My Boy Johnny (1944)

Article 4217 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-2-2013
Directed by Eddie Donnelly
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Terrytoons wartime cartoon

This short takes a hopeful look at the time when the boys come back from the war, and the type of world that will follow in its wake.

Despite the racial stereotypes and propaganda so common to the era, there is something quite fascinating about the wartime cartoons that were produced in the early forties; they capture the spirit of the era in a way that is rather engaging. This one taps into what was no doubt one of the most resonant themes of the era; it deals with that giddy sense of anticipation of the day the war is over and the boys return home. Because of the subject matter, I found myself wondering if there was really going to be much in the way of fantastic content, but there’s actually plenty; some of the returning soldiers are anthropomorphic animals, and about half of the cartoon envisions the technological advances that will follow in its wake (including a “house of the future” segment). It does idealize things quite a bit, but that was probably very much in the spirit of the time. The short was an Academy Award nominee for best animated short subject, and I actually felt a little sad to see that it didn’t have enough votes on IMDB to generate a rating, meaning that the cartoon seems to be largely forgotten. Actually, I think it’s one of the better Terrytoon cartoons I’ve seen.

A Moonlight Serenade, or A Miser Punished (1904)

aka Au clair de la lune ou Pierror malheureux
Article 4216 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-30-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Strange drama

A starving clown is not allowed to sing for his supper by a stingy miser, but fortunately the moon comes to his rescue.

The comeuppance of a villain (in this case, the miser) is a fairly common theme, but this one is pretty bizarre variation on the subject. This is no doubt due to Melies’s affection for strange visual effects, and the strangest one here (in which the moon turns into a closeup of an eyeball) is pretty jarring. It’s probably not surprising that the plot is a little obscure at times, but the short’s biggest problem is its rather slow beginning; for a while it looks like there will be no special effects at all. This is one of Melies’s oddest works.

Molly Moo-Cow and Rip Van Winkle (1935)

aka Molly Moo-Cow and Rip Van Wrinkle
Article 4215 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-28-2013
Directed by Burt Gillett and Tom Palmer
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Cartoon

Molly Moo-Cow encounters a group of dwarfs playing tenpins while she is grazing, and she sees the sleeping Rip Van Winkle. She then decides to try out the dwarf’s ale…

This is the best cartoon about a drunk cow bowling that I’ve ever seen, but that’s admittedly a very small universe, and when you get down to it, this cartoon is pretty lame. Molly Moo-Cow appears to have been a very minor repeating character for Van Beuren studios during the thirties; I saw the name listed in only four cartoons during a two-year period. From what I can see here, I suspect the character had some gender issues; the name certainly implies a female, but she is udderless and talks with a decidedly masculine voice. The gags mostly consist of Molly fighting with her guardian angel (who doesn’t want her to touch the ale) and bowling while drunk. This one is not a high point in the history of animation.

Mr. Hurry-Up of New York (1907)

Article 4214 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-27-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Trick short

Mr. Hurry-up is in a rush to get dressed and eat breakfast so he can get to work and then go to the dentist. Then he goes to a bar and has a little too much to drink…

The title made me expect we were going to have an experiment with early fast-motion photography; I had visions of the title character moving through the world with super-human speed to get everything done, and I still think the opening scenes would have been a lot more amusing had they done that. What I got was a character who, though he is moving as quick as humanly possible, is still moving at speeds that are humanly possible, which was somewhat disappointing. Still, the movie does have fantastic content in the second half, in which the title character gets drunk and undergoes a variation of THE DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND; in his inebriated state, keyholes shift around the door, a circular staircase rotates as he tries to climb it, and when he tries to sleep, his bed hops all around the room. The best scene is with the staircase, largely because it’s the most striking visual moment in the short. Nevertheless, I find this one somewhat disappointing, largely because of the missed opportunities.

The Miller’s Daughter (1934)

Article 4213 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-26-2013
Directed by Friz Freleng
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Whimsical animation

When a porcelain statue of a miller’s daughter is broken by a cat, the owner disposes of its remains in an attic. Its companion statue, a boy shepherd, comes to life and seeks out the daughter in order to repair her.

As far as the fantastic content goes, we get inanimate objects coming to life as well as a few dancing skeletons. Those who like caricatures will find that the Three Stooges appear as the “see no evil” monkeys and sing the title song. It’s a pretty typical cartoon of the period; it has only the thinnest whisper of a plot, it seems to mostly exist for the singing and dancing, and it has a villain show up in the second half (in this case, a statue of a lion comes to life and begins chasing the shepherd’s lamb) for a bit of action. This one is pretty ordinary on all counts.

The March of the Machines (1927)

aka La marche des machines
Article 4212 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-25-2013
Directed by Eugene Deslaw
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Abstract machinery montage

Imagery of machinery in motion is shown.

It’s a shame that the copy I found of this short on YouTube didn’t have a musical soundtrack; its images of machines in motion should inspire a creative one. It might even help me like this short more than I do. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but I do think that an abstract short like this will only really work if it taps into a certain type of visual magic that transcends the mere editing together of images that makes the whole somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Though the editor does have a decent feel for which images to match up, the only time it really transcends itself is in a shot of a pair of machine arms that end up looking like clutching human hands, easily the most striking moment in the short. The rest of it feels merely cute. I’m also not quite sure if I can call this short genre or not. The emphasis on machinery and technology gives it a science fictional air, but that’s undercut by the fact that all of the machinery existed at the time of its making. And it doesn’t quite reach the level of abstraction to make it a fantasy by default. So let’s classify it as a marginal curiosity.

Milk and Money (1936)

Article 4206 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-18-2013
Directed by Tex Avery
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher and Joe Dougherty
Country: USA
What it is: Cartoon

In order to save the family farm from foreclosure, Porky Pig takes his horse to the city in order to find a job. He gets a job as a milkman, but will lose his job if he breaks a bottle. And then a hungry horsefly shows up….

The fantastic content here is standard cartoon fare; we have anthropomorphic animals (Porky and his father) and that general sense of animated cartoon surrealism. I do think it’s interesting to balance out the anthropomorphic animals with a human character who occasionally acts like a snake (the aptly named villainous landlord Mr. Viper). Both the Warner Brothers cartoon department and Tex Avery would go on to better things, but if you compare it to their other work at the time, this was a pretty strong showing; you can even see some of the boundary-stretching touches that would become Tex Avery trademarks. My favorite joke is a subtle one; try to figure out why the horsefly attacks Mr. Viper in the final moments. (Hint – What does the horsefly usually attack?)