An Insipid Cinecolor Romp

Following WWII, Hollywood’s overwhelming demand for Technicolor forced the classic cartoon studios to build a backlog of sorts. Cartoons were completed but wouldn’t be released for ages because prints could not be processed in a timely fashion. WB, Famous, and Terry’s backlogs were approximately 18-24 months, whereas MGM’s could be even longer. Lantz, an independent always losing money, could only afford a 12 month backlog.

The backlogging explains why WB could close down for a full six months in 1953 and you wouldn’t see the “post-shutdown” shorts until very late 1955, why Dick Lundy’s last Barney Bear cartoons didn’t come out until three years after he left MGM, and why Tex Avery’s last theatrical cartoons at both MGM and Lantz were released simultaneously. It also explains why the Screen Gems studio could shut its doors in 1946 but still have releases trickling into theaters as late as 1949.

In an attempt to meet release schedules, WB, Famous, and Screen Gems had a smattering of shorts processed by the cheaper, faster Cinecolor. (Famous also used Paramount’s own process, Polacolor.)

In the case of WB, the cartoons were not made with Cinecolor in mind, as the shorts destined for the process were completely arbitrary. (With the exception of possibly I Taw a Putty Tat, which may have been processed in Cinecolor to get a new cartoon with the increasingly popular Tweety and Sylvester out to theaters quicker.) They were filmed with three-strip Technicolor negatives, and the release prints were processed by Cinecolor, using only two of the three strips.

As to whether Famous or the poverty-row Screen Gems studio did the same, I have no idea. Screen Gems did, however, most certainly style the cartoons with the two-strip process in mind. All of the Cinecolor Phantasy entries (the series was in black-and-white until 1946) have a specific limited palette that is exclusive to them. The Technicolor Color Rhapsodies from the same period are far more vibrant. Such a differentiation doesn’t exist between the Technicolor and Cinecolor WB cartoons. The jury is still out on the Famous Popeye cartoons, as the entire series has not been restored in any capacity (yet).

This Technicolor rerelease print of Kitty Caddy therefore showcases a limited palette, regardless of the stock it was printed on. Authentic Cinecolor stock shifts toward blue-green, so it was unnecessary to emphasize these colors when styling the cartoon. The color styling of these 1947-48 Phantasies has far more in common with that of the 1930s Ub Iwerks Comicolor shorts than the contemporary WB Cinecolor releases as a result.

The whereabouts of this cartoon in the Sony vaults are unknown at this time. The two 35mm prints belonging to Mark Kausler and myself are the only two known to exist. I have had this print for a number of years, but only had it transferred when I was visiting Steve Stanchfield last February, along with Cockatoos for Two.

Surely Mark’s is the better print and the one that should be used for true preservation. Mine was has two nasty splices towards the end (I utilized Mark’s copy to make this composite, so you’ll see a drop in transfer quality at those moments), and some distributor in Britain chopped off the end title, so I replaced it with an erroneous Color Rhapsody title that I had in HD. (The same distributor also spliced on a much later Columbia Pictures title at the beginning, which I’ve left intact for your amusement.)

So much prose for a true stinker though! People tend to give its director Sid Marcus an edge over other lesser lights in the Golden Age, but his shorts could stink as bad as anyone’s. The animation and clean-up is seriously bad and not a single gag works remotely well. The opening phone conversation is almost compelling for the amount of time spent on such an inane, inconsequential conversation. This is as pure stream of consciousness as you get for a 1947 Hollywood cartoon.

Contrary to popular opinion, I find Darrell Calker’s wind-heavy scores of this period (for both Lantz and Screen Gems) to be a refreshing change from the brash, crash and boom variety so prominent in cartoon scoring. Surely his soundtracks are the real stars of these intriguing misfires.

“Sylvester”, Crosby, and Hope are voiced by Dave Barry. Barry also voiced Crosby, Sinatra, and Bogart in most of the WB cartoons of the late 1940s, but his greatest contribution to cinema was his role as the asexual band manager Beinstock in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Some Like It Hot. Sam the Dog’s voice actor remains unknown. Keith Scott, the world’s leading animation voice and Jay Ward expert, tells me it’s the same actor who voiced Meathead in Avery’s Screwy Squirrel cartoons. And if Keith hasn’t pegged that man’s identity down, I sure as hell don’t think anyone else will soon.



