Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hamateur Night: "It's A Killer... It's A Killer!"

Release date: 1/28/1939 (according to BCDb)

DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:
 NONE

You may view this cartoon HERE.

One of Avery's finest works of cartoon art, this film has an egalitarian approach to animated humor. Everyone has the same chance to sink or swim, to shine or nosedive.

It is a shame that this important and delightful cartoon has not been restored. All available prints look washed-out and VHS-y. Many WB cartoons suffer from this (or other) neglect, and I hope work will be done to make them look at least something like they did in their heyday.

It's a tribute to Hamateur Night that its comedy transcends its current state of disrepair. The neglect may be due to this cartoon's public domain status. That said, several PD Warners cartoons were restored for the now-defunct Golden Collection DVD series.

We iris in on an obvious-but-funny sign gag. The lack of bad puns reassures us that "Bugs" Hardaway is far away.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Mice Will Play: A Jaunty, Peppy Non-Entity To End 1938

Release date: 12/31/1938 (according to BCDb)

DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:
 Jezebel (WHV DVD); Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles (also WHV)

You may view this cartoon HERE.

My last post here displeased a number of animation people. So it goes. My goal here is to present my take on these often-overlooked cartoons in Tex Avery's career. How I view them will, of course, differ from how others see them. It's bound to cause friction, but that's the way it is.

I believe everyone can comfortably agree that The Mice Will Play, released on the last day of 1938, is not a major film in Avery's q.v. It is one of the last of its kind--an insincere "cutie" cartoon that unsteadily straddles front-office expectations and filmmakers' needs. Those factions tend to cancel each other out and produce compromised work.

The Leon Schlesinger cartoon studio is such a well-oiled, jaunty unit, in late 1938, that it can gloss over weaknesses with an affable, scrappy attitude. This doesn't make the lesser films any better, but it helps them go down easier.

This cartoon was shorn of its original credit sequence in 1949. The theme music for the titles was eight seconds of "Three Blind Mice."

Let the insignificance... begin!
When a cartoon begins with this shot, you know the next scene will be of a darkened interior, moving in multiplane fashion towards the film's alleged protagonist(s).
And, indeed, that's what occurs.
 Anonymous 1938 mice emerge from knothole.
 Lead mouse Johnny declares coast clear.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Daffy Duck in Hollywood: A Mixed Bag of Miscarried Madness



Release date: 12/3/1938 (according to IMDb*; no release date given on BCDb)

DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:
 Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. III (Warners Home Video)

You may view this cartoon HERE.

Avery's third and final cartoon with Daffy Duck is a regressive affair that abandons the formal advances made in his unit's previous three pictures.

Tho' amusing, it operates at a much lower level than Avery & Co. have performed in recent work. Daffy Duck in Hollywood feels more like a 1937 Avery effort, with its barrage of screwball gags, nose-biting and broad comedic strokes.

By this time, Daffy was used by director Robert Clampett in two memorable, anarchic black-and-white shorts, Porky and Daffy and The Daffy Doc. Daffy was ideal for Clampett's tense, explosive brand of comedic film-making. (Black ducks appear in his What Price Porky? but, contrary to popular belief, they are NOT Daffy.)

Such loose-limbed zanies were no longer vital to Avery's sense of comedy. His 1938 cartoons (of which this is the last) bookend with Technicolor Daffy Ducks. The first, Daffy Duck and Egghead, is over-full of crazy-kooky moments--many of them a bit forced. This last Daffy, less frenzied and formless, can be seen as Avery's farewell to the kablooey school of cartoon comedy. A cool has entered Avery's worldview in this year. Playing it deadpan, with cards close to his chest, is now his way of working.

Avery would never make another cartoon like DDiH. That task was left to his many imitators, who continued in this vein through the 1940s. At the dark end of the tunnel is the Screen Gems cartoon Wacky Quacky (1948), which represents the last forlorn outpost of this school of comedy.

This cartoon was restored to breath-taking brightness in the 2000s, and our screen captures will prove much more pleasant going than recent posts.

We iris in on a joke that seemed the shared property of every theatrical cartoon studio:
 No time is wasted getting down to cases:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Johnny Smith and Poker-Huntas: Hoary History in a Post-Modern Playground

Release date: 10/22/1938 (according to BCDb)

DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:
 none

You may view this cartoon HERE.

The third forward-reaching, formally playful cartoon in a row from the Fred Avery unit, Johnny Smith and Poker-Huntas further accelerates Avery's often radical study of the relationship between the pre-existing (the 7:52 of this animated film, projected on celluloid) and the unpredictable (the paying audience who took this cartoon in as part of a typical evening's movie fare).

