BOOTLEG FILES 608: “Spree for All” (1946 animated short featuring Snuffy Smith).
LAST SEEN: A French black-and-white print can be found on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It was lost for decades due to intentional destruction of all copies.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.
When considering the subject of lost films, most people fixate on productions made during the silent movie era. However, a surprisingly large volume of sound era films is considered lost, including Hollywood films made as late as the 1940s.
For years, one of the most curious lost films was a 1946 animated short called “Spree for All,” which was missing for a half-century until a print was located last year in a most unlikely place. While the film is nothing special, its back story offers a fascinating insight on copyrights and distribution.
The central character in “Spree for All” was Snuffy Smith, a diminutive Dixie moonshiner who was the focus of the long-running newspaper comic strip “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.” Paramount Pictures licensed the Snuffy Smith character from King Features for a standalone short to be created by its Famous Studios subsidiary and released as part of its Noveltoon series of theatrical cartoons. However, King Features’ agreement with the studio required the rights for “Spree for All” to be returned to the syndicate after 10 years.
Strangely, “Spree for All” bears almost no resemblance to the newspaper strips that made Snuffy Smith a household name. Indeed, all of the supporting characters from the strip are gone, and Snuffy has been reinvented as an Army veteran returning home from military service. Snuffy is first seen driving car with a large box bearing the sticker “Presto Post-War Prefabricated House” – and this was a very rare reference in the cartoons of that era to the acute housing shortage facing World War II veterans. Snuffy opens the box and, indeed, a furnished house emerges and is ready for his residence.
Snuffy is ready to settle into his new home and enjoy a swig from his beloved moonshine jug when a shot comes ringing through his residence. It seems that Snuffy built his home on a peak that separates a pair of long-feuding hillbilly clans, the Mulligans and the Coys. The film is then packed with hillbilly stereotypes shooting rifles at each other, and there is even an infant who briefly leaps from his mother’s arms to fire a few handgun shots at the rival clan.
Snuffy is clearly agitated by this feuding, so he takes out a bottle labeled “Essence of Love Perfume” and throws it down the borderline separating the Mulligans and Coys. When a man from one side and a woman from the other suddenly inhale the perfume, they imagine each other as glamorous objects of desire and quickly agree to marry.
A wedding celebration is quickly arranged and Snuffy opens his homes to the celebrants. The guests sing the old ditty “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain” while dancing and partying takes place. Snuffy is seen dancing with a pretty blonde, but she is quickly revealed to be a dress mannequin. As the wedding ceremony is taking place, Snuffy grabs his moonshine jug for a swig, but the loud popping of the cork is mistaken by the wedding guests as gunfire. Immediately, the Mulligans and Coys resume their ballistic hostility, but Snuffy is furious at the return to the old feud and lets loose on everyone with submachine gun fire. The Mulligans and Coys retreat to their respective lands, lift up their homes and run off into the mountains while Snuffy relaxes in the serenity of his residence, oblivious that his gunfire reduced the new home to rubble.
“Spree for All” was produced in the Cinecolor process and directed by Seymour Kneitel, who was responsible for many of the classic Famous Studios shorts featuring Popeye, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Baby Huey. This short was dropped in the theaters in October 1946, but it made very little impression with audiences. Paramount and King Features opted not to go forward with additional Snuffy Smith cartoons, although King Features would create a series of television cartoons with Snuffy Smith in the early 1960s with Kneitel as director.
So how did this film become lost? Well, remember that Paramount only had the rights to the Snuffy Smith character for 10 years. In 1956, King Features regained the rights to the work and Paramount was mandated to destroy its prints and negatives of “Spree for All.” When animation historians came looking for the film years later, no copy could be found. And, oddly, Paramount did not deposit a copy with the Library of Congress for copyright purposes. Thus, the film seemed to have vanished completely.
However, it seemed that no one remembered that Paramount released “Spree for All” in France. In 2016, animation historian David Gerstein located a copy of “Spree for All” on the French eBay site. This print was a duped black-and-white version with French opening titles and occasional French subtitles. The French version is on YouTube, albeit without permission of King Features, which still controls the rights to “Spree for All” (and which never seemed bothered by its disappearance). Until the original Cinecolor version turns up, this is the only way we can experience Snuffy Smith’s elusive foray into movies.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
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