7/17/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb claims a 11/29/1937 release date)
Kid Galahad DVD (part of WHV's Gangsters Collection, v.4)
You can view a mid-1990s Turner print of this cartoon HERE.
The Avery pattern of major film/minor effort rides again! After the game-changing meta-slap of Uncle Tom's Bungalow, this cartoon seems tame and unexceptional. Cheerful, yes. Mildly amusing, for certain. But it's unworthy of Avery and his unit.
The chief joy of Egghead Rides Again is Irv Spence's charming, eccentric animation. His work both looks back and ahead. His drawing style is redolent of the spiky, kinetic look of Ub Iwerks' mid-1930s cartoons. The apparent influence of Grim Natwick informs Spence's way of drawing.
Spence also puts his fellow unit-members to shame. Most scenes here not Spence-drawn look ugly in comparison. Admittedly, this was an awkward transitional period for the look and feel of studio animation. The first hints of the slick, stylized and visually pleasing 1940s style (the one that typifies Avery's M-G-M cartoons) are on the horizon. The dreadfully rounded, symmetrical look of c. 1935 still plagues the artform.
The look of the classic 1940s animated cartoon demanded stronger draftsmanship, and better problem-solving, of its animators. The 1935-ish stuff embraced poor drawing skills, and, by its clumsy design and construction, hampered good animation.
Thus, Egghead Rides Again is most interesting for its struggle of visual styles. Avery's own, highly distinctive cartooning style is largely buried. He had lost two superstars--Bob Clampett, who had his own directorial unit by this time, and Chuck Jones, who became Clampett's lead animator.
This loss temporarily shook the Avery unit. The director was obviously reliant on Clampett and Jones to bring life and authority to his comedic ideas. Suddenly, he had left only a group of dull journeymen, content to keep on keepin' on, and uninspired to push beyond their lazy boundaries.
That Avery gives so many key scenes to Spence speaks volumes about how much he valued this new addition. Spence, in turn, seems to have raised the bar high enough that Avery's other animators HAD to work harder, and do better.
In this cartoon, and the next several Avery efforts, we will see a harsh disparity in the skill level of the animation and draftsmanship. Irv Spence ultimately did much good for Avery's unit, and his work of this period is one of the unsung glories of late '30s animation.
This is the first appearance of Egghead, a human character who would morph into Elmer Fudd by 1940. Egghead is an ugly, irritating figure in this debut. Avery would soon soften him (and add a touch of the personality of cult comedian Joe Penner to the mix); here, abrasively voiced by Mel Blanc, he's just another Avery anti-protagonist with little going for him.
Well, let's get to the play-by-play business, shall we? As always, I urge you to watch the cartoon before you read further.
The thing that seems to have most amused Avery was making such a repellent character the star of a more expensive Technicolor Merrie Melodies cartoon. Egghead is the polar opposite of a Bugs Bunny or a Droopy.
Our first glimpse of Egghead is a close-up that trucks back to reveal him in a fragile (and noisy) daydream of the Wild West. Animated by Spence, he has more appeal than he merits, due to dynamite poses and drawings.
The rooming house manager, whose speech is peppered with "dadburns," takes offense to this upstairs frenzy, and bitches about it as he readies for an eviction. Here's some of that 1935-ish, moldy fig animation.
Egghead and his pulp magazines are 86'd, dadburn it.
Though he's an ugly character, his more streamlined look clashes terribly with the antiquated look-'n'-feel of the landlord.
Egghead takes charge of his destiny.
For their sheer eye-candy appeal, I'm probably overdoing it on the screen grabs. I hope this stuff floats your boot, as well.
Egghead has a great way to travel inexpensively. The punchline will be dryly delivered in a minute or so.
We head Westward, via an elaborate multiplane shot of the type Avery adored throughout his Warners tenure. The un-credited singing group The Sons of the Pioneers provide authentic Western crooning as the atmosphere is set. I suspect some staff caricatures amongst the singing foursome.
The specially shaped doorway is a clever, Jacques Tati-esque touch. This leads into a dashing-of-expectations sequence, peppered with one mildly funny anachronism.
An iris to mask a deception is a common Averyism.
As with Avery's best comedic ideas, it's presented matter-of-factly. That no one is more than mildly tickled by this fourth-dimensional appearance makes it work like a charm.
Reunited with Irv Spence, Egghead gets some badly-needed personality footage, as he begs to join the Bar None Ranch:
"Today I am a may-yun," Egghead brags in a hormonal squeak. The ranch boss, apparently impressed by his survival in a three-cent envelope, is game. In a comedy-of-humiliation ritual worthy of Buster Keaton, Egghead is challenged to measure up to the real deal, despite his having nothing but romanticized enthusiasm.
The red-headed cowhand answers in an Andy Devine voice.
The boss man shows how it's done.
Its matter-of-factness is the key to its success.
Picador Porky, the hat is left in mid-air, a souvenir of terror and displacement.
Calf unscathed!That's two fails for wanna-be cowpoke Egghead. They say these things come in threes...
All Avery really needs is two characters and a horizon line. That said, he does love to make the most of a complex landscape, as this next sequence demonstrates.
There is an overlaid layer to this background, which will vanish when no longer needed.
Calf is fatigued from (a) all that chase and (b) the realization that he's not such a smart-ass, after all.
Another cloud of dust obscures the outcome...
...which is downright cruel.
Again, laughing fiends deride.
Spence, who's been absent for the last couple minutes, gets that close-up moment.
Worse, Egghead has to pass his mockers, who really let him have it.
This hurts, despite Egghead's lack of likability.
Egghead must be thinking of another three-cent envelope... but before he can work out postal rates, the kind hand of the boss man intervenes.
Spence again gets the good scene here, in which the boss, while repeatedly teasing Egghead's shortness, congratulates the city slicker that he's "now a member of the ole Bar None Ranch!"
Again, this animation reminds me of scenes from Ub Iwerks cartoons.
There's always a catch in an Avery happy ending. Egghead is too happy at being considered a peer of these rough and tough cowpokes to anticipate the mixed blessing that awaits.
The boss man's sweet talk does little to soften the blow.
This stuff is a joy to look at, in case I haven't said that already.
Let's bring in that trashcan-on-wheels, too...
With pushbroom, the transformation/demotion is complete!
Did the making of those cartoons (and others of their caliber) temporarily exhaust Avery? This disparity continues through his M-G-M period, and might explain the year-long break, due to what appears to be a nervous breakdown, that happened in the early 1950s. Anecdotes of Avery's workaholic tendencies--which could result in grueling consequences to his vital organs and bowels--were told by his Schlesinger peers.
Avery's best cartoons could only have been made by an extraordinary force of will and focus. No flame can burn so brightly too long. We are fortunate to have the masterpieces in Avery's career. Cartoons such as this one are testament to the fact that Avery, like any Hollywood cartoon director, had to keep working, to bluff and soldier on, even when inspiration was nil.
The next three cartoons from this unit are especially weak, but Avery does recover, and his 1938/39 season of cartoons contains some genuine masterpieces. In the meantime, I, too, will soldier on, and hope to extract some insights from the lesser works of a great cartoonist, comedian and movie-maker.
Next: Another Mediocre Merrie Melodie... A Sunbonnet Blue