<--Previous Review Click Here to Return to Index of Reviews
Click Here to Return to Home Page
Next Review-->
Click the Cover Picture or Title to purchase this item from Amazon.com -- a new browser window will open.
cover toujours gai, toujours gai, wotthehell, wotthehell there's a dance in the old gal yet
Shinbone Alley (DVD)
Eddie Bracken, Carroll Channing (voices)
Archie 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, archie 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", archie 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 (a reincarnated Cleopatra) resided.

The columns featuring archie and mehitabel were quite popular, and were first collected in book form in 1927 (archie and mehitabel) [still in print], followed by more volumes in 1933 (archies life of mehitabel) and 1935 (archie 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 material beautifully.

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 archie opposite Channing.)

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 beard.  (Later cogitation suggests it was Joe Jefferson.)

Archie's declaration of war against humanity, in which the animation drops into full Herriman-style.

And Archie'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 archie concludes (quoting from memory, from fifteen years or so ago):

"...and, boss, i wish there was
wanted something
i wanted in life
half as much
as that guy
to fry..."

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 archie and mehitabel's first and subsequent appearances.
By one of those coincidences that proves you really are suppposed to do something, Don had only just posted his article on archie and mehitabel less than two weeks ago...)