BOOTLEG FILES 773: “Springtime for Clobber” (1957 animated short by the notorious Gene Deitch).
LAST SEEN: On YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell deep into the proverbial cracks.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: None, thank goodness.
Most film buffs may recall animator Gene Deitch as the inheritor of the Popeye and Tom and Jerry cartoon franchises – as well as being the man responsible for the worst additions to those respective, long-running series. He also created the egregious 1966 animated feature “Alice of Wonderland in Paris,” which I included in my book “The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time.”
Before assaulting audiences with those atrocities, Deitch was briefly the creative director of Terrytoons, the low-budget/high-energy studio that gave us such beloved characters as Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle. Deitch’s creative input at Terrytoons was considerably less interesting, with such easily forgettable figures as the irritatingly stupid Sidney the Elephant and the weirdly lo-fi Tom Terrific.
But Deitch’s nadir was something called Clint Clobber. He was a burly, bellicose superintendent in a crummy apartment building called the Flamboyant Arms, and he greeted his duties with a surly shade of malcontent grumbling. Now, anti-social characters can be amusing in the right hands – but no one ever accused Deitch of possessing the right hands.
“Springtime for Clobber” was the last entry in the seven-cartoon series, and it offered a sterling serving of Deitch’s vices: horrible animation, comedy that was more bizarre than funny and a strangely shabby personality that made it impossible to enjoy whatever potential for mirth may have existed.
The short opens with a taxi arriving at the Flamboyant Arms, and its passengers are the notorious bank robbers Laverne and Lefty. Laverne is a tough-talking blonde (probably not her natural hair hue) with a cigarette dangling from her garish red lips. Lefty is kept in a large trunk – it seems that it is too dangerous for him to be seen, so Laverne keeps him as a virtual prisoner in that unlikely casing.
Down in the building’s basement, Clint Clobber is absentmindedly watching songbirds on his windowsill while ignoring a desperate call from the tenant in Apartment 2B about a leaky faucet that won’t shut off. Laverne arrives and Clobber is immediately smitten with her – we know that because large hearts start floating above his head.
Clobber takes the trunk carrying Lefty up the stairs to Laverne’s temporary residence in Apartment 2C – and we can hear the tenant in Apartment 2B frantically calling Clobber to fix his faucet because the unstoppable water is flooding his apartment and rising over his feet. Clobber creeps on the ledge outside of the second floor apartments, swipes flowers from the window box for Apartment 2B, and surprises an unappreciative Laverne through an open window with the purloined bouquet. She angrily pulls down the window shade, but he returns to his basement and calls her to recite poetry.
With little warning, the police arrive and in the tumult Laverne’s machine gun winds up in Clobber’s hands. The police mistakenly believe he captured the bank robbers (the cops keep Lefty locked in the trunk) and promise him a reward for his alleged heroism. Clobber finally responds to the pleas to the water-logged tenant in Apartment 2B – he opens the door to the apartment and is flooded by the mini-ocean that has accumulated thanks to his negligence in fixing the faucet.
Does any of this sound funny? If you are not laughing, you are not alone – “Springtime for Clobber” is a half-baked idea that never gets cooked into a genuine comedy meal. Clobber comes across as both stupid and nasty – his idiocy comes in his absurdly abrupt romanticism while his unpleasantness comes in ignoring the increasingly harrowing pleas from the tenant who seems to be drowning in his apartment. Alan Swift voiced Clobber in a gruff, one-dimensional manner, which only adds to the character’s unlikable personality.
Terrytoons wishfully submitted “Springtime for Clobber” into the Academy Award competition for animated shorts, but it was not nominated. Deitch was later fired from Terrytoons and started his own studio before relocating to Czechoslovakia (a bizarre move, considering the country was a Soviet bloc state behind the Iron Curtain). While he did produce one genuinely memorable work with the 1960 short “Munro,” which won the Oscar – and much of the credit for its success belongs to Jules Feiffer’s uncommonly witty screenplay – Deitch’s later output was mostly amazing for all of the wrong reasons.
Deitch would use a Clint Clobber-style character as the ill-tempered owner of Tom in his Tom and Jerry cartoons, but he would insist that was not a continuation of his doomed Terrytoon creation. None of the Clobber films were ever released in commercial home entertainment formats, and their obscurity should be considered a blessing for anyone who prefers viewing quality entertainment. But an unauthorized posting of “Springtime for Clobber” can be found on YouTube, so the curse of Clint Clobber is still lurking online.
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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