Paul Terry Nitratoons

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These two 35mm nitrate prints of the 1931 Terrytoons, “Club Sandwich” and “Popcorn” turned up recently on British Ebay. My friend Steve Stanchfield, had the temerity and courage to bid on them, and he won! He then sold them to me, I fixed them up a bit and ran ‘em off. “Club Sandwich” is a minor mystery historically, in that Leonard’s book says it’s “on studio records as DANCING MICE”. Actually, that’s the title of the TV version of the cartoon, edited by CBS. For the most part the two versions are alike, until nearly the end of the story, as the mice tie a line to Farmer Alfalfa’s leg and run him through the “gauntlet”, meaning through mouse holes, up and down chimney flues, over the roof and so forth. The propelling instrument for this high velocity drag is a mule: club-sandwich-8.jpg The little mouse shoots the mule with the cannon, causing him to run off at high speed (note the line attached to him). In DANCING MICE, the action cuts just after the cannon is fired, to Farmer Al being dragged. In CLUB SANDWICH, the mule emerges from the smoke: club-sandwich-9.jpgclub-sandwich-10.jpgclub-sandwich-11.jpgclub-sandwich-7.jpgwithout his SKIN!! Farmer Al is then dragged through all the mouse holes and on to the horizon for the iris down. In DANCING MICE, the last scene is joined in progress, and you can barely see the mule in the distance. In CLUB SANDWICH, the mule’s bones run into the shot in full view of the mice, then Farmer Al enters the frame: club-sandwich-3.jpgclub-sandwich-4.jpg The frames with sound track attached were scanned direct from the nitrate print, sometimes they are a little streaky. The rendering of the trees and mountains is beautiful, reminds me of Japanese artists like Hokusai. Far too many of these 1930s Terrytoons exist only in the CBS TV versions, with many cuts and alterations. Obviously somebody at CBS didn’t like bones or skeleton gags as you’ll see in the Terry cartoon “Popcorn”, comin’ up next on this channel. So long to club-sandwich-1.jpg (note this is the original end title card, the main title cards upstairs are the British titles).

Out next cartoon, “Popcorn” is one of the 1930s Terrytoons that was NOT shown on Television, probably the same CBS censor who cut “Club Sandwich” didn’t care for the haunted house sequence in “Popcorn”. Most of the cartoon is the boy and girl mouse enjoying a day at the county fair, riding the rides, grabbing for the brass ring, etc. When they enter the haunted house “ride”, here are a few things they saw: popcorn-3.jpg The barker outside the haunted house tent, with pipe smoking skeleton on the “poster”. popcorn-2.jpgThe Girl friend meets one of the residents of the haunted house, who steps out of a coffin-shaped doorway. (Note that the frame grabs show how the early sound films just cut an area out on the left side of the frame to allow for the sound track. The rest of the picture area (or “aperture”) is painted top to bottom. In projection, a lot of this picture information is cut off. Sometimes this is called a “Movietone” aperture.) popcorn-1.jpgThe Girl Mouse hallucinates from her contact with ectoplasmic phenomena and the floor and furniture come to life. popcorn-4.jpg Here is an early layout/editing technique that the Terrytoons studio used quite a bit. Popping a completely different background behind the characters while the characters continue to move in the same picture plane as if the change had not occurred. This was a great money saver and time saver. The backgrounds and layouts didn’t have to be conformed to live-action style cut aways at all, just pop ‘em on! In this example, the tracks and the mice animate, but rather than try to animate the background with the roller coaster tracks back to the horizon, a simple wall design is substituted, which animates in perspective. The “cut” to a different background works because we are watching the characters. The early Terrytoons were very lazy about the character’s feet slipping on pans in slow walks, so they had a lot of chases, where the slipping isn’t as apparent.

It’s wonderful to see these early Terrytoons, even in British prints, which sometimes have their OWN censorship problems. How different our image of Terrytoons might be today, if we could see them with all the strange and terrifying images restored. I have a feeling we might make more comparisons between Terrytoons and Fleischer if we could see more of the uncut Terrytoons. When Network Television (CBS) got involved in marketing the Terrytoons of the 1930s, an historic decision was made. “Cartoons are for Kids”. The heavy editorial hand descended and any gags remotely appealing to the Moms and Dads, especially the Dads, were out. The early walls of the cell in which cartoons are forever imprisoned were being constructed. Let’s hope that the original 35mm negatives, now entrusted to the UCLA Film Archive, contain all the gags and ideas that CBS wouldn’t allow us to see in 1956.

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Felix (3/18 to 3/24/1935) continues his adventures at sea. Patch and Spike, greedy sailors, want all the gold for themselves and store it on a lifeboat. They try to escape with the goods, but fortunately for the crew, Felix, their lucky mascot, is asleep on board the lifeboat. I love the second panel in the 3-21 strip. The staging is so crowded that it looks like Spike’s nose is sniffing Patch’s hand. The Sunday continues Felix’s adventures in Dreamland. He uses the Giant’s pipe to blow a bubble that will carry him into next Sunday’s strip.

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Krazy (1-27 to 2-1-1942) centers around Offissa Pupp’s Jail for most of the week. I love Krazy’s Owl friend in the 1-31. Herriman drew owls very well, this one would have made a good continuing character.

