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THE NEW PALS CLUB WEB-LOG

THE NEW PALS CLUB WEB-LOG
improbable-looking limestone karsts in Guilin

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Heart of Hell



Willie Whopper, that congenital li'l liar, sits at a piano in black and white, pounding out his theme song while his dog helps. Though the title on the "Celebrity Productions, Inc" card is VULCAN ENTERTAINS, and though the incomplete color print I have on laserdisk and DVD calls it MASQUERADE HOLIDAY, this is really a 1934 cartoon called HELL'S FIRE, from producer (and legendary animator) Ub Iwerks, who made history at Disney as Mickey Mouse's first animator (and who made the classic SKELETON DANCE as well) before going out to form his own company. Later, he went back to Disney and was subsequently honored for technical innovations (like the multiplane camera). He also animated some bird attacks for Alfred Hitchcock's classic, THE BIRDS.

Now, this cartoon goes back and forth between color (two-strip cinecolor, looking pretty darn good here) and black-and-white, because there are many parts of this particular short that don't exist in black and white at all. It seems to me that here would be a legitimate use for colorization technology, but I digress. This is an improvement over the all-color version I have, because it has all the parts that were cut from my version in an attempt to disguise the fact that this is a cartoon about a little kid and his dog going to Hell (by going down a volcano, not by dying in their wickedness), where they see a mini-pageant of famous monsters in Hell, the precursor of some South Park cartoons where, it seems, every famous person went to Hell. But it's a fun kind of hell, with luaus and parties to help blunt some of the sting of eternal torment. I digress again.

Willie and his dog, who I will refer to as Fido, because if three minutes of searching won't turn up anything better than "his dog," then man was not meant to know. Now he's Fido. Willie and Fido are apparently dicking around atop "the world's most dangerous volcano," as kids will do, and get into a hassle with Satan, who sits around smoking directly under the circular opening of the volcano. He gets irked when Willie drops a rock on his head, but Willie arranges for his dog to lick the lump until it goes down, and everybody's happy as hell again.

Now that the most evil being in all creation is well-disposed toward our hero (and his dog), we go back into color for some light entertainment, as the fallen angel puts on an impromptu parade of unworthies from history for Willy's enjoyment. Napoleon, Nero (fiddling Turkey in the Straw), Rasputin (doing a Hopak and burping rhythmically, he seems to be played by John Barrymore), with Cleopatra and Mark Antony next — he bangs on a cymbal while she twerks at it. I suspect at some point they wanted her can to be hitting the cymbal and chickened out.

Heh. Ub I-twerks.

ahem. Simon Legree whips through next, on a dogsled pulled by bloodhounds, and some eloquently shrugging Pasha? with a blue beard? Eh, he must be Bluebeard. Then the Frederic March Jekyll turns into a hairy Hyde, and the color stops long enough to introduce the guy this cartoon's really all about, Old Man Prohibition. You don't see his label in the color part, but it was clear enough who he was from his long black frock coat, tall hat, and blue nose. Well, he's blue all over, but a lot of that is nose, and the Devil really, really, really dislikes him. The inmates of Hell dislike him. Willie dislikes him. I'm pretty sure the animators hated him intensely. Not sure when in '34 this came out, but Old Man Prohibition was killed in 1933, so he'd have been a fairly recent addition to Hell.

Well, Satan rags him a bit, and the others laugh, and demons with pitchforks chase his ass, knock him down, flatten him, and refill him with booze (including a fairly disgusting maneuver with a funnel that I'll skip describing if it's all the same to you). Whoever chicken-edited this later on, apart from their notable lack of technique, seemed bent on disguising not only Satan and Hell, but the identity of the personification of the 18th Amendment, who had been a standard figure in cartoons for many years by this time. Because any mention of booze at all is tantamount to endorsing it in front of all those wholesome, imitative kiddies! Though, to be fair, the vehemence we will see in "getting" OMP seems almost to be a call for everyone to get drunk in reaction.

