Thursday, March 28, 2013

Comic Book Review: DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard”.




We don’t do nearly enough of these, and I hope to remedy that in the future.   So, please forgive a few amateurish comic page scans to come, and let’s return to our classic title header and say: 

THE ISSUE AT HAND IS:  DELL FOUR COLOR # 410Porky Pig in The Water Wizard”.  (Cover Date: July-August, 1952). 

The best known and most fondly remembered period for the line of comic books known as DELL FOUR COLOR Second Series (1942-1962) was an approximate ten-year span, ending somewhere in the latter part of 1952, which gave us some of the very best issues of DONALD DUCK (to be sure!), MICKEY MOUSE, BUGS BUNNY, PORKY PIG, WOODY WOODPECKER, and the first three issues of UNCLE SCROOGE.  At the time of DELL FOUR COLOR # 410, this historically great period was about to come to an end. 
You don't need to be a MOUSE, to have your own PHANTOM!

Preceding it was a run of independently numbered First Series of FOUR COLOR issues (1939-1942) that included the first comic book printing of “Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot” (FC # 16 First Series), which not only gave the Floyd Gottfredson daily newspaper serial the title it carries to this day, but even christened the dark-cloaked villain formerly referred to as merely “The Blot”, as “The Phantom Blot”. 
FOUR COLOR # 16 (First Series)
FOUR COLOR # 16 (Second Series)

The Dell Four Color Series would continue on through the remainder of the original “Dell Comics” run in 1962 and, of not inconsiderable note, would give us the earliest Hanna-Barbera comic titles such as RUFF AND REDDY, HUCKLEBERRY HOUND, QUICK DRAW McGRAW, and YOGI BEAR.  The run would conclude, with the introduction of Western Publishing’s new line called “Gold Key Comics”. 

From the end of the prime period of the Dell Four Color run in 1952, new ongoing eponymous, independently numbered titles for Dell’s mainstay characters like DONALD DUCK, BUGS BUNNY, etc. would emerge, with most of them running through the Gold Key and later Whitman years. 
Who's eponymous, Doc? 

DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard” was even more of a transitional issue from that prime period than it appears, because its indicia indicates a BI-MONTHLY frequency and a cover date (characteristic of the later titled and numbered series) but retains its numbering as part of the DELL FOUR COLOR series.  It was also the Next-To-Last PORKY PIG FOUR COLOR issue, before the numbered series would commence with Number 25 (Cover Dated: November-December, 1952). 

As with some of the cartoons in THIS DVD COLLECTION, Porky Pig has made the character conversion to “fifties suburban homeowner” in the stories contained herein.  And, while Daffy Duck is not along to harass and heckle him, Porky seems to have fallen into a pattern of hanging-out with Sylvester.  Not the scared, mute version that can’t seem to warn the Pig of murderous mice (twice) and jumping Jupiterians in the series of Chuck Jones cartoons I call “The Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger Trilogy”.  But instead, we are presented with an odd, alternate version of the Pussycat that was popular in forties and early fifties comics that I’ve described as an “eloquent and eccentric vagabond”.  
In the comics, I'm usually more eloquent, Guv'nor!

As it is our custom in our DVD Reviews, and because I like the format, we’ll conduct our series of Comic Book Reviews by breaking it down into CONS and PROS.  

The CONS:

By no means a “perfect” comic book, it’s nevertheless hard to find any true “CONS” to pin on DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard”. 

Those now accustomed to a steady diet of the legendary works of Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson – the two true geniuses of the “funny animal genre” in comic books and newspaper strips, respectively – might find the stories contained herein to be wanting.  Too simple, or too fanciful, and perhaps lacking that overriding logic that was characteristic of Barks.   But that doesn’t make them “bad” stories.  They’re just different from Barks and Gottfredson, and representative of a type of storytelling that is no longer exhibited in any current and/or popular form.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I daresay it has a charm all its own. 
Okay, so it ain't this! So what?! 

The PROS:

32 Pages – All Comics:  One *could* carp that earlier issues of the DELL FOUR COLOR series were 52 pages for the same dime (…Dime?!) but I’ll never see this as anything but a “PRO”.  Anyone who disagrees can fast-forward to the late seventies, and discover 32 page comic books with as little as 17 pages of story material inside. 

