Saturday, June 27, 2009

Popeye the Sailor in “Fightin’ Pals” (1940)

As the 1930s drew to a close, a noticeable change came over Popeye’s perennial foe Bluto.

Apparently, Gus Wickie, the original voice of Bluto died at about the time producer Max Fleischer moved his studio from New York to Miami, and the role of Bluto was downplayed until a replacement voice could be found.

Enter Pinto Colvig, best known as the voice of Goofy, to step into the role. According to the Walt Disney Treasures Goofy DVD collection, Colvig had left Disney and had moved over to Fleischer. I’d never realized that he’d taken over Bluto, but knew that there was a brief period where I really enjoyed the vocal performance of the bearded heavy.

Now, this is strictly my own opinion, and for others it could vary, but I think Colvig may have made the best Bluto of them all! Colvig’s Bluto is more of a comedic foil, lacking the cruel streak that Gus Wickie had brought to the character – and that Jackson Beck would take to new heights in the later cartoons.

In short, he is fun to watch, and he is fun to listen to! You will hear the difference immediately. And, hear it you will in…

Fightin’ Pals”: The ultimate in playing with the Popeye and Bluto formula! Bluto is off on an expedition to Africa. Popeye sees him off. They fight – almost playfully (!) on the dock, and Bluto departs. As time passes, Popeye grows to MISS Bluto and the great brawls they’ve had together. Then a radio bulletin declares that the big guy has been reported LOST in Darkest Africa! Popeye is off to save his “pal”!

Oh, and to the great credit of Max and Dave Fleischer, Popeye encounters ONLY wild animals on his rescue mission – and no stereotypical African natives! This certainly bucked the trend in animation of the time.

“Fightin’ Pals” just may be my favorite POPEYE cartoon of all time! It’s certainly in consideration for “Top Three”, along with “A Dream Walking” (1934) and “The Mighty Navy” (1941).

This is the way I’D like to picture Popeye and Bluto forevermore. Not eternally trapped in the repetitive “love triangle” with Olive Oyl that would later play itself to death in every possible venue except those that would allow Popeye to be a… um, you know… sailor.

So, let’s enjoy Jack Mercer as Popeye and Pinto Colvig as Bluto in Max Fleischer and writer Joseph E. Stultz’sFightin’ Pals”! Enjoy… Toot! Toot!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

R.I.P. Ed McMahon.

Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s announcer and sidekick of 30 years on The Tonight Show passed away on June 23, 2009 at age 86.

It’s hard to imagine someone better suited for the role he performed than Ed McMahon.

By the sheer will and strength of his often-forced laughter, McMahon could get us to laugh out loud at Johnny’s jokes, regardless of how funny they were – or how funny they weren’t.

I’m certain everyone whom he entertained has a favorite Ed McMahon story… this is mine:

One night on TV, about 1970, Johnny Carson made a declaration of some sort (…long since forgotten), and Ed simply let it pass with minimal (or no) reaction.

Johnny questioned that, wondering why Ed didn’t react to whatever it was. Ed apologized and suggested that they try it again, and so Johnny made his declaration once more.

After a quick beat, Ed responded (quite loudly and enthusiastically, I might add) “WELL, I’LL BE DAMNED!”

Carson was momentarily dumbstruck, and I was rolling on the floor laughing at this truly unexpected retort! Made all the more so because, in 1970, it was rare to speak in such a manner on television – even in late night!

And, strictly to me, Ed McMahon will also be remembered for a very funny guest appearance in the comic book HOWARD THE DUCK # 33 (1986) where he laughed at everything Howard said, as well.

…Although I wish I could have remembered him for showing up at my home with one of those Big Checks, he was given to carrying around on Super Bowl Sunday!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DVD Review: Disney’s DuckTales: Volume 3

This review was prepared in Fall 2007, but it's new to this Blog! It also serves as a reminder that we've been waiting 1.5 years or more for the final volume!

Disney’s DuckTales: Volume 3
(Released November 13, 2007 by Walt Disney Home Video)

This volume of DUCKTALES, the 1987 animated series based on the characters appearing in writer/artist Carl Barks’ series of UNCLE SCROOGE comic books, covers the “tale” end of the initial season and the two prime time specials (both later carved into five-part episodes) “Time is Money” and “Super Ducktales”. These last two introduce the soon-to-be-regular characters of “cave-kidBubba Duck and robotically armored super hero Gizmoduck, respectively. This would leave one, relatively short volume of the series left to go.

