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.