The Art:  Tony Strobl in the first two stories, and another good artist whom I’ve never been able to name, who was primarily associated with Warner Bros. and Walter Lantz comics of the period (Tom McKimson, maybe?), handles the third tale; a shorter backup.   Writers are, alas, unknown.   

Visually, these stories are a delight to behold.  Strobl, in particular, is at his very best.  The simple cover art is in no way indicative of the joys waiting inside.  (…and how often does it work the OTHER way around?)

The STORIES:  The first two stories typify the “Dell Comics Adventure Template”.  Two characters (one smarter – or at least more logical – than the other) travel to a foreign land, or get mixed up in a crime closer to home.  In this issue we have one of each type.  A short backup, where the punch line is a character using an item or device for something it was not intended to do, rounds out the issue. 

Click on any of the comic page scans to enlarge.

Porky Pig in The Water Wizard” (16 pg.):  Does anyone below the age of 40 know what a “divining rod” is?   Read this story, and find out…



Porky, while walking a wooded path with Sylvester, finds a forked stick which, when combined with some innate ability on the part of the Pig, acts as a “divining rod” that allows Porky to locate water flowing underground.  His new-found notoriety results in both Pig and Cat being kidnapped by a flying carpet, and taken to a desert Sheik for whom he finds a sub-sand source of valuable water.  

A rival Sheik learns of this and wants some “found water” of his own, but the first Sheik (fearing he’ll no longer have a profitable water monopoly) breaks the stick (…Aw, couldn’t he have spared the rod?) and has Porky and Sylvester thrown into a pit of desert quicksand… Huh?  IS there even such a thing?   If it’s just desert SAND, how can it be murky enough to sink into?  Maybe the “found water” below?   Wouldn’t tying them out in a sandstorm accomplish the same thing… and allow the story to retain more of its marginal believability? 

Communicating with a family of buzzards, the pair escape the pit, appropriate a camel and take an extremely bumpy ride outta-there!  Strobl makes the ride look all the more uncomfortable by drawing P&S largely defined by “jiggly lines” and pained expressions as they bop along.  Finally home, their butts are too sore to sit down to dinner with Petunia.   “Travel to a foreign land”? … Check! 

…Okay, so what WERE you expecting?  Lost in the Andes”? 
 
 
Porky Pig and the Safecracking Goat” (12 pg.): 



 
 
Goats that eat anything made of metal have always been popular in cartoons like THIS ONE, THIS ONE, and THIS ONE.  Now, it’s time for one in comics.  

As a labor saving device to help fifties suburban homeowner Porky cope with his growing grass and piling trash, the eccentric version of Sylvester turns up with a GOAT.  The goat does indeed level the lawn and make a repast of the refuse but, in the grand tradition of perpetually-hungry goats, does not stop there.  He begins eating (or eating THOROUGH) anything made of metal on or in Porky’s house. 

Two burglars hear of this and kidnap the goat to eat through commercial safes – which in incredible animated goat fashion, it does.  As the goat’s owner, is Porky on the hook?  “Get mixed up in a crime closer to home”?  Yep-a-roonie! 

Petunia Pig (untitled, 4 pg.):  Jealous of Petunia’s attentions toward a deep-sea salvage diver, Porky intends to spoil their outdoor get-together by luring a mess o’ mosquitoes to the spot.  Anyone see how they overcome Porky’s plot by using an item or device for something it was not intended to do?   Think about it a moment, and get back to me. 


Three one-page gags (on the inside front, inside back, and back covers) round out the issue. 
THINGS I LIKED:  Some good dialogue for a comic of this vintage.  Here are some examples: 

 
An exchange from “The Water Wizard” between the Sultan of the Desert Kingdom and his servant: 

SERVANT: “O’ Noble One, what wouldst have this morning?”

SULTAN: “Water… Stupid One!”  (He gulps down a drinking glass and CHOKES.)

SERVANT: “I am afraid you must be content with your usual GLASS OF DUST, O’ High One!” 

