A Bookland Phantasmagoria

Have You Got Any Castles? is an animated short film. It runs about seven and a half minutes. It was produced in 1938 by “Leon Schlesinger, who was the executive producer of the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies cartoons up until 1944.”

Have You Got Any Castles? takes place in a closed library late on a snowy night. The characters from well known books all come to life and sing and dance and generally cause havoc. Many of the living book characters are caricatures of actors and actresses who were famous at the time such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Bill Robinson, and Jane Withers. Other characters actually represent the movie version of the book such as the caricature of actor William Powell who starred in The Thin Man movies (based on The Thin Man book) and actor Charles Laughton who played Captain Bligh in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty (based on the book Mutiny on the Bounty). Part of the fun in watching the animated short is trying to pick out who is who. The difficulty is that if the viewer is not a fan of older movies, the viewer may not even know some of the famous people being caricatured.

Alexander Woollcott and Bill Robinson

I grew up watching Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons in the 1960s and 1970s. They were on every weekday afternoon and Saturday mornings in my area. I remember watching this little film although at the time I did not know who half the caricatures were. It was just a bright, silly cartoon that I enjoyed. I did not even know what the name of the cartoon was.

Cab Calloway and William Powell

When I recently randomly picked this little film and watched it, I did not even have the slightest idea what the title of the film had to do with the story. What did “Castles” have to do with living book characters? Apparently the title itself is another caricature. There was a popular song in 1937 called “Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?” music by Johnny Mercer and sung by Priscilla Lane in a popular 1937 film titled Varsity Show. The song is sung part way into the cartoon by several of the cartoon characters. I had no idea until I looked it up.

Charles Laughton and the Ritz Brothers

This little film was heavily censored after it’s original release. First, Alexander Woollcott (who was a renowned and very caustic critic and commentator) was caricatured as The Town Crier character who introduces and closes our film. He requested that his caricature be cut out after his death and it was.

Later, television channel TBS also heavily censored our film. TBS was afraid many modern viewers would be offended by the way the caricatures of famous black musicians, dancers, and singers were presented. All the caricatures of the black stars are shown in “blackface” which is a highly offensive type of theatrical makeup that became popular in the 19th century and was usually used by a white actor / comic to portray a very insulting stereotype of a black person. TBS cut the scenes showing the famous black stars in the stereotypical “blackface” which, unfortunately, cut out every single black character since “blackface” was the standard of the time for cartoon characters representing black people. Actually, despite the “blackface”, our film was really being just a bit progressive for its day by showing any black people doing anything other than portraying servants or slaves, which were pretty much the only extremely limited and insultingly stereotyped roles available for POC in books and films.

There is also a very insulting caricature of the book character Fu Manchu (based on the 1913 book The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu which was the first book in a series). In 1932, after the release of the movie, The Mask of Fu Manchu, the Chinese embassy issued a formal complaint to the USA government. And from 1940 throughout World War II the US State Department requested that no more Fu manchu movies be made and the book series publisher refused to publish any more issues because China was a USA ally against Japan. Interestingly enough, this “Yellow Peril” caricature was never censored out of Have You Got Any Castles?.

The Internet Archive version of this animated short has all the censored images added back in so modern viewers be warned.

I watched both the Ogg video and the onsite video of Have You Got Any Castles? at the Internet Archive (and by the way, the title originally had a “?” but lost the “?” in re-issues). The film is in Technicolor and is very crisp and bright and colorful. The sound quality is excellent. There is some very slight damage to the film, in the beginning and again at the end, where two white patches move quickly across the screen. Also, towards the end of the film, the top of the screen seems to be cut off a bit. But the overall quality of our film is first-rate. As The Town Crier character says, this short animated film is a “delightful phantasmagoria” and a “book land frolic.” And the best thing, of course, is that Have You Got Any Castles? is available to watch FREE in the Public Domain.

Please click the link and go to the Internet Archive to watch or download Have You Got Any Castles?

One thought on “A Bookland Phantasmagoria

  1. I had no idea most of them were based on real people. (Why didn't I know that?)
    Interesting to read how the Fu Manchu caused such a political ruckus, perhaps comparable to the whole 'don't dare draw a Muhammad caricature or else' political issue of our day and age.
    Very good article!

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