Thursday, August 30, 2012
Check It Out: THE UPA JOLLY FROLICS COLLECTION (Part Two)
John Hubley was essentially forced out of UPA, along with writer Phil Eastman, in 1952, after the former refused to testify in front of HUAC about his, or others, alleged Communist ties (that this ritual resembled the show trials that were a regular part of life in the Soviet Union never seemed to occur to the idiots running the committe). This changed the dynamics of the company somewhat, and the dominant director at the company became Robert Cannon, whose career had started at Warner Brothers, where he worked frequently with Chuck Jones (Jones and Cannon were responsible for, if nothing else, the mind-blowing entry The Dover Boys). Cannon won the studio their first Oscar (for Gerald McBoing Boing), and he continued to produce gentle comedies about daily life and ordinary people, including this one, Willie The Kid, where the hero makes The West safe for women and children -- and then goes in to take his nap . . .
I first heard Ludwig Bemelmans' 1940 children's book Madeline when my Kindergarten teacher read it to the class. If Seinfeld was the sitcom About Nothing, then Madeline does the same for kids literature and is all the more charming for it. The closest thing to a Big Event in the book is the title character's bout of appendicitis. The rest is simply the minor happenings in the lives of some convent-school girls in Paris, twelve little girls in two straight lines . . .
One of the more inventive and unpredictable directors at UPA was Ted Parmelee, who, almost back-to-back, made The Emperor's New Clothes and The Tell Tale Heart. The former is just about the best telling of Hans Christian Andersen's story of hubris and unintentional nudism I've ever seen, pared down to the basics, visually striking, and featuring wonderful voice work by Hans Conreid, who keeps five distinct characters up in the air at once. The last line, when the humiliated monarch yells "SHUT UP!!!" is hilarious and poignant at the same time . . .
The Tell Tale Heart is as much the work of background and colorist Paul Julian as it is Parmelee, and his settings for this story of insanity and murder would make it unsettling even without James Mason's brilliant reading of the story. This was, originally, going to be released in 3-D, but either the fad had passed by the time that Columbia got it into theaters, or everyone involved regained their senses and realized that it didn't need any gimmicks to scare the hell out of audiences.
One of the unrealized ambitions of UPA president Stephen Bosustow was a feature-length film based on the works of James Thurber. The closest that he got was this 1954 short based on the Thurber story "The Unicorn in The Garden," from Thurber's 1940 book Fables For Our Time. It was directed by William Hurtz, normally a background artist (and later the creator of the wonderful animated credits for Jay Ward's syndicated show Fractured Flickers), and he caught the genuine charm of the story. And, alas, the undercurrent of misogyny that was part of almost everything Thurber wrote.
Even people who dislike it in general concede that The Man on The Flying Trapeze is visually striking. And indeed it is, with beautiful backgrounds by Paul Julian. Personally, I think it has a lot more going for it, including the wonderfully sad-sack hero, Wesley, voiced by Jack Mather, and a great score by Lou Maury that rings wonderful variations on the old music-hall staple. The plot, about Wesley's sweetheart Fifi, making her way up a ladder of men towards show-biz success, is handled in a nicely off-hand manner, and with considerably more wit than , say, All About Eve.