The famous Mutt and Jeff comic strip had a lengthy 75-year run. The comic first began in 1907, when Bud Fisher created the incurable gambler, Augustus J. Mutt for part in a series of chronological newspaper panels that later became known as the comic strip. In 1908, Mutt met the dimwitted Edgar Horace Jeffries, and the result was instant success. What many people do not know is that Mutt and Jeff also had a successful run in theatrical animated cartoons. The shorts were first produced by the Raoul Barré/Charles Bowers studio and later by Associated Animators. Unfortunately, these cartoons had little or no VHS or DVD exposure until now. Mutt and Jeff: The Original Animated Odd Couple from Ray Pointer's Inkwell Images is the first DVD compilation/documentary dedicated to these early Mutt and Jeff cartoons.
The first cartoon on this disc is Flapjacks (1917). In this story, Mutt and Jeff run a successful eatery. When served pancakes, a beautiful woman customer observes, "They don't look very good." Mutt responds, "No good? Watch this, Miss!" and proceeds to place one of the pancakes on a record player. The pancake plays such good music that the woman and Mutt begin to dance while Jeff is in the kitchen doing the famous "camel walk". In the end, both Mutt and Jeff are clobbered by a cop who proceeds to dance with the girl himself! Although Flapjacks is traditionally credited to Charles Bowers, Mr. Pointer points out that the level of drawing, pen work, and execution of animation in this cartoon appears to be the work of legendary animator, Dick Huemer.
Another Barré effort, Cramps (1916) is also included in this compilation. Late at night, Jeff finds himself with an awful stomach cramp. His roommate, Mutt, immediately attempts to find a cure. When he finally finds a successful medicine and Jeff falls asleep, he cannot awaken him. Fearing the worst, Mutt heads back and tries to find another cure. Jeff meanwhile, finds himself awake and fit. His girlfriend calls and the two indulge in conversation. In the meantime, Mutt mixes up one of the remedies and soon finds himself blown of his apartment by nitroglycerin!
The next five cartoons were produced by Associated Animators. The first, Where Am I? (1925) is about Jeff getting a cooking pot stuck to his head. As Mutt feverishly tries to remove it, Jeff walks aimlessly into a construction sight. In one scene, believing that he has hit a staircase, Jeff begins to walk in mid-air on "invisible" stairs, defying the laws of gravity. Such a gag would be found in abundance in later Warner Bros. cartoons, especially in Chuck Jones' Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote series. The Big Swim (1925) has Jeff attempting to swim the Atlantic Ocean in a cork-lined bathing suit. Mutt follows him in hot pursuit via motorboat. When they reach land, they are greeted by stereotypical depictions of Russian, Italian, Chinese, French, and German men. Believing that they have reached Europe, Mutt asks, "What part of Europe is this?" The Russian steps forward and says "This isn't Europe! This is Ellis Island!" In Dog Gone (1926), Mutt becomes the judge of a local dog show. In order to snag the prize for himself, he enlists Jeff to disguise himself as a dog and win first prize. When Mutt declares Jeff the winner, an entire mass of canines chase them out of the stadium. Jeff and the rest of the dogs fall prey to Schultz the Sausage Man. Mutt then attempts to "save Jeff from a dog's life!" In the end, saving his pal from a dog's life only leaves him packed up like an oversized sausage! A Kick for Cinderella (1926) is a madcap retelling of the old Cinderella story in which Jeff, not permitted to go the Charleston exhibition lead by Mutt, ends up getting his wish granted. He out-dances Mutt at the exhibition, infuriating his friend. In The Globe Trotters (1927), the last Mutt and Jeff cartoon, our heroes dream of appearing in a travelogue. However, hardly any of the footage in the short is new; most of it is reused from prior releases, making Globe Trotters an early "cheater" cartoon.
The last two cartoons on the program are colorized versions of Associated Animators shorts. In 1927, when Associated Animators broke up, production of new Mutt and Jeff cartoons ceased. So, Bud Fisher tried reissuing the cartoons. When sound was introduced, Fisher attempted to colorize the Mutt and Jeff shorts with little success. The two cartoons seen here are Where Am I? and The Globe Trotters, both of which seem to have lost their spark when transferred to color. The animation in these shorts is just about as poor as those in the later 1970s Fred Ladd/Radio and Television Packagers remakes. For bonus features, Mr. Pointer offers Westward Whoa and Slick Sleuths (both 1926) in their original and colorized versions. Mr. Pointer also includes a very special treat – the only complete print of Lots of Water (1925) known to exist.
All together this new DVD compilation is something to behold. Most of the shorts were sourced from surviving 35mm and 16mm prints. Flapjacks, A Kick for Cinderella, Westward Whoa! and The Globe Trotters were all mastered from original 35mm prints, which explains their superior quality. Also mastered, were the color versions of Globe Trotters and Where Am I? – the former was experiencing decomposition as it was being transferred. Mr. Pointer both narrates and adds sound effects to all of these silent shorts, enhancing them even more.
Mr. Pointer narrated the documentary section as well as arranged an interview with Richard P. Huemer, the son of Dick Huemer. Huemer offers great insight on the subject of Mutt and Jeff and the role that his father played in bringing the series to the big screen. The program was first assembled in March, but it was fifteen minutes shorter than it is now. "The program needed to address the obvious question as to why Mutt and Jeff did not succeed as sound era characters," Mr. Pointer recalls. "There also had to be a better reason for including the inferior color remakes, and explain how they came about." So, with the use of some further research and materials from the Library of Congress, by June the discs were ready.
Aside from being the first compilation of Mutt and Jeff cartoons, the new Inkwell DVD release was also the last work of Brian King, who suffered a heart attack and passed away on June 15, 2005. King had an impressive resume in the field of animation. Among many other things, he was associated with Bob Clampett and served as the film editor on Bugs Bunny Superstar. King served as the primary cameraman on all of the interviews shot for previous Inkwell releases, and worked as an Online Video Editor when Inkwell Images first started. "MUTT AND JEFF was his last production for us," recalls Mr. Pointer, "and I know that he enjoyed being a part of making it a success."