The Bootleg Files: Inside Magoo

BOOTLEG FILES 738: “Inside Magoo” (1960 public service film for the American Cancer Society featuring Mister Magoo).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Not to my knowledge.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The status of the copyright is uncertain.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Either in a Mister Magoo anthology or in a collection of classic public service films.

Public service films run the risk of either being too solemn and preachy or trying too hard to sell their message in an emotional manner. Health-related public service films are particularly problematic, as the sponsoring organizations don’t want to scare the audience but also don’t want to trivialize diseases with inappropriate humor.

A very strange balance was created by “Inside Magoo,” a 14-minute film created in 1960 on behalf of the American Cancer Society (ACS) by the animation studio United Productions of America (UPA). The studio had previously worked on behalf of the ACS with the creation of the shorts “Man Alive!” (1952) and “Sappy Homiens” (1956). For this endeavor, the studio offered its most beloved creation, the near-sighted Mister Magoo, to discuss how to identify the warning signs of cancer and why it is important to have a medical examination to test for potential cancer.

“Inside Magoo” starts on a very strange platform – neither Mister Magoo nor cancer awareness is cited, but instead the viewer is treated to glimpses of early motion picture scenes, mostly involving zany slapstick knockabout, which is followed by a montage involving women’s fashions from distant years and World War II views of Hitler and Churchill. The introduction veers illogically into a consideration of animation, with the commentary that this film genre could move beyond humor to offer a user-friendly consideration of complex considerations.

From here, the film switches to a live-action formation with UPA co-founder Stephen Bosustow and actor Jim Backus – Bosustow gives a quickie demonstration of how to make Mister Magoo drawings move while Backus provides the character’s familiar cranky growl. Backus tips off the audience what to expect in stating, “By being funny, I hope I can make you watch and think about something you don’t like to think about.” Bosustow adds: “Since pictures are better than words, here’s Magoo.”

Now, we are back in animation as Mister Magoo comes out of his home at the start of the day (and not by the front door – this gag has to be seen to be believed). His morning newspaper has a headline that says “Seven Cancer Danger Signals,” but the myopic geezer misreads it as “Severe Cloudburst Due Soon.”

Magoo gets into his car and listens to the radio, but becomes perturbed when the announcer calls on the listeners to have a health check as cancer detection measure. Magoo tries to turn off the radio, angry over what he is hearing, but cannot find the right knob until the announcer helpfully tells him it’s the third button. Magoo drives his car into a fire hydrant and he praises the vehicle’s “powerful brakes” that can “stop on a dime.”

Magoo exits the vehicle and walks down a city street and is followed by passing a truck with loudspeakers that blare out “Do you the seven danger signs of cancer?” Magoo laughingly responds, “Cancer, shmancer – I’m a Sagittarius.” The truck chases Magoo, spelling out danger signs. Magoo escapes from the truck, moaning about the “depressing subject,” and decides to cheer himself up with a movie – except that his dismal vision causes him to mistake an amusement park for a cinema. But the havoc he creates in the amusement park reminds him of the seven danger signs for cancer, and he regretfully goes to a doctor’s office. “The last of the Magoos – the last of a dynasty,” he laments, waving goodbye to the viewer.

Of course, Magoo gets a clean bill of health, and he yells at the viewer to get a check-up. The film then switches back to live action with a demonstration of what happens in a check-up. Backus volunteers to be the patient while blonde beauty Joi Lansing is the nurse (she arrives on screen accompanied by an off-screen wolf whistle) and character actor Jeff Corey is the doctor. Corey does most of the dialogue for this sequence, with Backus hamming for the camera and Lansing offering nothing but decorative appeal.

“Inside Magoo” carries the subtitle “For Men Only,” but the reason for that is not clear until the doctor’s office segment when a picture of Magoo is shown with his pelvic region highlighted. Corey intones, “About one-quarter of cancer in men occurs in this area” – the words “prostate” and “testicles” are not used to describe the locations for the male-only cancers. Corey also belatedly recommends that women get tested.

The film ends with a rerun of Magoo being chased by the truck that lists the seven danger signs for cancer. Magoo then returns to the set used for the doctor’s office and, amazingly, tries to put on one of the wall panels as a jacket.

“Inside Magoo” was released in a six-minute version to theaters, with the live action sequences removed. The full 14-minute version was presented in nontheatrical release and for television broadcast, and for years it was part of an exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. In conjunction with its release, Magoo was featured in ACS public service advertisements for newspapers and magazines.

The status of “Inside Magoo” is unclear. The UPA library is now owned by Universal Pictures, but the film was made on behalf of the ACS – and screen shots from the film that appeared in the new book “Body, Capital, and Screens: Visual Media and the Healthy Self in the 20th Century” were credited to the ACS. Neither entity has released the film in digital formats – a bootleg DVD label paired “Inside Magoo” with episodes of the animated television series “Calvin and the Colonel” and another collector-to-collector label packaged it with public domain cartoons.

A slightly faded version of the film from a 16mm print sold to the home movie market in the 1960s can be found on YouTube. Magoo fans might enjoy this unusual entry in the series – and, hey, it might even inspire some of them to make a doctor’s appointment to screen for cancer.

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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