Friday, January 01, 2016

Sappy New Year (1961)

Sappy New Year (1961)
Dir.: Dave Tendlar
Cel Bloc Rating: 4/9


It's a new year, and if there is one thing for which I am glad, it's that 2015 is over. What a crappy year. I don't usually look at years in such a way, but I don't really have a choice this time. The end of 2014 was bad enough (with half of my team departing at my job for mostly insidious reasons, and then our dog died in December), but so many things went wrong for me in the past twelve months that I can truly look at this period in time and feel the solid need to just write it all off in my head. Or at least in this post.

Over this past year, I lost my job of the past decade (for absolutely insidious reasons), and then got sucked into the Pit of Despair that is the search for new gainful employment, and have still not come out of it. I am either too overqualified for the low-paying gigs that might help keep me afloat a little easier or underqualified (according to the employers) for the jobs in which I spent the past ten years gaining what I thought was valuable experience. This is all just conjecture on my part, since in most cases I never even get to the interview stage. It has been exceedingly frustrating. I am not a lazy person, though lately it might seem that way. I have had two real jobs in my life, and the first I held for 22 years until I moved out of state. Otherwise, I might be there still. The second, the one I just lost, I held for just two months shy of ten years. I do my jobs well and know how to keep them. Now I just can't seem to get one.


But there was a bright side at the tail end of 2015. The only thing that has gone right for me is a biggie, perhaps the solution to my whole problem, and something that I needed to do for a long, long time. Even though my therapist told me for over a year and a half that I really needed to get back to writing (not counting the fact that my job, to a large degree, was based around my writing talent), I couldn't quite do it. I toyed with getting back to writing on a personal level, even with just merely journaling. But I couldn't do it. There were numerous false starts and real stops. I hemmed and hawed, figuratively kicking my foot in the dirt, and always finding excuses why I couldn't.

Finally, after another false start this past summer where I posted a couple of things on my long dormant main blog, I had a breakthrough. I knuckled down in September, the day before my birthday, and knocked out a couple thousand words on a subject not just close to my heart, but to my health. The words formed a diatribe against the price gouging going on a big box store in regards to gluten free bread choices. The diatribe was going to be a letter to the company, but then some quick reediting turned it into my first new online post in ages where I felt comfortable with the content.

Then there was a movie review. And then a trio of movie reviews. In no time at all, blogging became easy peasy to me once again. The torture of putting my voice down on paper (or by digital means) had subsided fully. By the end of October, with my main website -- The Cinema 4 Pylon -- finally swinging in high gear, I turned to my other once popular blog, this one, Cinema 4: Cel Bloc, where I concentrated fully on animated films. I got together with my writing partner, Aaron, who himself had let his blogging subside, and we started writing shared pieces in a series called Visiting and Revisiting, where we would review a movie that had great impact on one of us that the other one had never seen before. By mid-November, I was not only flying again through my increased writing schedule, but was even going back to older posts on the Cel Bloc -- you may have noticed if you follow me on social media -- and reediting and, in some cases, rewriting articles I had not even looked at in eight-plus years.


I tell you all of this because it is New Year's Day, and I am not one for resolutions. What is the point of saying you will commit to something on a day that is popularly known to be lousy with people making commitments they will undoubtedly break just a short while later? It's like Valentine's Day without stupid plush hearts and boxes of candy. I have friends that take to Facebook and pledge their vow to do this and lose that and stop this and start that. And all of it is bullshit.

And here now, celebrating an old New Year's Day, are our old friends, Heckle and Jeckle. You might remember them. The talking magpies? Magpies that actually look like crows and might be termed so by any other animation company except for Terrytoons, who decided they were actually magpies? If you continue to feign indifference to their existence, just go back a few days on this very blog and read the article I posted about their 1952 short, Movie Madness, which is a fairly decent example of what these insane bird buddies brought to the table in those bygone days. You definitely want to go through that piece (and watch the attached cartoon) before you read on if you want to get a real sense of how far they fell by 1961.