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Patrick (11-28 to 12-3-1966) has a lot of winter time jokes involving snowballs and squirt guns. Patrick’s dad appears in the 12-1, and his brother Nathan in the 11-28. Mal Hancock used the single panel daily a few years before it’s use became wide-spread. Now two panel and one panel dailies are common-place given the tight space that newspapers allow comics, but Mal was using them when they stood out from the crowd a little more. They looked “modern” and eye-catching.

11 Responses to “Paul Terry Nitratoons”

  1. Charles Brubaker Says:

    How do you store nitrate films? Any special precautions that you take? Great discovery, by the way. I love posts like these.

    The cartoonist that probably made single-panel strip format popular was Bob Thaves. His “Frank & Ernest” strip are being done in that format. It was apparently treated as a big deal in the syndication business and Cartoonist PROfiles even did an interview about it.

    Some strips are also done in both the strip and panel format in order to gain as much papers as possible. Most notably Wiley Miller and his “Non Sequitur” comic. He only draws ONE original for each strip. The single-panels are drawn in the shape of a Hospital cross and then crops it depending on how the paper wants to run it. If its multi-panel he has a gutter in the middle and just stacks it into rows.

  2. juan alfonso Says:

    Were the brass rings pulled from a bull’s nose in this Terrytoon or am I remembering a different one?

  3. Mark Says:

    Thanks for the comments Charles and Juan!
    I think that’s a different Terrytoon, Juan, there isn’t any scene like that in “Club Sandwich” or “Popcorn” (boy, those Terrytoon titles make me hungry). I store nitrate prints with the Academy Film Archive, Charles. They have special nitrate vaults and I can have access to my prints anytime. It’s not a good idea to store nitrate and safety prints in the same place. Thanks for the info on the history of single panel comic strips. I know Bob Thaves’s work, but I didn’t know that Wiley Miller composes his “Non Sequitur” strip in the shape of a hospital cross! I like his cartooning. It’s especially nice to know that Juan Alfonso reads my blog, good to hear from you.

  4. juan alfonso Says:

    thanks!They used to run tons of old Terrytoons on CMQ channel 6 in Havana Cuba,silent but with stock music playing behind it.Unfortunately,they got rid of all their old stock,Maybe with luck some employees took reels of the stuff home rather than burn them.

  5. Charlie Judkins Says:

    Hey Mark,

    Great to see these finally turn up, especially the previously lost “Popcorn”! I have photocopies of the studio records for about the first 40 Terrytoons, so I’ve seen the boards and scene breakdowns for Popcorn, but never thought I’d see the actual thing! Two more early “lost” Terrytoons that I’ve seen art and story from and seem particularly interesting are “Quack Quack” and “French Fried”, which both feature Farmer Al’s very young looking girlfriend!

    Its interesting to see the continuing theme of skeletons being cut from these cartoons by CBS, additionally I know a scene of dancing skeletons animated by John Terry was later cut from “Indian Pudding”.

  6. john Says:

    Oh man, great post. Those old Terrys have real exuberance that continue to make them feel fresh. And, like so many cartoons of the era, so off the wall that there’s always something new to discover every time you watch. Thank-you for your insight and generosity with generally spreading this stuff out there. A lot of us would never know what we were missing! I’d love to see you do more posts on cartoons of the 30’s-an area in which you have very perceptive insight!

  7. Thomas Richmond Says:

    Wow absolutely incredible! I remember when these were on Ebay and I was really upset because I couldn’t bid on them and no one else seemed to be bidding on them either. Thank God they’re in the right hands.

    Now, what exactly do you do with all these rare films Mark, do you ever give them to companies to put them on DVD or what?

  8. Mark Says:

    Hi Thomas,
    They are already mastered on DVD for release by Steve Stanchfield’s Thunderbean animation. The 35mm nitrate prints shall go on deposit with the Academy Film Archive, who are equipped with proper nitrate storage vaults. Eventually, they should be copied to safety stock for the enrichment of the Viacom Corporation, which owns the rights. Right now, the collection of original nitrate and safety negatives of the Terrytoons are on deposit with the UCLA Film Archive. I hope that Viacom, Paramount, or whoever else holds rights in these classic cartoons will do the right thing and put up the money for the proper preservation of the nitrate elements.

  9. Brianna Says:

    Dear Mark,

    Do you know anything about a copy of Terrytoons “Amateur Night” from (1935)?

    Brianna

  10. Mark Says:

    Hi Brianna,
    The only thing I know about “Amateur Night” is that it has been on my cartoon “want list” for more than 40 years! At the UCLA Film Archive, they have dupe track and picture negatives on Amateur Night, and an original nitrate print. Contact Jere Guildin over there, he knows all about the Viacom collection, of which the Terrytoons material is a part.
    All best, Mark

  11. Nelson Hughs Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Have a question about another 1930 Terrytoons release.The cartoon in question is FRENCH FIRED and does this film mark the first appearance of Farmer AlFalfa in a Terrytoons cartoon? This short is a rare one indeed and was never included in the original tv package when Terry sold his library to CBS.I know that UCLA has the nitrate negative and hope that the archive can restore it for historical purposes if this is Farmer Alfalfa’s Terrytoons debut.

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