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Pete Smith Specialties


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The problem is that there are so many of them. Plus a great many not shown on TCM, such as his annual "Football Thrills" sub-series. No clue why, except perhaps TCM thinks they are too "of their time" and nobody viewing would recognize the athletes featured?

All Smithies available now are extras with DVD feature films and I am sure you can count barely 20 as of now.

I also would like to see the Historical Mysteries and Passing Parade shorts that MGM put out in the thirties and forties with Carey Wilson and John Nesbitt narrating. Now that was a smaller series that could be released all at once, but how many other than us shorties geeks ever heard of them aside from their periodical TCM airings?

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  • 2 years later...

Your wish has come true. Took three years, but we are getting there. 😊



Disc 1

Killer-Dog (directed by Jacques Tourneur) / Aug 29, 1936 Doggie drama featuring Ralph Byrd, Sally Martin, Babs Nelson and Betty Ross Clarke

Wanted: A Master (Guther Von Fritsch) / Dec 26, 1936 (Academy Award Nominee) A pooch tries to find one before the dog catcher gets him. Try the bar!

Bar-Rac's Night Out (Earl Frank) Feb 27, 1937 Antics of a raccoon

Penny Wisdom (David Miller) / Apr 10, 1937 (Academy Award Winner, Color) Technicolor cooking reel. Gertrude Short plays Mrs. Smudge who needs Prudence Penny, newspaper columnist decked in her expensive furs, to rescue her and her pet spaniel in the kitchen. Result: a high calorie din-din complete with sausage overkill (eww!) and baked ice-cream (yum!)

The Grand Bounce (Jacques Tourneur) / May 22, 1937 Harry (Del Henderson) writes a check to cover a gambling debt but discovers the banks are closed. J. Carrol Nash has a bit role as a thug. Also included are Barbara Bedford, Margaret Bert and John Kelly.

Equestrian Acrobatics (Equestrian Acrobats) (David Miller) / Aug 14, 1937 Features the Cristiani Family and their horse oriented acrobatics

Decathlon Champion (Felix Feist) / Nov 20, 1937 Features Glenn Morris in training

Candid Cameramaniacs (Hal Yates) / Dec 11, 1937 A short history of photography followed by a spoofy view of modern day camera "bugs".

Three On A Rope (Willard Vander Veer) / Feb 19, 1938 Mountaineers climb Mt. Baldy

Penny's Party (David Miller) / Apr 9, 1938 Prudence Penny and Gwen Lee give more cooking tips in Technicolor

Anesthesia (Will Jason) / Jul 9, 1938 History of anesthesia since ancient Egypt

Fisticuffs (David Miller) / Aug 27, 1938 Initially released in sepiatone (tinted black & white although most present reissued prints are likely black & white), features champion Max Baer in the ring

Football Thrills Of 1937 (Pete Smith) / Sep 10, 1938 Collage of the best moments of the past football season, covering Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Fordham, Cornell and Texas Christian, Northwestern, Purdue, U.S. Navy and University of Southern California

Grid Rules (Edward Cahn) / Oct 15, 1938 (Initially sepiatone) Covers the rules of football

Hot On Ice (Willard VanderVeer) / Oct 22, 1938 (Initially sepiatone) Features ice hockey at Loyola University

Man's Greatest Friend (Joe Newman) / Nov 19, 1938 (Initially sepiatone) Shows dogs in scientific research

Penny's Picnic (Will Jason) / Dec 17, 1938 Prudence Penny offers picnic ideas in glorious Technicolor

Double Diving (Felix Feist) / Jan 14, 1939 (Initially sepiatone) Covers championship diving

Disc 2

Heroes At Leisure (Charles Trego) / Feb 1, 1939 What lifeguards do off-season, hunting lobsters and fleeing sharks.

Marine Circus (James A. FitzPatrick) / Mar 11, 1939 Technicolor tour of Florida's Marine Studios aquarium. This was possibly intended for the Traveltalk series, being filmed in late 1938 concurrent to Quaint St. Augustine and the 1941 released Glimpses Of Florida.

