A junk man travels to Africa to find a rare metal-eating bird.

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Cast

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Charles R. Bowers ...
Charley Chucklehead (as Charley Bowers)
Lowell Thomas ...
Himself, Lowell Thomas
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Storyline

Charlie, working on a junkjard, always trying to help people in the most impossible ways with junk from his work place, hears from a German professor, that there is a bird, a Belgish Kongo, that eats metal. Charlie sets out on a ridiculous hunting expedition to catch one. With some music - the birds love music - and a strange worm he is able to catch one, but even then the bird offers some even more over-the-top surprises. Written by Stephan Eichenberg <eichenbe@fak-cbg.tu-muenchen.de>

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1930 (USA)  »

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1.20 : 1
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[first lines]
Radio Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a program of tall stories dedicated to the Great American Whopper. Allow me to present the Exalted Giraffe of the Tall Story Club, Lowell Thomas.
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A-Hunting We Will Go
Traditional
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A must-see for connoisseurs of the Weird
25 April 2004 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

By the time he made this strange 10-minute short Charley Bowers had been a comic strip cartoonist, a pioneer animator, and a star performer in his own series of silent comedies. For his talkie debut Bowers drew upon all of these talents and concocted It's a Bird, a genuinely bizarre, unique curio.

The film begins at a radio station. Bowers is introduced to listeners as "Charley Chucklehead of Chattanooga" by journalist Lowell Thomas, of all people, looking very much as he would decades later as host of the 'Lowell Thomas Remembers' documentary TV series. For viewers who remember that show his presence here kicks things off on a surprising note, rather like Walter Cronkite popping up in a Marx Brothers movie. In any case, Charley is introduced as a man with a tall tale to relate, and as he talks his story a illustrated in flashbacks. The style is very much like Bowers' silent comedies of the '20s, consisting of gags set at the junk yard where he works. Bowers himself resembles a cross between Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton in his baggy overalls and derby. His wizened face appears heavily powdered with clown white makeup, and his delivery of dialog is noticeably awkward.

Things get decidedly more interesting when, abruptly, Charley goes on a quest for a rare metal-eating bird. He meets with a Professor Ditterhoffer of the Natural History Museum who illustrates his points with several cartoon-y illustrations (undoubtedly drawn by Bowers himself) which bear a striking resemblance to the work of Dr. Seuss. And then Charley is off to the Belgian Congo, accompanied by a German Oompah band, where he locates the goofy-looking bird and manages to capture him with the help of a talking worm who inexplicably sounds like a Brooklyn thug.

The bird and the worm are impressively animated puppets. In the mid- to late '20s puppet animation was a major element of Bowers' comedies, and even today these sequences are dazzling to see. The puppet scenes in It's a Bird are weird and delightful, and feature a number of characteristically off-the-wall motifs familiar from Bowers' earlier films, such as animals eating scrap metal and then laying eggs which produce "baby" machines.

It would be nice to say that It's a Bird marked the first of a new series of Charley Bowers novelty shorts. Unfortunately, however, his eccentric style was not properly appreciated by his contemporaries, and he worked only sporadically after this. Still, for connoisseurs of vintage animation, surreal sight gags, and Le Cinema Bizarre, Charley Bowers' films are essential, and this one is a prime example of what he did best.


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