Porky Pig 101 (WHV 5-dvd set)
You can view a 1990s-era computer colorized version of this cartoon HERE. It's better than nothing...
The Blow Out is an impressive step forward for Fred Avery. Through 1938, Avery's cartoons would vacillate between significant advances and curious retreats.
Here, Avery introduces several essential items in his trick bag. Large comic "takes," colorful comedic villains and the nightmare of one character trying to escape from another--who turns up with supernaturally bad timing--are unveiled in The Blow Out.
Avery would perfect these tics by the time of his first few cartoons for M-G-M. The slow but steady development of these comedic facets becomes a point of fascination in his Warner Brothers efforts.
The Blow-Out also adds significantly to the personality of Porky Pig. Though the character won't be set in stone, er, pork for another two years or so, this cartoon helps to give him something like a personality.
Avery's M-G-M cartoons are short on characterization and long on bravura comedic set-ups. It's easy to forget the amount of rich character development that occurs in the Warner Brothers cartoons. Though this cartoon's attempts to build character are primitive, when compared to Avery's 1938-1941 cartoons, it's a start.
As will soon be common for Avery's work, the cartoon begins with its focus on the bad guy. The bald-headed, five o' clock-shadowed serial bomber (who is never referred to by name) is seen doing his dirty deeds, in a distinctive down-shot that shows up in several other Warner Brothers Avery efforts.
Frank Tashlin would soon outdo Avery in his mimesis of live-action montage, and visual shorthand. Despite such flourishes, Avery is a visually conservative film-maker. After 1944, he almost never indulges in showy staging or other visual dynamics. A flat, dead-on mise-en-scene is all he needs in the service of his screen comedy.
He will go through a visually baroque stage at Schlesinger's, in the later 1930s, and prove himself quite adept at the use of these devices. They weren't essential to his comedic/filmic vision, as they were to Tashlin's and Chuck Jones'. Yet he was the first WB cartoon director to toy with them.
The scene is now dramatically set for the appearance of the mad bomber. As au courant as this topic seems in 2013, it's important to remember that such disturbed individuals have long been part of the fabric of America. Google "George Metesky" or "Carl Warr" (pictured below, from a 1912 incident that terrified Los Angeles) for just two examples of this archetype.
Long story short: such actions are nothing new in our society, alas.
We're introduced first to the shockingly squalorous world in which the bomber lives. Such delapidated, hopeless settings were rarely seen in West Coast cartoons. The difference between this vista (spliced together from a pan shot) and the sunny, well-apportioned vistas of previous Schlesinger cartoons is striking.
"I believe it was Martha Wentworth, but I have no proof. She played the witch in radio's Witch's Tale and it was a little like the bomber. I know her range of voices, and it's definitely her as Mama in I Love To Singa."
Such trainspotting is beyond the usual purview of this blog. It is a remarkable vocal performance, in the screen debut of an essential Avery character type.
Change of scene to a soda shoppe, on the periphery of the deadly slums. Here we witness another vital moment of development in Avery's career: the sudden focused consolidation of a somewhat appealing protagonist.
As in many a silent comedy, the would-be hero falls pitifully short of his intended goal. An ice-cream soda costs a dime; he can scrounge up just five pennies.
Part of the fascination in watching the first few Avery-directed cartoons is their all-star talent pool. Here we have "Tex" Avery at the helm of a cartoon with Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett as his animators. Few other animated cartoons could boast an A-team of such sheer talent.
Avery uses Clampett's endearingly cute yet edgy sense of character, and Jones' emergent desire to express emotion, volume and life, to both men's benefit in this film. Clampett's sensitivity to emotion, in these character-defining scenes, gives a potential throwaway scene a certain gravity that fuels the rest of the cartoon.
Porky leaves the parlor and slumps on the pavement, dejected. Like Buster Keaton's screen persona, he is a mere plaything of fate. He tries to gird himself for the task ahead. Such fate can be kind, as the pig quickly learns:
Cut to the bomber, as he reaches the Blotz Building with his deadly present...
Porky witnesses the attempted serial bombing, interprets it as the man in black having dropped a clock, and that its return is worth one red cent. Thus, for the rest of the cartoon, wherever the mad bomber goes, no matter how cleverly he hides, Porky will turn up at his heels, with the ticking time-bomb in hand, and the expectation of a penny's reward.
Swing You Sinners (1930):
The Blow Out sequence is a bravura moment in Avery's early work. La Verne/Wentworth's performance as the agitated escape-seeker is highly expressive, and must have inspired some of the visual treatment of these panic-attack moments.
Avery uses the ticking of the clock-bomb to great effect on the sound track. This tightens the strings of the picture's tension ever further...
Avery achieves another breakthrough in this sequence. He has the bomber directly (and sarcastically) address the audience. His mocking statement emphasizes the passive state of the viewer. Events parade on-screen and we're powerless to influence them in any way. Only by closing our eyes, or leaving the theater, could 1936 film patrons have changed the situation.
|"He'll be blown to pieces--whether you people like it or not!"|
Seemingly safe in his lair, the bomber closes--and locks--multiple overlapping doors. The final door has several locks, all swiftly bolted. And then he turns to see...
The bomber throws himself on the cops, but Porky is determined to get that danged penny. He finally returns the about-to-pop clock to the bomber...
PORKY: I'm gonna b-buy me...I'm gonna b-buy me... I'm g-gonna, uh, b-buy me...
In three cartoons, Fred Avery has redefined what an animated cartoon might be--and clearly shown, by exclusion, what isn't needed or is unimportant.
With The Blow Out, Avery has, for the first time, summoned the anxious energy that will soon make him famous--and much-imitated. If the pacing seems sluggish to us in 2013, please try to imagine how novel and unexpected this cartoon was when it was in release, 77 Aprils ago.
The breakthrough of The Blow Out is quickly underwhelmed by his next three cartoons. As you'll see, these first excursions into Technicolor are a regrettable step backwards--but a necessary step forward as a film-maker.
*-- thanks to Mark Kausler for his help in IDing the animators of these crucial scenes.
COMING NEXT: I'd Love to Take Orders from You (1936)