Weather Wizards (Fred Zinnemann) / Apr 8, 1939 A tribute to meteorologists and how they aid a citrus farm

Radio Hams (Felix Feist) / May 20, 1939 Shows how amateur enthusiasts aid aircraft using morse code

Poetry Of Nature (Mervyn Freeman) / Jun 17, 1939 The California's Redwood forests (in sepiatone initially) spotlighting Mr. Crow, with support by gray foxes, black bears, hawks and other critters

Culinary Carving (Felix Feist) / Jul 1, 1939 Sally Payne offers cooking techniques

Take A Cue (Felix Feist) / Aug 12, 1939 (Initially sepiatone) Charles Peterson gives tips on billiards

Football Thrills Of 1938 / Sep 16, 1939 (initially sepiatone) Includes Carnegie Tech defeating Pittsburgh and the U.S. Army vs. Columbia

Set 'Em Up (Felix Feist) / Oct 7, 1939 (Initially sepiatone) Andy Varipapa and Ned Day give bowling lessons

Maintain The Right (Joe Newman) / Jan 13, 1940 Features the Canadian Mounted Police

Stuffie (Fred Zinnemann) / Mar 2, 1940 (initially sepiatone)  A tale of a heroic dog.

The Domineering Male (John Hines) / Mar 30, 1940 The first of several comedies covering gender differences 1940s style. Does the man chase the woman or is it the other way around?

Spots Before You Eyes (John Hines) / May 4, 1940 Features a demonstration by Ernest Jones, who rescues a household with two rambunctious boys spilling ink everywhere

What's Your 'I.Q.'? Number Two (George Sidney) / Jun 8, 1940 (Initially sepiatone) Questions and answers on various subjects from Lady Godiva to the Panama Canal.

Social Sea Lions (John Hines) / Jul 20, 1940 (Initially sepiatone) Three California sea lions are let loose in a beach house, disrupting a party.

Please Answer (What's Your I.Q. - No. 3) (Roy Rowland) / Aug 24, 1940 Much like the previous “What's Your IQ?”, covering topics like Portuguese man-of-war and the Rosetta Stone

Football Thrills Of 1939 / Sep 21, 1940 (initially sepiatone)

Quicker Than A Wink (Quicker 'N A Wink) (George Sidney) / Oct 12, 1940 (Academy Award Winner, One Reel) Features slow motion photography with Harold E. Edgerton, who was still surprising movie goers and TV viewers with his stroboscopic effects decades later (see also National Geographic special of 1979 The Invisible World.)

Disc 3

Penny To The Rescue (Will Jason) / Jan 25, 1941 One more Technicolor cooking reel with Prudence Penny

Aeronutics (Francis Corby & S.B. Harrison) / Apr 26, 1941 (initially sepiatone) Learning to fly with student pilots.

Cuban Rhythm (Will Jason) / Jun 14, 1941 (initially sepiatone) Comic dancing lessons.

Water Bugs (Will Jason) / Aug 16, 1941 This membership practice their water skiing and paddle boating in local California lakes.

Football Thrills Of 1940 / Sep 20, 1941 (initially sepiatone)

Flicker Memories (George Sidney) / Oct 4, 1941 (initially sepiatone) Nickelodeon short compilation.

Army Champions (Paul Vogel) / Oct 11, 1941 (Academy Award Nominee) (initially sepiatone) One of many military preparedness shorts released before Pearl Harbor, showing how sports team work can work equally well with the U.S. Army.

Fancy Answers (What's Your I.Q. - No. 5) (Basil Wrangell) / Nov 1, 1941 (Initially sepiatone) Topics include the US flag and zebras. Ava Gardner has a peekaboo scene in a dramatization scenario as a girl at a recital.

Aqua Antics (Louis Lewyn) / Jan 24, 1942 (initially sepiatone) Features the California Water Bugs Club and their ski demonstrations.

Football Thrills Of 1941 / Sep 26, 1942 (initially sepiatone) Amusingly this was shown at the University of Southern California first, despite footage of them losing last season to Notre Game 20-18.

Marines In The Making (Herbert Polesie) / Dec 26, 1942 (Academy Award nominee) Pete's oh-gosh commentary making all of that hand-to-hand combat Japanese style seem less serious than it is.

First Aid (Will Jason & Dave O'Brien) / Jan 2, 1943 Among O'Brien's early entries (his first being What About Daddy?), this was made in cooperation with the Beverly Hills First Aid Unit of the American Red Cross Disaster Service.

Hollywood Daredevils (Louis Lewyn) / Mar 20, 1943 Covers movie stunts with cars and planes.

Fala, The President's Dog (Gunther V. Fritsch) / Apr 17, 1943 Based on a popular book published the previous year on FDR's White House Scottie (which I have a worn out copy on a book shelf with other vintage children's books through the decades).

Seeing Hands (Robert Wilmont) / Jul 3, 1943 (Academy Award nominee) Features Ben Helwig who was blinded in his youth but is still a multi-talented defense plant worker.

