Saturday, June 24, 2006

PEG LEG PEDRO (1938)

Peg Leg Pedro (Jam Handy Organization, 1938)
Dir.: uncredited
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9

The new Johnny Depp Pirates flick can't show up soon enough. Jen is driving me crazy. Not only does is she "in the zone" on her anticipation of the new film (as is much of female America over their lust for both Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom and pirates in general), but since she works at Disneyland, she has been keeping me in the loop over every development in the park's VIP premiere showing this weekend of the film, in which they have blocked off the Rivers of America area and built a full-size movie screen across one end of Tom Sawyer's Island. Huge seating stands have risen up where people once sat for Fantasmic!, and the entire is roped off so that the massive Disney crowds have to funnel through the bridge that runs over the top of the Pirates entrance to gain access to and from New Orleans Square. Jen's mom is coming to town expressly to see the opening day showing with Jen and to ride the redesigned ride after it opens this weekend. And to top off everything, Jen is going crazy because both Depp and Bloom are not only staying at the hotels for the event, but she, like every woman and many of the men that work at the parks, believe that a run-in with the famous movie stars is inevitable at some point during the weekend.

This morning, I gave Jen a goodbye hug and kiss to see her off on the day that I declared "the one in which you leave me for Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, or both of them." Dolled up for her job, she looked great going out the door, but I actually have no worries about such a scenario; I am merely playing along with her fantasy pirate world. I see no harm in this, and unless she mystically divines an invitation to the premiere showing this evening, then I will see her tonight. (She has already asked that we stay in since she has to work again early in the morning.) Fantasies are all fine and well, but there is still the reality of the working world, and she has a job to do. On my end of things, I will greet her at the door with an eyepatch, and since I have sprained my ankle and have been limping about on one foot throughout the past week, I am thinking about sawing off my left leg from the knee down and affixing a peg leg for a true piratey effect. Remember, it's not the peg leg that counts, it's how you use it.

Peg Leg Pedro, which is an odd name for a crafty and evil pirate but the one by which he goes, is the captain of a swarthy crew of buccaneers in a Jam Handy cartoon short/Chevrolet ad from 1939, also cunningly titled Peg Leg Pedro. Not only does he indeed possess a peg leg on his left leg, but his pet pirate does as well. They also both wear eyepatches, and when the film starts, we see the skull-and-crossbones on his flag sing the beginning of Blow the Man Down, but then a slow dissolve brings us to the face of Pedro himself, continuing the song as he strolls proudly across the deck of his ship whiling applying savage cracks of his whip to the backs of his deck-scrubbing crew. His parrot "parrots" his every move, but when one of the crew makes to stab the captain in the back, the parrot squawks "Wise guy, eh!" behind the man. The pirate pretends he was only carving an apple, and whistles nonchalantly. The parrot slips on the bar of soap the pirate had been using, and the bar shoots ahead to the captain's peg leg. He slips on the bar and slides across the deck, and crashes through a barrel of apples and other items before getting pelted in the head by several cannonballs. The parrot climbs up on his master and rips out a handful of chest hair, singing "Fifteen hairs from a dead man's chest!" but the captain comes to and starts to strangle his pet.

We are shown a closeup of the bottom of a pair of feet while a deep voice intones musically, "Many brave hearts lie asleep in the deep, so beware! Be-" A bee lands on the sole of one of the feet, and the big toe on the other tries to flick off the offending bug, as the voice continues to go "Be--be--be--" Instead of singing "-ware!", there is just a short buzz as the toe manages to relocate the bee into the skies with a flick. The camera pulls back to show a pirate relaxing in an easy chair suspended from the top of the mast, in place of an actual crow's nest. Peering through a telescope, he sees a ship being tossed across the waves nearby. He pulls out a microphone and announces, "Calling all pirates! Calling all pirates!" The parrot is taking swings at his master, which is a losing game since the captain still has him by the neck. At the call for battle, though, the captain throws the parrot against the wall and marches off. The feisty parrot curses the captain, but gets his peg leg stuck in one of many holes in the ship's deck. The captain tries to look through his own telescope, but he can't see anything. He pushes a button on the contraption, and a windshield wiper springs to life and cleans the lens. He peers back through and sees a young boy and girl on the deck of the other ship, and in their hands, he sees they are surveying a treasure map.

