The Bootleg Files: The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff

BOOTLEG FILES 845: “The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff” (1973 animated feature).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube and


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The rights holder will not make it available.


Leo Tolstoy’s opened his novel Anna Karenina with the extraordinary observation: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A similar consideration can be applied to movies: “Good movies are all alike; every bad movie is bad in its own way.”

Forgive me for desecrating Tolstoy’s wisdom, but it is the only way that I can prepare to assault you with “The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff,” a 1973 animated feature that haphazardly gathered a bunch of short silent cartoons from the 1920s and had them redrawn in color (badly), saddled these films with a dialogue track that had little acquaintance with the action on the screen, and punctuated the proceedings with live action sequences involving a belly dancer. “Weird” is a very mild description of this film’s personality – words like “stupid” and “dreary” are more descriptive.

Mutt & Jeff began as comic strip characters created by Bud Fisher in the first decade of the 20th century. In a way, they were the predecessors of Abbott and Costello – Mutt was the tall conniver who was the alleged brains of the duo while Jeff was the diminutive patsy who usually wound up on the receiving end of the mayhem in their various adventures. The characters became popular with newspaper readers, to the point that Fisher licensed them for two film series, one featuring actors bringing Mutt & Jeff to life and another consisting of animated shorts created by Charles Bowers and Raoul Barré. The live-action films were produced between 1911 and 1916, while the cartoons were made between 1916 and 1926, with an astonishing 292 shorts produced.

When sound came into movies, some of the Mutt & Jeff cartoons were redrawn in a process called Kromocolor and had music and sound effects added. But these reconceived offerings were not popular and the Mutt & Jeff characters remained in the funny pages while other creations became big screen favorites.

On Halloween in 1971, the New York Times reported Mutt & Jeff would be making a “comeback” via a feature called “The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff.” This film was credited to William D. Cayton, a boxing promoter who produced several films related to the sport including the Oscar-nominated documentary “Jack Johnson.” Cayton had a sideline in children’s television where he imported and re-edited Eastern European films for American viewers. The genesis for Cayton’s Mutt & Jeff film is not clear – the comic strip was still running in newspapers, though its popularity had waned over time.

Rather than create new animation, Cayton and writer Bud Evslin decided to plumb the old silent Mutt & Jeff cartoons. Some of the black-and-white films were shipped to Korea to be redrawn in color and a screenplay was created to link these shorts into some semblance of a running story. The foundation for this endeavor was the 1926 short “Slick Sleuths,” where Mutt & Jeff were detectives chasing a shape-shifting villain called The Phantom. In this new version, Mutt & Jeff are government agents while The Phantom was renamed Bugoff and identified as the Chief of Counter Counter Counterintelligence for the global crime ring SMOGPOO, which stands for both “Subversive Manufacturers of Gruesome Plots On Order” and “Spies Meanies Oddballs Goons Phantoms Ogres Ogeresses.”

But whereas The Phantom was black in “Slick Sleuths,” Bugoff was redrawn as pink (don’t ask why). He was also given a Boris Badenov-style Russian accent while Mutt’s new voice resembled W.C. Fields and Jeff sounded like a whiney Arnold Stang.

So, what went wrong? For starters, the framing device for this feature made little to no sense. In each mini-adventure, the soundtrack Bugoff informs the viewer that he is changing himself into different disguises – he is a whale in one segment, a camel in another, a Mexican bull later on, and then he supposedly inhabits Mutt’s body. But nothing on the screen corresponds with Bugoff’s soundtrack pronouncements of trying to trip up and destroy his espionage foes Mutt & Jeff. Watching this film, it often seems like the wrong soundtrack was applied to the print. Even more bizarre are the live action segments where sultry bellydancer Terence Milo shakes her stuff – the soundtrack has the male Bugoff insisting the shapely lady is really him!

It didn’t help that Mutt & Jeff’s vocal antics were on the lame side, with bad quips and puns. Also complicating matters was the fact the characters’ mouths in the original cartoons didn’t move. Thus, watching this film one might assume Mutt & Jeff communicate telepathically, as their words ramble on the soundtrack while their lips stay stoic.

As for the old Mutt & Jeff cartoons – well, there is a good reason why none of the 292 cartoons in the series is considered a classic. Not unlike too many of the animated shorts of the silent cinema, the Mutt & Jeff cartoons are stiffly drawn and rely too heavily on charmless slapstick. Of all the genres, animation was the one that benefited the most when sound came into films – having the added dimension of voice performances and music and sound effects aligned to the on-screen action helped bring a richer dimension to the animated proceedings absent when screen silence reigned.

Adding to the confusion of “The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff” is a closing gag involving the title heroes’ “boss” – a news clip of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew. It wasn’t a very funny joke in 1973 and it is even more obscure to any contemporary viewer unaware with American politics of that time.

“The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff” was marketed to the kiddie matinee circuit, which consisted of morning and afternoon screenings on weekends. This was a strange strategy, as other animated features of that period including Disney’s “Robin Hood,” Hanna-Barbera’s “Charlotte’s Web” and the Charles M. Schulz-inspired “Snoopy Comes Home” were in general release and not segregated to a few weekend screenings. But the film flopped and mostly disappeared – I don’t believe the film has ever been televised and it was never released in any commercial home video format.

Today, a faded print of “The Weird Adventures of Mutt & Jeff and Bugoff” can be found on YouTube and But unless you are obsessed with off-kilter animation, there is no great reason to rediscover this obscure mess.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to Phil Hall’s award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud and his radio show “Nutmeg Chatter” on WAPJ-FM in Torrington, Connecticut, with a new episode every Sunday. His new book “100 Years of Wall Street Crooks” is now in release through Bicep Books.