World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Francis the Talking Mule

Article Id: WHEBN0001852177
Reproduction Date:

Title: Francis the Talking Mule  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject:
Collection:
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

Francis the Talking Mule

Francis the Talking Mule was a mule character who became a celebrity during the 1950s after he starred in seven popular Universal-International film comedies. The character originated in the 1946 novel Francis by former U.S. Army Captain David Stern III (1909–2003), son of newspaper publisher J. David Stern. After another studio turned down the property, Universal bought the rights for a film series, with Stern adapting his own script for the first entry, simply titled Francis.

Contents

  • The beginning 1
  • Themes 2
  • Film series actors 3
  • Later appearances 4
  • Video releases 5
  • Films 6
  • Notes 7
  • Sources 8

The beginning

From the Francis Book Jacket: [1]

Under the nom de plume of Peter Stirling, Stern wrote several short stories for Esquire about a nameless, brand-new U.S. Army 2nd lieutenant fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. Following the war, he connected three of the stories, "I Meet Francis", "Francis and the Golden," and "Francis Unmasked" into the 1946 novel Francis.

In 1948 Stern published a sequel, Francis Goes to Washington with the former lieutenant now named Peter Sterling running for Congress with the help of Francis. Stern gave up fiction writing to become editor of the New Orleans Item, a newspaper he purchased in 1949[2] and ran until 1958.

Themes

The book and series focused on the exploits of Francis, an experienced Army mule, and Peter Stirling (played by Donald O'Connor), the young soldier whom he befriends (and stays with through civilian life and then back into the military). In the original 1950 film, the mule identifies himself to the commanding general as "Francis...123rd Mule Detachment...[serial number] M52519". With a plot device like the later series Mister Ed, Francis would usually only talk to Peter, thus causing problems for his nominal 'master'. The first six movies were directed by Universal comedy veteran Arthur Lubin, previously known for helming Abbott and Costello vehicles, who would go on to produce and direct Mister Ed for television.

As the titles indicated, each film had a different setting or gimmick, exposing the world-wise mule and the naive GI to race track excitement, the world of journalism, and many branches of the military, from West Point to the WACs to the Navy. The basic plots were fairly similar, however. Stirling, with the sage but sardonic advice of Francis (gleaned from overhearing generals plan strategy or from discussions with other equines), would triumph over his own incompetence. However, inevitably, he would be forced to reveal that his advisor was a mule, and be subject to mental analysis (sometimes more than once per movie) until the grand reveal, when Francis displayed his talent (usually either to individuals, or to a large group). The astonishing existence of a talking mule was conveniently forgotten by the next movie, however.

Film series actors

The distinctive voice of Francis was provided by veteran character actor Chill Wills, who lent his deep, rough vocal texture and Western twang to the cynical and sardonic mule. As was customary at the time, Wills never received billing for his vocal work, though he was featured prominently on-screen as blustery General Ben Kaye in the fourth entry, Francis Joins the WACS.

The actual mule who appeared on-screen was not a male at all, but a female named Molly, selected because she was easy to handle. She was purchased from Jake and Jenny Frazier in Drexel, Missouri. According to author Pauline Bartel, Universal paid $350 for the animal, but made millions from the film series. Molly was trained by Les Hilton, a former apprentice of Will Rogers, who would also go on to train Bamboo Harvester, the horse who played Mister Ed. To create the impression that the mule was actually talking, Hilton used a thread fed into the animal's mouth, which when tugged, would cause Molly to try to remove it by moving her lips (the same technique used for Mister Ed).

The seventh and final entry in the series, Francis in the Haunted House, was made without any of the key creative personnel. Leonard Maltin, in most editions of his Movie Guide, says O'Connor quit, quoting the actor, "When you've made six pictures and the mule still gets more fan mail than you do...." Mickey Rooney, who according to his autobiography was originally considered for a United Artists "Francis" movie before Universal bought the rights, replaced O'Connor as a new but similar character, David Prescott. Director Lubin and Chill Wills were also absent, replaced respectively by Charles Lamont and voice actor Paul Frees, who did a close approximation of Wills' voice. The movie did not attempt any real explanation as to why Francis had left Peter Stirling. Francis explains that he decided to befriend reporter Prescott because he once lived on a farm owned by Prescott's uncle and wanted to protect his nephew out of respect for the deceased. With the original elements gone, the movie, a standard tale of fake ghosts and gangsters, was poorly received and is widely viewed as the weakest entry in the series.

Later appearances

Francis also made a brief cameo, in animated form and voiced by Marvin Miller, in the UPA cartoon short How Now Boing Boing (1954), starring Gerald McBoing Boing. David Stern and Frank Thomas scripted a 1952-53 syndicated comic strip, Francis, the Famous Talking Mule, illustrated by Cliff Rogerson, who also drew the gag panel, Tee Vee Laffs (1957-85). Francis is said to have provided the inspiration for the title of rock band The Mars Volta's second album, Frances the Mute. Many years later, offbeat director John Waters joked about making a movie starring Francis and Divine.

Video releases

The original film, Francis (1950) was released in 1978 as one of the first-ever titles in the new LaserDisc format, DiscoVision Catalog #22-003.[3] It was later re-issued in May 1994 on LaserDisc by MCA/Universal Home Video (Catalog #: 42024) as part of an Encore Edition Double Feature with Francis Goes to the Races (1951).

The first two Francis films were released again in 2004 by Universal Pictures on Region 1 and Region 4 DVD, along with the next two in the series, as The Adventures of Francis the Talking Mule Vol. 1. Several years later, Universal released all 7 Francis films as a set on three Region 1 and Region 4 DVDs, Francis The Talking Mule: The Complete Collection.

Films

  • Francis Goes to Washington - based on the 1948 book by Stern - meant to be the first Francis sequel[4] - filming was postponed as there were "too many complications" for the film "to be made as things stand at the present."[5]

Notes

  1. ^ Farrar, Straus And Co.; 1st edition (1946)
  2. ^ Erickson, Hal (2012). Military Comedy Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography of Hollywood Releases Since 1918. McFarland. pp. 119–120.
  3. ^ http://www.blamld.com/DiscoVision/Classic_Film/22-003.htm
  4. ^ LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD: Bette Davis in Joyous Mood Over Work on New Picture Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 13 Mar 1950: b14.
  5. ^ Drama: Hugh Marlowe Romantic Rival of Milland; Wald, Krasna to Seek Talent Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 May 1951: A7.

Sources

  • Bartel, Pauline. Amazing Animal Actors. Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1997. 0878339744
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 


Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.