Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happy 50th to The Flintstones!

Here at TIAH Blog, we commemorate Fifty Years of The Flintstones!

The first animated network prime time comedy – complete with laugh track!

The first 30-minute animated production. Not a short (or show made up of shorts). Not a feature. But something NEW to animation!

Would we have The Simpsons or Family Guy, without The Flintstones? Their respective creators acknowledge the debt often enough.



Pop culture references galore! Oddly, this series about prehistoric times, was a nice chronicle of the sixties!



If certain things I’ve read over the years are correct, the first television couple to sleep in the same bed!

The first animated pregnancy and birth!

And the first animated TV series to run six seasons – and 166 episodes.

Oddly, my favorite seasons of those six were the FIRST and FIFTH!

The first was pure raw, rough-edged fun.

The fifth nicely moved fantasy and adventure into the mix.

And, needless to say, I loved the comic books from Dell and Gold Key!

Don’t fret, Fred… just look toward the next fifty years!

Monday, September 27, 2010

DVD Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Dark Passage (1947)

(Released: 2005 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia


When is a Humphrey Bogart film NOT EXACTLY a “Humphrey Bogart film”?

Um… when he spends half the film “not as Humphrey Bogart”?

Dark Passage” might have been a very conventional film except for one unusual quirk.

Dark Passage” is the story of “Vincent Parry”, who was framed for killing his wife, and who has just escaped San Quentin. Vincent is befriended by “Irene Jansen” (Lauren Bacall), who aids in his flight and hiding. Irene knows more about the case than she initially lets on. Hey, ya gotta have SOME intrigue along with the romance.

All this sounds good, but conventional… but, ah… that “quirk”.

On the advice of an unexpectedly sympathetic cab driver (Tom D’Andrea), Vincent seeks the services of a shady plastic surgeon, who changes Vincent’s face from “what it looked like before” (seen plastered all over newspaper front pages screaming headlines about the “ESCAPED KILLER”) into the FAMILIAR FACE OF HUMPHREY BOGART!

The odd thing is that we don’t see Bogie’s full face until an astonishing 1:02:34 of the 1:46:07 film!
More than ONE FULL HOUR, and more than HALF THE FILM, goes by before we glimpse the bankable face of its star!


Oh, Bogie plays the entire film as “Vincent Parry”. But, until the big reveal, we see the character of Vincent only in long shot or in shadow! Or, for much of the time, we experience the film from Vincent’s Point-of-View, accompanied by Bogart’s first person narration. If, say, Vincent is speaking with Irene, we see Irene looking DIRECTLY AT US… just as Vincent would see her.

Then, there is a sizable segment of the film where, after undergoing the plastic surgery which would alter Vincent into the image of Humphrey Bogart, where Bogie would have his face wrapped in BANDAGES! Ultimately, we are left with about 43 ½ minutes of “face time” for Bogart – actually less, allowing for the scenes (from that point) in which he does not appear!

Beyond “The Missing Face Case”, and also notable for it’s sheer creepiness (…in a film where one might not expect “creepiness”) is the portrayal of the underground doctor (Housely Stevenson) and the sequence of great fear and hallucination when Vincent is under anesthesia for the surgery! Images swirl, taunt, cackle, and do various and sundry psyche-damaging things.

Some pretty gutsy moves on the part of director Delmer Daves to lift this routine crime drama above the ordinary.

Oh, and the legendary chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is on full display. No small feat, considering that Bogie was either “faceless” or “bandaged” more often than not! Bacall really picks it up here, to overcome any shortfall!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

The CONS:
If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that the Extra Features are not as plentiful as releases of the more famous Humphrey Bogart films. What there is, though, is very worthwhile! Other Bogart sets may simply have me spoiled.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Such features on other Bogart films have proved to be of great interest, and so the lack of one here is unfortunate. Bogart biographer Eric Lax is involved with the included documentary feature, and I wish he had provided one of his informative commentaries for “Dark Passage”, especially in view of the quirks of the film.

The PROS:

The Film:
The story is an average 1940s crime drama, with an “okay” ending – save for the flourishes and oddities described above that make it special. Print quality is fine for a film of its age.

The Cast:

Humphrey Bogart as “Vincent Parry”. (Prison escapee)

Lauren Bacall as “Irene Jansen”. (Romantic interest and tough cookie)

Clifton Young as “Baker”. (Young hood out to extort Vincent)

Bruce Bennett as Irene’s unfortunate suitor “Bob”. (Bennett was also the unfortunate interloper “Cody” in Bogart’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”)

Agnes Moorehead (“Bewitched”, “The Twilight Zone”) as “Madge” the miserable malcontent.

Tom D’Andrea as “Sam the Cabdriver”.

Houseley Stevenson as shady plastic surgeon “Walter Coley” – who makes the “over-the-top most” of a bit part!


Extra Features:

“Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers: The Story of Dark Passage” (Runs 10:30).

A “making of” documentary. Nice, but no substitute for a true commentary track. Participants include: Film historians: Leonard Maltin and Robert Osborne, and Bogart biographer Eric Lax. Among the notable beats beyond the casting and story are Bogart before the HUAC and Jack Warner’s understandable displeasure at the unprecedented lack of screen time for Bogie’s face!

