Saturday, June 10, 2006

FLY FROLIC (1932)

A few years ago, I attended a Fourth of July party where I happened in on the proceedings a couple hours late. In the back yard, where much sunbathing, lounging and volleyball would continue on without my interference for several more hours, there was a generous spread of picnic type foods laid out on various tables, and as I had not eaten yet that day, I was more than happy to check out the comestible situation. Naturally, as it was a barbecue, some sort of meat was required dining, and near the grill area, which was currently unattended, there was a paper plate with about a dozen finished burgers sitting atop it. A closer look revealed something else hanging about on the plate, or actually, on top of the burgers: about three dozen flies, which had decided to crash the party and found a huge stack of seared cowflesh to be rather appetizing. I agreed with the flies, but not with their company, and so I bid adieu to all thought of having a meal at this party, and set my stomach gurgling to "low" until I could procure alternate eats. But, at the last second, a fellow with whom I was not acquainted, and with whom I never could be, walked up to the food table, casually brushed the three dozen flies off of the pile of burgers, grabbed two of the now fly-trampled, spewed and Odin-knows-what-else patties, and slapped them onto a bun for his own ingestion.

I know different people have different levels of cleanliness and germ acceptance, but that was way beyond anything I had encountered. That's basically saying that instead of a "five" or "ten-second" rule for eating food dropped on an unsanitary surface, you actually have a "two-hour" rule. You might as well just grill the burger, lay it atop a freshly laid dog turd for about sixty minutes, and then just pick the burger up, turd and all, and slide the nauseating load down your throat. I know that everything has some form of germ on it, no matter how we pretend that things are clean and sanitary, but come on! There was a squadron of flies having a regurgitation party on the damned things! Suffice to say, I don't remember the sick bastard's name, and I swiftly moved location to another party. (I will also mention that over the years, I received some minor food poisoning about four or five times at that same address, to the point where the only thing I would eat when visiting would be some potato chips out a bag that I opened and brought to whatever shindig was being thrown.)

Though I've never had much use for them, ever since that day, flies are definitely on my "unwelcome intruder" list. In my old apartment, it would not be more than a few minutes before I would hunt down the interloper and use my "Blanket O' Linus" skills to snap the little creep out of the air with the cool of a gunslinger. In Cali, however, it is a different type of showdown: the flies, in marked opposition to the people around me, seem to be faster and sharper, and just a little too eager to charge me at the exact moment of my attack. Plus, my apartment has more open area than the old place, so there is a greater potential of escape for the little bugger. I eventually prove to be a little more dogged in my convictions than the fly, and I tend to prevail in the end. But in all my impatience to rid myself of these pests, I never consider that the creature has ended up inside my home possibly out of some instinctual curiosity and pheremone-driven hunger, but mainly out of pure coincidence.

According to Fly Frolic though, flies have much more important things to do than bother me inside my abode. In fact, sometimes, they are desperate to get out of such a place. A Van Beuren Aesop's Fable from 1932, Fly Frolic introduces us to a cutesy and loving pair of flies, the distaff half of which is trapped inside a window of a neighborhood house. Her mate wants nothing more to get her out, and as she pleads and bangs on the glass from the inside, he corrals about a dozen of his pals to lift the window and release her from the human habitat. Of course, the helpful party of pals decide to stay and check out the place, but the happy pair of young lovers buzz dreamily about the flowers of a garden for a bit, before they zero in on a small insect community made out of old bits of refuse. There is a club called the Coffee Pot Cabaret, and it is designed exactly as implied; when the couple reach the spout entrance, a burly doorman pops it open, and then takes off his jacket to lay it down for the visitors. He is revealed as being supremely scrawny, with all of his bulk supplied by his coat.

