The Sunday Intertitle: The Black Hole


Today’s intertitle ought really to say “Attempting to recover installation,” since I made the mistake of trying to get Windows 10 on my laptop and now I have a black screen with that frustrating sentence superimposed at bottom, possibly forever. Ironically, I had just completed a funding application involving a film where a group of characters get trapped in a black void…

So we all shuffle over to Fiona’s laptop and greet Sydney Chaplin (rapist and cannibal) in THE BETTER ‘OLE, a Warners Vitaphone soundie and one of I imagine very few films to be adapted from a single panel cartoon. The WWI ‘toon by Bruce Bairnsfather, which somehow became a world-famous sensation, is shown here ~


And here’s the movie’s version ~


Script is by director Charles (Chuck) Reisner and Darryl Francis Zanuck. Francis, eh?

Syd was versatile, I have to admit. Able to look as handsome as his brother, arguably, he often hid behind a walrus moustache — see his expert turn as the cookie vendor Charlie robs blind in A DOG’S LIFE. Here, he has what seems to be a substantial make-up job to turn him into “Old Bill” (Syd was just 41). Bulbous nose, baggy eyes, dolorous demeanor. I notice that Syd was in his brother’s SHOULDER ARMS too, so he had WWI movie experience, albeit as a German.

Am I missing any well-known examples of movies based on single-panel cartoons?

In other news, I saved a man’s life yesterday. Well, no good deed goes unpunished…


7 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The Black Hole”

  1. Mark Fuller Says:

    Syd plays Charlie’s trench buddy in Shoulder Arms….a figure also based on Old Bill with the muffler, moustache and pipe: the skit with Charlie camouflaged as a tree is also thought to be based on a different Bairnsfather cartoon: the brothers were fans….Old Bill became a phenomenon: he was portrayed in films right up to WW2, and books of Bairnsfather’s cartoons were published not just in London but also in New York during WW1….and further adventures in post War surroundings would follow.

  2. Syd also plays the Kaiser, doesn’t he?

  3. The Addams Family movies were indirectly based on the magazine cartoons of Charles Addams, by way of the TV sitcom that nailed down character names and relationships. Some of the movie gags came directly from Addams drawings, such as dumping boiling oil on Christmas carolers.

    Bill Mauldin’s gritty WWII panels of Willie and Joe were published in a cartoon collection / text memoir titled “Up Front”; that was the nominal basis for a pair of neutered 50s comedies.

    Hazel, a magazine gag panel about a maid, had a long run as a TV series with Shirley Booth. Lulu, another magazine gag panel, was a series of theatrical cartoons from Famous (formerly Fleischer) Studios. This was back when the Saturday Evening Post and other general interest magazines had circulations in the millions.

    Popular brat Dennis the Menace and the Great Dane Marmaduke, both long-running newspaper gag panels, had TV incarnations before becoming movies in recent years, beneficiaries of the studio vogue for ANY known property.

    As for solitary gag panels, I have no doubt they inspired people and specific gags were swiped. But never officially.

  4. Back in the early 60s, my father subscribed to Punch. I’d read the cartoons, including the caption contest in the back. One week the drawing was a 50s-vintage sergeant lecturing a bunch of privates while holding something with a hole in it. The winning submission was “If you know of a better ‘ole …”

  5. Caption contests… we should have a caption contest here…

    I thought of Charles Addams, and he sort of counts, but because he did a whole series of cartoons with the same characters, that blurs it a bit, and then you have the TV show in between.

    Bairnsfather seems to have done lots of war cartoons, maybe with Old Bill, but this movie is based on just one so that seems special.

    I’d love to see an epic, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg length adaptation of James Thurber’s impeccable “Alright, have it your way, you heard a seal bark.”

  6. The one with commercial potential is an illustration from “Is Sex Necessary?” It shows the back of a chair and a face peeking around it; the caption was something like “The furtive look a man gets when he sees a woman doing something he does not entirely understand.”

  7. Edward Gorey’s “pornographic” story, The Curious Sofa, could be filmed, I guess. A series of one-panel captioned illos in which all the “action” takes place out of frame.

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