Theatrical Trailer for “Dark Passage”
Interesting trailer, oddly notable for the LACK of participation by “The Voice of Warner Bros.” Robert C. Bruce, who seemed to be a WB trailer mainstay.

Instead, as if in homage to the film’s other quirks, this trailer is hosted by a theatre usher who looks like a 1940s version of FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane! (Really, he does! Check it out! – Or, maybe I’m just seeing things after unexpected MacFarlane cameos in both STAR TREK ENTERPRISE and FLASH FORWARD! You decide!)


“Slick Hare”: A (1946) Bugs Bunny cartoon directed by I. (“Friz”) Freleng and written by Tedd Pierce and Michael Maltese. This classic short features Elmer Fudd as a waiter in a high-priced Hollywood restaurant, where Humphrey Bogart (in his best tough-guy mode) orders Rabbit. Will Bugs Bunny be on Bogie and Bacall’s “Bill of Hare”?

There are certain people (You KNOW who you are!) whom I will never convince that these cartoons were originally made, not for children, but for the adult movie-going audience. Perhaps they were juvenile in their approach very early on (1930s) – and maybe more so toward the very end of their run in the mid-to-late 1960s. But, there is no doubt that the product of this “middle period” was created expressly as adult entertainment. Consider this cartoon’s inclusion in the “Dark Passage” set as evidence.

Beyond that, just check the “guest list of animated cameos”: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Ray Milland, Sydney Greenstreet, Carmen Miranda, the young and skinny version of Frank Sinatra, Leopold Stokowski, the Marx Brothers, and many more I simply cannot recognize.

Overall:
When one considers the all the films of Humphrey Bogart, “Dark Passage” may not be a great film – but it IS a GOOD film (…lifted considerably by fine performances and unusual filmmaking choices and techniques), with equally good DVD Extra Features to back it up. It is recommended for Humphrey Bogart Fans – particularly fans of the “Bogie and Bacall paring”, and enthusiasts of the period, and its particular brand of crime story.


Monday, September 20, 2010

DVD Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954)

(Released: 2004 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

When the batteries are running dry, take a hit play and shoot it.”

With his typical understatement, director Alfred Hitchcock describes his efforts on another masterpiece, “Dial M for Murder”, adapted from a famous stage play by author Fredrick Knott.

In it, husband Ray Milland plots the murder of wife Grace Kelly – who is having an affair with American mystery writer Robert Cummings.

Milland meticulously plans his crime to the finest detail, only to find that the best laid plans of mice and Millands often go astray. No more, lest we venture into “Spoiler Territory”.

Despite the “star power” of its leads, the film is stolen by John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard, who cracks the case almost in the manner of a “British Columbo”. Williams, who made a career of playing “stuffy old Englishmen”, was something of a regular on the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS television program – appearing in 10 episodes of the show!

In an ironic casting twist, Williams went from trapping a “wife murderer”, to planning such a murder himself in the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode “The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater” (1957). There, it is WILLIAMS’ character who works out every deadly detail and somewhat ineptly attempts to carry out his scheme – with the assistance and urging of an attractive “island girl” who is the product of his daydreams.

Given the involvement of John Williams, and the fact that it was produced a scant three years after “Dial M for Murder”, I would strongly suspect that “The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater” was in some way inspired by the film.

Another television production of note was the FLINTSTONES episode “Alvin Brickrock Presents” (1961). This episode parodied Hitchcock himself, and revolved around the possible murder of the Hitchcock-character’s overbearing wife. Needless to say, Fred Flintstone was no “Chief Inspector Hubbard”.


As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

The CONS:

If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that the Extra Features are adequate, but not plentiful, given this is a famous film by a legendary director.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Surely, there are film historians and Hitchcock scholars capable of providing such a track.

The PROS:

The Film: Story, cast, and direction are all first rate. Print quality is just fine for a film of its age.

Menu Navigation: Menus are attractive and easy to navigate, with the “added fun” of depicting the “cursor”, used to select the various options, as a PAIR OF SCISSORS! Those familiar with the film cannot help but smile at this little touch.

Extra Features:

“Hitchcock and Dial M” (Runs 21:33).

A “making of” documentary, that nicely covers the film, given the lack of a true commentary track. Participants include: Peter Bogdonovich, M. Night Shyamalan, Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred’s daughter), Robert Osborne, Nat Benchley, Richard Franklin, and Richard Schickel. Oddly, it is the relative “youngster” Shyamalan who makes the most interesting and enthusiastic comments of the group.

“3D: A Brief History” (Runs 7:06).

To compete with the emerging medium of television, the makers and distributors of theatrical features offered color, widescreen/Cinemascope… and for a brief time in the mid-fifties “Three Dimensional Films”.

Unbeknownst to me until viewing this feature, “Dial M for Murder” WAS released as a 3D film!

Watching the film WITH this knowledge, it becomes very clear. “Dial M for Murder” is shot in an unusual way (…which I merely attributed to the directorial quirks of “Hitchcock being Hitchcock”), where certain objects and characters exist in the EXTREME FOREGROUND, in comparison with the rest of the frame.