The series origin, “Treasure of the Golden Suns”, (Volume 2) and a few other early episodes like “Sphinx for the Memories”, “Where No Duck has Gone Before” and “Home Sweet Homer” (all Volume 1) excepted, I think that the best batch of shows were at this stage. After that, there was a slight decline, as the series moved further away from its comic-book foundation. Still, a number of episodes to come are more than worthwhile.
For me, standouts include the following:

All Ducks on Deck”. (Disc 2) How could this NOT be a favorite for me, as it featured the too-seldom seen Donald Duck and a surprise appearance by Mickey Mouse’s greatest comics foe; The Phantom Blot! (Even though they never meet cloak to beak!) I will never forget the utter jaw-dropping experience of coming home from work in late 1987, turning on the VCR and seeing an animated version of The Phantom Blot!
Even if the Blot’s design owed more to 1970s comic books (…complete with opening mouth and evil smile – This is a guy UNDER A CLOAK, remember?) than the more classic 1930s Floyd Gottfredson comic strip or 1960s Paul Murry comic book versions – it was A-OK with me! By this time in the run, I’d thought I’d seen ALL of DT’s tricks (…and what wonderful tricks they were!), but THIS? And Donald’s opening “tall sea-tale” sequence is just as unforgettable as the Blowhard Blot – especially for a show that almost (unjustly) ignored Donald completely!

If only Disney would release HOUSE OF MOUSE, so I could complete the Animated Blot Trilogy with the more Gottfredson-inspired (…but no less hammy) Blot seen on that series. And, Super Goof, Zeke (Big Bad) Wolf, and Pete. Disney, I want HOM too!

In Ducky Horror Picture Show” (Disc 2), the Ducks take a backseat to the antics of a bunch of funny movie-style monsters, who have chosen Duckburg for their annual convention. There were so many nice little touches like the Greyhound Skeleton on the side of the Monsters’ bus. My favorite is when the Creature from the Blue Lagoon receives his invitation to the Monsters Convention – stares at it for a beat, as the standard DUCKTALES dramatic music cue plays (…and we wonder what he’s going to do) – and unexpectedly puts on a party hat and blows a horn full of bubbles! And, appealing to this Long Islander, a reference to “Great Neck, NY”, to boot – or would that be “to BITE”! Sure, the monsters were clichéd. So what? It’s not as if they were Filmation’s The Groovy Ghoulies!

The Uncrashable Hindentanic” (Disc 1) is simply one of the flat-out FUNNIEST Duck stories ever done! More jokes per square inch, than any other! There is so much wonderful verbal humor here that it is the kind of script that one day I could only hope to remotely approach, in my capacity as a freelance scripter for the Disney Duck comic books! It was all the more amazing to me then because, less than three years prior (1984), the UNCLE SCROOGE comic books were generally devoid of humor during the final years under Whitman Publishing. A new publisher for the comics, Gladstone, had just started up in 1986 and had shown considerable (nay, phenomenal) improvement, but there was nothing like this!

Our story begins with a wager between Scrooge Mc Duck and his rival Flintheart Glomgold, and transforms into a star-studded send-up of the type of disaster films that were the specialty of producer Irwin Allen in the 1970s. Indeed, producer Allen was HIMSELF parodied as a character in this wonderful episode. A winner all the way!

Status Seekers” (Disc 1) As a comic book devotee, it’s a thrill to see the name of Carl Barks (creator of Scrooge Mc Duck, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Golmgold, The Beagle Boys, etc.) in the credits, as the author of the original story upon which this episode is based. Yes, I freeze-framed to savor it. This was a case where the “variant material” did not drag Barks’ original story down (…as it did for previous DUCKTALES episodes “Back to the Klondike” and “Down and Out in Duckburg”), but actually enhanced it.

As with past volumes of DUCKTALES, there are no extras or commentaries. What a pity, considering the creative talent involved! Yes, there was a feature on Carl Barks as part of “Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 2 (1942-1946)”, but Barks, with his decades of comic book wonder, is the de-facto architect of DUCKTALES, and deserves mention in this context.

