Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I'd Love To Take Orders From You: Avery's First Technicolor Cartoon, If Nothing Else...


none at present

An on-line color version can be viewed HERE.

If you're not familiar with this cartoon, please watch it now before reading my analysis. Thanks!

Avery's sudden promotion to the Technicolor Merrie Melodies series shows that he had impressed Leon Schlesinger with his first three black-and-white cartoons. I'd Love To Take Orders From You completely suppresses the creative urges that shine through those first efforts.

Perhaps this was by choice. The stakes were higher for these larger-budgeted Technicolor cartoons. They typically flogged a recent song from the Warner Brothers popular music catalog. More attention was paid to the Merrie Melodies by the front office, and expectations for more crowd-pleasing (i.e., bland) content were perhaps encouraged.

I'd Love To Take Orders From You is not a bad cartoon--by other directors' standards. It would have been Jack King's masterpiece, or a decent Friz Freleng effort. Although Avery is still learning his craft, and has a long way to go, we've seen what he can do, and how he prefers to roll, via his previous short, The Blow Out. We know the ambitions for comedy, pacing and playfulness that are within him.

The Blow Out
  fills its viewers with a sense of unease; Orders spoon-feeds them reassuring situation comedy. Avery's heart does not seem to be in the material--in which scarecrows not only own homes, but can pro-create. He tries hard to put it over. He imaginatively stages its placid proceedings, and further experiments with extreme poses and takes. It is obviously the creation of a still-insecure film maker, eager to make good with the boss, and thus willing to dilute his vision.

Unusual staging in I'd Love To Take Orders From You almost puts its tepid material across.

Avery succeeded, and was assigned two more color cartoons, (Page) Miss Glory and Don't Look Now--both farther-reaching and less afraid of being funny and irreverent.

The theme of this cartoon--a child wanting the approval of his self-assured, exacting father--shows up in later Avery films, but with an important twist. In I Love To Singa, One Cab's Family and Little Johnny Jet, to name three similar Avery cartoons, the child rebels against his father's standards. This causes stakes-raising conflict that is only resolved through mutual acceptance. The generation gap uneasily closes.

That lack of tension makes Orders considerably less compelling. A longish talk-sung version of the title song (written by the stalwart team of Harry Warren and Al Dubin for the 1935 musical film Shipmates Forever), with new lyrics clumsily layered over what little remains of the song's melody, stops the cartoon cold.

It establishes just one thing: that the father scarecrow has unreasonable expectations--set so high his child, who wants to be just like him, may never meet them.

There isn't much anyone could have done with this material. It's cheerful but insubstantial, and bland in the way the 1935 Schlesinger product had often been. In this sense, Orders is an enormous step backwards for both Avery and the Warners cartoons.

If nothing else, the making of this cartoon possibly strengthened Avery's resolve that his comedic ideas were the right path to pursue. He does add a few clever and distinctive comic fillips to this trifle. We see the first of his modernized gags that intrude on the conventions of the Disney-style cartoon, when the little scarecrow spooks a nut-hunting squirrel, who retreats to his tree penthouse, complete with working elevator (patched together from multiple screen grabs):

This style of gag would soon become commonplace in cartoons, and itself a cliche. In 1936, this was clever stuff, and a fresh fracturing of the old world-storybook tendencies of animation.

Ken Martinez supplied me with THIS CLIP of Avery and another Termite Terrace denizen acting out one of the scenes in this cartoon. It's delightful to see Avery in movement...

Avery makes strong strides in perfecting the art of the wild take. Here are some favorite moments--indeed, the only thing about Orders that strongly displays its maker's hand:

One small improvement in I'd Love To Take Orders From You is the removal of Bernard Brown as musical director. (Ironic, this, in that Brown so favored the title song in his orchestrations for prior Avery cartoons). Norman Spencer brings a larger palette of sounds and styles to his score, which does not drag down the cartoon, despite that horrid song-patter business early on.

Like Gold Diggers of '49 (although less ambitious or inventive), Orders is a necessary step in Avery's animation career. After this Technicolor trial-by-fire (which, tellingly, was not reissued in the WB "Blue Ribbon" series), Avery would soon prove what he could do with a Merrie Melodie, both visually and comedically.

I'll close with one layout drawing I've found online, plus some other screen shots from this cartoon.

I almost forgot about this color-changing fright take, when the crow encounters Dad Scarecrow... this is right out of the pre-code Fleischer gamebook, but it shows Avery's eye for a clever device.

...and that's all, folks.We'll have more fun next time... I guarantee it!

Next: Page Miss Glory


  1. Not surprisingly, this is the most Freleng-like of Avery's Merrie Melodies, fitting the same type of bland character/song/conflict pattern that had become a staple of the color WB shorts. Watching the movie Bob Clampett made of the Avery unit 'gaging' this short, you could tell they were excited to be promoted to the No. 2 unit helping Friz out with the color releases, but they also apparently didn't want to stray too far in this first short from what Freleng was doing.

    To me, the most interesting thing here isn't so much the cartoon, but the fact that someone in the studio's executive hierarchy recognized Avery's talent so quickly, to the point he was promoted to a job you would have thought, based on seniority, would have gone to Jack King and his unit. It puts the lie to the idea that Leon Schlesinger (or Henry Binder or Ray Katz) knew nothing about what made a cartoon work; at the very least someone knew which people to hire and promote to make a cartoon work.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment. That really hits the nail on the head. It is evident that the higher-ups understood that Avery had that certain something that a Jack King didn't--and that a Friz Freleng would soon have, but didn't possess in 1936.

      I would have liked to include those home movies in this post, but after an hour's search, I couldn't find them in isolated form on the internet. If anyone should chance upon them, please let me know--I'll append this post to include the link.

  2. I am truly enjoying your Avery postings! Love the insight you bring to this extremely talented mans' work.