1926: Bonus ShortSlick Sleuths
(Charles R. Bowers and Bud Fisher, 1926)
Aside from the Criterion collection, the film content available from Hulu is always a little sketchy, in terms of quality. And that's a shame, because their library is sort of marvelous in terms of how random it all is.
This Mutt and Jeff animated short much like the Our Gang short I watched for 1930 (also from Hulu) is less interesting as a film itself than as a representative of a pop cultural landmark that was previously lost to me. I went into School's Out
with at least some picture of what the Little Rascals looked like and acted like. But I've only really known "Mutt and Jeff" as an old timey way of describing a pair of ragged pals and even that itself appears to be wrong. According to Wikipedia, the phrase really describes "any pair of individuals of different sizes." I guess I sort of knew that, but not really. Either way, I couldn't have told you with certainty that the phrase had its roots in a comic strip that ran from 1907 to 1983, and that almost 300 animated Mutt and Jeff shorts were produced between 1916 and 1926 (in addition to a weekly live-action serial than ran from 1911 to 1913). This is all news to me. I would have even guessed wrong that Mutt was the short one and Jeff was the tall one. (It's the other way around.)Slick Sleuths
was one of the last of the animated Mutt and Jeff shorts, and it's also one of the ones that received the Kromocolor treatment in the early 1930s getting rereleased with nicely repainted colorized frames, new music, sound effects, and no intertitles. This is the version available from Hulu, and I wish I hadn't made the mistake of watching it first. The colorization is actually pretty nice, but the sound effects absolutely ruin the film. There's this constant, tinny, jabbering sound that's used to represent dialogue (mostly from Jeff, I think), and it's more annoying that it would to listen to Charlie Brown's schoolteacher at length. The lack of intertitles also makes a few aspects of the story needlessly confusing.
Luckily, the original version is available on YouTube
. I still didn't love it (seeing the Kromocolor version first may have killed the chances of that), but it's clearly the better film. It even made me smile twice, at jokes that made zero impression on me at all just a few minutes earlier. There's a definitely a nice whimsy to some of the animation.
As a sidenote, I'm fascinated by the idea that Charles Bowers, the animator, became Charley Bowers, the slapstick comedian. I really hope that, later in this marathon, I can catch up with some of the shorts he starred in.Silent, B&W VersionGrade:
CColorized, Sound VersionGrade: