Friday, October 17, 2014
THE 100 GREATEST CROSSOVERS OF ALL TIME #33
There's not much to say about this odd duck, THE MAN WHO HATED LAUGHTER, except that it only qualifies for this list by the sheer uniqueness of the crossovers. About three dozen characters syndicated by King Features appeared in this phlegmatic 1972 episode of THE ABC SATURDAY SUPERSTAR MOVIE. However, whereas ROGER RABBIT wisely kept the majority of its cameo-characters confined to quick, highly visual appearances, LAUGHTER-- written by Lou Silverstone and directed by long-time animator Jack Zander (best known for his Tom-and-Jerry shorts)-- pokes along, trying to give all its characters some little something to do. LAUGHTER is a lot like those "Hollywood Canteen" films of the 1940s, in which big-time movie stars, often playing themselves, were assembled to participate in some worthy project, often involving entertaining the troops. Unfortunately, this barely animated TV-movie is even less funny than those stodgy films. The movie won't make anyone hate laughing, but watching it will probably make some viewers hate LAUGHTER.
Mad scientist Morbid Grimsby hates laughter, but can't figure out how to end that phenomenon. He decides to abduct all the funny characters from comic strips, because his computer tells him that comic strips like BLONDIE and HI AND LOIS contribute so much to human amusement. To do this, Grimsby commissions Popeye and his entourage-- that is, Olive and Wimpy-- to gather the various characters together on a ship, promising them a fabulous ocean-voyage. Popeye, nominally the hero of the story, is totally clueless that Grimsby, upon getting his "guests" to a remote island, plans to keep them imprisoned so that they will never again create laughter. Maybe the sailor-man would've caught on if he'd met Grimsby's henchman, who happens to be Popeye's old sparring-partner Brutus (a TV-cartoon version of the Fleischer Studio's heavy, Bluto). The island-bound guest-list includes such notables as Henry, Snuffy Smith and his wife, the cast of the Katzenjammer Kids, Beetle Bailey and Sarge, the Little King, Little Iodine, and the respective households of the Bumstead and Flagstone clans, among others.
Though Popeye and his buddies don't know what's going on, the government somehow gets wind of Grimsby's plot, and calls into action most of the King Syndicate's adventure-heroes: the Phantom, Mandrake, Steve Canyon, Flash Gordon, and Tim Tyler of TIM TYLER'S LUCK, which strip had been cancelled since 1966. The Phantom's wolf-ally Devil and Flash's girlfriend Dale also make quick appearances. The amusing thing about the "serious" heroes being called up to rescue the supposedly vulnerable "funny" characters is that in real life the former were already on their way out, as all forms of story-strips-- not just those centering on martial heroes-- while the "funny" strips would regain the dominance in the comic-strip market that they had enjoyed prior to the adventure-boom of the 1930s.
Since Popeye is framed as the hero, the serious heroes are eventually defeated by Grimsby, though they do get one little victory. Brutus, dressed up like a cockamamie excuse for a knight-in-armor, is sent packing when Mandrake conjures up a more prepossessing armored knight: Prince Valiant, complete with horse-- though Valiant doesn't stick around to get captured.
Once the serious heroes are out of the way, the captured comic-heroes-- including Popeye and his retinue-- attempt to make Grimsby laugh, in the hope that the experience will cause him to change his ways. Given the supposedly funny routines performed by the captives, it's a wonder that the mad scientist doesn't atomize the lot of them. But yes, they finally make Grimsby laugh. For a desultory climax, one of Grimsby's devices goes haywire, and Popeye, finally getting access to his beloved spinach, saves the day.
As a closing note, the comics-characters all seem to be aware that they occupy comic strips in addition to their ongoing lives. I have not been able to determine whether or not credited scripter Silverstone is the same author known for contributing to MAD magazine. If so, in this endeavor he was a long way from the wit displayed in the classic sixties spoof "Bats-Man!"