Thursday, April 22, 2010
Obscurity of the Day: Francis the Talking Mule
The phenomenon of Francis began in a series of novels by David Stern. The books were first published in 1946, and a series of seven films began in 1950. The plot device seems almost as tasteless as the later Hogan's Heroes -- the first movie is set during World War II in Burma, and has Donald O'Connor escaping from the Japanese in the jungle aided by a bad-tempered talking mule. Making light of fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma may seem a bit bizarre now, but apparently returning vets were delighted to look on the lighter side of that bloody conflict.
The Francis movies were wildly popular and so the concept was translated into a daily comic strip that began on May 5 1952. The strip was distributed by United Feature Syndicate and drawn by Cliff Rogerson. Although David Stern got the official writing credit, Alberto Becattini tells me that the strip was actually written by Frank Thomas.
As popular as Francis was on the big screen (and later on TV as his doppelganger, Mr. Ed), newspaper editors seemed less than enthused about having him on their comics page. Reading these first three weeks of the strip I'm at a loss to explain why -- the strip looks great, the gags are alright and the storyline looks to have a lot of comedic potential. Perhaps Francis just got lost in the glut of TV and movie tie-in features that were popping up all over at this time. Or maybe Cole found the fatal flaw when he pointed out to me that everybody in this strip is either spitting or sweating profusely. I hadn't noticed it at first, but now it puts kind of a yucky spin on the whole production.
Francis got his discharge papers from the funnies page on November 28 1953, a year and a half after his debut. The movie franchise, on the other hand, lasted until 1956.
Here's the partially animated movie trailer of the first film and a short scene from the first Francis movie.
Here’s the question, if you’d care to take a look, and I look forward to some pleasant reading on your blog. (I caught the tail end of “Bringing Up Father” and “Our Boarding House” in my early youth.
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