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Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: May 5, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A Dizzy Day © Van Beuren‘A Dizzy Day’ was the second of only two animated cartoons featuring Otto Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ it’s only a string of newspaper comics gags transferred to the movie screen, with an absurd rescue plot being the longest gag of all. Surprisingly, Sentinel Louey is less than sympathetic in this film, knocking down a woman , and later trying to drown a cat.

Like Soglow’s comic strip, there’s only visual comedy. Soglow’s graphic style is copied beautifully, although there’s one bird that looks more like a traditional Van Beuren character than like a Soglow creation.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ ‘A Dizzy Day’ is only mildly funny, but charming. Its real treat, however, lies in its gorgeous score, although it’s very unlikely this score is original. It’s certainly not by Van Beuren’s house composer Gene Rodemich, and very likely it’s not by any American composer, at all. On the contrary, the score sounds genuinely European, and from a later era (ca. late 1940s, early 1950s), cartoonier, but otherwise similar to scores by Matyas Seiber for ‘Magic Canvas’ (1948) and George Auric’s score for ‘Kermesse fantastique’ (1951). So, this lovely score must be of a later date, and has likely been produced for a British post-war release of the film.

Watch ‘A Dizzy Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Dizzy Day’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: January 20, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A.M. to P.M. © Van BeurenIn search of new characters The Van Beuren studios signed a contract with Otto Soglow to produce twelve animated cartoons based on his characters.

Ten feature his most famous creation The Little King, but the series starts with two featuring Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey, a British guard, complete with large bearskin hat. Unlike the Little King films, these first two cartoons are very faithful to the source material. Not only do they contain a string of gags that are undoubtedly directly transferred from the comic strip, they also capture Sloglow’s idiosyncratic graphic style remarkably well. This style is much more appealing and original than anything the studio did before, making both ‘A. M. to P. M.’ and ‘A Dizzy Day’ visually among the most beautiful animated films of the entire 1930s.

Unfortunately, because ‘A.M. to P.M.’ is a compilation of newspaper comics gags, there’s no story whatsoever. Moreover, Soglow’s humor is one of charm and wonder, not one for loud laughs, and as a result ‘A.M. to P.M.’ moves past at a leisurely speed without leaving much impression besides the extraordinarily beautiful images.

Watch ‘A.M. to P.M.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Directors: Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 July 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rough on Rats © Van Beuren‘Rough on Rats’ is one of the more extraordinary films to come out of the Van Beuren studio.

No other contemporary studio tried as hard as Van Beuren to emulate Disney’s Silly Symphonies. ‘Rough on Rats’ is rather unique in that it even anticipates a Silly Symphony: its subject of three mischievous kittens makes it the direct ancestor of Disney’s Academy Award winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935), and Fleischer’s ‘We Did It‘ (1936).

In this film we watch three kittens wander through an abandoned grocery store. Then the black kitten gets kidnapped by an outrageously large mean rat. This leads to a battle sequence, reminiscent of the Silly Symphonies ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932) and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932). During this battle the kittens throw almost everything in sight at the vicious creature.

‘Rough on Rats’ is ripe with ambition, and pretty entertaining. Especially Gene Rodemich’s score is enjoyable throughout. Unfortunately, the animation varies between excellent to downright poor, and the designs are erratic, varying greatly between scenes. These shortcomings haunted the Van Beuren studios since its beginning, and it’s depressing to note that by 1933 the animators were still not able to tackle them. Doubtless this was influential to the studio’s lack of success. For example, the ideas in ‘Rough on Rats’ are more interesting than those in most of Warner Bros.’ or Ub Iwerks’s contemporary output, but as the execution is not on par with the ambition, the result is close to failure. And yet one cannot blame the studio trying. Anyhow, it was to Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett to teach the Van Beuren animators the Disney solutions to their problems…

‘Rough on Rats’was the last of the Aesop’s Fables (not including the Cubby the Bear cartoons, which appeared under the same flag). Apparently their outdated 1920’s title card and uninspired series name had the better of them. Nevertheless, one year later they would get a follow-up in the ‘Color Classics’, Van Beuren’s venture into color.