(The Sultan spits out the dust!)

SERVANT: “A thousand pardons… but I would have sworn there was a DROP OF DEW in it!”
………………
Porky and Sylvester make some “fifties suburban homeowner” plans with their wondrous Divining Rod: 

SYLVESTER:  Say, pal… why don’t we find some water in your backyard, and put in a SWIMMIN’ POOL!”

PORKY: “Swell!  I’LL find the water, and YOU dig the p-pool!”

SYLVESTER (thinks):  Oops!  Methinks I’m getting the WRONG END of the STICK!” 

…Divining Rod?  … Stick?  That’s a JOKE, son!  I say, that’s a JOKE, son!   (Okay, moving on…)
…………………….

In “The Safecracking Goat”, Porky considers how Sylvester’s gift-goat can help him with his (all together now)fifties suburban homeowner” chores:

PORKY: “W-well, I’ve got to admit he m-might work out okay, Sylvester, b-but…

SYLVESTER:  Butt!  That’s right!  He can BUTT, too!” 

OVERALL: DELL FOUR COLOR # 410 “Porky Pig in The Water Wizard” is a solid, by-the-numbers example of the Dell funny-animal comics (Non-Barks Division) of its period. 

It is neither great, nor poor.  The art tends to be superior to the stories.  In certain spots, it is vastly superior.  But, if you’re looking for a good Saturday afternoon read you can’t go wrong with this. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Comics Review Coming Thursday!


I’ve done WAY TOO FEW Comic Book Reviews at this Blog! 

But, on Thursday morning, we’ll have a Loooong Comics Review that’ll keep you reading into the afternoon….

…That is if you read REALLY, REALLY SLOW and click on ALL the pictures to enlarge for detail.   

Come back then, as I pick an old comic totally at random, in what I hope will be a new and regular series of reviews. 

Soon after that (maybe), we’ll have the sequel to what has been an oft-accessed animation DVD review -- soon as I can get around to illustrating it. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Here They Come… Again!


Not long ago, we posted the news of Warner Home Video’s “Best of Warner Bros: Hanna-Barbera 25 Cartoon Collection” DVD set, as part of the 90th Anniversary celebration of Warner Bros. Read about that HERE.


As expected, per THIS ITEM, WHV is naturally following that up with a “Best of Warner Bros: Looney Tunes 50 Cartoon Collection”, to be released on June 25, 2013.

Only difference is, the Hanna-Barbera set features quite a bit of “First Time on DVD” material, and the Looney Tunes set does not.

Now, this makes sense in that any such “anniversary collection” SHOULD offer the most famous and/or most popular entries in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies catalog.

But, unless I’ve overlooked something, every one of these (as listed in the item I’ve linked-to above) has already appeared on DVD at least once. …And, given the duplication over the “Golden, Spotlight, and Platinum Collections”, perhaps two or even three times.

Maybe if all of this were framed or accompanied by some sort of “All-Encompassing History of Looney Tunes” feature, it might make such a purchase worthwhile to those of us who have devotedly snapped up all of the previous releases… but, noooo. Nothing is listed, anyway.


In a rare moment of editorializing from the good folks at tvshowsondvd.com, even THEY say the following:

  Yes, that is a lot of previously-available-on-DVD material. ”

So, unlike the Hanna-Barbera set, which I am eagerly awaiting, I intend to pass on this one. However, anyone desiring a prime sampler of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies (to me, the best series of cartoons ever produced), here it is.




Monday, March 18, 2013

R.I.P. Malachi Throne.



There’s no way any fan of ‘60s television cannot be saddened at this news! 

The wonderful and ubiquitous character actor, Malachi Throne, passed away on March 13, 2013, at the age of 84. 

A list of Malachi Throne's many credits would amaze you.  Just limiting it to "some" of his sixties TV credits would be a virtual walk through my DVD collection: 

The Untouchables (Three times).

Perry Mason.

The Outer Limits.

The Fugitive  (Twice).

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Three times, in roles as diverse as a Middle Eastern General, an Asian Scientist, and even Blackbeard the Pirate!).

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I Spy.

Batman (as False Face).

Lost in Space.