Football Thrills Of 1942 / Sep 25, 1943 Interesting look at the sport in the year following Pearl Harbor with the athletes mostly in uniform.

Water Wisdom / Nov 27, 1943 American Red Cross instructional on proper swimming

Sportsman's Memories / Apr 22, 1944 Features footage culled from films made a decade earlier: Flying Hunters & Roping Wild Bears. Not exactly animal friendly like most of the Pete shorts.

Disc 4

Groovie Movie (Will Jason) / Feb 19, 1944 Arthur Walch demonstrates the jitterbug

Football Thrills Of 1943 / Sep 23, 1944 Apparently BoxOffice magazine rated this among the weakest of the football series, probably because the war had depleted much of the stadium excitement.

Hollywood Scout (Philip Anderson & Joe Ansen) / Apr 14, 1945 One of Pete's assistants, Celia Travers, auditions animal acts for the series and we see some footage culled from earlier shorts.

Football Thrills Of 1944 / Sep 8, 1945 The reduced wartime games featured West Point & U.S. Navy. Notre Dame's Frank Leahy coaches for Great Lakes Naval Training.

Fala At Hyde Park (Gunther V. Fritsch) / Dec 26, 1945 This is the second of a pair of shorts profiling the now former White House dog star, shown back in New York following the death of the president. The first Fala film was in black and white, this one in Technicolor.

Gettin' Glamour (Philip Anderson) / Feb 2, 1946 Troubles of the average woman and her makeup. A "case study" with two ladies (one more successful than the other): Sally (Jacquelne White) and Gussie (Gertrude Short).

Studio Visit (Dave O'Brien) / May 11, 1946 Apart from Dave bumbling on an MGM set, most of this is a "stock-short” with recycled acrobatic kiddies (a.k.a. Helen Sue Goldy) and doggies culled from earlier Smithies, along the famous bubble bath extract with Lena Horne in Cabin In The Sky (shot in 1942 and scrapped as too provocative, although '46 audiences were likely less bothered)

Equestrian Quiz (I.Q. No. 11) (Dave O'Brien) / May 18, 1946 All about horses.

Treasures From Trash (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Jun 8, 1946 Features an unusual Patio Shop in Beverly Hills owned by film director veteran Harry Lachman

Football Thrills No. 9 / Aug 29, 1946 The first season after the war.

I Love My Husband But! (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Dec 7, 1946 Funnyman Dave O'Brien becomes the all out slob that harassed woman no longer working at Lockheed and stuck as "house wife” must contend with. Dorothy Short and Veda Ann Borg play two ladies here; Dorothy played Dave's wife in many of these as well as in real life (until the series ended and they divorced for real).

Athetiquiz (I.Q. No. 12) / Jan 11, 1947 Sports test

Diamond Demon (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Feb 1, 1947 Features Johnny Price, both minor league pitcher and trick artist

Early Sports Quiz (I.Q. No. 13) (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Mar 1, 1947 Quiz reel with ten second time for answers

Football Thrills No. 10 / Sep 6, 1947 Focuses on the intercollegiate grid contests of the past year

Surfboard Rhythm (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Oct 18, 1947 In Technicolor. With a bevy of bathing beauties

Have You Ever Wondered? (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Dec 13, 1947 Are women drivers worse than men? How much money does the average gumball machine collect in a month?

Now You See It (Richard Cassell) / Dec 20, 1947 (Academy Award nominee) Technicolor close-up shots of various critters and things: a wristwatch, a cat's tongue and... eew... a mosquito having her fill of human blood.

Let's Cogitate (Dave O'Brien, billed as David Barclay) / Dec 25, 1948 "Have You Ever Wondered?" short covering why a boomerang returns and how many miles an elevator boy travels each day.

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  • 6 months later...

Eventually got this one and, of course, my list above... which was all speculation... was totally wrong. The corrected list of titles... just fixed it  above... span the years 1936 through 1948 (instead of 1941). The format is similar to the Traveltalks discs. Instead of doing every title chronologically in a prescribed time period, there is a cross selection from a longer time period with the expectation that the missed ones will be part of volume 2. I will soon add information to the MGM shorties thread.

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Figured I should add some more comments.

First of all, we shorties fans must save up since the Warner Archive is plopping out some much anticipated (finally!) compilations. These include Tex Avery Screwball Classics, which double-dips some Droopy but also provides beautifully restored prints of Red Hot Riding Hood and others to match the ongoing Popeye series of the 1940s that also ape anything seen online. Of course, that one is cheaper at $19+ to the Pete Smith collection at $34+, but it only has 20 shorts compared to the whopping 75 here. Yes, you do get more bang for your buck.