Watch ‘Rough on Rats’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rough on Rats’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 February 24, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Panicky Pup © Van Beuren‘Panicky Pup’ is one of those very Silly Symphony-like Aesop’s Fables.

It starts unremarkable enough, with several farm animals making music and dancing to it. At one point the cartoon starts to focus on a pup, but the short really gains momentum when the pup chases a cat into a well. Almost immediately, he’s struck by guilt and the complete surroundings turn into a nightmare haunting him. During this sequence the scenery changes frequently around him, as if the pup is transported through time and space, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

‘Panicky Pup’ mixes Disney and Fleischer influences (comparable cartoons are Disney’s ‘The Cat’s Out‘ (1931) and Fleischer’s ‘Swing You Sinners!‘ (1930)), like no other studio did, with surprising, if uneven results. The cartoon is the direct ancestor of other guilt cartoons like ‘Pluto’s Judgement Day‘ (1936), ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ (1937) and ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945), showing that Van Beuren had a much more interesting and forward-looking outlook than most reviewers grant the ill-fated studio.

Watch ‘Panicky Pup’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Panicky Pup’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 August 26, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Nursery Scandal © Van Beuren‘Nursery Scandal’ is Van Beuren’s direct answer to Walt Disney’s successful Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), if a rather dingy one.

It’s night and the moon personally awakes some gnomes, who in turn awake Mother Goose. Mother Goose courts a scarecrow, much to the chagrin of the goose and the other nursery rhyme characters. At one point four gnomes start to sing nursery rhymes in a swinging close harmony style, leading to a long song-and-dance sequence in which we watch several nursery rhyme characters dancing, much like ‘Mother Goose Melodies’, but way jazzier. Composer Gene Rodemich is in excellent form in this cartoon, providing a highly enjoyable score. Notice the seemingly naked and very human fairy on top of the nursery rhyme book somewhere in the middle of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Nursery Scandal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Nursery Scandal’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 June 28, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Farmerette © Van BeurenIn ‘The Farmerette’ a sexy kitten applies as ‘farmerette’ at an ailing farm.

The farmer (a goat) asks her if she can get the farm on its feet. And indeed she can, because as soon as she starts singing ‘Some of These Days’, the farm animals start working, and the hens are laying eggs by the dozen, anticipating similar gags in the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Swooner Crooner’ (1944).

These scenes are accompanied by Gene Rodemich’s peppy jazz music, showing that he was one of the best cartoon composers of the era. Unfortunately, the embryonic story is soon abandoned, and we witness a donkey, a sheep, a dog and a cow performing a barbershop quartet song.

With ‘The Farmerette’ the Van Beuren studio apparently tried to copy Max Fleischer’s success with Betty Boop. The kitten sings with a voice very similar to that of Betty, and her main feature is her sexiness. Sadly, the cartoon is troubled by erratic animation and poor staging, so typical for the Van Beuren studio, and the kitten never approaches Betty Boop’s charm.

Watch ‘The farmerette’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Farmerette’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey, John Foster, Frank Moser & Jerry Shields
Release Date:
 June 2, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Polo Match © Van Beuren.jpgLong before ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936) or Walt Disney took on playing polo himself, the Van Beuren studio visited the game in the silent short ‘Polo Match’.

The cartoon stars a couple of mice, with the hero being indistinguishable from the others. The mouse plays a polo game with the others on mechanical horses, and most of the gags (even the final one) stem from the horses falling apart. Meanwhile the hero’s sweetheart is harassed and later kidnapped by a mean old cat. Our hero pursuits the cat and saves his sweetheart.

The cartoon is pretty fast and full of action, but none of the gags are interesting enough to keep the viewer’s attention. Nevertheless, the short was re-released in 1932 as ‘Happy Polo’, with an added soundtrack.

