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By Phil Hall | November 21, 2008

BOOTLEG FILES 260 “Peg Leg Pedro” (1938 animated film designed to promote Chevrolet automobiles).

LAST SEEN: Available at online vide sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: I am not aware of its inclusion in any video collection.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A seriously obscure title that is in the public domain.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE : Only in a collection of public domain shorts.

Anyone who goes to the movie cineplex today is bombarded with advertisements that run before the feature presentation. That’s not exactly a recent development. Since the beginning of motion pictures, advertising films have been part of the film viewing experience.

However, there was a time when the advertising effort was somewhat more entertaining and a lot less obvious. A case in point is the one-reel Technicolor cartoon “Peg Leg Pedro,” made in 1938 on behalf of Chevrolet. The funny thing about “Peg Leg Pedro” is that Chevrolet is never mentioned by name after the opening title. In fact, no automobile turns up for the first three-quarters of the short’s running time.

“Peg Leg Pedro” is billed as a cartoon starring Nicky Nome. He is a white bearded gnome who arrives to save the day, but he’s actually more of a supporting character here. The real stars are the eponymous Pedro and his pet parrot – both of whom sport wooden pegs in lieu of their left feet and eye patches. Yo-ho-ho, mateys!

“Peg Leg Pedro” begins with a musical knockabout number – the image of the skull and crossbones on a pirate flag sings “Blow the Man Down” while Pedro somehow slips on a bar of soap and crashes wildly across the deck of his ship. After getting konked on the head with cannonballs, Pedro suffers the indignity of having his parrot yank at his upper torso while singing “Fifteen hairs from a dead man’s chest” – at which point, Pedro grabs the parrot by the neck and throws it head-first into a wall. Oooooooookay…

The pirate ship intercepts another ship, and Pedro spies a young boy and girl with a treasure map. Pedro and the parrot dress up like mother and baby and stand before a painted backdrop that hides their pirate ship. (Trust me, it looks even more peculiar than it sounds.) The ruse fools the unsuspecting ship, which is then attacked by Pedro’s vessel. The young boy manages to send out an S.O.S. message via telegraph, which is picked up by Nicky Nome on his conveniently located island.

Nicky and his pet companion (sort of an equine-grasshopper mix) jump into the beak of a giant pelican, which flies them over the attacked ship to rescue the boy and girl (and their map, of course). The heroes take their pelican-plane to Nicky’s island and immediately locate the cave where the treasure is buried. The boy, clearly eager to show off his Sarah Palin elocution lessons, proclaims: “Aw, shucks! There’s more than a thousand, I betcha!” The pelican then doubles as a steam shovel, scooping the gold bounty into the trunk of a Chevrolet Coach. (Yes, you probably wondered where Chevrolet fits in here). The pirate, his parrot and their crew are waiting outside of the cave, but Nicky drives over them (what?) and head for the beach. At this point, the automobile is transformed into a paddleboat and it tows the attacked ship off across the sea.

“Peg Leg Pedro” was created by the Jam Handy Organization, an industrial film company that specialized in promoting the automobile industry. It previously produced two animated films for Chevrolet, “A Coach for Cinderella” and “A Ride for Cinderella,” that substituted the pumpkin-coach with a Chevrolet Coach. Nicky Nome had supporting parts in those films, too.

Yet “Peg Leg Pedro” was decidedly different because there was no obvious connection between Chevrolet and pirates – at least Cinderella needed a vehicle to get her to and from the ball. “Peg Leg Pedro” also made ample use of violent slapstick that was prevalent in animated films. Whether the Chevrolet chieftains enjoyed having their products associated with pirates who dressed in drag and were clobbered with cannonballs has never been determined – nor, for that matter, do we have any clue as to whether the film contributed to the sale of any automobiles.

A word about Jam Handy – he was Henry Jamison Handy, a one-time Olympic swimmer (a bronze medalist in the 1904 Games) who reportedly produced 7,000 industrial films. During World War II, he created prepare the U.S. military, yet he only took a one percent profit for his labors (the legal rate of compensation for the time was seven percent). Outside of industrial film historians, few people ever heard of Handy or saw his films. In many ways, his obscurity is among the most shocking omissions in film appreciation.

A word about Nicky Nome – well, there’s not much to say, really. “Peg Leg Pedro” marked the end of the line for Nicky Nome as a cartoon character. Little personality-free Nicky never clicked with audiences, nor did he click with the Chevrolet brass. Besides, would you buy a used car from a gnome?

“Peg Leg Pedro” played in theaters, but its circulation time was brief. The film had no reissue value after 1938, since Chevrolet rolled out new cars, and it was pretty much forgotten. The copyright for “Peg Leg Pedro” lapsed and it is now a public domain title. Many video web sites offer the film for free viewing, and the prints they are using aren’t too bad. And viewed today, the film offers a charming glimpse at how a previous generation used movies to sell products. In that respect, it is easy to see why some people call the past “the good ol’ days.” Yo-ho-ho mateys, indeed!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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