February 12, 2015

Let Me Tell You About My Operation : They Might Be Giants

Just released by indie superstars They Might Be Giants, here’s a terrific little song beautifully animated on a Frankenstein theme. “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” is part of TMBG’s 2015 Dial-a-Song Project where a $30 subscription gets you a new song every week all through the year. That’s 52 songs!

Directed by David Cowles and Jeremy Galente, with characters and sets designed by David Plunkert, the music video features an irresistible singing and corncob pipe-smoking Moonshine Frankenstein in hillbilly bib overalls, and a combination hunchbacked assistant and mad scientist rolled into one. Brains — tiny ones — pop out of the Monster’s cranium, disembodied hands play the piano, and even the clouds have stitches. There’s a mad lab and Plunkert’s trademark Outsider Rube Goldberg contraptions. And everything pulsates to TMBG’s toe-tapping tune.

This one’s a real treat. Très Bon!

Dial-a-Song website.
David Plunkert website.
David Cowles website.

The Posters of Frankenstein: David Plunkert
The Art of Frankenstein: David Plunkert

February 4, 2015

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946)

The Monster had a name, and it was… Neon Noodle!

Here’s another cartoon cameo, and certainly one of the most original representations of The Monster ever, in what is considered one of the all-time best animated shorts ever made.

Directed for Warner Brothers by Bob Clampett in his trademark unbridled, madcap style, THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY (1946) is essentially a takeoff on Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip and its gallery of weird criminals. Here, Daffy Duck imagines himself as “Duck Twacy” going up against an even weirder and way wackier set of gangsters with names and attendant physical configurations as Snake Eyes, Pickle Puss, 88 Teeth, a Wolfman and, among others, a highly stylized Frankenstein Monster made of neon. “Frankenstein” isn’t name checked, but the character is instantly recognizable with his giant size, flat head and outstretched arms.

Descriptively named “Neon Noodle”, this unusual Frankenstein Monster is beautifully animated, casting a soft neon glow, switching from blue to orange and yellow. In a surrealistic scene, Daffy dispatches Neon Noodle by snapping and twisting him into an “Eat at Joe’s” neon sign. All the other bizarre bad guys are tommy gunned in a gloriously gratuitous scene deemed so violent that it was cut when the cartoon played on TV. A restored version would be the very first short shown when The Cartoon Network launched in 1992. Among the film’s admirers is John Kricfaluzi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, who said, “I saw this thing and it completely changed my life. 

THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY was Clampett’s next to last job at Warner’s. As soon as he left, and continuing on up to his death in 1984, controversy would follow after he claimed sole credit for creating classic characters such as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, while evidence shows the characters has evolved under a who’s who of animators. Director Chuck Jones and voice actor Mel Blanc never forgave him. Still, Clampett’s genius, his enduring influence and his pioneering contributions to animation remain obvious and rightfully celebrated. He would go to a successful career in the nascent field of television, creating the Time for Beanie puppet show in 1949, eventually animated as Beanie and Cecil.


January 18, 2015

Bubble and Squeek in Old Manor House (1947)

Forgotten today, Bubble and Squeek were cartoon characters — a taxi driver and his anthropomorphic cab — whose animated career was limited to four titles released way back in 1947 and ’48. The character’s names were derived from Bubble and Squeak (note the spelling difference), a traditional English dish of pan-fried leftovers, usually served at breakfast. 

The driving force behind the cartoons was American-born George Moreno Jr., late of the Fleischer Studios, who settled in England and launched British Animated Productions (B.A.P.), making a bold attempt at creating homegrown Technicolor cartoons for British cinemas. Unfortunately, the project collapsed quickly when wartime restrictions on foreign products were lifted and the market was instantly flooded with American-made cartoons.

