Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Clutch Cargo and the Magic of Synchro-Vox

Brentwood Home Video, makers of many fine dollar DVDs and shameless purveyors of obscure media, have released the entire run of Clark Haas' mindbending 1959 kidvid magnum opus Clutch Cargo to DVD. At $30 for the complete two volume set (cheaper at Amazon), the price is certainly right.

For the uninitiated, Clutch Cargo was a cartoon adventure serial running five days a week as a segment on hundreds of locally-hosted kid's cartoon shows in the late 50s and early 60s. The show's concept was basic in the extreme; international adventurer Clutch Cargo (action), travels around the world with his young ward Spinner (audience identification) and his dog Paddlefoot (comic relief). The stories are simple and embody a certain period charm (like tiki glasses, avocado green, or the decor of a Bob's Big Boy), and creator Clark Haas' fondness for puns and non-sequitur gags frequently shows through. As is to expected from a TV show of this vintage, there are plenty of stereotypes, ethnic and otherwise, to be found. Virtually every villain in the show is fat and swarthy.

Clutch Cargo was promoted by its production house, Cambria Studio, as a "TV comic strip" for a reason. It's not exactly animated. If anything, the series was a clever exercise on the part of Cambria Studio to avoid limited, let alone full, animation (although there are rare flashes of both to be found). It's actually pseudo-mation. An array of techniques were used to create the illusion of movement without going through the trouble and expense of shooting anything frame-by-frame, most resembling a kind of 2-D puppetry. For instance, to simulate Clutch and co. walking, a cel featuring the characters' torsos in profile was bobbed up and down by hand across the camera's field of vision. Real flames and smoke were superimposed when needed. In once instance, a red balloon was used to simulate bubble gum emerging from a jet plane's engine (it's a very silly show). But best of all, and the primary reason for Clutch Cargo's notoriety, was Cambria's biggest animation-saver: Synchro-Vox. As dialogue, rather than movement, had to carry much of the weight of the series' stories, Cambria was still faced with the prospect of having to create limited animation every time a character spoke. But thanks to the miracle of Synchro-Vox, Cambria was spared the cost; the voice actors' mouths were simply superimposed onto the characters' faces. The Synchro-Vox technique is pretty bizarre at first glance, but, for me at least, after a few episodes it simply becomes a part of the show's language. Admittedly, however, there is something decidedly disconcerting about Margaret Kerry's very feminine mouth superimposed on Spinner's face, especially as she doesn't do a very convincing boy's voice in the first place (Kerry was, incidentally, the live-action model for Tinkerbell in Disney's Peter Pan). The characters were designed to allow plenty of room for the live-action mouths, so there are lots of huge chins, wide faces, and large beards to be seen.

I found this nice example of Clark Haas' original art on Ebay. Perhaps this is one of the concept drawings he used to sell Clutch Cargo to Cambria Studio Inc. in 1958. The character designs are very different than those eventually used in the series. This drawing is also very much in the style Haas used when he took over the comic strip Buzz Sawyer from the great Roy Crane.

Cambria's emphasis on voice work, stories, and design rather than animation surprisingly works in the series' favor, a good example of innovation turning a weakness into a strength. In the case of Clutch Cargo, the near complete absence of animation allowed the series' artists to concentrate on making attractive individual drawings and layouts, so the show actually looks better than most limited animation series of the same vintage and, IMO, more watchable. It's a case of no animation at all being better than crummy animation, a philosophy Cambria should have stuck with when they later produced the horrible New Three Stooges cartoons of 1965-1966 (and which would have put Hanna-Barbera and Filmation completely out of business in the 1970s).

This advantages of Synchro-Vox and pseudo-mation are further displayed by one of the DVD extras on volume one; a complete five-episode story arc of another Synchro-Vox series, Space Angel (1962-64). Far less cartoon-y and technically superior to Clutch Cargo, Space Angel was designed by none other than DC cartoonist Alex Toth. The live-action mouths are less intrusive and better integrated into the character designs, and Toth's artwork makes the show strikingly attractive.. certainly more attractive than his later work on Space Ghost for Hanna-Barbera. Volume two features an episode of the third and last Synchro-Vox series, Captain Fathom, an even talkier, somewhat more sophisticated show (plot-wise) that has the overall feel of a Garry Anderson Supermarionation series. I noticed former Screen Gems director/animator Chic Otterstrom's name among the credits for the art crew at the end, along with Clark Haas who did double duty as the series' supervising director and clearly wasn't above getting his hands dirty as a pseudomator.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Write your living wills NOW...