Laredo.

The Wild Wild West.

The Time Tunnel (Twice).

Star Trek… and Star Trek the Next Generation (as different characters).

Throne: TOS and Throne: TNG.

Mission Impossible (Twice).

Land of the Giants. 

42 episodes, as a regular performer, on It Takes a Thief. 
It Takes a Thief -- with Bonus False Face Image! (at left)

…And that’s limiting it to my own collection of sixties TV.  It would take me many weeks (maybe months), just to watch all the Malachi Throne appearances in my sixties TV collection alone! 

Unlike others, Malachi Throne didn’t stop there, continuing to act in such 21 st century productions as The West Wing and the popular film “Catch Me if You Can”! 

Mr. Throne also performed in a myriad of voice acting roles, including Lancelot Link Secret Chimp, Batman The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and was even “The Voice of God” in two episodes of Animaniacs! 

His deep and distinctive voice was long heard in commercials for Castrol Motor Oil. 

According to IMDB, his final role was providing a voice for THIS! 
In case you’re wondering, my favorite of all his roles was that of “The Thief of Outer Space” (1966) on Lost in Space. 

He was marvelously hammy, as he could often be, yet he exhibits an unexpected moment of poignancy when, during his “sword duel” with Guy Williams, he realizes that he has been betrayed by young Will Robinson (whom he was convinced, throughout the episode, was acting as his “assistant thief” and confidant) – and he just STOPS what had been joyous and overblown swordplay, as if his heart had been cut out! 
Hammy and blustery, as were many Lost in Space guest stars?  To be sure.  But, he found a way to almost turn on a dime at the realization that he was betrayed by a boy he came to trust and even nurture (in his own eccentric way) and exhibit enough pathos to make you even feel sorry for a sneaky, underhanded, sword-wielding thief.  That was something you didn’t often get from Lost in Space, but Malachi Throne delivered.
Throne the Thief and Ted Cassidy the Slave!

And he delivered as virtually ANYTHING… from a Star Fleet Commodore, to Machiavelli,  and even Blackbeard the Pirate!   
Throne, as Blackbeard the Pirate's Ghost on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Malachi Throne is the type of character actor that no longer exists today. 
I’ve yet to figure out if it’s because such parts are no longer written… or there are few, if any, actors capable of playing such roles with the relish of Malachi Throne.  (…and maybe that’s why the parts ARE no longer written!) 
Malachi Throne in recent years
Here’s a link to Mark Evanier’s obit for Malachi Throne, with a special emphasis on his turn as “False Face”.

Friday, March 8, 2013

DVD Review: Red River (1947)

 
Red River (1947)
 
(Released: 2008 by MGM Home Entertainment)
 
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

SUMMARY: Can you survive the cattle drive? Ask Producer / Director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne! They’ll either TELL ya… or SHOOT ya!



We fade in on an Opening Scroll:


Among the annals of the great state of Texas may be found the story of the first [cattle] drive on the famous Chisholm Trail.

A story of one of the great cattle herds of the world, of a man and a boyThomas Dunson and Matthew Garth, the story of the ‘Red River D’.”



And, while we’re at it, let’s hear from hard-ass would-be rancher; Mr. Thomas Dunson:


MY LAND! We’re here, and we’re gonna STAY HERE! Give me ten years, and I’ll have [my] brand on the gates of the greatest ranch in Texas.

The big house will be down by the river, and the corrals and the barns behind it. It’ll be a good place to live in. Ten years and I’ll have the ‘Red River D’ [brand] on more cattle than you’ve looked at anywhere!


I’ll have that brand on enough BEEF to feed the whole country! Good beef – for hungry people! Beef to make ‘em STRONG, make ‘em GROWIt takes WORK, and it takes SWEAT, and it takes TIME… lots of time! It takes years!”


Sounds like a “Man with a Plan” to me! Ah, BEEF… It does a body good!


And, with that, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his sidekick “Groot” (Walter Brennan) split off from a California-bound wagon train, and head south toward Texas.


The pair meet an aimlessly wandering boy named “Matthew Garth”, who survived the massacre by Indians of the very wagon train that Dunson and Groot abandoned, and take him under their wing.

