| toujours gai, toujours gai, wotthehell, wotthehell there's a dance in the old gal yet
Shinbone Alley (DVD)
Eddie Bracken, Carroll Channing
|Archy the cockroach poet first
called himself to public notice in 1916 when he began leaving notes on
the typewriter of New York Sun columnist Don Marquis
(pronounced MAR-kwess, incidentally).
Since the typewriter was a manual model, archy had to type (quite
slowly) by climbing up on top and jumping on the keys one by one. He
couldn't handle the shift key, so he used no capital letters.
Besides being a "vers libre bard", archy also was a raconteur, rather
in the style of Will Rogers, and often told tales of the goings-on in
Shinbone Alley, where he and Mehitabel the alley cat (Cleopatra
The columns featuring archy and mehitabel were quite popular, and were
first collected in book form in 1927 (archy and mehitabel) ([still in print], followed by more
volumes in 1933 (archys life of mehitabel) and 1935 (archy
does his part).
The books were illustrated by George Herriman, creator of "Krazy Kat",
and his lanky loose-limbed but tight style fit the characters and
There were stage productions in the 50s and 60s (Mel Brooks was
involved in the Broadway version), with first Carroll Channing and then
Eartha Kitt as Mehitabel (Eddie Bracken played archy opposite
And then, in 1971, came this film.
The animation (except in one sequence) is simplified in style compared
to Herriman's art and Mehitabel is a caricature of Channing rather than
basically a Krazy Kat klone (sorry), but it captures the feel.
My own favourite moments:
John Carradine as the old-style theatre cat who saved the day for a
famous Shakespearean actor (i fear i have forgotten whom) when a
jealous understudy hid the star's beard just before the performance.
The cat, as he explains, knowing the show must go on, leapt to the
star's aid... and clung to him throughout the performance, playing the
Archy's declaration of war against humanity, in which the animation
drops into full Herriman-style.
And Archy's report of his interview with a moth, trying to fathom why
moths fly into candle flames. "Have you ever seen the beauty that
exists in the heart of a flame?" the moth asks in turn, and archy
concludes (quoting from memory, from fifteen years or so ago):
"...and, boss, i wish that i
wanted something in life
just half as much
as that guy
Wonderful film -- but do not make the mistake of assuming that "It's a
cartoon -- it's a kiddie film." As a quick rule of thumb, if you can't
or don't want to pre-screen it, call it PG13, though i wouldn't
hesitate in showing it to younger kids if i thought they would enjoy it
and understand some of the issues raised.
Or, on the other hand, perhaps it ought be labelled, as a shelf card in
the bookstore in one of Will Shetterley's "Bordertown" stories reads:
"Children and Unusually Perceptive Adults".
To give credit where credit is due, i consulted Don Markstein's massive
and authoritative online reference to all things cartoonish, the Toonopedia, for the
relevant dates of archy and mehitabel's first and subsequent
By one of those coincidences that proves you really are suppposed to do
something you've been putting off, Don had only just posted his
article on archy and mehitabel less than two weeks ago...