September 13, 2008

Frankensteinian : The Snow Man

In the early thirties, the success of James Whale’s Frankenstein made the film a point of reference. New films, even plain mysteries, were advertised or critiqued as being “Frankenstein-like”, or “in the vein of Frankenstein”. It even applied to cartoon shorts, as in this curious review by James Francis Crow in a Hollywood Citizen News entertainment column dated August 24, 1933:

Ted Eshbaugh, touted as the first worthy competitor to Walt Disney, has completed the first color cartoon of The Wizard of Oz series, and it will be released soon by a major studio, this column hears.

Another of Eshbaugh's creations, called The Snow Man, in an Arctic locale, applies the Frankenstein theme to cartoon comics. The snow man builded by the little Eskimo hero and his animal pals comes to life and spreads havoc in the north country. But our hero runs to the North Pole Power Plant, turns on the Aurora Borealis, and melts Mr. Snow Man.

A fish the icy Frankenstein has swallowed is found swimming in the placid lake formed at his demise.

The Snow Man, all in color, will open at Tally's Criterion tomorrow.

As far as being a “worthy competitor”, Ted Eshbaugh was indeed the first of Disney’s would-be rivals to produce color cartoons, but he was never a true contender. He would produce or direct a handful of titles, the most significant being a 1933 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, with music by Carl Stalling. Promoted as the first of a series, the short was embroiled in legal problems and never reached theaters. The record is unclear, it was either a case of Walt Disney having an exclusive agreement with Technicolor, or Samuel Goldwyn owning the film rights to the property.

The Snow Man, produced in 1932, features a nasty North Pole bogeyman with scary claws and a literal stovepipe hat. The Frankenstein theme suggested by reporter Crow is incidental, the snowman being a creature assembled, brought to life and going on a rampage. A year later, the film might have been compared to King Kong instead. The 8-minute film survives today in black and white. Too bad, the aura borealis finale must have been stunning in color.

The theater mentioned in the article, Tally’s Criterion, was called “The first truly ‘deluxe” movie theatre in Los Angeles” when it opened, as The Kinema, in 1917, boating 1800 seats and a spectacular organ. It was one of the first theaters to install the Vitaphone sound system in 1927 and Al Jolson himself traveled cross-country to attend a showing there of The Jazz Singer. The theater cycled through several names until it was damaged in a fire, abandoned, and demolished in 1941.

See The Snow Man on YouTube.

At Last — Movie Cartoons in Color”, an article about Eshbaugh’s methods, published in Modern Mechanix, in January 1932.

Source of the newspaper quote: Old Movie Section.


Richard Harland Smith said...

Imagine a bout between The Snowman and "the Old Pincushion Man, the terror of Balloonyland." I'd pay to see that.

Pierre Fournier said...

Yikes, the Pincushion Man! That one is so seriously deranged, it still gives me the willies.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the Esbaugh WIZARD cartoon's problems stemmed from legal complications with the Technicolor company, rather than ownership of the WIZARD book.

Pierre Fournier said...

Anonymous: The record is unclear. It was either the Technicolor issue or a rights case. I have made a small modification to my post to reflect this. Thanks.