Once he locates his “dream plot” of land, he declares it “his” – and kills an emissary of the Mexican land-owner, who claims a grant from the King of Spain. (…Or, are they just intruders? We’ll never know!) Before Dunson is through, there are many more Mexican and white claim jumpers and interlopers buried on Dunson’s “Red River D” ranch.


The time DOES pass, and so does the Civil War. Matt is now a grown man with a fast gun (played by Montgomery Clift in his film debut) and Dunson’s second in command over the vast cattle ranch of over 10 thousand head, they and Groot have built up – after starting out with just one cow and one bull! THAT, my friends, is one lucky and prolific bull! Really… No, er… bull!
Lucky Dog... Er, Bull! 

But, with the war’s aftermath came hard times for the state of Texas. The bottom has fallen out of the market for beef, leaving Dunson “calf-rich and cash-poor”.


He makes the hard decision to drive his herd of 10 thousand north, from Texas to Missouri – where the railroad lies and, beyond that, new and more prosperous markets.
I'll never complain about MY commute to the railroad again!
He is told that the railway now runs through Abilene, Kansas – a far less torturous route to the northern markets – but, having not seen it with his own eyes, he refuses the option, in favor of the hard way.


Dunson addresses his remaining hands and other down-and-out men:


We’re goin’ to Missouri with 10 thousand head! Most o’ you men have come back to Texas from the war. You came back to nothing. You found your homes gone, your cattle scattered, and your land stolen by carpetbaggers.


There’s no money and no work because there’s no market for beef in the South. But, there is in Missouri – so we’re going to Missouri!”

Dunson signs on as many men as he needs, promises they will be paid from the profits if the drive succeeds, and INSISTS they finish the job – no matter what!

No matter WHAT!  ...Ya hear?

About this time, another fast-gunned young man from a less-fortunate neighboring ranch, Cherry Valance (John Ireland), joins Dunson’s drive – setting up tensions between Matt and Cherry which, oddly, never pay off in any significant way.


But, if it’s tension you’re looking for, one of the greatest bits of tension in the film is an unusual and extraordinary scene at about 36:35, as the cattle drive is about to begin. A tense, moody – almost ominous sci-fi type of score plays over a silent pan of riders, cattle, and the expanse ahead. The eerie scene ends by focusing on a silent, grimly determined Dunson at about 37:12.

Dunson breaks the uneasiness by abruptly exclaiming “TAKE ‘EM TO MISSOURI, MATT!” All hands YELL HOOTS in succession and the drive is underway. An unconventional bit in a Golden Age Hollywood western, to be sure!


The drive is indeed torturous, with storms, Indian attacks, short rations, and even a spectacular cattle stampede (at about 50:30 of the film) to make the men reconsider.

Some of them do, and announce their intentions to quit the drive. Dunson guns them down, rather than have them go back on their word to him!
Quitters never WIN... or LIVE!

The drive continues, harder than ever, and Dunson becoming more and more unreasonably driven. He now sleeps with his gun, and the men begin to question his sanity.

A lone survivor of another drive, where the hands were killed and cattle stolen by Missouri border gangs, finds his way to camp, tells of his experiences, and also suggests that Dunson turn his drive toward Abilene and the railroad there. These comments are not lost on the men, who now doubt the wisdom of the entire endeavor.

The ubiquitous "William Self" credit from LOST IN SPACE.

The survivor, incidentally, was played by William Self. And, if that name sounds familiar to ‘60s TV buffs, it’s because he would later become the “Executive in Charge of Production” of the TV series made at 20th Century Fox – such as LOST IN SPACE, BATMAN, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, and many others.


Hand Teeler Yacey (Paul Fix) and others defect during the night. An outraged Dunson orders Matthew to bring them back. Upon their return, Dunson declares that they are to be HANGED!
Paul Fix - from "The Sons of Katie Elder"

At this, the men (including Matthew) finally draw the line – and mutiny (does one actually “mutiny” on a cattle drive?). Matthew takes charge of the drive, decides to take the safer route to Abilene – and leaves Dunson behind. Though, he DOES promise to see that Dunson receives the proceeds of the drive. …Ol’ Matt may be a mutineer, but he’s not a cattle thief, it would seem.
Meet the NEW BOSS... Not same as the old boss!

