Max Fleischer Universe: A Clean Shaven Man
The Max Fleischer universe is something I felt strangely at home in from my very first glimpse of his pioneering animation work, as a little shaver watching local Syracuse tv personality Salty Sam’s Saturday morning cartoon show, where each week he unspooled vintage pre-Code 30’s Popeye cartoons in all their black and white glory.
I grew up with a penchant for the outre and the fantastic in film (horror and sci-fi especially) and literature (fascination with Greek and Roman tales of gods and monsters sequed nicely into books by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne), and there is a natural gateway from this to something as surrealistically fascinating as the rubbery anthropomorphic world of Max Fleischer’s vintage cartoons –they never never fail to make me goggle in amazement. Not to mention make me laugh out loud helplessly.
Here for example is “A Clean Shaven Man” from 1936 animated by Seymour Kneitel and Roland Crandall and directed by Max’s brother Dave (the gag-meister, the tummler of the Brothers Fleischer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5MFZyC689g
This is one of the first Popeye cartoons I recall viewing, and it helped turn me into life-long Fleischer fan!
The backgrounds are urban and gritty but with curvilinear lines abounding that give the interior sequences and exterior street scenes a slightly askew and very silly tilt to them. Despite the warped and cracked walls of Wimpy’s barbershop, there is a non-threatening , down-right funky flavor to this joint. Add to this the ridiculous strut and preen of the gargantuan, stocky and in this cartoon mustachioed Bluto , and the crusty musclebound squint-eyed Popeye as they shave and groom each other into an increasingly outlandish frenzy, leaving them both looking ridiculous as the sassy swinging jazz score behind them comments wisely and knowingly on the foibles of male vanity. All to impress the flighty, excitable and not exactly dishy Olive Oyl! What a comedic set-up!!
Check their incredibly mobile and elastic faces during the reciprocal grooming and shaving scene as the pair register some of the funniest grimaces and mugging ever seen on the big screen (these 35 mm 6-8 minute shorts were tremendously popular box office hits for the Fleischers). And check out their contrasting voices–Bluto’s gruff basso profundo, and Popeye’s sly and sandpapery contralto, in their dialogue in this shaving sequence, made up mainly of muttered threats, wisecracks and faux-Yiddish imprecations as they both render the other absurd-looking, while the bouncy and infectious bluesy swing tune by Sammy Timberg and Dave Fleischer, “I Want a Clean Shaven Man,” unspools in all it’s low-down swagger. Its just the perfect cartoon–the whole thing sends me into stitches every time I view it.
And BTW there’s a version of “Clean Shaven Man” on my new album “Gary Lucas’ FLEISCHERE” — which CMH is giving away this month — click here for more details…
— Gary Lucas for Classic Movie Hub
Dubbed “one of the best and most original guitarists in America” (Rolling Stone), Gary Lucas is a Grammy-nominated songwriter and composer, and an international recording artist with over 25 solo albums to date. As a fan of classic cinema, Gary tours extensively, playing live accompaniments to legendary horror films including Dracula, Frankenstein, and Vampyr among others. He has also recently released two classic-related albums: “Gary Lucas’ FLEISCHEREI: Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons” featuring 2015 Tony nominee Sarah Stiles as Betty Boop, and “Cinefantastique,” a collection of themes and incidental music from classic films, ranging from South Pacific to Psycho! You can learn more about Gary at GaryLucas.com or by following him on twitter @lucasgary.