Wonderful. Now the GOP is exploiting a family's tragedy in order to overturn court decisions from behind their desks in Washington whenever they disagree with them. This is beyond grotesque, especially considering that in 1999, here in Texas, Gov. Bush signed into law an insurance industry-drafted piece of legislation that allows hospitals the right to pull the plug on you, EVEN IF YOU ARE STILL COMPLETELY CONSCIOUS AND AWARE, if you could no longer pay and there was no hope (as determined by the hospital and insurance co.) of revival. Oh, and your family has no say in the matter. So if a perfectly conscious woman in an iron lung were to lose her health insurance in Texas and couldn't get anyone else to insure her, the hospital would be within its rights to pull the plug, no matter what her family said. The law does say that you're allowed to plead your case at the conferences between the hospital and insurance reps that will decide your fate, however. How thoughtful! The Texas Futile Care Law has been used frequently over the past five years to force people off life support here. Impoverished minorities and the elderly, mostly. And, whadayaknow? No prayer vigils, no media circus, certainly no Republicans attempting to dismantle the separation of powers by ramrodding through unconstitutional legislation. Nada. There wasn't the slightest fuss when the Texas Futile Care Law was passed, either. So what's the deal? As Mark A.R. Kleiman said. "If you think Terri Schiavo is being murdered, you think that George W. Bush signed a bill allowing murder in 1999, and that bill is still on the books. Perhaps Mr. Bush flew to the wrong capital on Sunday; some people in Austin seem to need instruction about the "presumption in favor of life."" This situation would have been much easier for the Schiavos if they had lived in Texas. Even easier than that if they were minorities.

Let's face facts. Terri Schiavo is not going to recover. Medical consensus is that she is in a persistent vegetative state and there is no chance of recovery. Her brain has, at this point, deteriorated to the point where she's less aware of the world around her than a goldfish. Says Dr. Richard Demme, head of the ethics committee at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, a persistent vegetative state "means the lower part of the brain that tells her lungs to breathe is still intact. But it doesn't mean she has any thoughts or the ability to experience anything. Her brain is pretty much full of fluid. Barring some miracle, she will never get any better than she is now. There is nothing in medicine we know of that will make her able to think or experience again. To suggest there are medical therapies that can help her - that all she needs is tender loving care and she will be romping in the back yard again - is cruel." Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, who is Terri's legal guardian, who spent six years getting the best possible care for his wife in the hope she might recover before finally facing the horrible truth, has also had the privilege to be publicly slandered by Tom DeLay (slander which, considering the source, I hope Michael wears like a badge of honor). The courts have been on Michael Schiavo's side, over and over again, because clear evidence indicates that Terri would not want to have been kept on life support if she was in a vegetative state and that her parents' hopes for her recovery are absolutely groundless. In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday, Michael Schiavo invited both Jeb and George W. to visit his wife in the hospital, at least once. This will never happen. "Come talk to me.', he said. "Meet my wife. Talk to my wife and see if you get an answer. Ask her to lift her arm to shake your hand. She won't do it." Because she can't. As for Michael's motivations, I've heard nothing but innuendo and hearsay. And I really have my doubts about how much trust fund money is going to be left after the legal fees and the staggering cost of keeping Terri alive for the past fifteen years.

The naked hypocrisy displayed in this case is astounding. The GOP has been no friend to the public at all on issues like poverty, disease, and education, but give them an opportunity to use a woman in a vegetative coma as a way to prove their devotion to humanity and they're all over it. I find it remarkable that those who are championing keeping Terri Schiavo "alive" are also those people who champion the gutting of Medicare, stripping you of your right to sue for malpractice, endless bloody war, the legalization of torture, and the denial of universal health care as a basic human right. But it's not about consistency with the GOP. It's about making political hay. And shame on cowardly Democrats like Senator Reid who play along with this ghoulish political theater.