This is the first of Avery's Schlesinger cartoons that really feels like his M-G-M work. Two films from wartime bear an obvious resemblance to JSaPH (I refuse to re-type that title)--the regrettable 1944 Screwy Squirrel cartoon Big Heel-Watha and 1945's Jerky Turkey, By no means is this cartoon as technically adroit, nor sophisticated in its timing, as those later works. A general vibe, familiar to his M-G-M masterpieces of the 1940s, comes to the forefront of Avery's work here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Feud There Was: "A Body Can Get Away With Anything"

Release date: 9/24/1938 (according to BCDb)

DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:
 none

You may view this cartoon HERE.

Another sharp, smart and forward-reaching cartoon from the Fred Avery unit, A Feud There Was stresses speed, wit and barrier-breaking. On the heels of the superb Cinderella Meets Fella, this accentuates the positive in Avery's formal, rooted in past and future sensibility.

By this time, Avery knows how to follow the rules in order to best thwart and maim them. The immediacy he and his staff achieve makes this 77-year old cartoon still fresh and relevant.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"No Squat, No Stoop, No Squint"--Cinderella Meets Fella

Release date: 7/23/1938 (according to BCDb)

DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:
 as a bonus feature on the Warner Home Video boxed set, The Busby Berkeley Collection, Vol. 2)
You may view this cartoon HERE.

With this cartoon, the Fred Avery unit enters a strong period. Accomplished film-making technique, coupled with improving animation and a tight core group of voice, music and graphic talent gives Avery's cartoons a sudden authority.

Avery the cartoon director seems assured and in control of his comedic notions. This assurance is cloaked in a self-effacing nonchalance. Not for Avery was the zany grandstanding of a Bob Clampett, nor the stylistic indulgence of a Chuck Jones.

Compare Cinderella Meets Fella to the previous year's Little Red Walking Hood, and Avery's pronounced and expanding skill is strongly felt. He is humbly in control of a comedic universe that bends to his whims, and delights in surprising and amusing its audience.

Like Walking Hood, this film uses the title card-as-storybook motif, and wastes no time getting down to business:
Avery is still a bit trigger-happy, and rushes to debunk the simulation of sincerity with a cheerfully corny post-script...
By 1938, there had been a few cartoon versions of the Cinderella story, so audiences knew what to expect--which gives Avery and his team a familiar world to subvert and wring out.
Cinderella, who at times resembles "Cookie" from the pre-Avery "Buddy" cartoon series, is seen doing exactly what her story demands--cleaning house for her trio of entitled step-sisters. They make one brief appearance to taunt our heroine:
 The trio leans back in to invoke the radio-derived catchline "And I do... mean... YOU!"
 Cinderella is typically crestfallen.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Isle of Pingo Pongo: Avery Creates Cartoon Tsunami; Inspires Countless Imitations

RELEASE DATE: May 28, 1938 (according to BCDb)
DVD-BluRay AVAILABILITY: none
You can download and view an uncut reissue version of this cartoon HERE.

Fred Avery marked his 25th cartoon 'anniversary' at Leon Schlesinger's studio with a short that sent shock waves through the film industry--and not just the animation world.

It also led to a depressing low point in his early career, as almost a dozen sequels to this innovative film bring his creativity to a screeching halt at the close of the 1930s.

Neither Avery or his audience could have foreseen this grim result in the late spring of 1938. At that time, this cartoon had more shock value and carpet-yanking surprise than any film in his career to date. Avery and credited storyman George Manuell (according to this recently-unearthed original title card) struck a raw nerve in live-action cliches--one that floored its first audiences.

By this time, Lowell Thomas' Going Places shorts had offered filmgoers three years' worth of oft-patronizing mini-tours of far away locales, anchored in the news commentator's relentless narration. Alas, none of these shorts are currently available for viewing on the web, to make a study of Avery's satire more complete. Suffice to say that the films' purple-prose narration and condescending examination of other cultures were an established film trope, by 1938, and thus ripe for savaging.

As with many of the Avery unit's early triumphs at Schlesinger, this cartoon suffers from over-familiarity. Its gently sarcastic tone was wholly absorbed into Hollywood film-making, and cast a large shadow over much film comedy to come.

This cartoon has been off the air since at least 1968, as one of the infamous "Censored 11." It contains a great deal of iffy racist humor, for which more sensitive readers and viewers are hereby advised. No Leonard Maltin apology here; this is just the way it was in late 1930s America. The cartoon was unaltered for a 1944 reissue--late in the game for such insensitive portrayals of non-Caucasian peoples.

That the cartoon is still funny and somewhat fresh is a pleasant surprise. Perhaps this is because it hasn't had the chance to be played to death on TV or home video (although versions exist on various VHS tapes and digital discs).