Posted: December 24, 2003
A "Jazz Frog" Rarity
(Quoting from a review I did for "The Old Mill Pond", a companion film to "Swing Wedding")
In my research for classic "lost", banned and censored studio cartoons of the Golden Age, I ran across references of "Jazz Frog" cartoons depicting characatures of popular Black jazz/swing performers popular in the 1930's. I recently obtained private copies of "The Old Mill Pond" and "Swing Wedding" and found them both offensive AND entertaining at the same time, rather like classic Warner's shorts such as "Coal Black and de Sebbin Dwarfs"
There are no credits here for voices--no way to be sure if Harman and Ising actually used the voices of such legends as Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Stepin' Fetchit. It is known that at least Calloway proudly performed vocals and rotoscoped choreography for the Fleicher studios and that he arranged for those 'toons to play in certain cites a week or two prior to his own performance dates.
I have used cartoons like these in my classes on animation history as a reflection of the attitudes of the times--and as such they should absolutely NOT be lost or buried in some dusty film vault. Racist? Yes...and America was in those days, still is in some places. Ethinic humor was not considered out of place in the 30's, when the Klan was in vogue.
Still, there seems to be a lot of affection towards the creativity and talent of the parodied performers--Stepin' Fetchit being the noted exception. Definitely worth a view or two--and if you see "Swing Wedding", watch carefully for the frog trumpeter in the "Runnin' Wild" number who uses one of his valves as a hypodermic syringe, injects himself gleefully in the arm and then dives through a bass drum!
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