There's some by-play with Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the Underworld (and Hell!), who gives Iwerks a chance to really let loose on the incredible Three-ness of everything. One head eats the bone, the next head swallows, the last burps. The music seems designed to hang tripartite jokes on, and in parts of this scene, the note-for-note mickey mousing of the score actually can get a little oppressive. But it's hard to stay oppressed when watching a textbook example of a perfect dog-butt crawl maneuver (which good old Annie was a master of, back in those childhood days), and we perk up readily. If you really want to see Ub let go on triplicate motifs, go find Goldilocks. It's true that the tale calls for exactly three bears, but by the time that cartoon's over, you'll feel like you've been cobbled on the noggin repeatedly and rhythmically for ten minutes by a great big hammer, a middle-sized hammer, and a wee, tiny, baby-sized hammer.

More black and white scenes have Mr. Prohibition frightened by hallucinations (apparently he's an easy DT), but starting to enjoy himself just in time for heightened persecution by the hound of hell. He lurches and dashes awkwardly away down what is apparently the only corridor in Hell, and Satan points and shouts "Stop him!", forgetting that he could manifest lightning hands and catch somebody, the same way he caught Willie and Fido (and remember, future animation scholars, I gave him that name!). So Willie, that little kiss-ass, jumps up and puffs his already-spherical form up, and gives chase. "Satan's Little Pet," as a Far Side cartoon once said.

Willie gets within ass-grabbing range of the fleeing inebriate (who is apparently still not "cool," even though he's as drunk as Hunter S. Thompson), assisted by some of the lightning hands that Satan seems to have tardily recalled. To make up for lateness, they reform themselves into a flaming brace and bit, which of course proceed to drill his keister up to the hilt. Ho ho! He got it in the butt! Walt Disney, I hope you're taking notes on this, because you're going to use this gag in cartoons two times for every hamburger sold at McDonald's. The terror-stricken pariah, ignoring the Ixnay signs, heads into the boiler room. The boiler room of Hell!

For some reason, the image of the red imp (in nice blue gloves and booties) happily pulling the release of the coal chute feeding that furnace is my favorite of the cartoon. The colors are rich and saturated, the floor and walls are a clearly marked stage, and the boiler emits satisfying flames when the coal flies in. Then Willie and Fido (© me!) and the Old Man go barreling into the chute and knock it aside, which (paradoxically) causes it to overload with coal, and in the ensuing ka-boom, all three are blown out of Hell, into a large nest a mile or so away from the world's most dangerous volcano (remember?). The NRA (National Recovery Act, that is) Eagle shows up, posing iconically before unbending into a regular, albeit huge, bird that picks up the trio, glides over the cone of the Hellmouth, and drops Prohibition back to Hell again before flying off with Willie.

So, they really did hate the guy.

Willie, back at the piano, invites us to tell our own lies ("Now YOU tell one!"), but we have learned our lesson! No more lying for us, not even a little white one. If you lie, we end up, like Willie and his dog (Fido!), doing the bidding of the Prince of Hell, before being carried off bodily to an unknown fate by a giant NRA logo. At least we know he came back afterward, seemingly the same happy kid as before, but how could he not be changed by such a horrific experience? How?

Answer: he could not. Some time later, Willie lost a lot of weight, and his voice changed. It's all documented in the films.

Take-away from all this? Never tell the truth. Eat a lot. Prohibition bad. If Satan tells you to "get" someone, don't ask stupid questions, just do it.

1 comment:

Kenneth J. DeVries said...

Say, pal, sorry to go off-topic on you here but I don't have your email. I have been fooling artists into drawing comics based on the plethora of one-page scripts that generate spontaneously in my brain, which I am too lazy to bother to draw myself, and am posting them at http://1-pagers.blogspot.com/ - take a look and let me know if you would like to take a shot at one.