Disclaimer: This site contains racial imagery that may be offensive to some. We, the owners of this blog, include it not only for the sake of preserving these artifacts of our history, but to call attention to the brilliant people who contributed to them--including actors, comedians, and musicians of color

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

THE OLD HOUSE: Kevin Wollenweber Responds

Yes, Virginia, there is a Kevin Wollenweber.

It occurred to me that naming this blog "Conversations With Kevin" would likely create confusion for first-timers: they're bound to think I made up Kevin, or worse, that I'm Kevin. Let me assure you he's quite real: I don't have any imaginary friends. Too high-maintenence.

I named it what I did because that's precisely what it is: conversations with my friend, Kevin. This blog was originally intended to be our private sandbox at first, but we both came to feel that the general public needed to be let in on our private discourse on classic toons.

Actually, my original intention was to have him be a co-contributor to this blog, as my friend Jerry Beck is with Amid Amidi on Cartoonresearch.com. Alas, that proved to be impossible, for reasons too complicated to go into here.

In short, him Kevin, me Rachel. Got it? Good.

Kevin had some incredibly nice things to say about yesterday's review of THE OLD HOUSE (partly undeserved, considering some of the typos and other minor errata) but here's some of what he had to say:


You mentioned the beauty of the lightning flash as Honey hesitantly moves up the rickety porch toward the door and how you wish you knew what this toon would look like as a full and clean restoration; well, to get a possible better handle on the actual cleaner look of the lightning flash, it is possibly better to consult my direct-from-laserdisk copy on VHS of "BOTTLES" from the HAPPY HARMONIES collection. Not only do we get a reuse of scoring that appeared in "THE OLD HOUSE", we get thunder and lightning to add to the eerie impression of the chemist's abode, even though all he ever says is "Well...heh heh heh...bless my soul!" In fact, the eerie dream of the poor chemist being chased through the darkened house by a pair of scissors that snip at his throat might be close enough to the rarely shown BOSKO cartoon to give you a kind of idea of what "THE OLD HOUSE" would look like if transferred to DVD from original 35-milimeter print or master negative.

Letting Harmon/Ising run wild at MGM was not entirely a bad thing, although it cost the studio twice as much as, perhaps, a Tex Avery cartoon of later years.

Beautiful stuff!

And I have to like the clattering sound given to that skeletin as it is sent sailing off on its own as Honey dislodges herself from it in terror and Bruno sees it as he moves along the squeaky floorboards. The sound effects are amazing here as well, and I guess all that is what made this cartoon genuinely scarey to me years ago!


Well, it wasn't so much the "beauty of the lightning" I was describing (one hears that more than one sees it) as the look of the skies when the storm broke. Even on a blurry, nth-generation copy it looked impressive: one of the many reasons this cartoon deserves a better fate than languishing at the bottom of a discount-video bin.

I'm going to have to give BOTTLES another look (and of course, post my impressions of it here) in a future review. I'd like to continue with the Boskos at this point, but rest assured, BOTTLES will be given its due very soon.

As for the sound, I'm ashamed to say I paid less attention to that than I did to the visuals (one of the drawbacks of being dependent on one's eyes, I suppose). As I've often said, that's why we work so well together, and why your input is so vital to this blog. But you're right--the sound effects contribute greatly to the mood of the cartoon (as does Scott Bradley's score--he's probably the best overall musical director in animation history. Though Carl Stalliing does give him some serious competition). I did notice the clattering of the skeleton, though, and how in a subtle way, it contributed to the menace of the scenes. Squeaking doors, creaking floors and rattling bones scream "haunted house", whether in this cartoon, a classic Universal horror film, or even a Roger Corman cheapie. Harman and Ising obviously knew that very well.

When you spoke of consulting other, clearer Harman-Ising cartoons to get a better idea of how certain scenes looked, a crazy idea occurred to me. Perhaps Harman and Ising's liberal recycling of animation might lead to the salvation of some of these cartoons, should someone (I'm talking to you, Jerry Beck!) decide to one day restore them. Can't find a decent copy of a scene you want in THE OLD HOUSE? Find it in BOTTLES--or perhaps even similarly themed cartoons like THE BOOKWORM. It's bound to be there. What you would end up with is something not so much "restored" as "reconstructed", but hey, audiences would at least get an idea of what these cartoons looked like when they were new. Talk about turning a liability into an asset.

Harman and Ising did indeed spend lavish amounts of money to improve the look of the cartoons, much to MGM's chagrin. As I understand it, they were constantly over budget, which led to their being let go in 1937 (and the subsequent formation of MGM's own cartoon studio). Ironically, they were not long afterward hired back as employees after the fledgling studio's early efforts tanked (though they were really quite good, most of them. You can bet I'll talk about that later). I suppose the MGM brass felt they could keep a tighter rein on them that way. Despite the increased control, Harman and Ising managed to do some of their best work during this later period (ROMEO IN RHYTHM, MILKY WAY, and LONESOME STRANGER, to name just a few).

I know I'm putting myself on the spot for this, but for my next entry I'd like to concentrate on the "Jazz Frogs" trilogy of Bosko cartoons--the final three Hugh and Rudy did in 1937-38 (BOSKO IN BAGDAD, BOSKO AND THE PIRATES, BOSKO AND THE CANNIBALS. ) They're all "cheaters", in a sense: Hugh and Rudy ground them out to fulfill their MGM contract, but they're still a fitting "swan song" for an unjustly ignored character. As always, don't touch that dial...

Tags: , ,

No comments: