BOOTLEG FILES 533: “One Got Fat” (1963 educational film).
LAST SEEN: The film is on YouTube and on other video sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Included in collections of public domain educational films.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright and a bizarre concept.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: A proper restoration would be wonderful, especially in view of the film’s half-forgotten creator.
You have to feel sorry for the creators of educational films aimed at teens and pre-teens. After all, this youthful demographic has a notoriously short attention span, and the very last thing they want is a too-serious lecture on a matter of significant importance. At the same time, trying to liven up an educational presentation runs the risk of submerging the information in a silly format.
A sterling example of an educational film that went the comic route with bizarre results is a 1963 short called “One Got Fat.” Over the past few years, the film has achieved a minor cult following for its warped approach. However, the film also presents an unlikely achievement in the life of an extraordinary figure in the fight for postwar human rights.
While the title “One Got Fat” might suggest that the subject is obesity, the film is actually a lesson in bicycle safety. Making this even more bizarre is the film’s unlikely framing technique: the bicycle safety lessons are presented by a group of children wearing hideous papier mache monkey masks and long tails.
According to the film’s narrator, the bicyclists are “10 rather close relations of ours” that decide to have a picnic at a nearby park. Only one of the 10 has a wagon on his bicycle, so the others pile their bagged lunches in the wagon and they all pedal off to the park. But along the way, reckless bicycle riding results in dreadful accidents.
From here, “One Got Fat” resembles a simian-cycling version of the old “Ten Little Indians” poem, where the party members are picked off one by one via violent means. Rooty-Toot Jasperson takes the leadership in the bike rally, but his failure to make hand signals results in his being hit by a car at an intersection. (We never see the actual collisions in the film – just an off-screen noise and an animated intertitle suggesting a ghastly crash.)
Tinkerbell McDillinfiddy is a female monkey who can’t be bothered to pay attention to traffic signs. She also winds up getting rammed by an automobile. Phillip Floogle, who is described as an honor student and class president, stupidly decides to ride against the flow of traffic. His fate is sealed when a car pulls out from a parking spot and speeds directly into him.
Mossby Pomegranate is a monkey-child that runs alongside the cyclists. His bicycle was stolen, but because he was too lazy to register the bicycle, the police were unable to help him recover it. (Thirty years later, my car was stolen in the Bronx, but the lazy pieces of police excrement at New York City’s 50th Precinct never bothered to recover it – this has nothing to do with the film, of course, but I just felt like venting.). Mossby cannot keep up on foot with his friends and falls by the wayside with smoking shoes.
Slim Jim Maguffny is an overweight monkey-child whose bicycle broke. He is riding on the handlebars of Trigby Phipps’ bicycle, but he is so large that Trigby cannot see around him. The duo ride into an open manhole cover.
Nelbert Zwieback is another female monkey-child that misbehaves on the road. She decides to ride on the sidewalk and crashes into a pair of ladies carrying their groceries home from the store. The ladies wind up in a tree, but Nelbert’s fate is unclear.
Filbert Bagel hates his old bicycle so much that he refuses to keep it in tip-top shape. As a result, his brakes fail just as a steamroller comes plowing into an intersection. And Stanislaw Hickenbottom neglected to buy lights or reflectors for his bicycle – when he pedals into a dark tunnel, the cars on the road have no idea he is there. An off-screen screech and thud signals his fate.
And the monkey-child with all of the bagged lunches in his wagon? He’s Orville Slump, and the film ends with him sitting alone at a picnic table in the park with the lunch bags of his fallen comrades. Orville, we are told, is the one who got fat because he wound up eating everyone’s unclaimed lunch – which, of course, leads to a whole set of new problems that this film never addresses. But we see that Orville is not a monkey-child – he is a human, and a smart one because (allegedly) he knows how to safely ride his bicycle.
Part of the film’s weirdness comes in the narration from Edward Everett Horton, the comic actor who was best known in the early 1960s as the narrator of the “Fractured Fairy Tales” cartoons. Horton brings an almost ghoulish delight in describing the terrible accidents that befall the monkey-children bicyclists – and his smug-comic line readings give the impression that the cyclists deserved their destructive injuries. Indeed, the entire film makes bicycle accidents seem like a laughing matter – at a few points, Tex Avery-worthy popped eyes bulge from the monkey masks as the cyclists react in horror to the vehicular calamities that befall them.
While Horton was the most famous person associated with this film, its writer-director was also prominent – albeit for other reasons. Billed in the film as Dale Jennings, his full name was William Dale Jennings and he was a pioneer in the crusade for gay rights. Jennings co-founded the Mattachine Society in 1950, and in 1952 he gained national attention for a trial in which he disputed charges that he inappropriately solicited a police officer at a Los Angeles park. The case was dismissed after the jury voted 11-1 for acquittal, but it marked a milestone in the fight by gay men against police harassment. Jennings would later split with the Mattachine Society and founded ONE Inc., which published the groundbreaking gay-oriented magazine ONE. Jennings would also gain notice as a novelist, most notably for “The Cowboys,” which was later adapted into a John Wayne film.
Jennings teamed with animator Ralph Hulett and Max Hutto, a director that helmed the popular “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio show, to create Interlude Films, which specialized in 16mm nontheatrical short films. “One Got Fat” was shot in the streets of La Crescenta, Calif., during the summer of 1963. Interlude Films had a short life, but their most famous work was a staple of school assemblies through the 1970s, where it amused and puzzled impressionable students that had no idea why they were watching a movie with monkey-children on bicycles.
The copyright on “One Got Fat” eventually lapsed and was never renewed. About 10 years ago, a scratchy and faded version of “One Got Fat” turned up on the Internet. It was quickly duped for inclusion in a large number of music videos, and the Rifftrax crew made it a target of their snarky soundtrack hijacking.
Ideally, a fully restored presentation of “One Got Fat” would be desirable. Perhaps someone can rush a 4K restoration in order to get this as a special feature when “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” comes out on Blu-ray later this year? After all, Caesar and his simian colleagues can probably trace their heritage (if not their exact ancestry) back to these zany bicycle-riding monkey-children of the early 1960s.
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