The Hangman by Paul Julian and Les Goldman

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After mentioning Paul Julian in the previous post I went looking for examples of his work. The production design and background paintings that Julian created for the animated adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) are perennially celebrated, especially around Halloween, but director Ted Parmalee tends to receive all the credit. The Tell-Tale Heart was a production for UPA but Julian had a long career in animation, especially for Warner Bros., and his voice (if not his name) are universally familiar from the sounds the Road Runner makes in the Wile. E Coyote cartoons. Until this week if I’d thought about this at all I would have assumed that the “hmeep-hmeep” sound (as Julian described it) was created by Mel Blanc, not one of the cartoon’s background artists.

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The Hangman (1964) is an 11-minute animation that, like The Tell-Tale Heart, is a long way from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Herschel Bernardi reads a poem by Maurice Ogden that describes a hangman who arrives in a small town and begins executing the citizens one after the other. No-one is spared, even those who support the actions of the hangman when his first victims are Jewish, Black, an unspecified “alien” and a man who openly questions the executions. The poem was written during the McCarthy era but is the kind of moral fable whose sentiments can be applied to any time, even if the design makes the context a specifically American one. Paul Julian painted the backgrounds and co-directed with Les Goldman, while Julian’s wife, Margaret, provided the minimal animation. The jazzy score—which doesn’t really suit the theme—was the work of Serge Hovey. Julian’s townscapes start out as Edward Hopper-like scenes of tall houses, old storefronts and wide roads striped with sunset shadows. In the second half of the film a Surrealist quality takes over. The gallows pole slowly consumes the town as well as its people, dismantling the buildings in order to grow into a towering edifice. The characterisations and the scene transitions make it plain how much of The Tell-Tale Heart was Julian’s work, while the film as a whole reminds me of one of Ray Bradbury’s morality tales. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA

4 thoughts on “The Hangman by Paul Julian and Les Goldman”

  1. Top notch, I’d never seen this one before; “The Tell-Tale Heart” has been a favourite of mine since I saw it as a child. I’ve a box set of those UPA animations; they’re generally a lot more arty than the Warner and Disney cartoons even if, in the main, their stories are less engaging.

  2. I’d not seen this one before either. Now that I have most of my favourite foreign animations on disc I ought to do the same with The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s a miniature masterpiece, and all the YT versions are deficient in various ways.

  3. The problem with the European stuff is, just when you think you’ve seen enough, you find a whole lot more. I’ve a close friend who’s equally obsessed and we’re constantly feeding each other with new discoveries.

    One I rediscovered after a long time of looking for it is Istvan Banyai’s “Hamm (Gobble, Gobble)” which is very much in the “Yellow Submarine”/‘Groovy Style’ on which you’ve posted in the past.

    https://youtu.be/ERvmDgOLPMw

  4. It’s true that there’s always more, I don’t think I’d seen anything by Istvan Banyai until now. Groovy animation would be a post in itself. One for the future…

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