So, does Dunson catch up with the drive? What will he do when that happens? Is there a railroad and a market for Beef in Abilene? …And, “Where’s the Beef”, anyway?


I ain’t tellin’… but the specter of Dunson catching up with the drive seems to bring out the same paranoia that the modern version of BATMAN might induce in a gang of petty crooks.
Who would YOU rather face?  Dunson or him?  Either way...Brrrr!

I was dreamin’I thought he was FOLLOWIN’ us! How can a man sleep with Indians ahead, and HIM behind!” says Paul Fix’s character Yacey. Gotta love that!


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


The CONS:

An Absolute Lack of Extra Features: As with this release of He Walked by Night, also from MGM, “Red River” does not even include a TRAILER, much less the extras a film like this deserves! Even Warner Archives springs for a TRAILER! This is a MAJOR CON, and this film deserves better! It might as well have been an old VHS tape, for all it offers!

Consider ALL the things that COULD be discussed in commentaries and additional features. The uncharacteristic “hardness” and obsessions of John Wayne’s character, the screen debut of Montgomery Clift, and just about anything concerning producer / director Howard Hawks! Let alone the unusual journey of William Self from actor to executive. But, no... And, for a 2008 release, this is inexcusable!

Pacing: I don’t believe I’ve ever listed “Pacing” as a CON before, but Howard Hawks does something repeatedly in this film that I found less than satisfying.



Hawks uses the device of opening a BOOK, titled “Early Tales of Texas”, in which the handwritten account of the great Dunson Drive is chronicled. …BUT, the pages turn – or fade out – TOO FAST to read anything but the smallest of sentence fragments! This occurs throughout the film, and serves as “transitional captioning” to indicate the passage of time. If only “time” would hold long enough to READ the damned things!

I’m certain that WAS what Hawks was trying to accomplish – and far be it from me to criticize Howard Hawks – but, each and every time pages from the book would appear, I found myself hitting PAUSE in order to read what was on the screen before it vanished!

I can’t imagine how this must have gone over on the Big Screen, circa 1947 – but I know I would not have liked it!
 
Nope, Dunson!  I don't like it a BIT!  Not ONE BIT!  Nope!

The PROS:


The Film: A captivating western adventure of a determined man’s quest. Even with a length of 02:12:38, when less than two hours was still more the norm, the film never lags once!


The Cast:


• John Wayne as “Thomas Dunson”.

• Montgomery Clift as “Matthew Garth”.

• Walter Brennan as “Groot”.

• Joanne Dru as “Tess Millay”.

• John Ireland as “Cherry Valance”.

• Paul Fix as “Teeler Yacey”.

• Noah Berry as “Buster McGee”.

• Harry Carey, Sr. as “Mr. Melville”.

• Harry Carey, Jr. as “Dan Latimer”.

• William Self as “Wounded Survivor”.




Overall:


Red River” is a riveting and unusual western vehicle for John Wayne, in that his character is (no other way to put it) such a bastard!

In many of his later films, he was unpleasant, crusty, and sometimes less than heroic – but beneath all that, he had a heart of gold and the soul of a western hero. See “True Grit”, Big Jake, and “The Shootist” for examples.

I may have been CRUSTY, but I was nicer!

But here, he is uncharacteristically obsessed and abusive – and even murders men in cold blood. Uncomfortable as it may be for Wayne fans, it makes for a fascinating story!

The lack of Extra Features for this set is, frankly, APPALING! Indeed, can it even BE called a “set”, if nothing is offered beyond the movie itself?

Shame on MGM for this one!

The “Book-You-Need-A-Speed-Reading-Course-To-Follow” is annoying, but the film as a whole more than makes up for that!

These flaws notwithstanding, “Red River” is recommended for fans of John Wayne, the productions of Howard Hawks, the western genre – particularly that of Golden Age Hollywood… and anyone who has ever had a “Boss from Hell”!

I don't hear no Five-O-Clock Whistle... Do YOU?