That was the year Terrytoons released Sappy New Year, their 51st and penultimate Heckle and Jeckle theatrical cartoon. After this film, it wouldn't be until 1966 that Terrytoons would release the final H&J short, Mixed Up Movie Makers. Sappy New Year finds Heckle and Jeckle in sorry shape when considered against their earlier films. The animation has grown far more static, to the point where there is little difference between their antics in this film and that of the limited style of animation being produced for television in the same period. So, too, has their humor grown stale, and that is a massive difference lies from that which came before from this pair.

After a jazzy music intro and shots of a clock tower that has reached midnight, with streamers and confetti showering down upon a completely static shot of crowds in the street below, we cut Heckle and Jeckle in their apartment. Heckle is busying himself with dumping out a box full of fireworks, TNT, and bombs into a barrel in the alley outside their window. "Well. there goes the last of our practical jokes, chum!" says the Bronx-voiced Heckle. "Are you sure we're doin' the right thing?" Jeckle sits writing at a desk, and in his affected British tone answers, "A resolution is a resolution, ol' feather-head! Listen to this..." He holds up the note he has been writing and reads, "We hereby resolve that as of this moment, throughout the new year, we shall abstain from all forms of practical jokes, gags, et-cet-era!"

As Jeckle implores his chum to sign the piece of paper with his name, Heckle has imbedded a pencil inside a piece of dynamite. He lights the fuse and hands it to Jeckle, saying in mock politeness, "After you." While signing, Jeckle realizes what is up and claps his hand (wing) over the fuse to put it out. He throws it back to Heckle and tells him to throw it away. Heckle tries to light it again, but Jeckle jumps down and blows it out. Heckle protest, but the other bird reminds him of their resolution. (I will point out that Heckle has yet to sign the paper, something which gets forgotten in the film totally.) Heckle decides to keep the dyna-pencil as a souvenir and stuffs it under his feathers, which he pulls out like a shirt. Jeckle goes to bed and says, "Goodnight, ol' feather-beak!"

The next day, the birds are roaming the street, and Jeckle is rambling on about the day being brighter because they have turned over a new leaf. While he expresses his desire that they act as model citizens, Heckle is already up to his old tricks, having stuffed a piece of dynamite in the back pocket of an unsuspecting man on the street. Jeckle again blows out the fuse, and they leave it in his pocket as they wander off, with Heckle begging for Jeckle to give him more time to adjust.

Jeckle spies an old bird-man standing by a bus stop and decides to seize an opportunity to commit a good deed. Thinking the man wants to cross the street, with the man recognizing them on sight and telling them to put him down, the pair pick the bird-man up over their heads and dodge through traffic. Once on the other side, the old bird-man yells at them and tells them he was just waiting for a bus, so they pick him up again and throw him through the back window of a bus. "Another one of your practical jokes!" he screams. "You put me on the wrong bus!" He whacks both of them on their noggins several times before the bus takes off for parts unknown, leaving the magpies in a cloud of exhaust. Heckle pulls out more dynamite to throw at the bus, but Jeckle intercepts it and tells him, "People need a little time to get used to the new us!"

A lady poodle seems to be having trouble starting the engine of her car, so the pair offer to give her a push. Suddenly, her car goes in reverse and flattens the birds. Then it jolts forward and runs them over again. Her car flies towards a roundabout where several other cars are parked, and from above, we see her car hit another car, which then hits another car, and so on through the cars like dominoes until the last one gets knocked back in the direction of Heckle and Jeckle, who get run over once again.

A police dog sees the two lying in the street all rumpled and disoriented, but only warns Heckle and Jeckle against trying any of "their tricks" on his beat. After he leaves, they are nearly run into by a normal kitten being chased by a normal barking dog (on all fours and with a collar, unlike the police dog). The dog chases the kitten up a tree, and the magpies rush to shoo the dog away. The dog growls at the birds, and then he chases them around and around the tree in a cloud of dust. When it clears, the birds are beat up and piled on top of each other. The dog departs, so they decide that they have done a good deed by saving the kitten. Climbing up the tree to rescue the poor little thing, it goes crazy and claws both of them up in yet another cloud of dust.

Heckle gives up and decides to go to "my old poi-sonality," but Jeckle blows out yet again the obligatory stick of recently lit TNT and tells his partner that they need to convince everyone that they have really changed for good. Heckle starts to smell smoke in the air, and the camera cuts to a house where there is indeed something wafting out of a window. We then see a very bored horse standing on a ladder who is lazily painting a house green. The ladder moves the horse past the building where he is working and through a section of open blue sky, without the horse noticing at all. But finally, he notices that he is moving, and starts yelling down at Heckle and Jeckle, who are running with the ladder to the supposed fire, to put him down.


He yells for help, which draws the attention of a bear to the window, who is smoking a pipe, which was the cause of the entire incident. When the ladder slams to a halt underneath the open window, the horse accidentally paints a green streak across the face of the very surprised bear. The bear dumps the can of paint on the horse's head, who slides down the ladder and lands on Heckle and Jeckle, who become trapped in his pants. The horse runs blindly into a telephone pole, allowing himself to slip out of the paint can. He runs to Heckle and Jeckle, who are brushing themselves off, and slams the can down over the entire body of Heckle. "You boys don't know when to stop with the gags!" he yells and stomps off. (I was, at that point, still waiting for the actual gags to begin, by the way.)

Heckle has had quite enough, and he lights another fuse to return to his old ways. Jeckle pleads for him to give it one more try, and throws the tempting stick of dynamite behind him. However, it lands near the barrel of other fireworks and bombs he had thrown out, and it hits a lit cigarette on the ground. Chaos erupts, with explosive devices shooting off in all directions. The barrel falls onto its side, and rolls down the street, causing all manner of destruction on both sides. It eventually ends up at the pier and falls into the water. There is a brief wait as the camera rests on the pier with a large ship offshore in the background. There is then a huge explosion, whereupon the ship breaks into two and sinks. The angered citizens of the town form a mob and try to chase down Heckle and Jeckle, heaving bricks and sticks and pipes in their direction as the birds make a break for it. "Oh, well," sighs Jeckle, "It was a good try, wasn't it?" The end.

As I mentioned, the animation here is a couple of notches what came before for the famous birds, and if I had to make a comparison, the short feels like it wouldn't be out of place being matched up against an episode of Tennessee Tuxedo or Underdog. Not that those television productions didn't have their charms, but it is still a far cry from animation's theatrical heyday. And the humor here is non-existent, with the barest sketch of an idea stretched out illogically from the start. We know from past films that the pair's idea of practical jokes extends far more imaginatively beyond simple explosives, so it is sad that their range has been diminished down to that of just mad bombers. (The subject matter also probably means this film will never get shown without massive cuts on any children's programming into the future, owing to the sensitive nature of everyone on the planet these days.)

Making a resolution most definitely did not work out for Heckle and Jeckle. Like most people who arbitrarily decide to do something to better their lives just because it happens to be a certain time of year, they failed at their attempt. (And I will point out yet again that Heckle never actually signs the resolution, so he really didn't fail at all, because he remained true to himself, however stupid that naturally destructive behavior happens to be.)

Thus, there will not be any announcements of a new resolution on my behalf for 2016. This is because there is no resolution left to make, for you see, I already committed to an unspoken one almost four months ago. I come into the new year already resolute in my need to use writing as the platform to my very sanity, and hopefully, to lead me to happiness once again. Whether I can springboard this commitment into gaining new employment remains to be seen, but it is better than surrendering to misery and a sour outlook for the future.

And if it doesn't lead me to happiness, then I still have writing to log every horrid detail of my descent into a soul-sucking hell of my own making. We all know what fun that can be. That's how we got some of the classics.

Sappy New Year, everybody!

RTJ


****

And in case you haven't seen it -- well, you really don't need to, but here goes:



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