Ellenshaw on Frisco Bay

I’m hopeful that a bunch of you won’t be able to identify the images here, thus creating INTRIGUE.

Which I will then SHATTER by telling you they’re from Disney’s THE LOVE BUG. Matte artist/ genius Harrison Ellenshaw was responsible.

His art adds a whole layer of melancholic, nostalgic beauty to MARY POPPINS and it kind of does the same, or tries to. The plotline doesn’t really sustain such emotions, especially in the final third, which is just one big car race, with gags more notable for their difficulty/expensiveness that for being particularly clever or funny.

But the first two-thirds… a lot of peculiar stuff in this movie (spiritual ancestor to CHRISTINE).

As a movie-besotted child, Fiona fantasised that Herbie, the sentient Volkswagon, must be possessed by a poltergeist, or else the reincarnation of a human in machine form. (Weird kid.) In the movie, there is actually an explanation offered, though it’s more in the form of speculation/bullshit than actual canonical backstory (kind of like how various characters in Romero’s zombie films suggest their own theories of zombie apocalypse causation). Buddy Hackett’s Tennessee Steinmetz, who has studied in Tibet, puts forth an animist view, proposing that man has invested so much emotion into his mechanical creations that they have become alive.

Amazingly, Buddy manages to put this theory over with some conviction. The ultimate version of HERBIE would be like A.I., with the machines reigning supreme after humanity’s extinction. HERBIE INHERITS THE EARTH, anyone?

As David Wingrove pointed out to me, there’s a weird irony/perversity to the fact that director Robert Stevenson was a conchie who went to America to get away from the war, and ended up working almost exclusively for the two biggest right-wingers in Hollywood, Uncle Walt and Howard Hughes.

Also watched: HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, which is the one I remember seeing on first release (not really any cool new paintings), and THE BLACK HOLE, for which Ellenshaw came out of retirement and created some amazing imagery.


THE LOVE BUG stars Zeke Kelso; Rosemary Pilkington; Lord Fellamar; the singing bone; Mr. Snoops; Tommy Chan; Officer Gunther Toody.

HERBIE RIDES AGAIN stars Madelon Claudet; April Dancer; Sheriff Al Chambers; Col ‘Bat’ Guano; Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones; Mr. Hilltop; Captain Flash; and Baron Samedi.

THE BLACK HOLE stars Hauptmann (Capt.) Stransky; Norman Bates; Max Cherry; Robin Lee Graham; Weena; Dirty Lyle; and the voices of Cornelius and Maj. ‘King’ Kong.

6 Responses to “Ellenshaw on Frisco Bay”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    As an automotive footnote, there was also the manipulation awful tv series MY MOTHER THE CAR. That’s the one where Jerry Van Dyke’s Mother was reincarnated as a jalopy with a voice-over voice from Ann Sothern.

  2. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a distinguished work. And creepy. Though The Simpsons did a good parody of it. (Grandpa reincarnated as inanimate object: “I’ve suffered so much, why can’t I die?”)

  3. “Johnny Tremain” offers a rare and amusing flaw: At least two aerial views of Boston streets have the exact same puddles, revealing that different mattes used the same live action footage. That’s another tour de force, with most of colonial Boston painted in over what was planned as a television film.

  4. Sounds intriguing. Production design by Peter Ellenshaw, so his dad likely had a hand in the glass shots (though PE was no slouch in that department, I believe).

  5. Wilbert Plijnaar Says:

    I’m really happy to have stumbled upon this blog a while back which led to many hours of reading pleasure and discoveries. Thank you for writing it. In the above article, you seem to confuse father and son Ellenshaw. Father Peter was responsible for the Mary Poppins Mattes-Both were involved with Black Hole. Also “Herbie Rides Again” has way more (new) matte paintings than you give it credit for. Check ‘m all out at New Zealand Pete’s excellent Matte painting blog: https://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/search?q=The+Black+Hole

  6. Thanks, you’re right of course about Peter and Harrison. I’m too easily lead by SOUND — Harrison SOUNDS like the older one because he has a surname for a first name.

    You’re also right that HRA is stuffed with lovely mattes. But none of them are nocturnal, so it doesn’t have that great misty chim-chim-cheree quality.

    New Zealand Pete’s site is indeed a fabulous resource.

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