The fourth and final Bubble and Squeek title, OLD MANOR HOUSE, has our heroes seeking refuge from a typical monster-movie-style wind and rain storm inside the title’s “creepy place”, occupied by a belligerent, monocle’d and mustachioed rodent named Colonel Rat. Clocking in just short of 7 minutes, it’s a brisk and manic affair with Bubble and his car subjected to frights that include a nice cameo of a Frankenstein Monster — an absolute requisite character in any scary Old Manor House. Identified as “Frankie Stein’, with forehead wingnut bolts, the Monster moves mechanically, utters a dainty “Boo!”, and exits through the wall, leaving his distinctive silhouette in classic cartoon cutout.

B.A.P. produced a fifth short, spinning off Colonel Rat as the star of LOCH NESS LEGEND (1948) while Bubble and Squeek went on to a brief career as picture book characters. Moreno would go on to work in television and commercial animation.

OLD MANOR HOUSE (1947) is embedded above, worth a look if you don’t mind the poor quality. Embedded below is a British Pathé short showing the B.A.P. crew at Harringay studios working on a Bubble and Squeak cartoon.

George Moreno and B.A.P. on Bear Alley.

British Frankenstein cameos in Dance Hall Frankenstein (1950) and Thursday’s Child (1943).

December 23, 2014

What a Sensation!

A unique, original ad in the Courier-Mail heralded the Easter weekend release of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN at the Tivoli Theater — misspelled at the top of the ad! — in Brisbane. Appearing in the Thursday, April 6 edition of the Courier-Mail, the large ad features a striking full-length Monster in charcoal.

The film was double-billed with a minor Universal musical, FRESHMAN YEAR (1938), starring the perky Dixie Dunbar in what turned out to be her final feature. The dancer quit her uneventful six-year Hollywood career playing showgirls, dancing co-eds and characters named Pasty, Mitzi, Ginger, Goldie, Polly and Tiny. She’s called Dotty in this one. Dunbar returned to better parts and real success on Broadway. In 1949, Dunbar achieved pop culture fame as the dancing Old Gold Cigarette box — only her shapely legs could be seen — on early TV, circa 1949.

Brisbane’s Sunday Mail critic gave SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and its cast his good-humored approval, noting, “The Monster has his spine-chilling moments… But he still looks heavily wooden enough to be harmless to anyone with a good pair of running shoes.” Spoilers weren’t an issue, the reviewer stating, “The Monster gets out of hand and eventually has to be tossed into a boiling sulphur pit for apparent lasting destruction.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ran for a week and moved on across Australia throughout the year. Unlike FRANKENSTEIN in 1931, the film suffered no territorial bans to limit its release. SON would circle back across the continent over the next two years for second-run engagements including a 1941 stint that saw it packaged with another Karloff/Lugosi thriller, THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936).

An historical side note: By Saturday morning’s first showing, most Australians had something besides Frankenstein movies on the minds. On the first page of Thursday’s paper, a small notice had read, “Mr. Lyons Ill: Wife’s Dash to Hospital”, noting that the Prime Minister, in recent bad health and “suffering from a severe chill” had been taken to St-Vincent’s Hospital. On Saturday morning, the headline read, “Nation Mourns Death of Mr. J.A.Lyons”. The Prime Minister, suffering a series of heart attacks, had died on Good Friday.

December 19, 2014

Loose Again in Brisbane

Bolt your windows, lock your doors! This dire warning appeared in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on Monday, April 3rd, 1939. The Monster was “loose again” and heading straight for the city’s storied Tivoli Theater.

We couldn’t let the 2014 run out without celebrating this year’s 75th Anniversary of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and these great newspaper ads from Australia make for very original Ballyhoo.

On April 5, this next ad ran, proclaiming The Monster as “the screen’s most sensational character” and SON as “easily the best of the ‘Frankenstein’ films”.

Back in 1932, when the first Universal FRANKENSTEIN came to Brisbane and the same Tivoli Theater, the PR went into overdrive with handsomely illustrated ads, “we dare you” hype, nurses in attendance, and a Lloyds of London insurance policy covering the first person who might croak during a showing. The festivities included a live event — a “Frankenstein Night” — at the Carlton Cabaret, with The Monster putting in a personal appearance!

