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Monday, October 04, 2021

Another Crowded 30's Bill


Where The Screen Becomes A Mirror For Kansas City Watchers

How dependent were Silly Symphonies on Mickey Mouse? The latter "presented" each in main titles, as if he'd turn up in the cartoon itself. Father Noah's Ark had Technicolor plus Disney progress brought to bear (each Symphony advanced from the one before), but there was no Mickey in these. The mouse was insurance Disney took up for all of product branding. Mickey was the face on whatever bore Disney tag through years the mouse was America's most popular cartoon character. Betty Boop was a challenger, Popeye in fact unseated him, then in-house Donald Duck took a lead. For mid-1933, however, a Mickey image on ads was close as showmen got to guaranteed attendance. The Loew's Midland was a four million dollar palace built in Kansas City that seated over 3500 patrons. They got something more on this occasion than a feature with shorts. Many in fact saw themselves and neighbors in Paseo High Scholl graduation footage which was part of the theatre's customized newsreel (Paseo still thrives as an Academy Of Fine and Performing Arts). There were also highlights of the "Riverside Races," Riverside a community located just north of Kansas City. Newsreels at a venue like the Loew's Midland were very much about serving local interests. Who wouldn't attend a program where you might be the star on screen, even if glimpsed but briefly? The "Dempsey-Schmeling-Baer" triad refers to a June 8, 1933 event where Jack Dempsey promoted the heavyweight showdown between Max Schmeling and Max Baer. Add to this a Pete Smith and one of the better Todd-Pitts comedies, The Bargain Of The Century, a title which would as aptly apply to the Loew's Midland overall program that June 1933 day.

17 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I had ads from the same year from the Philippines and Australia that also feature Mickey. But my favorite newspaper ads is one for Warner's HEROES FOR SALE, but from Brazil: I have two of them and they feature images of Laurel and Hardy but promoting the cartoon BOSKO'S PICTURE SHOW. The American ads in English are identical, but no Laurel and Hardy and no cartoon is listed.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Mickey seems to be stunned that Disney is shilling him for a cartoon he isn't in. But the possibility of being seen in a newsreel just because you graduated high school! I was content with seeing my name (along with everyone else's) in the local newspaper. I think if movie theaters had a similar movie line-up today -- feature, shorts, cartoon -- more people might be tempted to go in these covid days.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I'd rather watch Donald, Goofy, Pluto or Chip & Dale any day.

11:49 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Always amused by deceptive marketing that pretends not to be.

How many ads trumpeted "From the Author / Studio / Director / Producer that brought you ..." Or more evasively, "In the Thrilling Tradition of ..." Ads for "Blazing Saddles" mocked the form by declaring "From the Studio that brought you 'The Jazz Singer'". But my favorite was a Swedish softcore item "From the Country that brought you 'I am Curious Yellow'".

Then there were horror movies with trademark-skirting versions of the Universal monsters (always Werewolf, never Wolfman). Likewise knockoffs of real-life / legendary / public domain heroes, cowboys, pirates, strong men, fairy tale princesses, etc. The nervier ones positioned themselves as sequels to unrelated hits ("Son of ...") and even referenced them. Low-priced imports suddenly became Samson and Sinbad adventures in the dubbing room. Granted, Hollywood's bandwagon mentality yielded some pretty good movies as well as obvious knockoffs. Harryhausen's "Mysterious Island" holds its own by Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". AIP's "Master of the World" is often laughable (and kind of sad in view of what it nearly was).

The tradition lives on with home video mockbusters, rooted in cheap VHS cartoons with packaging aping the latest major studio animations.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I have to say I've never seen a Disney short that made me laugh. They're great to look at, but funny? Not for me. I tend to blame the lousy underscoring and sound effects.

As for Pete Smith, "oddity" is probably the best description. When his nasal tones appear on TCM, out comes my mute button. I'll take the flat monotone of Frank Whitbeck any day.

4:18 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

The Loew's Midland building is still there, though it hasn't been Loew's Midland in decades. Neither has it been a movie theater for some forty years. The building is used as a performance hall these days.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Most audiences probably felt shortchanged seeing Mickey get so much prominence in the ads and none on the screen. They probably felt suckered. The Disney films even in this period were never as much fun as the stuff from other studios (including--gasp!--Terrytoons). The critics loved them but the audience not so much. Now that I have access to all those shorts on DVD I can say they well done yes but lots of fun? No. Disney's people never really understood comic timing. Now, the features are, for me, another matter in this period. They remain in a league by themselves. The things done elsewhere could not have be4en done at Disney while the stuff at Disney could have been done elsewhere in fact, the MGM Happy Harmonies are so Disney-esque Walt got them to make him a film. Once upon a time we could only read about these films. Now I cam see them and I have seen more than most folks.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Gotta wait before posting so that my eyes are cold enough to correct my spelling.

5:47 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I always defend Disney shorts as comfort food rather than laugh riots (much like their lower-budget live action comedies). Yes, they can't touch Looney Tunes for hilarity. But while Hollywood delivered all flavors of Escapism through depression and war, Uncle Walt delivered a very specific form of Reassurance -- a commodity that stayed in demand through the anxious postwar years, while the rest of Hollywood saw its old sure things hijacked by television.

This was not necessarily by design. The Disney animators must have envied the big yocks their competitors got, and here and there you see gags that suggest they were paying attention to what rivals were doing. But the studio was committed to developing a skill set and style that served characterization and story, and that all but prohibited the outrageousness of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett.