But at least in this instance, it appears as if the GOP has overreached. AP 3/21/05: "According to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 909 adults taken over the weekend, nearly six in 10 people said they think the feeding tube should be removed and felt they would want to remove it for a child or spouse in the same condition." The problem with the Schiavo case is that, unlike war or poverty, too many people can sympathize. Most of us don't want to be kept alive in a vegetative coma or be forced to keep a loved one alive in that condition. And when the truth about Congress's lunatic "emergency legislation" finally filters out, I hope there's hell to pay.

Friday, March 18, 2005

In Defense of Smurfs...

While here in the US, the Smurfs are primarily remembered as one of the nadirs of 80s pop kitsch, in their home country of Belgium, both they and their creator, Pierre Culliford (Peyo), are still highly revered. Peyo's Schtroumpfs remain one of the most enduring of Belgium's many bandes dessinées creations, and certainly one of the very few outside Herge's Tintin to gain international fame. While I may not be as fond of Peyo's somewhat stiff and simplistic drawing style as I am of the styles of compatriots like Franquin and Tilleux, his abilities as a storyteller ranked him among the best in his field.

Peyo's Smurf books were well-crafted and very funny little social satires, acted out within the confines of the tiny, essentially communistic Smurf village. Only three Smurfs seemed to have unique personalities; Jokey (the anarchist), Papa (the village patriarch/wiseman), and Brainy (the self-defeating, knowitall underdog). The rest were interchangable "everymen", peaceable but prone to mob mentality in times of crisis. Le schtroumpfissime remains one of Peyo's best stories, showing the rise of despotism in the village when Papa Smurf temporarily leaves. The more-or-less identical Smurfs split into ideological factions and a civil war breaks out. Another story concerned the rise of mass-communications in the village when strange vines grow that act as both a phone system and fiber-optic cables for television signals. The fundamental equality of their social order is broken as some Smurfs become egotistical, demanding celebrities. Papa Smurf destroys the vine and restores the peace. The most frightening of Peyo's stories, Les Schtroumpfs noirs, was about a transmittable disease spread by infected Smurfs biting others on the tail (rather Freudian). The disease turns the Smurfs into black, feral, hopping "G'naps". Nearly the entire village, including Papa Smurf, succumbs to the disease before a cure is accidentally found. The climax is like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers for kids! Peyo's last story before his death in 1992 was Le Schtroumpf financier, a satire on the unequal distribution of wealth.

Hanna-Barbera used Peyo's books as the basis for the first season of the TV series, cutting down feature-length stories to fit in a Saturday Morning timeslot and stripping them of their political subtext when possible. After they drained Peyo's backlog of stories dry, Hanna-Barbera formulized the show (making the evil wizard Gargamel the Coyote to the Smurfs' Roadrunner) and introduced a lot of distinct, merchandisable non-Peyo Smurf characters, which rather defeated the whole point of the concept. Peyo may have made a fortune thanks to H-B and the international merchandising frenzy triggered by the TV series, but Hanna-Barbera's mediocre cartoons have clouded his reputation as a brilliant satirist and storyteller, at least in America.

The Return of Flying-Feet Johnny!

The increasingly upsetting adventures of that delightful spring-shoed young rascal continue.

click on the thumbnail above for a version you can actually read

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tintin In Iraq

This has probably been floating around the net for a while now, but it's new to me. Tintin In Iraq is a brilliant 62 page satire of Dubya's Folly utilizing art from virtually every one of Hergé's Tintin books (but primarily Tintin In the Land of Black Gold and Tintin and the Picaros for obvious reasons). A remarkable piece of work. In French only, unfortunately. The people who created it were maintaining a website that used Hergé's artwork to satirize current events. It seems to be down at the moment, hopefully just temporarily.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's easier than drawing your own comix?