Plus only 12 titles here were previously available on DVD before as “extras”. Of the 63 that were not, my guess is that less than 20 were shown on TCM periodically and these may have been caught by avid DVR-ers. The remainder have likely only recently been dusted off from a vault. Practically zilch can be seen online on YouTube or anywhere else.

Oh... there is a glitch with my particular copy and I am hoping it will be taken care of with customer service. While all of the Technicolor films are well presented on discs 1 through 3, there apparently was a problem with the pressing of my disc 4. Fala At Hyde Park and Now You See It are both presented in black and white, while the latter is available in glorious color as an extra on the DVD set TCM Spotlight: Esther Williams Volume 2. Therefore, I don't think the issue here is unavailable color prints. Just a goof in the production process.

Not too optimistic that I will get it fixed, but... this is a nice compilation set to have... and I will comment accordingly.

These Smithies are always a lot of fun to watch. I kinda half-understand, despite my overall disappointment, why Pete Smith was showered with lots of Oscars and nominations while his fellow MGM shortie host James FitzPatrick was totally ignored with his Traveltalks. I guess the reasoning was this: the travelogues showcasing the world's exotic sites in dazzling Technicolor from 1934 onward were very structured in their format with Jimmy's voice pretty much staying the same throughout, being very disciplined in how he documented each building, native in costume and the social life of any culture that lacked Mickey Mouse comic books. Also the titles are all straightforward in regards to where we are going; in hindsight, we modern viewers have seen The World a lot more than our grandparents did. Pete Smith is more “anything goes” and variety is the spice of life with the Smithies covering a wide menu involving athletes demonstrating their dexterity in slow-motion, comedy sketches on the human condition, animal hi-jinks, cooking lessons in Technicolor, quiz-reel audience participation games... you name it.

Perfect case in point. In December 1938 and January 1939, Robert Carney made a cinematic Technicolor tour of the U.S. southeast, namely the Sunshine State, for no less than four MGM short subjects. Quaint St. Augustine, Old Natchez On The Mississippi and Glimpses Of Florida went to Jimmy while Marine Circus, covering the only recently opened Marine Studios (still going strong today as Marineland despite being 33 years older than the Magic Kingdom), went to Pete. To be fair, Glimpses Of Florida, which wasn't released until 1941, did include footage of Ross Allen milking the rattlers and wrestling gators in Silver Springs and Jimmy narrates this material entertainingly enough. Yet it is obvious who is having a real blast commenting on one odd looking fish “being turned down flat” by the “glamour fish at The Studio”, the manatee as a “sea cow, which makes the man you see a sea cowboy... si, oui”, manta rays “they deemed the ray Martha I guess”, and, commenting on a penguin gulping a too big of a fish, “you just sit there and listen to your arteries harden”.

One criticism of the early films may be too much emphasis on narration. The production values are first rate, so it may not have been necessary to frequently shoot the material silent or at least have multiple actors dub voices. The little girl crying over her beloved Killer-Dog falsely accused of a coyote's sheep killing is quite dramatic visually but feels odd in its presentation with Pete being slightly comical in voice-over. The “dramedy” piece The Grand Bounce, covering how one man's un-cashed check is utilized by various other people, makes for slightly dull viewing only because we hear Smith's voice on the soundtrack and none from the too-many actors and actresses on screen. Pete and his editors were quite skilled at matching the lips on screen, however. Poetry In Nature with its talking black bear and Please Answer (I.Q. Quiz #3) with its talking cow even predate Paramount's popular “Speaking of Animals” series, while two later entries add some cell-animation just like that rival series.

Eagle eyes may notice an interesting, but very gradual, change in how the races are integrated on screen since pre-war America itself was certainly NOT integrated. MGM has often been critiqued for being a bit too “lily white” compared to some of the other studios; if you want to see more great black jazz musicians and Asian-American acrobats on thirties celluloid, seek out the Warner Bros. shorties featured on the excellent Vitaphone Cavalcade Of Musical Comedy Shorts DVD set. Anesthesia is interesting in its somewhat critical take on black/white relations in the 1840s with our narrator clearly taking the side of the poor servant “boy” tormented by young white men who claim power over him, while Social Sea Lions comically mocks the uppity house guests being ignorant of the invading flipper folk from the beach while the darker-toned chef is the one who is well aware of the intruders who do not belong. Considerable advancement is made by the time of Victory Quiz, one of the delightful “guess the answer in ten to fifteen minutes” reels. In this one, we close with a very ahead-of-its-time shot of soldiers holding hands in solidarity and being of multiple races, novel since the armed forces weren't yet, in reality, as integrated as Pete Smith apparently wants us to be "E Pluribus Unum".

