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 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.

November 28, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 9)

Cartoonist Feg Murray captured all of the Universal Frankenstein Monsters over the run of his Seein’ Stars newspaper feature. After Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi, the part fell to character actor Glenn Strange whose craggy Mount Rushmore face and six-foot-five frame made him a Monster to reckon with. In short but memorable appearances in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), the underused Monster would roll off the slab for a quick, last reel walkabout before meeting his inevitable doom. Murray notes how the apparently destroyed Monster would always “show up for the next horror film”.

Unexpectedly, Strange would get a chance to show his Monster chops front and center in the final film of the original series, the wildly funny and surprisingly influential ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). Both illustrations here are contemporary to the Abbott and Costello comedy.

The full face-on image announcing the film is a direct precursor, and a worthy companion piece to the famous James Bama painting of the Sixties that used the same photo reference. 

Click the thumbnails below to see the full cartoon panels. I have included a third Glenn Strange image, found on eBay, although the quality is poor.

Next up: We wrap up the Feg Murray series!

With thanks to George Chastain!

The Monster: Glenn Strange

November 23, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 8)

Cartoonist Feg Murray kept track and featured all the actors who played the Frankenstein Monster as they came aboard. We’ve seen Karloff, Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi pictured, and here’s a teaser, published on 2 July 1944, announcing Boris’ return to the Frankenstein franchise, with a caveat: The role of The Monster went to “someone else”. That would be Glenn Strange, of course — Coming up in our next post!

THE DEVIL’S BROOD was a working title for the first “Monster Rally”, released as HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), a gathering spot for The Monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, a Hunchback and a Mad Scientist. Karloff was the Mad Doc, though not “Dr. Frankenstein” as stated by Murray. Karloff played Gustav Neiman, a lunatic asylum escapee and Frankenstein wannabe.

We are celebrating Boris Karloff this weekend, on the occasion of a birth date — November 23 — he shares with his daughter Sara. We send fond best wishes to Sara Karloff who generously keeps her father’s memory alive for his countless fans. 

Happy Birthday, Boris and Sara!        

With thanks to George Chastain.

November 21, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 7)

Boris Karloff made a number of appearances, in and out of Frankenstein Monster makeup, in cartoonist Feg Murray’s celebrated Seein’ Stars strip. This late entry, on 16 April 1944, for 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, was nothing more than an excuse for a fun anecdote — that is also pure hype, no doubt.

On 25 May 1947, Karloff put in a non-horror appearance decked in feathers and longhair wig as Guyasuta of the Senecas from Cecil B. DeMille’s UNCONQUERED. Boris also shared space in November 1940 with Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre as the triple-threat menaces in the horror-comedy-musical YOU’LL FIND OUT, a Kay Kyser vehicle.

Click the thumbnails below to see the complete features.  

Color features from the collection of George Chastain. Black and White feature from The Fabulous Fifties.