Writing new dialogue for other people's old comix! Don't "Kangru-Springshus" look like something the Spanish Inquisition would've used? I can only imagine the trail of broken ankles these monstrosities must have left in their wake.

click on the thumbnail above for a version you can actually read

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Confessions of a Dollar DVD Junkie...

Sure, you start out with just one or two.. "Say! I was looking for a copy of Rescue From Gilligan's Island!" you say. But, OH no.. You can't just buy the one DVD, can you? I mean, what the hell is Slipstream, anyway? And HOLY CRAP, it has Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton in it!! AND IT'S DIRECTED BY STEVEN "TRON" LISBERGER!!! So into the basket it goes.. and what's this? Cathy's Curse? A 1977 Canadian Exorcist rip-off?? YOW!! And before you know it, you're up to your neck in public domain goodness, cheap cardboard sleeves all over the bloody place.

Dollar DVDs have the old cheapo SLP VHS tapes beat nine ways from Sunday. Away with impossible-to-track images and $2.50 price tags! DVD titles from Genius Entertainment are usually mastered from nice prints.. sometimes rather questionably acquired (their copy of Buster Keaton's College was ripped straight from Kino's DVD edition, musical score and Kino logo intact). Their cartoon collections are especially nifty. Who'da thunk that someone would have released THREE VOLUMES of Van Beuren cartoons? Or a Gumby DVD which not only features untampered 50s and 60s prints with their original audio tracks intact (the "official" Gumby collections have changed out the cartoons' original Capitol needle-drop music in favor of synthesizers) but also includes Art Clokey's pre-Gumby experimental short Gumbasia??? I've been a PD booster for a long time, so I wasn't too surprised to hear that 19 of the top 50 best selling DVDs of 2004 were dollar titles. But, for some reason, many industry insiders are shocked that consumers are showing enthusiasm for these DVDs, even at a buck a throw. Part of the appeal, I think, is the thrill of the hunt. Most of these public domain titles are completely obscure, having slipped through the cracks a long time ago so you frequently have no earthly idea what you're getting. But at a buck, it scarcely qualifies as a gamble. And, one way or another, you're at least getting something you've never seen before, which also helps break the aforementioned cultural feedback cycle that threatens to homogenize our culture into tasteless mush once and for all.

Here are a few of my favorite Dollar DVD finds (from various 99 Cents Only and Dollar Tree stores):

David Copperfield (1969)- (Dollar DVD) - Excellent made-for-TV version starring Ron Moody as Uriah Heep, Sir Laurence Olivier as Mr. Creakle, Sir Ralph Richardson as Mr. Micawber, and Sir David Attenborough as Mr. Tungay. With that kind of cast, how this film slipped through the cracks is beyond me. Beautiful print, too.

Flash Gordon (1954) - (Genius Entertainment) - This TV series was shot on film in West Berlin so every cast member besides Flash (Steve Holland), Dale (Irene Champlin), and Dr. Zarkov (Joseph Nash) speaks with a heavy German accent. The stories are fun and light and a few episodes give you a good glimpse at how many bombed out buildings were still standing in W. Berlin in 1954. The typography used in the openings credits is remarkable.

Santa Claus (1959) - (Genius Entertainment) - Sharp print of the Mexican-made Christmas classic, dubbed by K. Gordon Murray. This title sold out everywhere I looked. I had to buy my copy on Ebay for marginally more than a dollar.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955) - (Genius Entertainment) - English-made TV series starring Richard Greene as Robin. The first two episodes on volume one feature a very young Leo McKern in different roles. The theme song was parodied on Monty Python's Flying Circus as "Dennis Moore".

Jungle Book (1942) - (Genius Entertainment) - How the hell did this stunning Alexander Korda film end up in the public domain? A work of art. Easily the best version of Kipling's novel ever made. Starring Sabu as Mowgli and Ralph "Dick Tracy" Byrd as Durga. Crystal clear print.

They Call Me Trinity (1971) - (Treasure Box) - A very funny spaghetti western starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer and featuring an all-out battle between Mormons and Mexican banditos!