This technique is particularly apparent in the “attempted murder of Grace Kelly” scene. Both Kelly’s arm and the aforementioned “pair of scissors” are intentionally “thrown back” toward the audience to maximize the effect. Again, I thought this was just the director’s flair. It must have been great fun to see that way!

At the 54:05 point of the film’s length of 1:45:16, there occurs an INTERMISSION – punctuated with the on-screen image of a TITLE CARD simply saying “Intermission”.

I naturally thought that this was in keeping with “Dial M for Murder’s” origins as a STAGE PLAY. In fact, it was because the 3D effect required TWO PROJECTORS, playing two slightly different synched versions of the film – and that both projectors needed to be RELOADED at that point. (Commonly, half a film would play on one projector and the other half would play on a second projector – but this process required both projectors to be “in service” at the same time!)

The 3D fad as a whole, its specific application to “Dial M for Murder”, and the public’s boredom with, and abandonment of, the craze and its requisite 3D Glasses are examined all in the space of a scant seven-plus minutes.

Participants in this feature include: Film historian: Robert Osborne, and Filmmakers: Joe Alves (Director of “JAWS 3D”), Peter Bogdonovich, and Richard Franklin (Director of “Psycho II”).

Theatrical Trailer for “Dial M for Murder”

Golden Age Hollywood Movie Trailers were a unique art form all their own, and Warner Bros. made some of the best! One reason why was the melodramatic “Voice of Warner BrosRobert C. Bruce. Bruce carries some – but not all – of the load here.

Overall:

This is a great film with a good selection of Extra Features. It is recommended for Hitchcock, murder, and suspense fans, and enthusiasts of the mid-fifties period.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DVD Review : Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl

Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl

(Released August 10, 2010 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Sometimes, WHV makes my job easy… especially when they release a DVD collection that exactly mirrors another DVD collection, save for subject.

Such is the case with Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl. Having previously reviewed “Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire” HERE, all I need do is change a few words, names, and episode titles. …Neat, eh?

Once upon a time, animation enthusiasts had a “Fairy Godmother” in the form of Warner Home Video. Once each fall, our “Fairy Godmother” would wave her magic wand and a wondrous package called “The Looney Tunes Golden Collection” would magically appear at the retail store or online provider of our choice!

For six glorious years (2003-2008), we were graced with FOUR FULL DISCS of classic animated shorts and extras galore.


Commentary tracks by animation figures and historians, isolated music scores, featurettes highlighting specific characters or other aspects of Looney Tunes lore, “lost” bits from the fabled Warner Vault (…or would that be the iconic WB Water Tower?) remnants of the legendary “Bugs Bunny Show” (ABC 1960) – a “Holy Grail” for the “first generation” of TV animation fans. …At one point, there were even LIMITED EDITION MINI-LITHOS included with the package!

Lo, this was truly the finest DVD package, animation had to offer!

And our Fairy Godmother, by the name of Warner Home Video, did not stop there. By similar magic would appear Hanna-Barbera series packages, extensive (though not quite complete) Tom and Jerry packages, and thrice did she dare to venture OUTSIDE her own realm to offer all of the Black and White Max Fleischer / Paramount Popeye theatrical cartoons. We loved our Fairy Godmother – and, apparently, she loved us too!

Then, we must have “told a lie”, “eaten a forbidden apple”, or pissed her off with our whiney Internet comments, because… IT ALL STOPPED… or was severely curtailed.
Despite our pleas, our Fairy Godmother did not return… or maybe she morphed into a cheap, clueless bean counter. After 2008, the Looney Tunes Golden Collections ended. Popeye has seemingly ended. And Hanna-Barbera series were limited to being lumped into “Saturday Morning Cartoons” collections or packages decidedly inferior to previous releases. To be fair, “Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection” (2009) was a true highlight – and a harkening back to the Glory Days – but that was more of an anomaly.

Repackaging of Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry (Still incomplete!) became the order of the day. No amount of wishing upon stars could reverse WHV’s falling from “first” to “worst”. …Nice fairy tale motif to tell the same sad story as in the Bugs review, huh?

This leads us to “Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl”.
It is an odd “middle ground” into which this release falls, as we shall see in this review.


As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


The CONS:
Main Menu Background Music: Main Menu background music is not too loud (a frequent complaint of mine with Warner sets), but is an odd and inappropriate modern recreation of a Vaudeville style tune. This comes across as unnecessarily jarring. The corresponding Bugs Bunny set made use of the ACTUAL Main Looney Tunes Theme with the title sub-theme for the Bugs short “Hare We Go”. Why wasn’t something similar done here?

The Number of Shorts vs. the Price: Fifteen cartoons may seem like a lot, until you consider that (at the rate of three shorts per a theoretical half-hour show), you are only getting the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS! That’s not very much for an MSRP of 19.98.

The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! This is mitigated by the extraordinary amount of such features on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections. But, still for the price, something could have been attempted. At the very least, a few short commentary tracks, as were done in the past.

Robo-Promos: “Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. They are unavoidably inflicted upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”, prompting me to add this new category to my CONS list. This was particularly annoying, given the small amount of actual program content that comprised the set, even though you can “zip” through them if you wish. At least there are only two of them here. Other Warner sets have had up to FOUR!


