31 October 2009

An Oswald Trick (Or Treat)

Little time to blog today; big Halloween doings. But I couldn't let the holiday pass without a special Ramapith commemoration.

When Walt Disney's Oswald the Lucky Rabbit staff moved on in 1928, that wasn't the end of Disney's 26 Oswald cartoons. Some were reissued with sound by Universal in the 1930s. Others survived in a less direct way, as former Oswald staffers remade them—or remade elements of them—with other star characters. Oswald's Harem Scarem (1927) became Disney's later Mickey in Arabia (1932). Oswald's Rival Romeos (1928) became Ub Iwerks' Flip the Frog short Ragtime Romeo (1931).

But no one did remakes quite like Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising did remakes. Their early Looney Tunes boasted so much Oswald mimickry that Bosko himself might as well have been a lucky rabbit minus the ears. And Disney's Ozzie of the Mounted (1928), in particular, was a source of gags and story like none other.
Here's the silent Ozzie now with a rather suspicious... soundtrack (!). Can you use the plot elements to tell us where it comes from?

I'll update this blogpost later with the answer(s). Happy Halloween!

Update, November 18: As some of you guessed, Hugh and Rudy's Looney Tune Big Man From the North (1931) provided most of my score because it's the most direct Ozzie of the Mounted remake—in part, anyway. Let's have a look at it now; while the opening is virtually identical, the plots diverge some of the way through. Pete's sled dogs in Mounted become Bosko's dogs in Big Man. And lots of Big Man's action takes place inside the saloon, whereas Oswald and Pete stay outside. (My pet theory is that Honey already worked there, and Oswald didn't want Bosko to catch him with her. Stop looking at me like that.)

One Mounted element that didn't make it into Big Man was the robot horse, because Hugh and Rudy decided to give him a Looney Tune of his own. (Or rather "its" own? This four-legged Dalek is the least sentient cartoon robot I've ever seen...) Here's Ups 'n' Downs (1931), from which more of my soundtrack came:

Finally, I'd be remiss not to cite our friend Mark Newgarden, who noted that my Mounted revamp "syncs up too well." Doesn't it? But I won't take the credit. When researching these cartoons for this blogpost, I found that Mounted reflected a then-new trend at Disney: to animate repeating action in regulation 6-, 8-, 12-, or 24-drawing cycles, as evidenced also in Bright Lights and Rival Romeos (if not, oddly, the contemporary Sky Scrappers). These actions could thus conveniently be timed out by the second—and Harman-Ising continued the practice at Warner once the sound era began, extending it to house musician Frank Marsales in the form of a one-second beat. Adding Marsales' scoring to Ozzie of the Mounted meant the fast-action sequences had to match.

Additional pieces of my Mounted score came from H-I's Box Car Blues and Congo Jazz (both 1930); in the latter, even a triple-meter motif is built on that one-second beat.

Was Disney the first studio to effectively animate silents to a rhythm, however basic? Who initiated the practice there? (It's not in Harman-Ising's earlier Aladdin's Vamp [1926] or Disney's earlier Great Guns [1927], for instance.)

17 October 2009

October Original Titles

Wak! It's been forever since I've updated around here. Sadly, I'm still under the gun with one project or another. But the least I can do is return briefly to a topic everyone's been asking for: the hunt for original titles. Like Ozzie of the Mounted (1928), my fellow scholars and I will get our men—even if we lose our heads!

It's not a new discovery, of course, that many theatrical cartoons had their original title cards replaced for later reissue. The actual revelations are the original titles themselves—often because the cartoons' corporate owners dumped their originals, but sometimes because originals perished in spite of the studios' best efforts. Luckily (see my lengthier discussion here), in-depth research has brought back stragglers of all stripes.

The Moose Hunt (1931) is a Mickey Mouse short for which Disney's original titles elements went missing at some point in the past. Here we see a faux-original title card recreated for a recent DVD set...

...and here is an actual original I more recently got the chance to see. In this case, the recreation attempt was about as close as could be imagined; the positioning of the words is different, but the proper card style was chosen and even the title font is similar.

Alas, sometimes the re-creator can't be quite as prescient. In the case of Fiddlin' Around (1930), it's new knowledge that the cartoon was called that from the start. Studio records suggested that Mickey's violin-recital short was titled "Just Mickey" in its first release, and the faux title for DVD reflected this conventional wisdom:

But the CW isn't always right. The late Denis Gifford was the first to show me theatrical materials that suggested Fiddlin' Around as the 1930 release title, and now we get a look at the original title card as well:

Interestingly, this shows that the first and second seasons of Columbia Mickeys had slightly different card styles. The background is darker on this 1930 episode (as with a few more that I'll share later on); much of the white lettering lacks a black outline; and most critically there's an effort to make the text on the chalkboard look like it's Mickey's own work. Better take some handwriting courses there, Mick.

Hm, and maybe you ought to get some plastic surgery while you're at it:

Thanks to research buddy Cole Johnson and collector Ralph Celentano, above we have an item I'd never seen before—the 1930 Columbia reissue card for a Celebrity-era (1928-29) Mickey cartoon. While I'm not aware of an original Celebrity card surviving for When the Cat's Away (1929), others hold out from the period:

With no extended knowledge on the matter just yet, I'll make an educated guess that Columbia staffers—rather than anyone at Disney—drew up that new title card for Cat's Away (and, presumably, other Celebrity Mickey shorts). It's hard to imagine anyone on Uncle Walt's per diem transforming the studio stars into possums.

Of course, sometimes you didn't change species when your title card was remade. You just went from professionally drawn to fourth-grade level. Here's Dick Huemer's Toby the Pup as seen on reissues...

...and here's the hound as viewed by cinemagoers in 1931:

Should I be disturbed that Toby's feet look as much like hands on the original card as on the fake? I'm just not sure why he had to wear shoes with toes. Maybe Pervis the Goat ate all the normal shoes in the area—in Circus Time (1931), he eats one of Toby's gloves.

Gotta dash back to meeting deadlines, but I'd be a boob if I didn't go without delivering another item I'd promised for awhile—one more early Tom and Jerry title card. Most of us know The Zoot Cat (1944) as looking like this reissue print:

But here's what audiences saw in 1944. Dig that color, squares. Go man, go go go:

For completeness' sake, here also is Fraidy Cat (1942), with a rare intro card that we've already seen on the earlier Midnight Snack (1941).

That's it for now—but there are more discoveries being made all the time. Sometimes, as my friend Tom Stathes is always showing me, certain reissues are interesting, too:

Yes, that's a Columbia-era short with the United Artists title design. But some things are worth the wait...

Update, October 18: I'd formerly pictured an MGM lion card for The Zoot Cat that understandably misled some of you—the lion was a circa 1940 card, while the cartoon is from 1944. Thad K, who has looked at this print as well, remembered that its lion opening had in fact been spliced on from a different source.
Zoot Cat almost certainly had a standard 1944-era opening as seen on this print of Screwball Squirrel (1944).