Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blaze Glory

By Jon Gallagher

There are times in our life when we remember something special from our childhood and we attempt to find a way to recreate the experience that at one time brought so much joy into our lives. In particular, I remember the scent of my grandmother’s house as she baked fresh rolls, and even though I have the exact recipe that she used, I have never been able to recreate the same delicious mounds of bread (or the scent) that came out of her oven.

When Ronald Reagan was campaigning for president, he stopped by Galesburg, Illinois, where he had spent a year and a half of his childhood. They took him by Silas Willard School where he attended first grade and they stopped at the home he lived in on North Kellogg Street. Reagan looked a bit bored at it all, perhaps a bit nostalgic, but when a reporter asked him if it looked the same, he could only smile wistfully and say, “The yard seemed bigger.”

Time has a way of embellishing the details our minds forget, making insignificant things bigger, better, and more exciting. Often, the more times we remember something, the better it becomes.

I bring this up because I’ve been on a quest that has taken up a tiny bit of my life over the last two or three years. As a kid, I remembered seeing a short subject film that I thought was hilarious, but one that no one else remembered.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, I lived in a small town of 2,500 people. We had our own movie theater that showed the equivalent of third- or fourth-run movies. Galesburg, the large town just six miles away, got all the good movies and we got them in our town several weeks, sometimes months, later.

An old cinderblock building, the Earl (named after the original owner Earl Williams), was state of the art when it was built in the early 50s. It had a modern concession stand, large speakers, and arc lighting projectors, none of which had been updated since the place opened. A cry room – a soundproof room where women could take fussy infants or screaming toddlers – was located in the back of the theater with its own plate glass window so users could still see the movie. Curtains 20 feet tall covered the screen and opened slowly as the picture began.

Sumner Johnson, the owner, insisted on being old fashioned. The movies always began with 10 seconds of the U.S. flag flying in the breeze. That was followed by previews of upcoming attractions. Sumner didn’t run previews of movies unless he had them scheduled in the coming weeks, so new trailers were never seen. That was always followed by a short subject, usually a Woody Woodpecker, Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, or Road Runner cartoon. Finally, he’d run the feature film.

One short subject that I remembered was one I wanted to watch again some 40-plus years later. I didn’t have much to go on except a faulty 40-year old memory covered in mental cobwebs.

It was a Western, and not just a Western, but a comedy Western. It was actually a spoof of a Western. It was shot in either time-lapse photography or with the technique they used for claymation. I didn’t remember the characters walking, rather moving without using their feet. The hero was dressed all in white and reminded me of Herman Munster.

I also remembered that it had come out somewhere between 1967 and 1974. I was able to narrow it down to that seven-year period by knowing that I didn’t go to movies by myself much before 1967 and after 1974, I had a steady girlfriend.

It wasn’t much to go on, but with the power of the Internet, I could find anything. Right?  Wrong.

I’ve searched for several years. I ran a blurb at the end of a weekly column I used to write for a local newspaper, and despite having hundreds of readers, didn’t get a single person writing in to tell me they’d seen it. I did Google searches, coming back with lots of results, but nothing that was right.

I called Ed Garea and gave him the synopsis. He hadn’t seen it.

I was beginning to question whether this had been a very creative figment of my imagination since Ed hadn’t heard of it. Ed’s heard of everything that was put on celluloid no matter how obscure it is!

From time to time I’ve continued to do Google searches. Some days I’d spend an hour on the search, while other days I’d just give up on it.

Then one day, I hit the jackpot.

I found a site that lists the names of movies in certain genres. I typed in Western Short Subject (it didn’t allow to search for parodies) and got back a list of about 4,000 films. Over the past few months, I’ve gone through the list, page by page, looking for something that might fit the bill. Anything that didn’t fit within my date range was automatically tossed out. Anything that fell within the range got my attention. I’d read the short synopsis provided and decide if it was something to look at further or not.

The name of the film was Blaze Glory. It was produced in 1969 and was, in fact, a parody of Western films. It was shot in stop motion pixilation much like the Gumby character in his cartoon show. The characters in the film ride imaginary horses, and a team of invisible steeds pulls the stagecoach.

The plot’s pretty simple. The bad guys rob the local stage and take a girl hostage. Blaze Glory, a white-suited hero saves her and the money, and subdues the bad guys, all within 10 minutes. 

Chuck Menville stars as Blaze Glory and wrote the short with Len Janson, who plays the Pug-Nosed Kid. The two continued to work together and had decent careers co-writing episodes of cartoons and children's shows. Ted Cassidy, Lurch from The Addams Family, provides voices in this short.

I found that YouTube actually has a version of the film, so with breathless anticipation, I settled in to watch the film for which I’ve been searching for so long.

It was awful.

It was as bad as bad gets. It’s dumb, sophomoric, and just not funny.

I thought that maybe I’d put too much faith in it and that I was just disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it. To give it a fair shot, I waited two days and watched it again.

It wasn’t as bad the second time around, but it was still dumb, sophomoric, and not very funny.

There is some Three Stooges-type violence (which I still find funny when THEY do it), but it just didn’t work given the characters in this short film. The bad guy had a laugh that was just creepy (for lack of better words) and made him sound more like a pervert than an evil bad guy. The whole thing just left me feeling like I could use a good hot soapy shower.

Check it out if you want. You may find it funnier than I did the second time around. You may even find it as funny as I did some 40 years ago.

But I’ll bet in 40 years you won’t.

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