Too Many Warnings: Like Disney, Warner has lawyered itself to excess. A more recent result of this is that, when the program content ends, there are ELEVEN (I’ll repeat it for effect: ELEVEN!) warnings against copyright violations and the like – and in more languages than anyone purchasing this DVD would be likely to comprehend!!! I can certainly understand ENGLISH, SPANISH, and even FRENCH, but this expansive journey into multi-lingual legalese includes various Asian and Arabic languages! WHY? This excessive exhibition kicks in the moment the final cartoon ends and runs for 2:10 (…or about ONE THIRD the running time of some of the later cartoons!). Thankfully, you are able to skip through these, if you wish. …And you WILL wish!

The PROS:No Double-Dipping: Considering that there have been SIX Looney Tunes Golden Collections – some of which containing nearly as many Daffy Duck cartoons as are found on this set – WHV is to be commended for releasing 15 (count ‘em fifteen!) Daffy Duck cartoons that have NOT YET been released to DVD! It could have been so easy to have simply done otherwise.

The Talent: Some of the very best talents in the history of theatrical animation are featured in this collection, even if some of their later efforts included here are not fully representative of them at their best.

Directors: I. (Friz) Freleng, Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin (who I believe did the BEST Daffy Duck of the 1940s!) and the severely underrated Robert McKimson.

Writers: Warren Foster, Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce – and the also-underrated John Dunn (…who stepped into the breach when Foster and Maltese moved-on to Hanna-Barbera) and Dave Detiege.

Music is by “Classic Carl Stalling”, Milt Franklyn, and the also-also-underrated William Lava – who had the sheer misfortune to follow Stalling and Franklyn.

And, of course, “Voice Characterizations” are by the great Mel Blanc – with additional roles by Arthur Q. Bryan (as Elmer Fudd), Daws Butler, June Foray, and Robert C. Bruce. Read about another of Bruce’s performances for Warner Bros. in THIS REVIEW.
Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. The Main Menu image of Daffy is attractive (though somewhat exaggerated), with a nice WB Water Tower background image, similar to the outer packaging pictured above.


Image Quality: I don’t really know how to rate this category. I begrudgingly regard it as a “PRO”, but this is how I see it…

It would seem that, starting with the sixth cartoon of the set, 1954’s “Design for Leaving”, they appear to have been remastered in some sort of WIDESCREEN effect!

Unlike MGM and Disney (and even later Columbia Three Stooges shorts), I was not aware that any of the Warner Bros. animated shorts were released to theatres in widescreen but, apparently, this would seem to be the case.

If true, however, I wonder why WHV waited until THIS series of releases to start getting “historically accurate”. (The same situation prevails with the concurrent BUGS BUNNY collection!)
After all, there were six previous Golden Collections – and Warner DID release the MGM TOM AND JERRY and DROOPY shorts in widescreen, when they were originally produced that way. So, if this was the case, why didn’t the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies get the same treatment in other DVD releases?

Adding to my initial belief that WHV has indulged in some video trickery, is the fact that the TOP AND BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN IMAGE look to be cut off – or, are far too close to the frame than I recall from nearly a lifetime of viewing these cartoons. Such is not the case with the widescreen DVD releases of DONALD DUCK, TOM AND JERRY, and DROOPY cartoons of the later 1950s that WERE produced for widescreen Cinemascope viewing.

In these cartoons, credits might appear at the VERY TOP (or bottom) of the screen and, if (say) a tall character was wearing a HAT, said hat is cut off at the top of the screen. You can’t help but notice this.

Now, having recently gotten a widescreen HD TV, I must confess that I LIKE the widescreen effect, especially when compared to the standard (full-screen?) image of the first five shorts of the collection.

But, something is still awry when viewing them this way.

Thad Komorowski discusses and illustrates this better than I ever could HERE.


And, the ultimate “PRO” for “Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl”…

The Shorts:

Notice that, true to character, Daffy tries to grab a greater share of the limelight even here. Some of these shorts are not actual “Daffy Duck cartoons” – but, instead, fall under the “Bugs Bunny” banner. These will be noted as such.

Tick Tock Tuckered” (Clampett, 1944): Habitually late for their jobs at a WWII era defense plant, Porky Pig and his roommate Daffy Duck adopt an “Early-to-Bed” policy and resolve to get a good night’s sleep. Everything, from noisy cats, to rainstorms, to the Moon itself, conspires against the pair in this hilarious outing.


Nasty Quacks” (Tashlin, 1945): No Director or “Supervisor” was credited on this one. A grumpy, middle-aged single father made the mistake of giving his darling spoiled daughter a loud and obnoxious little black duck as a pet. Dad spends the cartoon trying to rid himself of the pest. It ends badly – for Dad! I’d say, this is the best cartoon in the collection.


Daffy Dilly” (Jones, 1948): Daffy tries cash in on a large reward for making a dying tycoon laugh. But first, he must get past the tycoon’s butler, who is determined to keep him out. One can’t help but wonder that, if the butler is denying entrance to Daffy (and, presumably, others that are there to administer life-saving laughter), is he actually out to kill the tycoon? Ahhh, let’s not think so hard. A rare later WB cartoon with a no-humans, all-animal cast.


Wise Quackers” (Freleng, 1949): Rather than be shot by hunter Elmer Fudd, Daffy offers himself up to Fudd as a SLAVE! Some very funny gags, despite the unfortunate implications (some very overt) of slavery. WHV is to be commended for including this one.