Pete was always impressed by the handicapped and their ability to overcome obstacles. This makes Seeing Hands one of the all time best entries of the series. It features Bel Helwig succeeding at making airplane parts at a war-plant with just his super sensitive hands and a German Shepherd guide dog who aids him on occasion when he drops a tool.

Anytime there was a chance to feature a canine, Pete jumped at the opportunity. In fact, there are as many dogs as humans populating these films. (Yet he isn't terribly fond of coyotes, presenting them as villains in Killer-Dog and even showing them get shot by airplane in the compilation of older material re-hash, Sportsmen's Memories). No less than three times, we see a pooch save the life of a little girl almost run over by a car. Stuffie goes one better with a little terrier and a big Saint Bernard saving their mistress from a burning house! As that film demonstrates, not all endings are happy ones. Likewise, Man's Greatest Friend chronicles both canine and human lives lost with Pasteur and others' efforts to find a cure for rabies.

Much of a particular film's appeal will depend on your interest level on the subject covered. I totally zoned out during Culinary Carving, but found Radio Hams still fascinating (and had seen it before on TCM) since I have now met some who continue this hobby today and use electronic equipment not too different than the ones featured back in 1939. Quicker 'N' A Wink and its Technicolor successor (despite my copy not being in Technicolor) Now You See It feature then-stunning slow-motion stroboscopic effects by Harold Edgerton and others of bulbs breaking, milk splashing, hummingbirds in action and close-ups of cat tongues and wrist-watches, while also ending with a typically Smithy ghoulish “joke” of a dentist drill chisseling through teeth (in the former) and a mosquito enjoying her bloody meal (in the latter).

Penny Wisdom gets shown a lot since it is a 1937 Technicolor Oscar winner (and, yes, all of the Penny reels are in color on my three discs), but I greatly favor Penny's Party over it, this one also in beautiful color and released as a follow-up in the spring of '38 (right around the same time the other took home its statuette). Prudence Penny is her typical calm and relaxed self, making a dinner that is far more yummy than the one in the earlier title and actually one that is fairly easy for most of us to imitate, with tuna baked with potato chip crunch and green jelly rolls. Meanwhile, we get all of this mayhem with clumsy Gwen Lee mixing all kinds of toxic chemicals in the punch and blowing out her teeth in the process. Although slightly less pristine in its preservation, Penny's Picnic is still visually stunning in its use of outdoor scenery as an alternative to the standard kitchen, with Penny showing how to skin a fish and make dumplings on the back of a pan turned upside down. Penny To The Rescue involves her saving the day for the husband of the house and his poker buddies. I have a feeling that Julia Child caught some of these in theaters and was inspired. Cooking is supposed to be fun for those motivated enough and should involve its fair share of experimentation, which these Pete Smith reels make it doubly so.

MGM did not have a regular sport series like the Grantland Rice Sportlights for Paramount, RKO-Pathé Sportscopes, Fox Movietone Sports Review, Columbia's World of Sports and Warner's Technicolor Sports Parade, so the Pete Smith series tended to compensate just as Universal's “Variety Views” often did with many sports oriented subjects. Roughly a quarter of his titles feature football in particular, with no less than ten Football Thrills featured on these discs. Historically interesting in their montage of “News of the Day” and other newsreels, they make for  slightly dull viewing today simply because the camera equipment of the times was far less sophisticated than what is available on ESPN and Super Bowl Sunday today. So many action shots are done at a distance with few facial close-ups. More successful were standard set-ups of games like the hockey match in Hot On Ice that is wonderfully filmed at various angles and at multiple film speeds so that we feel every fall and crash as if you are a player yourself. Also of interest is Grid Rules, which gives us an amusing history lesson on how the rules of the game were created through trial and error over the decades in special reenactments.

Much of the Pete Smith filmography makes for first rate “sugar coated” education. You learn a lot without realizing it because Pete is not a lecture-teacher but a comedy-writer who livens up subjects traditionally presented more on the dry side. Those quiz reels are NOT as challenging as a Jeopardy game show by any means, but it is still fun to learn that Leonardo Da Vinci was the one who practically invented the submarine, airplane and tank all in the same year of 1496.

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  • 7 months later...

I think I figured this one out. Looks like Tab Hunter in the 1956 Warner feature The Girl He Left Behind. Amusingly this clip reminds me of another discussed quite a bit on another thread, featuring Ramon Novarro: The Flying Fleet.


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