Filed under classic animation, crap, wtf

12 Responses to An Insipid Cinecolor Romp

  1. James

    Weird how the cartoon seems to give the “Sylvester” character large buck teeth, and then just dropping them sometime after the halfway point.

    Stream of conscious is just how I would describe a majority of these Screen Gem cartoons, though at least this one had some sort of build-up with the Hope & Crosby running gag, and the ending made more sense than some of their other cartoons. Otherwise it’s just a string WTF weirdness. I agree that the animation is pretty sloppy in this one.

  2. Devon Baxter

    Great post!
    I had NO idea that Dave Barry was “BIENSTOCK!!!” in Some Like it Hot. Thanks, Thad!

  3. I could go for an entire cartoon of just the cat and dog talking on the phone,. as they do in the first moments of this otherwise-effed-to-the-max cartoon. Screen Gems’ cartoon dept. sometimes accidentally tarried with genius–this is one of those moments.

    The use of Hope and Crosby throughout this cartoon is downright stupid. There’s no reason, rational or screwy, for doing this.

    If only they’d just stayed on that inane, mundane phone conversation for the full seven minutes… it’d be riveting, I assure you!

  4. J Lee

    I’ll give it credit for not being the all time worst golf-themed carton — there’s a Jack Kinney KFS Popeye that still holds that title. However, it still is one of those “throw the gags against the wall and see which ones sticnk” cartoons. They really couldn’t figure out (or didn’t care) if it was going to be a spot gag golf cartoon or actually have a plot, where the cat and dog up the ante on destroying each other. It’s amazing how much better Marcus’ story structure got once he made it over to Warner Brothers.

    The Hope-Crosby bit does make sense if you’re old enough to remember Bing’s connection to Pebble Beach and Bob’s to Palm Springs,. which continued for both of them all the way until der Bingle keeled over dead on the golf course in Spain (did some Spanish cartoon channel have this on in the clubhouse in 1977?) It still doesn’t make the running gag all that funny, but at least you can see some semblance of rational thought process working here (also, Hope’s lone line sounds suspiciously like the voice for the Jack Bennyish feline in “The Stupidstitious Cat”, but while Dave Barry did work for Paramount during the Miami era, I can’t see them dragging Barry or a transcription tape cross country in 1946 just to do a Benny impersonation, unless he just happened to be in New York).

  5. Kirk

    Truly appreciate the color processing breakdown of the prints. Your post of several months ago where you first introduced to me this idea that IB Technicolor is the rosetta stone for an accurate episteme of perception as regard the original intentionality of Golden Age creators, I found compelling. As with your usual sweeping rubbishing of the other percipients, fan and expert alike. This new exposition of the backlog and color technique seems to expand the subject quite nicely. I must say, I’m a fan of Joyce, -James Joyce, Surrealist automatic writing, and WTF cartoons in general. So take your narrative traditions and, well, graduate already, all of you.

  6. Was this, by any chance, another Cal Howard extravaganza?

  7. This is one of the most extraordinary posts I’ve seen for quite a while. Excellent work, Thad. The addition of this cartoon is a consummate sample of the cinecolor product done so late. The fact that the cartoon is just as bad as all the Screen Gems work done in this period (Sid Marcus seems to have had little competition for the bottom rung) is just the icing on the cake. It truly is bad, although you’re right about Caulker’s music.
    Thank you for putting this piece together.

    • You’re most welcome, Michael! I was in Columbus, OH for Cinevent this weekend and I loaned them a 16mm copy of KITTY CADDY to screen, and it went over very well, believe it or not. Might have been because the program was front-loaded with Alex Lovy Lantz and Terry cartoons of the early 40s, but I swear it’s that phone conversation that roped ’em in.

  8. BArt

    Another great post as usual, Thad – it just helped to explain to my girlfriend (and fellow toon freak) the differences between the two processes.

  9. C. Sobieniak

    “(The same distributor also spliced on a much later Columbia Pictures title at the beginning, which I’ve left intact for your amusement.)”

    It certainly got mine! I almost wondered what was that doing there or was there something they were doing in the 80’s I didn’t know about (of course if they had knew, there could’ve been VHS releases of this anyway).

  10. Dave Kirwan

    Great post! Wonderful research. And as to the actual cartoon… what a delightful train wreck! I’m not at all surprised this one played well to a large audience. Throw in one or two inexplicable directorial touches (like the phone conversation) along with a steady stream of man-this-is-so-clunky-it’s-killing-me belly laughs and I’m sure you have a real crowd pleaser.

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