The Prize Pest” (McKimson, 1951): Porky wins Daffy as a prize. Daffy scares Porky with a pair of false teeth and his “Jekyll and Hyde Routine.” Yep, that’s all there is. Not bad, considering its limited premise.


Design for Leaving” (McKimson, 1954): The quintessential McKimson “Daffy as Fast-Talking Huckster”. While Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng excelled in the greedy and “resentful-of-Bugs” Daffy, McKimson made this version of the character his own. While Porky Pig was the usual victim, this time it’s Elmer Fudd who gets the business in the form of having his home remade into the “Push Button House of Tomorrow”. Lots of great gags, culminating in the classic… “DON’T EVER PUSH THE WED [red] ONE!”


Stork Naked” (Freleng, 1955): With TWO appearances in the concurrent Bugs Bunny set, we get the STORK again here. Busy bird, that Stork. This time, he starts out sober and gets more and more soused with each delivery – and its requisite celebration. Observe that the Stork starts out speaking in Mel Blanc’s ACTUAL VOICE, and then lapses into the expected slurring voice as the cartoon – and his rate of inebriation – progresses. Daffy and Daphne Duck are the last stop on the route – and Daffy will do ANYTHING to prevent the delivery of another bundle of joy.


This is a Life?” (Freleng, 1955): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. And this REALLY IS a Bugs Bunny cartoon in every sense, with Daffy relegated to the role of jealous bystander. Host Elmer Fudd “surprises” Bugs on a parody of the old “This is Your Life” TV show. Audience member Daffy does little more than grumble that HE should have been the honoree. When his spouting becomes intolerable, Granny (also in the audience) whacks him with her umbrella. Past incidents with both Elmer and Yosemite Sam (courtesy of stock footage clips) remind the pair just how much they despise the Rabbit – and they give him a packaged BOMB as a going-away gift.

At the cartoon’s end, Daffy finally stops has passive complaining and takes the “gift”, which he feels should have been his all along… and BOOM! I suppose that five decades after its production, Daffy can finally claim this as a “victory”, as it turns up on “his collection”, though he contributed so little to it.


Dime to Retire” (McKimson, 1954): A wonderfully absurdist entry where Porky Pig takes advantage of the “Ten-Cent Room” offer at Daffy’s motel. Once the Pig is settled, Daffy looses a MOUSE into the room, and charges $5 for a tough cat to rid Porky of the mouse. (Can you see where this is going?) With escalating charges, we then get a DOG to get chase away the cat, a LION to run off the dog, and ELEPHANT to squeeze the lion out of the room… and finally back to a MOUSE to scare away the elephant. Once again, we have the McKimson fast-talking, shifty Duck at his best. Story is by Sid Marcus, who should have written much more for WB.


Ducking the Devil” (McKimson, 1957): The Tazmanian Devil has escaped from the zoo, and a huge cash reward is offered for his capture. Daffy (“I may be a COWARD, but I’m a GREEEEDY coward!”) aims to collect. A very different dynamic exists between Duck and Devil – where Daffy is not nearly as “in-charge” of the situation as Bugs usually is. This cartoon appears to have sparked a regular running feature of the DAFFY DUCK COMIC BOOK in 1963-1964, which had Taz after Daffy.

Thanks to DVD clarity and freeze-frame, we can see the REST of the newspaper from which Daffy reads about the reward for Taz. What looks like actual articles are present, referencing such historical figures as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ralph Bunche, Dag Hammarskjold, and Gamal Abdul Nasser.


People are Bunny” (McKimson, 1959): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. Daffy tries to collect the reward for the “first rabbit” turned in to a television hunting program. Along the way, Bugs and Daffy both have side-adventures with TV prize giveaway shows. Bugs gets a cash prize, while Daffy gets whacked with an umbrella (again) and run over by a speeding motorcycle. Daws Butler plays a good parody of Art Linkletter. After more TV studio misadventures, Bugs somehow talks Daffy into a bunny-suit and gets the reward, as Daffy gets a beakful of buckshot.


Person to Bunny” (Freleng, 1959): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. Written by Michael Maltese. “Cedric R. Burrowes” interviews Bugs Bunny for his TV program. Oddly, they never actually do a parody title of “Person to Person” except for the cartoon’s title. Daffy and Elmer Fudd arrive to cause distractions. We get such standards as Daffy being conned into wearing a bunny-suit (again!) to be shot by Elmer, and Elmer repeatedly running into and out of a hollow log – out over a cliff. Daffy dances with recycled footage from the classic “Show-Biz Bugs” – and ends the cartoon with a “Ralph Kramden-esque” case of stage fright.


Daffy’s Inn Trouble” (McKimson, 1961): Daffy and Porky as competing Western innkeepers. Daffy’s schemes to ruin Porky (Are you ready for this?) continually backfire on him. Far from a classic, but another one that’s not so bad, considering its limitations.


The Iceman Ducketh” (Phil Monroe, 1963): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. After the great Chuck Jones / Michael Maltese “Duck Season/Rabbit Season” trilogy, it is very strange indeed to see DAFFY HUNT BUGS with a gun, but that’s exactly what happens here, in a somewhat attractively designed winter setting – with a long-forgotten ‘60s television commercial reference thrown in to boot. This has a running time of 6:16 down from the Golden Age of “Seven Minutes-Plus” running times. …Add your own comment here.


