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Sunday, September 28, 2014

From Funnypapers To Film ...


Mutt and Jeff Are Playing With Fire in 1926 Cartoon

By what accounts I consulted, there were 300 Mutt and Jeff cartoons, of which eleven survive. Pretty pathetic, and the more distressing in light of fact M&J were a very big noise in their day, even in silent cartoons where they toplined on and off from the mid-teens to late twenties. Pioneer participant of the series Dick Huemer compared them with Peanuts of later vintage, and yes, the pair seem eternal for short/fat, tall/thin guys still referred to generically as "Mutt and Jeff." Such basic concept made creator Bud Fisher rich beyond Midas, a millionaire off his strip when a million could be made and kept. Once Mutt and Jeff came to movies, they'd not be idle. One company would do shorts a while and fold up, another in wings to take over, Fisher the broker who'd hire artists, then leave them to toil while he cashed checks.


Playing With Fire might be a cleanest sample of the Mutt/Jeff lot. Done at tail-end 1926, it fairly cries for sound still a couple years off for cartoons, and in fact, might have been kitted out with a track for later distribution, as were several other Mutt/Jeffs (animator Huemer, who worked on these, would call sound "the great savior of the animated cartoon"). Playing With Fire happily turned up at Ebay on clean-as-whistle 35mm nitrate, was grabbed by a collector, who displayed his bounty at You Tube, the treasure lovingly taken from its can and placed on a Steenbeck editor for playback. Digitally cleaned rendition is part of Thunderbean's lately released Blu-Ray, Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares, Playing With Fire a highlight for crystal clarity seldom had from 20's animation tending to survive, if at all, on raggedy terms. Great to see lost films recovered from online auction, spiffed up digitally, then made available for home playback via Blu-Ray. Thunderbean and its collector contacts are once again to be applauded for rescue of rarities and sharing them with fans. Archives could take a lesson from such fast tracking of treasures to outlying enthusiasts who can enjoy them most.

4 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

A quick search of YouTube will find some Mutt and Jeff silents "in color" -- in 1936 three of them were traced, colored, rephotographed, scored by a swing band, and released in the short-lived Kromo-Color process. Others were recolored and scored for television in 1973. No dialogue in any of them, but the visual humor is intact.

5:07 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

I vaguely recall "Mutt and Jeff vs. Bugoff," a strange attempt at re-editing the recolored cartoons into a makeshift mini-feature.

Yes, Bud Fisher preferred partying to drawing (Al Smith did much of the work from about the early 30s on), and his shipboard fling with Countess Aedita DeBeaumont led to her eventually owning "Mutt & Jeff" after Fisher's death.

5:41 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers advances made from early cartoons:


Interesting thing: The earliest animated cartoons were stiff and crude in their movement, but the drawings were often surprisingly detailed. As animation improved, there was a push towards simpler, rounder designs that lent themselves to distortion and exaggeration, not to mention the necessary mass production. Felix, Oswald and Mickey were largely black blobs, and few of their costars were much more complex. It was a few years into the sound era, when animators developed their skills and studios hit their stride, that they brought back detailing like Jeff's suit and whiskers -- rendered with improved draftsmanship in the bargain.

12:32 PM  
Blogger tomservo56954 said...

"Mutt & Jeff comics are NOT funny...they're GAY, I get it!"


Paul Duca

3:57 PM  

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