It’s pretty likely that the inspiration for the mechanical horses stems from the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon ‘Ozzie of the Mounted‘ (1928) in which Oswald rides a mechanical horse himself. In any case, mechanical horses were clearly much easier to animate than real ones, and one was reused in ‘Hot Tamale’ (1930).

Watch ‘Polo Match’ (or ‘Happy Polo’) yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Polo Match/Happy Polo’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Mannie Davis
Release Date:
 March 26, 1932
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Cat's Canary © Van BeurenIn ‘The Cat’s Canary’ we watch a cat swallowing a bird. Surprisingly the bird remains alive, and makes the cat produce chirping sounds.

The cat goes to a doctor, to no avail, he then joins a quartet of alley cats serenading a kitten. He joins in chirping. But when he gets hit with a cage, the bird escapes. The bird takes revenge on the cat with help from some fellow birds, including a pelican.

After watching such ambitious films by Van Beuren as ‘The Family Shoe‘, ‘Toy Time‘ and ‘Fly Frolic‘, the Aesop Fable ‘The Cat’s Canary’ feels pretty backward. The designs of the cat are highly inconsistent and primitive, looking back to the Waffles and Don films from 1930. The complete short lacks the Silly Symphony-like quality of the preceding Aesop Fables. Moreover, it’s storytelling is weak and inconsistent: there’s a complete throwaway scene, in which the cat is visited by sympathizing birds, and although the cat is the main protagonist throughout the whole film, he suddenly changes into a villain in the end.

The final scene is clearly inspired by the finale of Disney’s ‘Birds of a Feather‘ (1931), and perhaps ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932), but it adds nothing of its own.

Watch ‘The Cat’s Canary’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Cat’s Canary’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 March 5, 1932
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Fly Frolic © Van Beuren‘Fly Frolic’ quite shamelessly puts its inspiration from films like Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ (1930) and Disney’s ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), visiting exactly the same theme of the spider and the fly.

In Van Beuren’s version, two flies go to the ‘Coffee Pot Cabaret’ for a night out. At one point an old spider enters, scaring the flies to death. He goes into a Cab Calloway routine, singing the bandleader’s 1931 hit ‘Kickin’ The Gong Around’, Calloway’s second song about Minnie the Moocher. Interestingly, this film was released a week before Cab Calloway himself appeared in an animation film in Fleischer’s ‘Minnie the Moocher‘.

After some scatting the spider kidnaps the female fly and takes her to his secret laboratory. At this point the film suddenly changes into a parody of the 1931 horror film ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, with the spider changing into a handsome dandy. This doesn’t fool anyone, however, and the hero fly beats him, joined by his fellow flies.

‘Fly Frolic’ is a quite consistent film with a lot of melodrama. The designs are pretty primitive, however, and the spider changes completely from the nightclub scene to the laboratory scene, even before drinking his potion!

Watch ‘Fly Frolic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fly Frolic’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 January 27, 1932
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Toy Time © Van Beuren‘Toy Time’ is another typical Silly Symphony-like short by Van Beuren, trying to beat Disney at his own game.

The cartoon features two mice, Oscar and his girlfriend, who resemble Mickey and Minnie less than Van Beuren’s ill-fated stars Milton and Rita had done (see e.g. ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘).

In fact, the two are portrayed as real mice, having fun in the toy shop at night. This premise comes directly from the Silly Symphony ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop‘, but the Van Beuren studio adds some drama, when a cat appears, and the two mice battle him with help of several toys. Strangely enough the cartoon doesn’t end at that point, but also features a scene in which Oscar serenades his girlfriend on the piano. Only then he earns his sweetheart’s kiss.

Like ‘The Family Shoe‘ (1931), ‘Toy Time’ is highly ambitious. For example, it features a splendid score by Gene Rodemich, and elaborate and quite beautifully painted backgrounds. Unfortunately, the animation is still pretty awkward, and the designs of the two mice primitive and bland. Nevertheless, it shows that the Van Beuren Studio was trying very hard.