Suppressed Duck” (McKimson, 1965): In this final entry of the collection Daffy is once again HUNTING – which is probably some indication of just how badly the character lost its way. That said, this is an unexpectedly good (for the time) cartoon that pits hunter Daffy against a large, cowardly – but wily – bear. Much of the humor stems from the fact that the hunt is SEVERELY REGULATED by the rangers in charge. If nothing else, it strongly resembles (at least in PLOT, if not execution) a “Donald Duck vs. Humphrey Bear” cartoon. Daffy would endure MUCH WORSE than this during the period, so enjoy it for what it is.

Hey, the collection ended without a single “Daffy/Speedy” entry! …Thank you!

Overall:Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl” is a mixed bag, with more to like than to “run away from”. Though far fewer in number than in the corresponding Bugs Bunny collection, the later cartoons simply do not approach the older ones in overall quality – but this should not be news to anyone familiar with Looney Tunes. By this time, the gags are tired, the pacing is slow, and the scripts are too talky – which is an odd thing to say, when Mel Blanc is doing the talking, but the difference is all too apparent.

Still, there is something to like about all of them. And, as noted earlier, it is a definite PLUS that Warner chose to include these, rather than re-package the already-released and better-known classics. Indeed, I hope to see MORE of these on future volumes. Yes, even the “Daffy vs. Speedys”. …Can’t be complete without ‘em!

Indeed, this is a nice retrospective of the “career” of Daffy Duck… from loud and obnoxious loutishness, to fast-talking hucksterism, to cowardly resentfulness, to whatever it was he ended up as. Hunter? Mexican mouse catcher? Vague, all purpose foil? Can anyone pin down his character at this odd final stage?
The “widescreen matter” is open to debate. Overall, I like it… despite any shortcomings.

The issue of “number of cartoons vs. list price” will also vary by viewer, as discounted prices can be found by anyone with a search engine.

Strictly speaking for myself, I find the complete and total absence of “Extras” to be the greatest negative – especially as WHV has already and routinely shown us just how WELL they can be done.

So, get this set for the nonce… and just hope that our Fairy Godmother returns someday.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comics Review: POPEYE THE SAILOR # 71 (1964)


To (Ahem!) “Kick-Off” the 2010 NFL Football Season, here’s something I wrote at the start of the 1997 NFL Season for my APA and Fanzine column THE ISSUE AT HAND.

Oh, and because this entry originated in 1997, please excuse the references to football stars of the 1990s, instead of current players. Please feel free to substitute the names of Darrelle Revis, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Adrian Peterson in the proper spots, if you wish.

I’m also guessing no one will mind SPOILERS to a 46-year old Popeye story. If so, don’t go back to the last post, where I also spoil a Green Lantern story.

The Issue at Hand is: POPEYE THE SAILOR # 71 (February, 1964) Published by Gold Key Comics.

"No Ball Playing!" or "Keep Your Ball Off My Island!" Story, art, and lettering by Bud Sagendorf.

Popeye the Sailor, unfortunately, has something of an image problem. Due to a long-running and often uninspired series of dreadfully repetitive theatrical cartoons produced by Famous Paramount studios (Post Max Fleischer whose cartoons were great! Just check them out on DVD!), most folks know Popeye for nothing more than interminable variations on the Popeye/Olive Oyl/Bluto love triangle - played out amidst every setting imaginable.

However, those who followed the Sailor Man through his newspaper strip and decades-long run of comic books know Popeye's adventures to be delightfully varied, satirical, and very often absurdist!

Unlike the more conventionally grounded Disney character comics by such talents as Carl Barks, Paul Murry, Don Rosa, and William Van Horn, Bud Sagendorf's Popeye frequently threw all logic "overboard" for the sake of a good romp. Our story, here, is no exception.

Popeye is summoned to the island kingdom of Spinachovia by his pal King Blozo, the island's reigning monarch. Blozo is besieged by his subjects for having made what seemed like a wise business deal... two football teams offered to increase Blozo's royal coffers by ten thousand dollars if he would agree to have his kingdom serve as host for a championship football game.


What Blozo failed to realize before pocketing the loot was that the two competing squads just happened to be teams of giants! I presume that the "royal fact-checker" was on vacation that month!

In this brief set-up is revealed the absurd charm of Sagendorf’s work. Nowhere is it mentioned where these giants might have come from, or where their previous contests may have been held, or any other such background detail to weigh the story down. As quickly as FOX commentator John Madden can say "BOOM!", here we are faced with a championship football game played by giants!

The preceding week's practice for this game, which no "Bowl" is quite "Super" enough to contain, has taken its toll in damage on the subject farmers of Spinachovia, who hold Blozo responsible for the ruin.

Popeye is appointed game referee by Blozo, because it is felt that only he can keep two rambunctious squads of "really, really big guys" in bounds and out of trouble. And, with a blow of the Sailor Man's whistle, the title game between the Leviathans and the Colossus begins!