They enter the club, and the place is just crawling with other sets of flies out on the town, and also a lone mosquito who sits at a table and holds up two fingers for an order. The flies hit the dance floor as the orchestra plays a swinging version of Baby. It comes as no surprise that the fly couples are able to move their gyrations up the walls and onto the ceiling above the tables. At the song's close, the mosquito is successful in his attempts to place an order, and he receives two pints of what I presume to be blood (the cartoon is in black-and-white) to the tune of How Dry I Am. He sucks both down eagerly, and his body fills up with the precious fluid in the way that it normally cause mosquitos to puff up. He fills up with blood to the tip of his proboscis, and he is angered when he squeezes it and a drop flicks off the end. Such a waste. (I won't tell him that male mosquitos don't actually drink blood.)

In through the door walks a large, scruffy spider, who shuffles to the center of the floor, dragging his hands along beside him, and starts to sing a version of the current Cab Calloway hit, Kickin' the Gong Around, with the flies hiding behind the tables providing vocal support:

"Tell me where is Minnie?
I want Minnie!
Has she been here,
Kicking the gong around?
If you don't know Minnie,
She's cute and pretty,
She gets her pleasure
Kicking the gong around!"

The spider starts to scat, and various flies and then a caterpillar repeat his vocals back to him. One fly bravely steps out and hits the spider in the back with a cane on the third go-around. This causes the spider to yell "Wow!" and breaks him out of his nonsensical reverie. He announces his departure in song, which just so happens to be actual lyrics from the song:

"Just tell her Smoky Joe
Was here and had to go."

He exits, but on his way, he sees the sweet little flygirl and abducts her. Her boyfriend and all the other flies give chase, but the villain runs all the way to a hidden underground lair, filled to the brim with laboratory equipment, and with several potions boiling away as they enter. He stuffs the girl in a cubbyhole, and starts to work on a formula. The girl checks in on his ministrations, as we also see the gang of rescue flies marching to the villain's doorstep. Since the world was just going through its first big wave of mad scientist movies, with the likes of Frankenstein and, most importantly here, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde recently out in theatres, it is not a shock when the spider imbibes the formula and starts to transform in front of a mirror. The scene is actually rather shocking to view, even today, simply for the fact that in this cute little cartoon about lovey-dovey flies, the last thing we were expecting was a rather bold horror movie moment. The spider's head twists and contorts as hypnotic swirls encircle his head and emanate to the edges of the screen. After much huffing and puffing, the villain stands newly revealed as a mustachioed dandy who actually looks something like the real Cab Calloway, only as a spider. His disguise is to no avail, though, when the flies break the door in and the girl gives up his true identity. As more swirling and contorting takes place, the dandy turns back into his normal angry, puffed-up villainous self. The flies gang up on the spider, with the flygirl's boyfriend taking the lead, and though the battle is furious on both sides, the spider gets the worst of it. As the picture irises out, the fly couple kiss sweetly on the chest of the unconscious villain.


It's no Cobweb Hotel, but it's a solid enough picture, with Van Beuren actually sticking to a single plot thread for the entire length for once. It's too bad that they couldn't actually get Calloway for the vocals (it would have expanded the feel of the centerpiece immeasurably), but he was probably working across the street at the Fleischers' studio anyway. The Dr. Jekyll bit was truly an expected pleasure, and it is rather well executed, and it's especially fun to watch the crazed visuals after the spider was so recently invoking the pleasures of opium dens in his cabaret number. Also, there is a quick look at a tiny skeleton hanging on the wall outside of the spider's den. It is the skeleton of a winged fly; impossible, I know, but a nice decorative touch. That's why I watch these films, friends.

The summer is just starting, and it is impossible to open up the sliding door to my balcony without something or other zipping into the apartment. Perhaps I will learn to live with my little buzzing neighbors, perhaps not. One thing I do know, though...

... I'm never inviting that weird burger guy over. Unless I need someone to lick out the toilet...

Fly Frolic (A Van Beuren Aesop's Sound Fable, 1932)
Director: John Foster and Harry Bailey
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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