"C'mon, babykins," the pirate tells his pet, "Get dressed! Were going to have company!" As the parrot squawks, "I ain't-a gonna do it! I ain't-a gonna do it!" the captain dresses the parrot in baby clothes. "You will," orders the captain while he slaps the parrot, "and you'll like it!" The parrot gives in, but with a condition: "Alright, I will! But I won't like it!" The captain affixes a ladies' wig to his own head, and orders his crew to lower the decoy. From the top of the masts a huge backdrop is unrolled that covers the entire ship, which shows nothing but blue skies, some clouds, and a small raft adrift on the open sea. A figure is painted on top of the raft, and where its head is at, the pirate pops his wig-laden noggin through a hole in the backdrop, and does so with his arms as well, one of which holds the baby-disguised parrot. As the pirate captain screams for help, a pair of crewman uses shark puppets to make it seem that the mustachioed lady and her baby are in great peril.

The captain of the other ship calls for their immediate rescue, but as they head towards the pirate craft, the evil captain tries to light the fuse on his cannon to fire on their intended victims. A cute little flame leaps from his lighter and bends over to light the fuse, giggling as it does; however, when the cannon blows, a mouse and his family run away from its nozzle, and the cannonball only drops onto the deck and rolls over the side of the ship, landing on the head of a pirate holding a knife in his teeth, which fall right out on the collision, still gripping the knife in them. The parrot laughs and declares "Foul! Strike One!" The pirates then unleash a furious broadside at their victims, tearing their ship to shreds. The little boy runs to the cabin and sends out a telegraph signal, which filters through the steam from a teapot and gets sent out into the skies as three winged and steamed letters: "S.O.S."

It is now that we finally meet the hero of the film, Nicky Nome, the goodie-two-shoes gnome, whom we met previously in the pair of Jam Handy Chevrolet ads directly before this one, and A Ride for Cinderella and A Coach for Cinderella (in which he was simply called "Chief Gnome"). This time, Nicky and his faithful horse-hopper steed (and sometimes romantic companion as well) have a Trouble-Shooting Station on a tropical isle not far from the piratical assault on the kids' ship. With its six legs, the horse-hopper has no problem strumming both a ukulele and a guitar at the same time, while also playing a vibraphone with its feet. (The song, unsurprisingly, is Aloha Oe.) The "S.O.S." letters arrive on the island and tap dance their Morse Code message in front of Nicky, and then point him in the direction of the strife. We then see a shed by the oceanside, from out of which shoots what first appears to be a speedboat -- in classic action movie style, cutting boldly through the surf -- but then is revealed as the bill of a pelican, which takes off from the water and flies off into the skies, with Nicky and the Hopper safely stashed inside the bill.

On the pirate ship, with the shattered remains of the kids' ship floating meekly in the background, Peg Leg Pedro extracts gold from his tied-up victims' pockets with a large magnet. A pirate accountant sits at a cash register and rings up "2 Bits" over and over. He places the gold into his own pocket, but a string of pirates behind him each steal the gold down the line, from him to the last man, each one pulling coins from the pocket or bag of the man in front of him. The captain, who may dream of being royalty someday, muses that "Now I can buy me a poiple shoit with poil buttons!" As the last pirate passes with a bag of gold on a stick, the captain finishes rolling up his purloined treasure map and switches the bag of gold with a ball-and-chain. He moves the gold to a safe, and as he turns the combination dial, it sounds like he is tuning a radio (the familiar NBC tones are heard in conclusion). He stashes the bag and map inside and slams the safe shut, but on the other side, the parrot drags both items out through a large hole and across the deck. However, he yet again runs afoul of one of the holes in the deck, and when his peg leg gets stuck, he drops the map and it lands in the hands of the boy and girl, who are hiding behind a mast.

The kids desperately climb up the mast, but the captain follows close behind them. To their rescue flies the pelican (it is interesting to note that he has large red N's on his wings), and Nicky and the hopper drop a large pelican egg onto the captain's face. Instead of a yolky mess, though, a baby pelican pops out instead, and struggles to start its personal engine until, at last, its sputtering stops and it makes its first flight successfully. The kids leap from the mizzen onto the back of the pelican, and then the heroes fly off to the island on the treasure map. Upon landing, they immediately locate the treasure cave, thanks in no small part to a sign that reads so above its entrance. The kids find a huge pile of gold coins inside, and when the girl declares that there must be more than a million dollars in it, the boys replies "Aw, shucks! There's more than a thousand, I betcha!" After wondering how they will get the cache of treasure home, Nicky Nome helpfully fires up a steamshovel, with the pelican serving as a scoop, and deposits the gold into the spacious trunk of the everpresent Chevrolet Coach, star vehicle of the previous two adventures, which always seems to turn up just in the nick of time. The pirates have made it to the island, too, and they Mysterious Mose their way towards the cave, sneaking in perfect alignment and step with each other, except for the parrot who constantly scoots through their legs until they pass him again. But when they reach the cave, the Coach bursts out of the entrance and mows through the ruffians, sending them flying and leaving the Captain hanging by his pants from a tree branch. The parrot, stuck in yet another hole, screeches exhaustedly, "And me what wants peace and quiet!" and then collapses. Peg Leg Pedro can only mutter in frustration, "I been a bad boy! I shoulda listened to me muddah!"