Despite his best efforts to keep this biggest of "big games" under control, Popeye has his hands full calling more penalties than you'd find in a 1996 New York Jets game! The combatants are called for such outlandish infractions as stepping on the referee ( Don't worry, he can take it... he's Popeye! ), using a chicken coop as a kicking tee, and directing an end run through a peach orchard! Throwing his sailor hat down like a yellow flag, Popeye penalizes a defender "...fifteen yards fer roughin' a farmhouse!"

Regulation time runs out with the game in a tie. The titanic teams decide to play "Sudden Death", but the farmers of Spinachovia have had enough - lest that "sudden death come to THEM! They demand that Blozo stop the game or they'll dissolve the monarchy and elect a president! Popeye has no choice but to declare the game over as a tie.

This does not sit well with the giants, who continue play despite the ruling and summon a colossal punter to boot referee Popeye over a nearby mountain range! Whipping out his trusty can of spinach, our hero declares: "That does it! I yam the referee, an' I says this game is over!"

If this were animation, one could, at this point, almost see Popeye morph into the form of Reggie White, Bruce Smith, or Laurence Taylor as he streaks back across the field, tackles the giant ball carrier, and strips him of the ball! He runs off, with both teams in hot pursuit!

Cornered and trapped, Popeye tosses the ball to Blozo who takes off on an epic run more reminiscent of Barry Sanders than a bearded aging monarch! Unfortunately, Blozo makes for what he believes is the safety of his castle - which is destroyed as both teams pile atop it in quest of the football!

Much later, amid the rubble, Blozo comes to - and is informed by Popeye that his "royal rush" took him across the eastern goal line, winning the game for the Leviathans. So grateful were they that, before departing, informed Popeye of their intent to "...play all their games here next season!". Blozo indulges himself in a classic comic strip faint
(Plop!) as we fade out!

Ah, if only a fraction of Popeye's cartoons were as much fun as this story, which (for all we know) could have originated by something as simple as a friend asking Bud Sagendorf : "Hey, what time is the Giants game on?!". Alas, they could have been with someone as imaginative as Sagendorf at the helm.

Sagendorf, who wrote and drew the Popeye comic books from the 1940s through 1967 and did the same for the Popeye newspaper strip for even longer is sometimes overlooked in the rush to heap praise on Popeye's creator E.C. Segar. Both were master cartoonists well worthy of a place in comics history.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comics Review: GREEN LANTERN # 37 (Third Series: 1993)


To (Ahem!) “Kick-Off” the 2010 NFL Football Season, here’s something I wrote at the start of the 1997 NFL Season for my APA and Fanzine column THE ISSUE AT HAND.

I’m guessing no one will mind SPOILERS to a 17-year old Green Lantern story. If so, please come back next time, when I might just spoil a Popeye story.

The Issue at Hand is: GREEN LANTERN # 37 (March, 1993) Published by DC Comics.

"The Final Game" Story by: Gerard Jones. Pencils by: Mark Badger. Inks by: Romeo Tanghal.

If ever there were a superhero with an “identity crisis” it would be Green Lantern. Not merely unique to comics but, perhaps, in all of fantasy! You see, in GL's line of work
(where one is literally defined by one's costumed alter-ego) there is only one Superman, there is only one Batman – but, across space, there are 3600 Green Lanterns!

Members all of the Green Lantern Corps, a vast galactic peacekeeping organization - with each one responsible for ensuring order and safety to a sector of space. Indeed, our featured Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, is not even unique within the corps as an "Earthman"!

His predecessor, Alan Scott, his successor Kyle Rayner, and alternate Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and John Stewart have all defended our own "Sector 2814" with dignity. Throw in Charlie Vickers, an Earthman who safeguarded a different space sector, and you have a total of six - not to mention an incredible array of alien GLs to boot! Why, even “real life” New York Jets player Wayne Chrebet was nicknamed “Green Lantern”!

Indeed, your Green Lantern of choice is probably directly related to when you began reading comics. Though I doubt Charlie Vickers and Wayne Chrebet would get many votes in any case.

Each Green Lantern is essentially an above average, yet decidedly "mortal", member of his or her respective species, with no inherent extra-normal or "super" abilities to speak of. But, each is issued a device in the form of a "ring", which taps into the pure green energy of the planet Oa, homeworld of the Green Lantern Corps.

A Green Lantern's power ring can transport its wearer to any point in the galaxies ( at both sub-light or warp ), ensure protection from mortal injury, and produce solid manifestations of the green energy in any form the wearer can imagine. This last option can provide the GL the protection of anything he or she can envision; from a "big green boxing glove" to a "big green Tyrannosaurus Rex".

A recurring problem within the Green Lantern mythos, concerns Guy Gardner. Originally, Guy was "second choice" to Jordan - and was later passed over in favor of John Stewart, after sustaining severe physical injuries. Guy Gardner clearly resented the fact that he never "got his due". He was activated at last by the founders of the GL Corps, the powerful aliens known as the Guardians of the Universe, when the cosmos faced its ultimate crisis in 1985 (!) [ C'mon, the world almost ceased to exist - you gotta remember it! ] Gardner has been an off-and-on Green Lantern ever since, and openly resentful of Hal Jordan.