Final Comedown (1972) - (Dollar DVD) - Billy Dee Williams is a black revolutionary trying to forge an alliance between his Black Panthers-ish group and the campus Left. It all goes horribly wrong. An excellent 70s exploitation movie with a message.

The Phantom Ship
(1935) - (Genius Entertainment) - Bela Lugosi made a few films in England and this, originally released as The Mystery of the Marie Celeste, was the first. I had seen almost all of Lugosi's films, but this title eluded me until I found it on DVD for a frickin buck! And Lugosi, almost unrecognizable, turns in another excellent performance.

Down Among the Z Men (1952) - (Genius Entertainment) - The only official movie spinoff from BBC radio's hysterical and groundbreaking Goon Show. The original Goons, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine, all appear in this haphazardly constructed formula comedy about spies and secret plans. Not one-tenth as funny as the radio show, but endlessly fascinating.

Hi-De-Ho (1947) - (MMM) - Cab Calloway (scientifically determined to have been the coolest person to ever live) stars as himself in this bizarre blend of startlingly bad acting and excellent music. Cab's lineup in 1947 included Dizzy Gillespie. Also features the red hot Peters Sisters! A lot of fun despite the muddy print.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) - (Genius Entertainment) - One of the best "bad" movies of all-time. Genius's print has the main titles intact. Not even the copy MST3K used had that! A classic. Starring Pia Zadora as Girmar, John Call as Santa, Bill McCutcheon as Droppo, The Laziest Man on Mars, and quite possibly Jamie Farr working under a pseudonym.

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...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Obscure Kiddie Matinee Movies Directed By Barry Mahon Ate My Brain!!! part four: Barry Mahon

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. This is probably because I'm a shameless hedonist. I suppose that if I did believe in guilty pleasures, though, late 60s and early 70s kiddie matinee films would have to qualify. No other film genre outside porn has produced so many inherently mediocre movies. The kiddie matinee market was, for a time, a nice way to get a good return on a small investment. Saturday and Sunday matinees turned strip mall cineplexes into convenient daycare centers for parents who wanted to shop for bras or shoe trees in peace. These kids, loaded to the gills with sugar and caffeine, and with no viable means of escape, were the very definition of an undemanding audience. So undemanding, in fact, that producers could cobble together films that were scarcely more than glorified home movies and still turn a healthy profit. Although many well-made European and Mexican children's films were imported to supply the kiddie matinee market, a good many of the movies that kids had to sit through featured production values well below the average of your local TV newscast.

And I can't get enough of them. Did I say "hedonist"? I meant "masochist".

The cheapest of these films fascinate me. Their very artlessness inadvertently breaches the boundary between filmmaker and audience. There's no suspension of disbelief possible when half of the actors are the director's poker buddies or the fairytale kingdom is clearly made out of corrugated cardboard. What's left are records of moments in time when a bunch of folk decided to make a few quick bucks by wearing silly costumes, effecting goofy accents, and gadding about like loons. The results can be rather calmative, actually. Some directors seem to dare you to give a damn about what's happening onscreen. Nothing to get worked up about.. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream...

And as far as being calmative is concerned, Barry Mahon's kiddie matinee movies are the cinematic equivalents of extra-strength NyQuil. There's nothing quite like 'em.

Starting in the late 50s, Barry Mahon was an exploitation movie dynamo, cranking out dozens of Grade-Z nudies and roughies (he was also Errol Flynn's manager, directing Flynn in his final movie, Cuban Rebel Girls, in 1959). In the late 60s, Mahon was hired by Pirates World, a theme park in Dania, Florida that had opened just a few years previously. Besides handling the park's live entertainment and publicity, Barry also opened a film production unit (Cinetron Productions) on the grounds with which he intended to tackle the then-lucrative kiddie matinee market. The movies he produced at the park served double duty as both a means of revenue and national publicity for Pirates World. Each film opened with the title "Pirates World Presents" and closed with the Pirates World logo ("Another Fine Picture From Pirates World. Come Visit Us in Dania, Florida") which also appeared on the posters.

