Bill and Coo
Bill and Coo
Written by Royal Foster and Dean Riesner
Directed by Dean Riesner
Featuring George Burton’s Love Birds and Curley Twiford’s Jimmy the Crow, Bill and Coo is a crazed all-animal movie production where trained birds run around doing people things. The idea and story structure is similar to the later film The Secret of Magic Island, it seems almost impossible that Jean Tourane did not see Bill and Coo. The Secret of Magic Island features several similar plot devices and scenarios, though I freely admit that the French film does have much more whimsy (though Bill and Coo’s print suffers from color degradation, it might have been way more beautiful when originally lensed!) Both films suffer from their villain being portrayed/named in such way that racism subtexts can’t be ignored, but Bill and Coo just comes out and has a crow called The Black Menace.
An in-depth discussion of the two films and their similarity can be found in an episode of our Infernal Brains Podcast.
A credit claims the film was based on an idea from Ken Murray’s Blackouts – this is not a reference to Murray being a giant drunk, but was the name of his LA stage review show where Burton and his birds were regulars. Bill and Coo is an amazing film, and we even recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an Honorary Oscar for “artistry and patience blended in a novel and entertaining use of the medium of motion pictures.” This must have been back when the Oscars were fun!
There are a few human characters in Bill and Coo, as there is a prologue where they explain that the movie is full of trained birds, and explain what trained birds are. For the birdbrains out there. The producer Ken Murray appears along with bird trainer George Burton, while Elizabeth Walters plays the dodo. I have read that the film originally did not have this human introduction, but I don’t know when it was added. You can watch Bill and Coo yourself thanks to the magic of public domain. If you enjoy watching your movies in novelty record form, rest assured there is a Bill and Coo record just for that purpose!
Chirpendale USA is a town that’s for the birds….because it’s all birds! The narrator explains the normal day to day activities as we visit lots of birds on their routines and jobs. The variety of stores and shops makes Chirpendale feel like a real small town, and the site of parakeets scampering around in little outfits doing tricks is pretty neat.
Bill and Coo takes no chances, and packs the signage of Chirpendale with lots of bird related puns.
Bill Singer is a young lad who runs the taxi company, saving money so he can marry Coo. Bill is from the poor side of town, while Coo comes from a rich family. It’s the typical poor kid works hard and becomes a success scenario. There is no angry father enraged that his daughter dares to date a poor kid, nor a jealous rich suitor who turns out to be a real jerk. In fact, the actual plot is barely there, because it interferes with watching the birds do their tricks.
The peaceful town is menaced by The Black Menace, who stomps around like a giant monster. It’s almost as if there is some hideous subtext… Bill is working on a plan – Operation Scarecrow – and has created new crow bait – formula 303 – aka Sur-Fyr Crow Bait.
The circus has come to town, it’s parade time! There are baby animals in cages, with birds driving. The baby animals are presented as fierce jungle animals (kittens are panthers, baby monkeys are gorillas, etc) Everyone in town there to watch the circus arrival parade – except Bill’s Mom, who has to work. Sucks being poor.
That night, Black Menace attacks! We got air raid sirens, blackout conditions, civilian patrols, citizens rushing to shelters, bomber engine noise. Remember this was made in 1948, and World War 2 had ended just three years prior. The birds hide underground (in the “Fraid Hole”) as the crow smashes up the town.
Black Menace sets a fire (you see, the local love connection matchmaker had a gimmick fence composed of matches, because of all the puns, but in this case puns turned out to be as bad as everyone says they are as the town begins to burn.) Bill is a fireman as well, saves people including Coo. Bill has like 10 jobs, I guess that’s one way to earn money, work yourself to death! You might wonder how he has time to see Coo, and I’d argue he’s not working his ten jobs very well. Back to work, Bill!
Black Menace is not phased by being defeated by a firebird, and vows to return and destroy.
Bill and Coo are rewarded with balloon ride. Yay! Ride balloons, don’t land the balloon in the baby alligator pit, what the heck are you doing? Good thing everyone is a bird and can just fly away if someone does land the balloon in the alligator pit. Also no one is flying the balloon except Bill and Coo, I guess they can fly balloons because they are birds? Or maybe because Bill is a taxi driver.
It’s circus time! Even Bill’s mom finds a babysitter and can come have some fun. It’s a real big show with three rings of events:
- Barrelhouse Eggbert
- Hercules Hornbill
- Cannonball Twitchet – a motorcycle rider
- Iron Jaw
- A wild west show.
- And many more I didn’t write down in my notes.
Everyone is watching the circus, so Black Menace attacks the deserted town. Nutty Johnny Loo spots him and tries to warn the people, but the Black Menace traps the townspeople inside the circus tents.
Bill sneaks out (no one else seems smart enough to go under the side of the huge tent) to start “Operation Scarecrow” by himself. He fires a cannon to lure the Black Menace (and free the townspeople), and ends up trapping Black Menace in a cage!
Everyone cheers! The Circus leaves town! Bill and Coo get married! And they don’t have to worry about some black menace moving into the neighborhood.
Rated 7/10 (A human?!?, even birds have guys with weird hats, the owls are sentient, he followed his nose to jail, balloon boy, dear old mom, big ear prisoner)
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