The Bootleg Files: Sadie Hawkins Day

BOOTLEG FILES 784: “Sadie Hawkins Day” (1944 animated short based on Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A film that fell through the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Only if someone restores the full series of animated shorts.

In 1934, Al Capp introduced the comic strip “Li’l Abner” that offered sharp satirical humor within the setting of a burlesque of Appalachian subculture – or what an earlier generation unapologetically referred to as hillbillies. Capp’s work quickly caught the favor of the newspaper-reading public and the characters and backwoods catchphrases that populated the comic strip quickly became fixtures in pop culture.

It only seemed natural that “Li’l Abner” would find its way into other media. There was a radio show that ran from 1939 to 1940 with John Hodiak as Li’l Abner and a 1940 RKO film that included Buster Keaton, Edgar Kennedy, Maude Eburne, Bud Jamison and Chester Conklin among its ensemble. But Capp had no involvement in those endeavors and neither found favor with audiences.

In 1944, the animation studio Screen Gems adapted “Li’l Abner” into a series of Technicolor shorts for release through Columbia Pictures. Screen Gems was the smallest of the animation studios in Hollywood and it often seemed like a temporary refuge for creative artists who were cut loose by the larger studios – Dave Fleischer, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin were among the notable figures who were briefly employed there.

As with the radio show and the RKO film, Capp had no involvement with the Screen Gems cartoons and he was reportedly very unhappy with the productions. Only five short films were made, with “Sadie Hawkins Day” being the last of the quintet.

“Sadie Hawkins Day” was based on one of the most popular storylines in Capp’s comic strips: an annual event where the single women of the hillbilly town of Dogpatch race after all of the unmarried men. If a woman catches a man, a justice of the peace immediately turns up to join them in matrimony.

Daisy Mae, the town’s blonde cutie, is eager to use the race to catch Li’l Abner, the hunky (if dim) object of her affection. But Abner is not interested in getting married and his pipe-smoking dynamo of a mother, Mammy Yokum, has him in training to ensure Abner doesn’t caught by Daisy Mae.

The race itself is mostly populated by Appalachia’s least appealing misfits – the men are mostly a shapeless bunch and the women are Amazonian grotesques. While all of the women are eager to land a husband, the one man who wants to get caught is Hairless Joe – who, despite his name, is excessively hirsute to the point that the sole part of his face not covered in hair is his bulbous nose.

“Sadie Hawkins Day” mostly a visual slapstick romp, with a surplus number of wacky sight gags. Some of these visuals are genuinely funny, particularly Daisy Mae tackling a dummy dressed like Abner in preparation of the race and the race’s presiding official firing a pistol with an oversized force that sends him crashing through the floor of the judge’s stand.

But the overreliance on sight gags is a painful deviation from the brilliance of Capp’s satirical gift of language, and “Sadie Hawkins Day” seems like just another silly chase cartoon. It also doesn’t help that Abner is a non-dimensional character – Mammy Yokum, with her Popeye-style pipe tooting and superhuman strength, is the energy source in this cartoon with her corybantic interventions to save Abner from Daisy Mae’s traps. Also complicating matters are the voice actors – none are credited, but their line readings are flat and none capture the hillbilly inflections of Capp’s dialogue balloons.

However, there is also a bit of an ick factor with (spoiler alert) Mammy Yokum cradling Abner after he manages to evade Daisy Mae in the race. Considering that Abner is supposed to be 19, her excessively maternal coddling of him comes across as weird in this cartoon.

The “Li’l Abner” cartoons never found an audience and were mostly forgotten after their initial theatrical release. The shorts were later packaged in a 1996 VHS video release and was included in the 1999 syndicated television show “Totally Tooned In,” but to date there has been no DVD or Blu-ray release.

However, a faded print of “Sadie Hawkins Day” can be found in an unauthorized posting on YouTube. While hardly representative of Capp’s humor, it is an interesting curio for animation fans.

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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