For anyone who thought The Rocky Horror Picture Show started the trend, Judge Bill Gibron proves that, when it comes to lips, Clutch Cargo owned the original cherry red lip liner.
Oddly enough, there's not a love interest in sight…
His jawline is so square that geometric proofs can be validated by it. His hair is whiter than the snows of Kilimanjaro while his eyebrows have remained a dark, grave black. His eyes are steel blue and locked like lasers on any potential threat. And his lips are so red, it looks like he's been sucking on cherry lollipops his entire life. He's Clutch Cargo, international explorer and beefy man of action. Along with his freckle-aced, toe-headed pal Spinner (they are, apparently, not related) and this child's cheerful dog, Paddlefoot, our trio takes to the land, the sea, and/or the sky to face any and all adventures head on. Recording all his travels in his logbook, Clutch has become quite the global superstar. Amazingly, no one has ever questioned why a 40-something year old bachelor would hang around with a squeaky voiced squirt and his wily wiener hound, but then again, it's 1959. No one really thought about those things back then.
Anyone who grew up in Chicago during the '60s and '70s remembers the triumvirate of television goodness upon which all of our daily pre-school lives revolved. Ray Raynor offered up skits, crappy craft projects, and more Road Runner and Coyote cartoons than our sugar-frosted brain-cells could fathom. And if you were lucky enough to go home for lunch (some of us did attend schools right in our own neighborhood—what a concept), you could partake of a little Bozo's Circus, what with its several years in advance waiting list for tickets and its wealth of tiny tot treasures just waiting to be won in the Grand Prize Game. But perhaps no other show tapped into the surreal nature of local kid-vid better than Garfield Goose and Friends. Kind of a misshapen Kukla Fran and Ollie, Frazier Thomas held court (in full faux military regalia) with a gander who thought he was king of the United States (makes sense) and his semi-silent friend Rombert Rabbit. In between all the puppet pantomime, young minds were folded and fudged up by such strange animated far as The Funny Company or the live action Jurassic lark Journey to the Beginning of Time.
But none left the lasting cerebral stain that Clutch Cargo did. Even Shrinking Violet with her tendency to mini-me herself was not as outright weird as the sight of Clutch and company speaking with human mouths! In the early '50s, a man named Edwin Gillette invented an outlandish technology called Synchro-Vox. This strange setup allowed film and animation cells to have the real voice actor's lips superimposed over the character's face, thereby giving the character the appearance of actually talking. Originally used for a series of successful commercials featuring verbose animals, producer Clark Haas decided to employ the process to recreate the Saturday Matinee serials that he loved so much. With minimal animation, a reliance on a cliffhanger approach, and those ultra-unusual pie holes, the Clutch cartoons became a more or less guaranteed find-mucker for any and all of the ill-prepared youths of a naïve nation. Between the painted up like street trash tartiness of the oral visuals, to the otherwise static sense of movement, the adventures of Clutch Cargo were not really animated movies. They were more like badly rendered drawings come to creepy life.
On this single DVD edition of the series from VCI, we get nine of the 52 Clutch Cargo episodes produced. They run the gamut, from the first ever installment ("Elephant Nappers") to some that arrived much later in the run. Each show is divided into five five-minute segments, with a suspenseful set-up giving way to a cocky-doody pay-off at the end and beginning of each chapter. The usual suspects of adventure land are featured in these flimsy, freakish narratives: oddball natives ("Friendly Head Hunters," "Twaddle in Africa"); evil racecar drivers, speed boat operators, and plane pilots ("Water Wizards," "Race Car Mystery," "Air Race"); near-incoherent locals ("Dragon Fly"); and people-hating brigands ("Pirate Isle"). Throughout it all, Clutch saves Spinner and Paddlefoot from certain doom, while also delving deeper into the main mystery or mission at hand. Occasionally, his sissified sidekick rises to the challenge and finds a way to keep his juvenile uselessness at bay. Heck, Spinner even helps out once in a while.
For more specific information on each episode, we have the following factual breakdown:
• "Pirate Isle"
• "Twaddle in Africa"
• "Air Race"
• "Dynamite Fury"
• "Water Wizards"
• "Dragon Flys"
• "Friendly Head Hunters"
• "Race Car Mystery"
• "Elephant Nappers"
For the most part, these shows are mindless fun. Similar to the warning Annie Wilkes offers during Misery, the resolutions to many of the cliffhangers will smack of happenstance and luck. Reality was not Haas's strongpoint. Clutch is also a little dense. He can run across a hydraulic jack sticking up through a wooden race course and never make the connection that it was this device that caused him to nearly crash the day before. He can fashion an airplane pontoon out of an old injun canoe, but he seems to have a hard time relating to the opposite sex. There are a few girls scattered throughout these Clutch Cargo outings, but Spinner gets luckier than the big guy when a perky young miss lets him maneuver her dingy during the big boat regatta. The modern child will probably spit up at the lack of articulated action in the characters, especially when Clutch and his pals walk more stiffly and peculiarly than the boys of South Park. And the style of pseudo-suggested movement can get a bit tedious, especially when the same three cells are switched between, over and over again. However, Clutch Cargo is not meant to be some kind of artistic showcase, or a sly sketched version of a real life entertainment in installments. Instead, it is supposed to provide its childish audience with a little light escapism, and for 20-plus minutes per adventure, it truly delivers.
If there is a single dilemma facing the Clutch craver, it's what DVD package to purchase, VCI is releasing two nine-episode volumes in their series, and for all intents and purposes, the tech specs are primo. Clutch was never a professional marvel to begin with, so several of the shows bear dirt, bad optical alignment, poor oral symmetry, and a real bargain basement design aura. Still, the 1.33:1 fullscreen image is colorful and filled with fun details—lots of bad mustaches, non-PC ethnic stereotyping, and oddball elements to be found here. On the sound side, the presentation is rather shrill. The Dolby Digital Mono is tinny and lacks any real atmosphere (except for the haunting opening and closing theme, a bongo and flute frightmare that recalls the noises that beatnik corpses might make while performing at the coffee shop of the damned).
Where the problem lies is in the lack of extras. VCI presents a couple of brief bios on Margaret Kerry, who voices Spinner and Paddlefoot, and Hal Smith (the drunk delight Otis from The Andy Griffith Show) who did much of the ancillary dubbing. There is nothing on the man who would be Clutch, Richard Cotting. But after an animation trailer, which highlights the rest of the "classic" shows available from VCI, that's it. Now, Navarre, through their company BCI Eclipse, has release all the episodes of Clutch Cargo in two separate 26-episode installments. Aside from getting more shows per set (there are three DVDs in the BCI set compared to one from VCI), there is also a wealth of bonus material that is not found here. The price comparison is nominal. If you are unsure of your status as a Cargo fan, then the VCI presentation is perfect. But if you want more Clutch for your buck, go with the BCI editions.
Either way, you will be treated to TV the way our forefathers of the fledgling media meant it to be. If you think Indiana Jones was way too mobile, if you long for the days when Crash Corrigan and his little pal Billy could co-exist, unmolested by the mockery of society, if you think Robert Smith's Cure cute lips would look good on everyone, then Clutch Cargo is the cartoon for you. Thanks to the Synchro-Vox process, and more luck than a leprechaun living in a bed of four-leaf clovers, Clutch's adventures are not the only thing that is unbelievable about this series. One look and you'll be hooked—or scarred for life. Either way, how can you say no?
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