head of steers, threes and fours. While he was driving across Dockum Flats one evening, some six or seven miles east of the mesa, about forty-odd head of nester cows came bawling into the herd. Closely flanking them, came the nester, demanding that his cattle be cut out of the herd. Old Sawyer, who was ‘as hard as nails,’ was driving short handed; he had come far; his steers were thin and he did not want them ‘ginned’ about any more. Accordingly, he bluntly told the nester to go to hell.
The nester was pretty nervy, and seeing that his little stock of cattle was being driven off, he flared up and told Sawyer that if he did not drop his cows out of the herd before dark he would stampede the whole bunch. “At this Sawyer gave a kind of dry laugh, drew out his six shooter, and squinting down it at the nester, told him to ‘vamoose.’
Nightfall found the herd straggling up the east slope of what on the morrow would be christened by some cowboy Stampede Mesa. Midnight came, and with scarcely half the usual night guard on duty, the herd settled down in peace.
But the peace was not to last. True to his threat, the nester, approaching from the north side, slipped through the watch, waved a blanket a few times, and shot his gun. He did his work well. All of the herd except about three hundred head stampeded over the bluff on the south side of the mesa, and two of the night herders, caught in front of the frantic cattle that they were trying to circle, went over with them.
“Sawyer said but little, but at sunup he gave orders to bring in the nester alive, horse and all. The orders were carried out, and when the men rode up on the mesa with their prisoner, Sawyer was waiting. He tied the nester on his horse with a rawhide lariat, blindfolded the horse, and then, seizing him by the bits, backed him off the cliff. There were plenty of hands to drive Sawyer’s remnant now. Somewhere on the hillside they buried, in their simple way, the remains of their two comrades, but they left the nester to rot with the pile of dead steers in the canyon.
And now old cowpunchers will tell you that if you chance to be about Stampede Mesa at night, you can hear the nester calling his cattle, and many assert that they have seen his murdered ghost, astride a blindfolded horse, sweeping over the headlands, behind a stampeding herd of phantom steers. Herd bosses are afraid of those phantom steers, and it is said that every herd that has been held on the mesa since that night has stampeded, always from some unaccountable cause (Dobie, J. Frank, 1924, p.282-283)Stan Jones himself was the first to record this song and did so in 1948. Here is that version. You may notice it uses a faster tempo and a stronger beat than later verisions. This was done to create a sound simular to that of stampeding cattle.

However the song would gain more fame when Burl Ives recorded it in 1949.

Also in 1949 Vaughn Monroe would take the song to number 1.

Of course this is a Movie Music Monday and thus we come to my favorite version of the song. Gene Autry recorded this song for Columbia records in 1949 as well as using it as the title song of one of his best movies, Riders in the Sky (1949). The scene where Gene sings this song is not only a great bit of music but a masterful piece of visual filmmaking, that definitely stood out compared to what audiences had come to except from B westerns. Much of this had to do with the fact that the film was directed by John English, who directed some of Autry's best movies (including my favorite, Rim of the Cannon (1949)) as well as what is considered to be the best movie serial of all time, The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941). Gene's voice is also completely perfect for this song. A review of the movie in The Showman's Trade Review stated, "'Riders in the Sky' is superior both in entertainment and technical values to the usual western in its class and is probably the best in the series. The song, Ghost Riders in the Sky, is skillfully woven into the story and the ghost riders are shown with some very capable photography and artwork displayed in this piece."


                                             Box Office Barometer, 1949

This song would return to the movies decades later with a truly bizarre scene in Blues Brothers 2000 (1998).

The song again returned to the movies when the alternative rock band did a version for the movie Ghost Rider (2007).

I also love Johnny Cash's version of this song. Johnny recorded it in 1979 as part of his Silver album. It went to number 2 on the charts.

In 1980 Johnny performed this song on The Muppet Show (1976-1981).

The band, Outlaws turned this into a full on rock song in 1980.

This song also inspired The Doors' 1971 song, Riders of the Strom.


There have been more versions of this song than I can possibly post on this blog what is your favorite.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used