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MGM Cartoons: Altered and Reissued

Cartoon historian David Gerstein has been rummaging through the Library of Congress and has come up with the dialogue cutting continuities for several MGM cartoons and has noticed discrepancies between the films as they exist today, and these original copyright documents. As noted on Cartoon Brew back in June 2005, MGM not only retitled their cartoon shorts for reissue, but would go in and edit out or reanimate topical gags for rerelease. These copyright cutting continuities are important because they describe scenes and gags which no longer exist. Due to a vault fire in the 1970s, the original negatives for the pre-1951 MGM cartoons no longer exist. Unless rare nitrate projection prints are found, these documents are now the only record of the original films.

Thad Komorowski has just posted the continuity for Avery’s Dumb Hounded. Compare it to the re-release version of the cartoon itself to note the differences. Apparently a whole new opening sequence was added. Thanks to David, for sharing his diligent research with the animation community. Now I’m wondering if that fabled “marriage ending” to Red Hot Riding Hood is in the original release?

  • droosan

    On a ‘tangentially-related’ note:

    Is there an online listing of the M-G-M animated shorts Warner Bros has released on DVD as ‘bonus features’ ..?

    For example: I recently made the (happy-accidental) discovery that the 1937 Harman-Ising short LITTLE BUCK CHEEZER is included as a ‘bonus’ on the DVD of the Spencer Tracy film CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (with a nice clean ‘restored’-looking picture, to boot).

    I’d love to know which other Warner DVD’s I should seek-out to find more ‘seldom-seen’ M-G-M animated shorts.

  • Thad

    Now I’m wondering if that fabled “marriage ending” to Red Hot Riding Hood is in the original release?

    It’s not. We already checked that one.

  • Anonymous

    “Due to a vault fire in the 1970s, the original negatives for the pre-1951 MGM cartoons no longer exist. ”

    This is so sad! We need a Delorian !

    • Marvin

      It is very sad. The reissues are so bland.

  • captain murphy

    Jerry, how much weight SHOULD we give these copyright filing synopses? Generally that is. I’m not doubting the specifics and interpretations of this case.

    Because it seems I have seen them before, and they often seem to be written BEFORE the cartoon in question has even been storyboarded, that is, WRITTEN, in the old animation studio system.

    And that bit of work, plus the rest that actually goes into animation, can change what makes it to the screen considerably.

    Aren’t quite a few of these filings actually filed rather early in the creative process, before voice recording or storyboarding?

  • Thad

    The copyright synopsis for a film was prepared by someone in the legal department (?) of the studio after/while viewing a print of the film.

  • I’ve already posted a comment on this on Thad’s site, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could also find out just what the opening moments to what is now called “THE EARLY BIRD DOOD IT” really were! That cartoon now begins far too placidly to be considered part of that early, daring age of Tex Avery. The complete run of these original plot synopsis would make an incredible book all on its own…or at least an interesting insert to a possible COMPLETE TEX AVERY cartoons DVD box set! And, yes, I urge anyone connected with MGM or Warner Brothers who just might know of the existence of an original nitrate on any of these titles to come forward and share that nitrate with the rest of the world before it, too, decays! All TV stations around the world check your files and vaults, because these cartoons were always shown on TV. Yeah, I know; it’s futile, but it sure would be the release of the year to have original material like this once again unearthed!!

  • Whether or not the continuities in the Library of Congress are accurate, in terms of how a film was first shown in theaters, can be checked against the records of the New York State Censorship Board, in Albany; distributors would sometimes submit continuities which had to be identical to the prints submitted to the Censorship Board.

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, the fire took place at the George Eastman House, in Rochester (MGM had donated the negatives to them). John Kuiper, who was curator of films at the Eastman House when the fire happened, told me that MGM had preserved everything before donating the negatives; thus, if there was any change to the films, the changes may have been made to the original negatives before they were donated to the Eastman House.

  • Harvey Deneroff – The fire consumed the original nitrate master negs. MGM only preserved CRI (Color Reversal Internegative) of the reissue prints – these were used to make the TV prints commonly in circulation – and today are the only elements the studio (WB) has for remastering the cartoons.

  • David

    John Kuiper’s statement is accurate. Even if the nitrate negatives to the MGM cartoons had survived, they would in all likelihood have been altered to reflect the changes that were made to the films for reissue purposes. That was standard studio practice in those days. The use of dupe negatives was avoided because they tended to yield grainy, inferior prints. That’s why studios would alter their original materials. What is unfortunate is that whatever was excised was usually discarded.

    The sad irony about the loss of so many MGM negatives in the Eastman House fire is that one of the reasons those negatives were there is the studio believed they would be safer than in MGM’s own vaults.

  • MisterEight

    Slightly off topic…

    …was watching “Tom & Jerry” block on Cartoon Network with my five year old daughter. Shorts with the African American “maid” came on, and I almost switched it off, then, I noticed that they had re-voiced the maid’s voice. I allowed my daughter to watch the shorts with the new, less offensive voicing, but I did feel a slight bit of pain that the original had been changed.

    Hard to balance offensive yesterdays with the need to preserve people’s hard work…in the end, I just wanted my girl to enjoy Tom & Jerry’s ultraviolence WITHOUT the horrible, racist accent I remember from my youth.

  • Chris Leonido

    Are there any animators who made these cartoons during the time alive today? We might be able to know some of the footage that was cut and get them re-animated.

  • I also heard that there was an scene cut from “The Yankee Doodle Mouse” (1943) involving an additional gag and a 2nd war letter from Jerry. An example of a changed scene is in “The Shooting of Dan McGoo” (1945).

    Also, they would sometime omit names from the credits (“Wild and Woolfy” [1945]) and change them (“Mouse Trouble” and “The Zoot Cat” [bothy 1944]).

  • Marvin

    I think the original negatives are starting to unearth one by one. If you think about it, many one-shot, Tex Avery cartoons, as well as several Barney Bear and Harman-Ising cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s still exist in their original form, the original negatives for several pre-1948 T&J Cartoons have recently been discovered.

    Some reissue prints such as Slap Happy Lion (1947) and The Milky Way (1940) still retain the original titles, if I’m not mistaken, half an original nitrate for The Yankee Doodle Mouse had been recently discovered (it might contain the lost scene), and also the pre-1951 MGM Cartoons that were remade in Cinemascope i.e. “Wags To Riches”, “Hatch Up Your Troubles”, “Ventriloquist Cat” etc still exist in their original form. I just wish all the pre-1951 MGM cartoons still existed this way. It’s quite depressing.