Thursday, March 03, 2005

Film Obscurities Ahoy!

Bill Sherman has posted a truly bokko review of Hips, Hips, Hooray! on his blog. My only significant difference of opinion with Bill regarding Wheeler and Woolsey is about whether or not the team's screen characters are as well delineated as, say, Hope and Crosby. As Hope and Crosby's screen characters were extensions of the public personas they developed through radio experience, and Wheeler and Woolsey's characters were developed over decades of playing vaudeville and musical theater, I consider the comparison to be a matter of apples and oranges. I don't think current tastes are quite the reason for W&W's latter-day "also-ran" status. For audiences in the 1930s, Wheeler and Woolsey were right up there with Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. But when tastes shifted in the 40s, even comics that we consider completely distinctive today were rapidly put out to pasture. I doubt the comically naive Wheeler and Woolsey would have stood a chance in a world where Abbott and Costello and the Ritz Brothers were box office champs, but that's not to say their screen characters had, then or now, lost the ability to entertain. I'm not suggesting that I believe W&W to have been as talented as many of the aforementioned comics, but if their films had received the same vigorous TV exposure in the 60s and 70s as the Three Stooges' Columbia shorts, Hope and Crosby's "Road" pictures, and the canon of Laurel and Hardy, I think they'd have much more of a following today. Unfortunately, aside from a select number of features (King Kong, the Astaire/Rogers musicals), RKO's film library was sadly neglected until its acquisition by Ted Turner.

And speaking of neglected stuff, animation historians David Gerstein and Pietro Shakarian have put together a website about the Winkler Studios' 1928-29 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. This was the studio formed by Charles Mintz to continue Universal's Oswald series after he infamously took control of the character from Walt Disney. It's a shame that so many of the Winkler Oswalds are lost to time because the animators who produced them went on to start most of the Hollywood cartoon studios we remember today. Former Disney animators Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising founded Warner Bros.' in-house animation unit under Leon Schlesinger in 1930 (taking Oswald animator Friz Freleng with them) and then did the same for MGM in 1934 (taking Bosko and half of the Schlesinger staff with them). Animator Walter Lantz, who had been in the business since the teens, started his own studio in 1929 when Universal dumped Mintz and gave him Oswald. And another big chunk of the Winkler staff moved on to Mintz's previously mentioned Screen Gems studio. Must have been a hell of a place to work...


Post a Comment

<< Home