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  David Butler
(1894–1979). American director.

Directed: Just Imagine (1930); A Connecticut Yankee (1931); Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937); You'll Find Out (1940); The Road to Morocco (1942); "Christopher Columbus" (1955), "Daniel Boone," "Molly Pitcher," "Roger the Robot," "Captain Cook and the Hawaiian Islands," "Aztec Papers," "Leonardo da Vinci," "Curse of Ra," "Adventure in Space," "Robin Hood," "William the Conquer," "King Alfred," "Blackbeard the Pirate," "The Great Pyramid of Giza," "Washington and Howe," "King John," "Magellan," "Hernando Cortez," "Attila the Hun," "Meteor," "Genghis Khan," "Benedict Arnold," "Marco Polo," "Pony Express," "Discovery of Gold," "William Tell" (1956), episodes of Captain Z-Ro; "The Bard" (1963), episode of The Twilight Zone.

Acted in: The Temple of Venus (Henry Otto 1923).

Should anyone bother to remember David Butler? It's a debatable point: after a long career as a reliable actor in mostly forgettable silent films, he emerged in the 1930s as a reliable director of mostly forgettable sound films, including formulaic vehicles for the likes of Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Bob Hope, and Doris Day. When the market for such films dried up in the 1950s, he moved into directing for television, mainly episodes of routine western series and about one-fourth of the episodes of Leave It to Beaver. No one to my knowledge has ever suggested that he brought any distinctive vision or special talent to the director's chair.

Still, Butler commands attention if only because, for whatever reason, he presided over some of the most memorable oddities in the history of the genre. Chief among these is Just Imagine, usually described as the first science fiction musical, even though it is neither particularly musical nor, for much of its length, particularly science-fictional. Yet the film does cleverly play with some already established genre conventions—food pills are supplanted by alcohol pills to induce drunkenness in vaudeville comedian El Brendel—and its spaceship's flight to Mars qualifies as the American film's most realistic depiction of such a feat until Destination Moon (1950); its Martians, for once, do not speak English, and the film even includes a brief speech presenting what may be cinema's first extended argument for space travel. Certainly, given the contemporary interest in the quaint "retrofutures" of the 1930s, more people should be bothering to watch the relevant visions of the future that were actually produced in that era: Just Imagine, Things to Come, and the Buck Rogers serial (1939).

Then there is You'll Find Out, the surprisingly entertaining story of big band leader Kay Kyser and his orchestra, between their musical numbers, having frightening encounters with none other than Boris KARLOFF, Bela LUGOSI, and Peter LORRE.  Perhaps they required no directorial exhortations to do so, but those legendary professionals do carry out their small tasks here with genuine conviction, making this another Butler film that deserves more attention than it has received. However, except for the director-proof Bob Hope-Bing Crosby comedy, The Road to Morocco, Butler's other musical fantasies have not held up well, though people who can actually force themselves to sit through A Connective Yankee and Ali Baba Goes to Town may beg to differ.

Regarding his work for television, gluttons for punishment may endure, on DVD, all twenty-six episodes of the crude series Captain Z-Ro, which mostly offered history lessons for children within a futuristic framework, along with a few space adventures. With more time and a larger budget, though, one must say that Butler brought a nice comedic touch to "The Bard," one of the better one-hour episodes of The Twilight Zone, wherein Rod SERLING pointedly satirized the constraints of writing for television by bringing in William Shakespeare himself to be bedeviled by clueless paper-pushers. And after all, sometimes, a director who can simply keep things lively and complete productions on time is precisely, and only, what a good script needs.

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