The four movies Barry Mahon produced with the park's facilities were made quickly and cheaply, if not to say ineptly, and it's hard to imagine kids sitting still for them, especially after the third 32 ounce Pepsi and a box of Milk Duds. Of the four, The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969) appears to be the only film Mahon had high hopes for (he intended to have Judy Garland narrate). It's a rather direct adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1904 book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and it appears that Mahon actually went to the Baum estate for permission (The Marvelous Land of Oz would become one of the two Oz books used as the basis for 1985's vastly underrated Return to Oz, so there are a lot of common characters and plot similarities). Despite all the good intentions, Barry Mahon was incapable of giving The Wonderful Land of Oz the production values it would have needed to become a real hit. Although the costumes are actually pretty decent, the rest of the film is like an evening of marginally above-average community theater. The sets are cardboard (complete with visible masking tape), the songs are unmemorable, and the acting is from hunger. Worst of all, the film is nothing less than a showcase for Barry Mahon's son Channy who was far and away one of the least talented child actors ever to appear in a theatrically-released motion picture. As the presumably winsome and adventurous Tip, poor Channy merely looks bored and restless, fidgeting with his costume and delivering all of his lines in a flat, emotionless monotone. Despite his shortcomings as an actor, Channy was forced to go through the paces of a genuine child star and even has a full-blown musical number, the song for which was written without the slightest consideration for his vocal range.

Barry Mahon's 1970 follow-up, Thumbelina, features floppy hippie-chick Shay Garner in the title role and although she's only marginally better at emoting than Channy Mahon, she at least projects a kind of good-natured, flower-child aura that lends her character a certain appeal. And, unlike poor Channy, Shay's singing voice is dubbed. Shay plays a Pirates World visitor (we get to see her on the log-flume and steeplechase rides at the beginning) who spaces out while looking at a cheap diorama of the story of Thumbelina and fantasizes herself into the part. Thumbelina suffers from all of the deficiencies of The Wonderful Land of Oz and adds glaringly obvious padding to the list. Rather than endanger his budget by adding more action or incident to an extremely thin storyline, Mahon decided to use the musical numbers to stretch out the running time. Unfortunately, since his camera barely moves, these musical sequences seem to drag on for ages. Mahon's reliance on padding becomes even more obvious in Jack and the Beanstalk (also 1970), which features an even thinner storyline than Thumbelina. Jack repeatedly climbs the beanstalk (slowly), approaches the Giant's castle (very slowly) and descends the beanstalk (extremely slowly). In effect, the film repeats itself at intervals with plenty of duplicated shots and the Giant singing his "Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum" number every time Jack steals back another harp, papier-mache chicken, etc.. The padding also comes from unexpected angles; there's an unbelievably long sequence in which Honest John, the jerk who sold Jack the magic beans, quietly and carefully paints a sign for his business... and that's it. For my money, this is the funniest of Mahon's kiddie matinee pictures. The sets are shoddier than ever and it looks as if most of the cast wore their own clothes to the shoot. Near the end, there's a wedding party for Jack's sister and the entertainment is supplied by a little kid who plays an accordion as if he had just picked up the instrument that morning for the very first time. Everyone applauds politely. It's not the kind of thing you usually see in movies. Jack and the Beanstalk is stolen by the actor who plays the Giant. He's appropriately burly (looking a little like a Hell's Angel), but his acting style is a bizarre combination of uncontrolled intensity and stoned vacancy. His monotone yet loud delivery makes lines like "What's that SMELL!?!?" and "I LOVE CREEPY-CRAWLERS!!!!" infectiously funny.