Four months later, Warner Bros. would cover similar grounds in ‘It’s Got Me Again!‘, but with much more satisfying results.

Watch ‘Toy Time’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Time’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 July 6, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Jungle Jazz © Van Beuren‘Jungle Jazz’ features that unsung duo, Waffles and Don, introduced in three months earlier in ‘The Haunted Ship‘. This time we watch the tall cat and the small dog walking through a jungle.

In this cartoon the duo’s ‘personalities’ are well-established: Waffles is continually scared, while Don remains unimpressed. The film’s highlight is an early scene in which Waffles and Don encounter all kinds of bizarre, psychedelic animals. Waffles and Don hide from these in a cabin, where they find an organ, which Waffles starts to play immediately. This prompts the cartoon’s obligate dance routine, with all kinds of (normal African) animals dancing.

Then, suddenly, they’re surrounded by cannibals! Don even helps them lighting the fire under their cooking pot. But he also somehow manages to scare them away, and the last scene is for four animals forming a barbershop quartet.

‘Jungle Jazz’ is a loosely jointed and erratic short, and it’s a pity the animators didn’t elaborate on the psychedelic animals in the beginning of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Jungle Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jungle Jazz’ is available on the DVDs ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 July 5, 1931
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Making 'Em Move © Van Beuren‘Making ‘Em Move’ is a surprisingly original cartoon, being about animation itself. It’s astonishing that this early cartoon about its own industry comes from the Van Beuren studio, the least developed American animation studio in business those days.

The film is a strange mix of accuracy and nonsense. We watch a fat lady visiting an animated cartoon studio, where several animals are animating ridiculously fast and as if in an assembly line. Among the less accurate scenes are an animator animating a dancing cat who’s dancing right in front of him, and a humanized camera filming the flip-books animators are running in front of it. Meanwhile a jazz band is playing, whose sound is recorded directly on film.

In the second half of the film we watch a public cartoon screening: “Fable Animals present Little Nell’, a crude animation of  a classic melodrama with stick figures, predating Tex Avery’s similar ‘Porky’s Preview’ by eleven years(!).

‘Making ’em Move’ is a remarkable cartoon, being about the cartoon industry itself, which remained a rare feat. Unfortunately, the film is neither very educational nor funny. It’s in fact rather directionless, making it to fall short as a classic.

Watch ‘Making ‘Em Move’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Making ‘Em Move’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: August 31, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating:
Review:

Frozen Frolics © Van Beuren‘Frozen Frolics’ is the third of four cartoons featuring the obscure duo Waffles & Don. In this short they are on their way to the North Pole to steal the pole, which looks like a barber’s pole.

After they lose their sled due to an obstinate rabbit, we suddenly cut to arctic animals dancing, much like Walt Disney’s ‘Arctic Antics‘ from two months earlier. Only after a while we return to the duo, whom we watch being exhausted, and trudging through a snow storm. When Don seems to be dead, Waffles steals his money, and eats his shoe. Luckily, Don is alive after all. But later Waffles doesn’t hesitate to throw his little friend to an angry bear. Don beats him up for that, with which the cartoons ends.

The animation in ‘Frozen Frolics’ is wildly uneven, and more often than not rather out of sync with the music.

Watch ‘Frozen Frolics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Frozen Frolics’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: January 18, 1931
Stars: Rita Mouse?
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Red Riding Hood © Van Beuren‘Red Riding Hood’ is one of those early 1930s cartoons that have to be seen to be believed.

In this spoof of Red Riding Hood, the ill grandma is visited by a doctor. The doctor’s “jazz tonic’ makes grandma young and handsome, and the wolf starts to fancy her. He plays for her on the harmonium, while ‘grandma’ dances. However, when Red Riding Hood (a Minnie Mouse-copy, see also ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘) enters, the wolf and grandma both flee in the wolf’s car to get married.