Enough background! It's game day! Not just any game, but the Super Bowl - though, oddly enough, referred to throughout this story as simply The 'Bowl! Reading this made me pause and wonder, if the term "Super Bowl " may not have been copyrighted or otherwise restricted from general commercial use.

Funny, over the years, DC Comics has copyrighted such proprietary terms as Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Superwoman, and even Super Dog ( Everyone remember Krypto?), Super Cat ( AKA Streaky ), Super Horse and Super Monkey ( Comet and Beppo, respectively ). Yet, is DC somehow barred from the use of "Super Bowl"? If so, then what does Clark Kent use? ...Uh, to eat salad, I mean!

As a publicity gimmick, this year's 'Bowl ( "Super" or otherwise ) decided to provide free tickets to super heroes in thanks for their many deeds of derring-do, and Hal Jordan was only too happy to oblige... until he found himself seated next to none other than Guy Gardner! In the long history of the corps, has a Green Lantern ever been on record as having said "D'OH!"?

Conjuring up images of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Jordan laments: "Of all the free seats in all the stadiums in the world, why did you have to get the one next to me?!"

Methinks Hal is leaning a tad toward the melodramatic. Sure, Guy Gardner can be ornery and obnoxious, but there can be much worse. It's not as if he's seated next to Second Hand Smoke Man ...or Belch Boy! And don't get me started on the "joys" of sharing a luxury box with the likes of The Fart Fiend! Fortunately for Hal (and us) the latter three opted to be "no-shows"!

Anyway, for the lowdown on the big game, let's quote the story's "One Panel Cameo John Madden Caricature":

"The Bay City Gold Miners [ READ: San Francisco 49ers ], the world's most popular team, are going for an unprecedented fifth championship! And the Mudville Maroons [ READ: the Cleveland Browns ] are looking to spoil the party in their first ever 'Bowl! Boom! That's excitement!" ...And, yes, the "John Madden" character really says "Boom!".

And "excitement" it is... not just for Jordan, Gardner, and the many millions worldwide plugged into the game - but an "excitement" which transcends dimensions! A palpable swelling of emotion of such magnitude it awakens an otherworldly demon whom Guy Gardner had imprisoned in some dimensional limbo years earlier. Using this newfound power of "psychic agitation", the demon, Sapolu, plans to break free of his mystical bonds and exact revenge on Gardner. In the "super hero game", these things just have a way of coming back to haunt you, I guess!

Using the power already flowing through the conduit of The 'Bowl, Sapolu sends two of his acolytes through to our world to subtly "influence" the play of the game so that the Maroons lead 13 - 7 in the closing seconds. It is Sapolu's plan to have the Gold Miners score the winning touchdown in those final moments, thus giving them the record fifth championship - and "engineering" one of the greatest 'Bowls of all time! The concentration of raw emotion at such a dramatic last second victory would free Sapolu and loose him upon the Earth!

Sensing a "familiar" sensation of psychic energy, Guy Gardner uses his ring to "see through" the deception of Sapolu's acolytes. Hal Jordan is understandably skeptical of Gardner's insistence that they prevent the Gold Miners' predestined victory (...after all, Guy IS a noted Maroons fan! ), until Gardner is laid low by one of the acolytes.

As the winning touchdown pass is aired, Hal agonizes over whether to interfere. The 'Miners are HIS team - and just because you're a super hero doesn't mean you can't maintain a healthy rooting interest! He acts by aiming a power beam at the arcing ball, but the beam is deflected by an acolyte in a referee's outfit!

The catch is made! The stadium, the country, and the world go wild! Hal goes through a quick period of denial: "Maybe it won't happen... Maybe it's just another one of Guy's crazy ideas!". As blasts of energy split apart the very ground, Hal weakly declares: "...Or maybe not!".

Sapolu is free! "Free to wreak vengeance on the vile Green Lantern - and to slaughter his entire dimension!" “ENTIRE DIMENSION?!” Now wait a minute here... I had nothing to do with it! I just write a fanzine column!

The great fear and emotional chaos caused by the sudden appearance of this hideous demon feed him all the more. The Green Lanterns move swiftly into action. Getting even more into the spirit of things than those guys who paint team colors and logos on their bare chests, Gardner's ring helps transform him into a "supernatural linebacker", who throws Sapolu for a loss beyond the stadium walls and away from the frightened and agitated crowd.

Hal, deducing that "...the game generated the power for him to be free, and the TV coverage of this super hero fight keeps him going!", decides to "...give the global audience the opposite of excitement!"

Blacking-out the game more effectively than any NFL Commissioner's ruling, Hal's ring substitutes repeats of "Leave it to Skeeter" over all broadcast channels! ...Funny, you'd think that (at least at first) THIS would raise the emotion quotient even higher than the infamous "Heidi Game" of over three decades ago. Perhaps Hal's ring sent out some "calming rays" as a supplement to "Skeeter"!

Weakened by Gardner's blows and their own waning psychic force, the demons turn forked tail and retreat to their realm! Hal lords the 'Miners' victory over Guy until a man from the League office delivers the final "kicker" that, since Bay City's POINT AFTER was never kicked, the game was declared to have ended in a tie!

If ever Warner Bros. decides to give us a GREEN LANTERN ANIMATED SERIES, this would be a great story to adapt!

More football comics fun to come…