(2009 Update) Carl Barks and the characters he created for comic books were also prominently featured in “Donald Goes to Press” – an extra feature included on 2008’s “Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 4 (1951-1961)”, with commentary by Gemstone Archival Editor David Gerstein, Disney Comics Managing Editor Bob Foster, and others including yours truly! But, some such material STILL should have been associated with DUCKTALES!

Actor Alan Young certainly merits a feature for so superbly bringing Scrooge to Scottish-accented life! Other fine performers who were DT regulars, such as Russi Taylor, Terrence Mc Govern, Chuck Mc Cann, and June Foray, are worthy of features as well!

If “money was an object”, a sentiment Scrooge Mc Duck would ironically endorse, perhaps Disney could consider stringing together the vast number of existing DUCKTALES commercials and promos that were created during the life of the series (…some of which contained original animation, and most of which employed original vocals by the regular cast) to “manufacture” a feature. These would be fun to see.

That said, Disney’s DuckTales: Volume 3, is a set so chock-full of good times that it gets my highest recommendation on the strength of the material found therein.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Realizations: Am I a ‘Tween-Ager?

Watching lots of both on DVD of late, I am struck by the realization that I am TOO YOUNG to get many of the jokes and celebrity caricatures in LOONEY TUNES

…And perhaps TOO OLD to get many of the jokes and celebrity caricatures in FAMILY GUY!

Does that make me an awkward ‘tween-ager?

Monday, June 15, 2009

R.I.P. Del Monroe (Kowalski)

Actor Del Monroe, best known as Kowalski on classic TV Sci-Fi series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1964-1968), passed away Friday June 05, 2009 at age 73.

Monroe’s Crewman Kowalski has the distinction of serving longer aboard the fictional Submarine Seaview than anyone else – dating back to the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA theatrical feature film of 1961 (as “Kowski”, not “Kowalski”)… the popularity of which brought about the television series.Kowalski (he never had a first name – though his BROTHER who guest starred in the 1966 episode “Deadly Waters” sported the name “Stan”) was a constant presence on the Seaview, excelling at every submariner specialty that the scripts required of him.

He was originally portrayed as the skeptical almost-trouble-maker of the crew, but quickly evolved into the lead featured crewman – strong, loyal, and true!

Oh, and did I say “strong”? No one, over the four years of the series, suffered as much physical abuse and recovered more resiliently than Kowalski!

He was often beaten and/or shot, glass exploded in his eyes, was upended while on a speeding motorcycle, walked into the jaws of a giant whale, was burned and/or frozen, hypnotized and brainwashed, possessed by aliens, zapped by a lethal toy tank, tossed about by a wild gorilla, pounded into delirium by time-traveling androids – but still retained enough consciousness to right the ship before disaster, nearly suffocated as the ship’s air mixture was sabotaged… and in a bizarre but memorable moment – mutated into an upright walking amphibian!
THIS GUY COULD TAKE IT!!! …Though he did spend his share of time in Sick Bay!

So, farewell, Kowalski! We never knew your full name, but we knew what you were made of… the talents of Del Monroe, the actor that brought you to life!

(Hope he had a regular stunt double!)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Peter Potamus in “Stars on Mars”

As part of the recently released DVD set Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1, we were reintroduced to another unjustly obscure Hanna-Barbera cartoon – PETER POTAMUS.

Selected for the set was “Fe-Fi-Fo Fun” an H-B twist on “Jack and the Beanstalk”, with a particularly sarcastic version of Jack. Here’s another favorite of mine: “Stars on Mars”.

Apparently written by Warren Foster, Peter is cast as a “creature” for a movie and suffers the expected abuse while filming. Foster had previously gone to this well with both Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla – being cast as a “bear” and “gorilla” respectively, and having gunshots, boulder bashings, and the usual cartoon violence inflicted on them while filming.

The twist, here, is that Peter Potamus is drafted into “stardom” by a ROBOT DIRECTOR on an unknown planet – and cast as “The Beast From Planet Earth”!

The cartoon features lots of great backgrounds, and robot designs that would seem to be left over from THE JETSONS.

So, from the year 1964, let’s enjoy the great Daws Butler as Peter, Don Messick as his pal So-So, and H-B “utility voicer” John Stephenson as The Director in “Stars on Mars”.

After that, click on the full closing sequence for THE PETER POTAMUS SHOW! The DVD had only an abbreviated one!

“Stars on Mars”

Peter Potamus Full Closing Credits