Red Riding Hood, meanwhile, warns the wolf’s wife and kids, who hurry to the wedding chapel. They tear the wolf away, leaving grandma crying.

There’s some nice animation on the wolf’s car, but otherwise the animation on this cartoon is wildly inconsistent. However, its story is so weird, it becomes enjoyable.

Watch ‘Red Riding Hood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Red Riding Hood’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: November 23, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Office Boy © Van Beuren‘The Office Boy’ is yet another Van Beuren cartoon featuring Milton Mouse and Rita Mouse, Van Beuren’s sloppy copies of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, indirectly showing the mouse’s enormous popularity.

This time Milton is an office boy, where Rita is a secretary. The story involves Milton getting jealous of Rita when the boss flirts with her. So Milton invites the boss’s wife to catch her husband red-handed. In the end we watch Milton and Rita jumping into a painting on a train to sing their end duet.

The designs and animation of Milton and Rita are terrible, but too close for comfort, and some of Mickey’s mannerisms have clearly been copied. As was the case in ‘Circus Capers‘, Milton and Rita are more vulgar than their Disney counterparts, despite the similar looks, and most of the fun of the cartoon lies in the rude behavior of these pseudo-Mickey and Minnie. The cartoon’s best gag, however, is when Rita starts typing frantically even when her boss hasn’t really dictated anything.

But Milton’s and Rita’s days were numbered. In 1931 Disney sued the Van Beuren company, and on April 30, 1931 the federal court prohibited the Van Beuren studio to display any of his Mickey Mouse-lookalikes. The Walt Disney company never asked for money, however. They simply wanted the plagiarism to stop.

Watch ‘The Office Boy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Office Boy’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: September 28, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Circus Capers © Van Beuren‘Circus Capers’ features Milton Mouse and Rita Mouse, Van Beuren’s Mickey and Minnie-like mice, whose resemblance to Disney’s originals is so striking, it’s pure plagiarism.

The Van Beuren Studio comes nowhere near Walt Disney’s high quality standards, however, and ‘Circus Capers’ can be used as a good counter-example to show how good contemporary Mickey Mouse cartoons (e.g. ‘The Shindig‘, ‘The Chain Gang‘ and ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘) actually were.

In ‘Circus Capers’ Milton (pseudo-Mickey) is a clown, while Rita (pseudo-Minnie) is an acrobat riding a horse. An evil circus master shoots Milton away as a human cannonball, meanwhile courting an all too willing Rita. When Milton discovers this, he’s heartbroken, and sings “Laugh Clown Laugh” from the 1928 musical of the same name. However, when the circus master becomes too insistent, Rita flees from him, back to Milton, who gives her the raspberry, making her pass out.

‘Circus Capers’ is hampered by primitive, crude animation, unsteady designs, and odd staging. Its curious story is enjoyable, however, for the real Mickey and Minnie would never behave like Milton and Rita, who seem to be their cruder cousins.

Watch ‘Circus Capers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Circus Capers’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: December 1, 1929
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
Rating:
Review:

Close Call © Van Beuren‘Close Call’ is one of Van Beuren’s earliest sound cartoons, and it shows. Its visual language is still from the silent era, including the use of words on the screen.

The short unashamedly features two clear ripoffs of Walt Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse. We watch them frolicking in a field, when a large cat kidnaps “Minnie” and takes her to a sawmill. “Mickey” comes to the rescue, only to be tied up by the cat to a sawmill, in a classic scene. As luckily as incomprehensibly the North West Mounted Police rides off to rescue the loving couple. They kill the cat (!), and the two mice are married.

The animation on ‘Close Call’ is terribly primitive, and there’s a lot of squeaking, but apart from the final “I do”‘s, there’s no dialogue. Moreover, there’s more drama to the short than humor, making it a tiring watch. The Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters (which off-screen apparently were christened Milton and Rita) would return in several of Van Beuren’s ‘Aesop’s Fables’ cartoons, e.g. ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘ from 1930.

Watch ‘Close Call’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Close Call’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

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