In 1939, the PR was toned down but, still, the ad copy was wildly enthusiastic, patrons were urged to book seats in advance against the expected crowds, and another live event was scheduled. Note, at bottom left of the ad, on that Wednesday, a “Frankenstein Thrill Night Dance” was to be held at the vast Trocadero dance hall. The venue was known to roll out elaborate displays on theme nights — various charity events or the annual Police Ball — and one wonders how the hall was decorated in celebration of a Frankenstein Thrill Night. There is no record of a Monster stalking the dance floor this time. 

Coming up: Another beautifully illustrated SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ad from the Brisbane papers of April 1939.

December 13, 2014

The Monster Movie Art of Feg Murray

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Starting in 1933 and on through 1951, Feg Murray’s syndicated cartoon feature Seein’ Stars celebrated Hollywood movies, with significant coverage given to horror films, a genre generally avoided by the film fan magazines of the times. Murray’s exceptional renderings and beautiful color work included portraits of famous movie monsters and movie monster stars. When Murray took Seein’ Stars to radio, he brought together Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi to sing a duet! Feg Murray was, I submit, a Monster Kid pioneer!

Originally posted in November of 2014, here is an appreciation of Feg Murray’s Monster Movie Art. There’s tons of artwork to discover, and all the thumbnails can be clicked to view large.

This serialized article could not have been possible without the help of monster movie expert George Chastain who contributed information, insights and most of the fabulous art collected here.

If you’ve never seen Feg Murray’s work, you’re in for a real treat. Enjoy! 

December 12, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 10)

It's hard, today, to fully appreciate just how popular Feg Murray’s Seein’ Stars cartoon feature really was. In the Thirties and Forties, a golden age for newspapers as America’s primary source of information, a generous offering of comic strips and illustrated features provided entertainment. Murray’s celebrity-centric panel was neither first nor the only one of its kind, but an 18-year run attests to its enduring popularity. Seein’ Stars ran daily from 1933 to 1941, then as a weekly until 1951.

Along the way, Murray would bring Seein’ Stars to radio. We’ve seen Murray putting in a cameo in a Hollywood picture, and Seein’ Stars was name-checked among other important national sources — including Life magazine, Popular Science, New York Times and New York Daily News — in a trailer for DESTINATION MOON (1950).

Over the past month, we’ve looked at some of Feg Murray’s genre illustrations, mostly his Frankenstein images. Wrapping up the series, we have yet another Karloff Frankenstein, and a superb rendering of Raymond Massey channeling Karloff’s Monster in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944). Be sure to click the thumbnails below and see the whole feature as it originally appeared. Note that Massey shares space with the curious Sea Monster from Republic’s HAUNTED HARBOR (1944).

Non-Frankenstein monster movie illustrations included Fredric March’s Oscar-winning Mr. Hyde, beautifully drawn and colored, appearing in the Murray panel (thumbnail below) with his John Barrymore and Spencer Tracy counterparts. Under the bandages is a young Vincent Price, from THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), portending a career to come as a horror film icon. Buster Crabbe aims a super-sized raygun in FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS (1938), a feature film version of a Universal serial.

Over a month’s worth of posts, we’ve still only scratched the surface. Evidence of Feg Murray’s love for horror, fantasy and science fiction keeps popping up on the ‘net. Check the thumbnails below for a (low quality) glimpse of THE CRIMSON GHOST (1946) and Acquanetta as CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). Murray would also cover KING KONG (1933), WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935), as well as Charles Gemora and fellow gorilla-suited performers.

The low quality strips posted here are from eBay. The high quality scans we’ve seen all month are from the collection of the ever-generous George Chastain, without whom this Feg Murray series would have been simply impossible. Thanks very much, George!

More of Feg Murray’s art:

The Feg Murray Papers at the Online Archive of California.
A 1930 painted calendar, some black and white Seein’ Stars panels and a Christmas card by Murray on Michael Sporn Animation.
A great collection of Seein’ Stars panels on The Fabulous Fifties here and here.
Feg Murray on Booksteve’s Library.
Art and information on Feg Murray at Comics Kingdom.
Terrific super-sized Feg Murray panels from the collection of comic strip artist Terry Beatty.