Besides his kiddie matinee epics, Barry Mahon also directed a film at this time aimed at a somewhat older audience. Musical Mutiny (1970) was shot almost entirely on location at Pirates World and is structured around a performance at the park by Iron Butterfly. Barry Mahon was responsible for booking acts for Pirates World and his efforts brought groups like The Jackson Five and Grand Funk Railroad to the park. Unfortunately, Pirates World also picked up something of bad reputation when rowdy rock audiences began clashing with police and park security (it took the opening of Walt Disney World to finally put Pirates World out of business). Like Mahon's fairytale films, Musical Mutiny is also overflowing with padding and budget-minded production methods. Mahon seemingly believed that teenagers in 1970 were as least as undemanding as kiddie matinee audiences in their own way and tried to turn that to his advantage. The movie's Monkees-style freeform action, for instance, freed Mahon from having to write up a complete script. And even the rock sequences themselves become a form of padding in Musical Mutiny. Iron Butterfly's entire 16 minute performance of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is the film's climax and Mahon filmed the entire thing in one take, breaking up the monotony by randomly zooming the camera in and out a little or splicing in the occasional shot of a psychedelic poster. The story: A ghost pirate walks out of the ocean and declares a "mutiny at Pirates World!". Word of the pirate's theme park mutiny spreads among the teenagers of Dania, FL who all act as if it's something they understand implicitly ("A mutiny?? Far out!") while the pirate cons the park's employees to let everyone in for free. When the park's manager finds out about the hundreds of long-haired freeloaders in his park, he hassles the teens by threatening to withhold Iron Butterfly's performance fee. But when the gap is filled by several local groups who perform for free,The Man allows Iron Butterfly to continue. The ghost Pirate, having achieved what he set out to achieve, then walks back into the ocean. GROOVY!

In 1972, Mahon repackaged Thumbelina as a Christmas movie by bookending it with nearly 30 minutes of new footage, directed by an "R. Winer", and releasing it as Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. This may have been a clever move on Mahon's part to make his own material look good by comparison. Winer's new footage is leagues below Mahon's own rather questionable standards as a director. Santa has gotten his sleigh "stuck in the sand waaaaay down in Florida" and he uses telepathy (or something) to summon a crowd of 70s kids to his aid. Also involved, somehow, are Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn who watch everything from some nearby bushes and never interact with anyone. The kids hook up a variety of farm animals and a man in a gorilla costume to the sleigh but it won't budge. All the while, huge nasty sweat stains are beginning to appear under Santa's arms and on his BUTT! The kids are discouraged so Santa decides to lift their spirits by telling them the story of Thumbelina, which he claims teaches a lesson about perseverance or courage or something. After that film ends, we rejoin Santa, still stuck in the sand and muttering sadly to himself. Suddenly, we hear the sound of an old-fashioned fire engine siren and, sure enough, here comes an old-fashioned fire engine, piled high with singing (chanting) 70s kids, and with a MAN IN A CREEPY RABBIT COSTUME BEHIND THE WHEEL! The Ice Cream Bunny is coming to the rescue, and coming, and still coming... In fact, it takes a hell of a long time for the fire engine to get to Santa. The engine tools around Pirates World for a bit, and then we see it on a stretch of road, and then it's back in the park, and all the while that horrible droning siren noise fills the soundtrack. Eventually, the fire engine reaches Santa and his "old friend" the Ice Cream Bunny finally meet face-to-face (the bunny has one eye which keeps winking strangely but he never says a word). After the man in the creepy rabbit costume dances around drunkenly for a bit, he and Santa ride off in the fire engine, which disappears magically. And when the kids run back to the sleigh, it disappears magically, too, and they're all very impressed. The end. One of the most striking (?) aspects of the new footage are the songs. In a frugal move, Winer or Mahon declined to hire pricey musicians so the music consists of a bunch of kids yelling lyrics while other kids play kazoos. They even hum "Old Man River" over a scene of Tom and Huck on a raft. Must be seen to be believed.

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny was Mahon's swan song as a producer. Aside from directing one final nudie flick, Love Pirate, in 1971, he also produced and directed a pair of Christmas features that didn't require pesky, expensive actors. Santa and the Three Bears (1970) is a Hanna-Barbera-ish miracle of recycled animation which used to be a standard on UHF stations around Christmas. A filmed puppet and slide show, Santa's Christmas Elf (Named Calvin), was released the following year (surprisingly, it doesn't even have an IMDB listing, possibly because it doesn't qualify as a film). The bottom fell out of the kiddie matinee market around 1973 when big studios and theater chains worked together to kill "Weekends Only" film booking. Lovers of zen mediocrity everywhere mourned the passing of an era. Barry Mahon died in 1999 at the age of 78.