The end result: People love Bugs Bunny cartoons over Mickey Mouse cartoons, but they love Mickey Mouse himself. And while the modern Disney empire is all-encompassing, a substantial slice is still in the Reassurance business -- now fortified by a few generations of nostalgia.

2:44 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Regular guys can identify more easily with Mickey, but not so much for Bugs. Bugs was created as more of a character to watch than to identify with. Bugs is a more dynamic character overall, so he appeals more to kids, being closer to their energy level.
Bugs also has a zest for conflict that Mickey never really had, maybe because of the war happening at the time of his creation.

In my way of looking at things, color was the key for Walt Disney, for he was a pioneer when it came to the use of color both in short and feature-length films back in the 1930s and on TV in the 1960s. No color, no Disney, as far as I'm concerned.
It took color to fully distinguish Disney's stuff from all the other stuff being done back in the 1930s, and when his monopoly on it ran out, he was ready for it with color features already in preparation.
Disney was more ready as to animated features in the late 1930s, it turns out, than any of his then competitors doing animation then were, or ever became, even as they surpassed him with respect to the entertainment quality of their color shorts.
On TV, his interest in getting his color stuff on in its full glory and the TV makers and broadcasters' interests in selling the new tech of color TV dovetailed beautifully, and Disney knew it.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I have a talk titled "What I learned from Bugs Bunny." I learned a lot. Chuck Jones said said, "Bugs is who I would like to be. Daffy is what I am."

Bugs keeps his cool. Daffy loses it.

For anyone forced to deal with bullies (as I have been and continue to)Bugs is the perfect model.

By 1940 when Bugs appeared Mickey had been so gutted by public pressure there was little the writers could do with him. There was zero identification with him. In fact, only a zero could identify with him.

"(Mickey Mouse is) so much of an institution that we’re limited in what we can do with him. If we have Mickey kicking someone in the pants, we get a million letters from mothers telling us that we’re giving their kids wrong ideas. Mickey must always be sweet, always lovable. What can you do with such a leading man?"--WALT DISNEY (1930s)

"Mickey Mouse, the artistic offspring of Walt Disney, has fallen afoul of the censors in a big way, largely because of his amazing success. Papas and Mamas, especially Mamas, have spoken vigorously to censor boards and elsewhere about what a devilish, naughty little mouse Mickey turned out to be. Now we find that Mickey is not to drink, smoke, or tease the stock in the barnyard. Mickey has been spanked. It is the old, old story. If nobody knows you, you can do anything, and if everybody knows you, you can’t do anything – except what every one approves, which is very little of anything. It has happened often enough among the human stars of the screen and now it gets even the little fellow in black and white who is no thicker than a pencil mark and exists solely in a state of mind."--Terry Ramsaye, MOTION PICTURE HERALD, February 28, 1931.

By 1931 Mickey had been castrated.

Today the Warner characters have suffered the same fate. The studio wants them kept alive for the massive profits earned from merchandising. That's why these new soulless aberrations are being produced.

By the way if you ever are confronted by a bully see them as Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam and see yourself as Bugs. You have seen enough of his films to know EXACTLY how to handle them.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Reg: If only I had learned that advice 50 years ago!

5:45 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Reg Hartt may be right about Disney's B&W early-1930s stuff as being superior in terms of plot, scripting and characterization, as I haven't seen very much of that - I find the production values of those early works too primitive to hold my interest or to entertain my sight.
Looking at Wikis about this, I was surprised to see Mickey did not appear in color until 1935; so it was the color "Silly Symphonies" that really separated Walt from the crowd.
Mickey "castrated" in 1931? That must remain a matter of taste, as Mickey has appeared in close to one hundred short films since 1931 - thus it appears that that "operation" though apparently outraging some more familiar with the animated films of the late 1920s and early 1930s did not serve to harm his popularity with the paying public.
I just don't see the fact that Walt Disney submitted to "the censors" (and weren't those censors actually the cinema owners and the politicians in whose jurisdictions those cinemas were located, but wearing different hats?) of that time as being blameworthy conduct in any way whatsoever. What was he supposed to do? Create product that couldn't and wouldn't be shown in public venues? He was trying to make a living, not mount a children's crusade for so-called "artistic freedom" in the presentation of public entertainments.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

By the way I got the Kino Lorber Blu-ray of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME yesterday. John McElwee gets a neat plug in the commentary.

https://reghartt.ca/cineforum/?p=32925

12:34 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It's Walt himself as well as Terry Ramsaye who talk about how it became impossible for the artists and writers to work with Mickey because he had to be a good boy. I have never said Disney shorts were superior in terms of plot, scripting and characterization. They aren't.

The Fleischers were doing much more interesting stuff. Harman and Ising continued making the same calibre films at Schlesinger's LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES they had done at Disney. The only difference is the LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES have more life in them.

Mickey Mouse was a huge star, yes. That was thanks to Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel who promoted the films heavily at his Colony Theatre in New York.

The censor is always to be fought. Jeez, look at how British censors treated Hammer Films.

Popeye, when he came along, didn't need a boost from Roxie. He did it on his own. Ditto Bugs Bunny.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I meant superior in comparison with Walt's own later work - I don't know enough about early-1930s animation, even Disney's, to really have an opinion about it.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

When we read THE ART OF DISNEY ANIMATION it is important to know that the work spoken most highly of by the writers had long been of little interest to the audiences in theatres. That always happens when form becomes more important than content. Many of the films written highly of people would not watch if they were paid to.Thatlater work is DULL in capital letters.

8:05 PM  

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