Traumafessions :: Reader Zoë M. on Superman Short “Terror on the Midway”

Hey Kindertrauma! First of all, I want to thank you for solving my “Name That Trauma” a while back. (The answer was THE BONEYARD and involved a giant PHYLLIS DILLER monster) Well, now I’ve got an odd little traumafession for you in the form of one of the Paramount/Fleischer Superman shorts.

When I was a kid, my dad made sure to raise me on a diet of oddities and rarities; what this meant was that he made sure I was growing up with the same things he did. While I’m thankful for all the twisted things he put on play, I cannot deny that I’ve had a great deal of kindertraumas because of it (and I think I will relay more of these at a later date. In fact, it’s a promise.)

I’ve seen most of the Paramount/Fleischer shorts, definitely all of the ones produced by the Fleischer Bros. (they made the first nine out of seventeen that Paramount produced), but I think this one stands out for me in particular because my dad made a VHS of this short followed by MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), so when I would reach for that tape I’d get a double dose of big gorillas.

Biased reasoning aside, there are a few reasons this film may be the most gut wrenching for me to watch.

Gigantic, which seems to be the name of the menacing gorilla, is SCARY, plain and simple. When he first busts onto the scene, everything and everyone stops dead in their tracks before scrambling like ants after he roars. His strength is also more than the average gorilla, easily defeating the 6 (or more) men that try to restrain him, followed by him throwing his cage cart at them. In fact, it seems like the only one who can subdue this creature is Superman… which is a little odd since based on all this, how in the heck did they get him into a cage in the first place? The only thing that was restraining him was a lock that a much smaller, cuter monkey released. Did I say cute? I meant stupid. Stupid, stupid monkey for releasing the world’s scariest cartoon gorilla.

If the visage of Gigantic doesn’t freak me out nearly enough, his theme song does me in. Although there’s a shocking cue when he shows his face, the shot where he’s starting to stalk Lois Lane is where his unnerving theme plays. It almost conjures up images of the dinosaurs trapped in tar towards the end of The Rite of Spring segment from FANTASIA, albeit a somewhat cheaper and grandiose piece of music by comparison. It is a grueling, haunting piece of music that frankly sends chills up my spine to this day. What a great theme for a terrible Gorilla!

Lastly, the chaos; Oh my god, THE CHAOS. The minute Gigantic comes out, there is no such thing as the word “calm” in that tent. Besides Gigantic, elephants, lions, and a rogue panther all smash and attack those in their way. Superman even gets attacked not a split second after changing into his costume by that rogue panther. HOLY CRAP! The escalation of terror is astounding and I absolutely love it. What, a gigantic gorilla with the face of Satan wasn’t enough? Okay, have a team of scared elephants. What, still not satisfied? How about the gorilla corners Lois, stalks her, AND THE TENT STARTS TO BURN DOWN.

Of course, Lois and Superman survive to have the usual exchange of, “And I live to see another day”, “Yes, thanks to Superman.”

GOD CLARK, way to rub it in. But in all seriousness, I love love LOVE this short. Well, then again I love the Fleischer Superman shorts, but this one sticks out to me for that Gigantic gorilla action with his scary ass song.

Thanks and best,

Zoë M.

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Doug Drown
11 years ago

The Max Fleischer/Famous Studios Superman cartoons are widely considered to be among the greatest pieces of animation ever made. Though the Fleischers began production on them 70 years ago(!!), even the latest sophisticated computer animation can barely match them for their fluidity of movement, brilliant colors, and backgrounds. Moreover, Max Fleischer, the creator, was a technical genius whose creativity matched Disney’s, and in the case of cartoons such as “Terror on the Midway,” he and his crew also evidenced a clear understanding that horror
can be both physical and psychological.

This is one of the cartoons I best remember from my childhood fifty-plus years ago. It was one of the most terrifying things I ever saw on TV, and the memory of it is etched in my mind even today. It is a BRILLIANT piece of work in every detail. Willard Bowsky, the chief animator, created an atmosphere of dread and terror every bit as pungent and shocking as the most memorable of theatrical horror films. And Sammy Timberg — in my opinion one of the two greatest (along with Warner’s Carl Stalling) of cartoondom’s musical arrangers — created an unrelenting, heart-pounding accompaniment to this cartoon that ranks right up there with Howard Shore’s score for “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“Terror on the Midway”, if you’ve never seen it, will, in its barely eight minutes, thrill you, scare you out of your socks, and amaze you if you’re an animation fan like me. One of the great, great animated cartoons of all time, like many of the rest of the Superman series.