S. C. MacPeter
11 months ago
Its no secret that when CBS syndicated the Terrytoons on TV during the 50s and 60s, the package was handled rather poorly, with extensive, often ridiculous censoring happening to many titles, end titles being completely removed and opening titles replaced, as well as a few dozen titles left out of the package for reasons sometimes still unknown today on some. Terrytoons' reputation as a low budget studio, along with the poorly done Curbside pilot, have left the cartoons and IPs mostly neglected, as well as efforts to properly release these cartoons in original state, or the ones that do not circulate. When talking with the archive that I got to see the two Krazy Kats from, among other shorts, I also got to see one of the uncommon Terrytoons, 1931's THE BLACK SPIDER. This title had been one of the ones I've been particularly interested in seeing for reasons I'll get into later, but I was happy to request access, and given such on a temporary, watermarked basis. So what is this cartoon about? Its one of Terry's first operetta cartoons, interestingly enough, here is the plot:

It opens with two shots of a spider (the same in BLUEBEARD'S BROTHER  and COCKY COCKROACH , minus clothes) crawling up ladders within a cave system. Then, he slings from his web at the back of the cave, from high up, towards the audience and says in the same voice as the opening of BLUEBEARD, "I am the Spider-r, and when I spin my web... who knows? Ah-ha ha ha!". The 35mm goes to black with the audio still running (I guess it was removed at some point?) but when it comes back we see the Spider crawl from out of a brick wall, and threads his web on a tree branch, with some effective music being done by Scrieb. He then goes to make a spiderweb before going into his lair, pouring hair tonic on one of three mice he has captured and tied up to make it grow, only to pluck off the grown hair to eat it right there.

We are then introduced a beautiful female butterfly (or moth?), whose given the body of a ballerina that holds on to her wings like she is gliding, flying around, drinking nectar. She is given a very beautiful, operetta theme when on screen. The Spider sees this, and lights a nearby candle. She flutters around it while the spider jumps to try and catch her, he fails, and chases her as she flies away, without her noticing a bit. He still fails, and heads to a nearby machine he uses to kick his butt with a boot in anger. We then see her fly into a castle window, the castle surrounded by water, in turn telling the audience she is a princess, before focusing back on the Spider making wine from grapes and drinking it, only making him more manic and angry. He then sneaks into the castle by climbing the wall.

The Spider ends up of the balcony of her room, with her sound asleep. He flashes a flashlight to find her, before slowly crawling up and preparing his arms to grab her, when she jumps out of bed screaming, running down the hall towards us, running in a circle, and entering the room of her father, who is King. In a scene animated by Bill Tytla, she screams at him in fear "Daddy, Spider!". Father, who is seemingly sick with feet in hot water, dismisses her and says "Horsefeathers" slowly. She runs out of the room crying, running, slamming the room, when the Spider approaches him, and jumps him as the room goes black, and ends up tying him down and assuming his clothes, saying "Ha ha ha, now I, am, King! Ha ha ha". This scene is probably the closest anything scary in a Terrytoon. The Spider leaves through another door, entering into a theater baloney and shouts "alley-op!", calling for a show. We see a dog do a dance, then a mouse given a peacock outfit, then a French Hippo lady, and another mouse with a giant fanny, showing her behind in full when turning back. Then, the princess gives a quick dance before the Spider jumps down, revealing himself as he leaves the King's clothes behind. She shouts "The Spider!" and runs off, when the Spider just gives a crabby scream at the rest of the stageshow audience and runs over in pursuit of the Moth.

We see a few shots of panic before one of the mice in the Spider's Lair manages to break loose and sets off to fight the spider, launching him with the butt kicking machine seen earlier. He lands on a mini mechanical horse and fights the spider, seen chasing the moth, with sword. A short battle emerges on the top of the castle before the Spider is knocked off of the castle, drowning after a dramatic movement of his arm. The short ends with the mouse and girl hugging, kissing, and flying away on a magic carpet with the music of a finished heroic deed playing, with a nice finale on the end title.

Easily a standout cartoon from this period, for any studio. It has a uniquely interesting atmosphere of horror, and unlike the later BLUEBEARD BROTHER, keeps this theme throughout and is very well executed. The animation by the general mainstays of Terry at this period is well done, and the music throughout is really beautiful, very authentic European sounding (Phil Scrieb studied in Berlin and wanted to be an operetta composer, no surprise). What's most surprising is that press thought so too, it was given several writeups praising the cartoon, along with being mentioned in other trade pieces on the studio. One even says  that Paul Terry himself did the voice of the Spider, and demonstrated it! Terrytoons may have a poor reputation among many, but there are some gems in the library, this being one of them. Hopefully, more gems may turn up when others not featured in CBS' packages become available

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