John Henry and the Inky Poo (film #18 on Cartoon Crazys: Sci-Fi (WinStar Home Entertainment, 1999). Also, film #3 on She (Sinister Cinema)). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This puppet-animated retelling of the John Henry legend is rather unusual. First of all, it’s an African-American version of the story, and though its portrayal of that culture probably wouldn’t pass muster today, it’s not to bad for its time (the 40s). And although it features music and singing, it doesn’t really sing at any point the folksong we all remember. The strangest part concerns John Henry’s birth––he is born fully-grown and about the size of Paul Bunyan and politely introduces himself to his mother (I don’t even want to think about what she went through!). And the film specifies that John Henry started working on the railroad at about the age of 3 weeks. The Inky-Poo of the title is the steam drill––I cannot imagine where they got that name for it. Strange as it is, though, the cartoon is rather stirring and inspiring, portraying John Henry as a larger-than-life symbol for the sweat of all the working men who built the railroads and this country in general. All this makes the cartoon prime ephemera.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

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