The boy drives the Coach to the shore of the island, but the dilemma pops up over how to get back home. Nicky Nome, who is adept at these sort of problems as long as he has a Chevrolet at his disposal (which he usually does) paces back and forth on the dashboard of the Coach, shouting "Worry! Worry! Worry! Worry!" Finally, he has a swell idea, and we next see the skull-and-crossbones being lowered and the standard bearing the face and initials of Nicky Nome replacing it. (When the pirate flag comes down, the pirates are revealed to be standing on the shore of the island, and they run off in either fear or anger, or perhaps both.) Soon, the pirate ship is cutting through the waves once more, but it turns out to be tethered to the wrecked ship of the children, which in turn is tied to the back of the Chevrolet, which Nicky has magically turned into some sort of paddle-wheeled construct, with a long board running through its center to act as a hull. Leaping from behind the "NICKY" license plate on the front bumper, we are met by the parrot, who has apparently switched to the side of good. He squawks, "We certainly fixed those pirates, didn't we? Awk!", before he yet again plunges his peg leg into another hole. As he spins and struggles to free himself, Nicky laughs at the parrot from atop the hood of the Coach, while the boy steers from inside. Just when you think that Nicky and the hopper are going to make out like they did at the end of the second Cinderella picture, Nicky reaches his little hand over to his steed, and they shake limbs like proper friends. The End.

With the inconsistency in all departments at large in Nicky Nome's Cinderella flicks, it is a distinct pleasure to announce how wonderful Peg Leg Pedro turns out to be. Despite being an advertisement, this is also a terrific pirate picture, not just animated cartoon, and takes its time to lampoon just about every aspect of buccaneer culture into which it can get its silly (celly?) little paws. For once, characters seem to look the same from scene to scene, and each slice of the story is tied in with the rest, which is also a welcome change after the kitchen-sink approach of the opening pair of films. Honestly, I had never seen this film until just the other day, and I am flabbergasted at the superior quality on display for what seems to be a throwaway series of films in most animation books I have seen. If the preceding films were up to this quality, I think greater pains would have been taken by now to learn more about the makers of these films. As it is, the creators seem to be mostly unknown (though some principals are mentioned here and there) or forgotten.

The first film of the Pirates of the Caribbean eventual-trilogy is of a high quality, and because of that watermark set onto the hull of movie history, for me, the next pair are certainly going to have a rough time equalling The Curse of the Black Pearl. But I don't think its the same for many of the people who are going nutso at Disneyland this weekend. I think the bulk of them (though not Jen) already have it locked into their brains that they love the next two films, even before they've seen the second and even before the third has been filmed (and which doesn't even come out until 2008). Jen says that there is no way that I can hate a film with shark-headed pirates marauding about in it. She might be right, but there is a big difference between a good film with shark-headed pirates and a bad film with shark-headed pirates. I am going to withhold judgment on any front until I am actually seated in an air-conditioned theatre with a strawberry Coke, a small bag of popcorn and a hell of a lot of sword-fighting (and shark-headed pirates) up on the screen.

But even with her pirate madness, Jen is still keeping a cool head about things. She could have gone on the Cast Member Only Preview of the Pirate ride Thursday night, while I couldn't, but even after getting in line for it and receiving umpteen assurances from me, both in person and then on the phone as I waited outside, that it was alright if she did, she still left the ride to get me and my sprained ankle home. Which just pointed out how much I love the girl, but she really should have gotten on the ride. I would have done it.

And now, tonight, Jen called me while I was jumping between devising a vegetarian lasagna and working on this post to tell me that she ran into Johnny Depp at the park. Actually, her initial words were "I met Johnny Depp", but when pressed, she admitted that she didn't actually meet him, but she was in the same room with him, and she was about ten feet away from his royal prescence. She is going to be crazy tonight, and smirking, and calling her mother, and unstoppable. I will do my best to distract her with the lasagne and with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on DVD (which I watched for the first time last night and loved, but she has not seen yet). But she will probably recount every detail of Her Personal Johnny Depp Adventure.

Which is fine. I'll let her have her moment. And then, when she is half asleep and least expecting it, I, clad only in bandana, eyepatch and newly pegged leg, will conduct the most heinous boarding party known to man!

If she'll let me, of course... Arrrggghh!!!

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