Friday, September 25, 2015

Believe it or Else: The Spot-Gag Syndrome

Release date: 6/3/1939 (according to BCDb)
DVD-Blu-Ray Availability:

You may view this cartoon HERE.

We now enter a troubling period of Mr. Avery's cartoon career. For the next three years, he and his unit will hopscotch between inspired, sometimes-brilliant narrative comedies and topical spot-gag revues.

Many of the latter have not aged well. The best of them (Detouring America and Cross Country Detours) transcend the format's limits with solid comedy and formal experimentation. Too many of the spot-gag pictures are simply lazy work. It's not a matter of elderly gags and worn-out punchlines--it's a lack of dedication that makes these cartoons among the lowest points of Tex Avery's career.

He still had great passion and enthusiasm in his work--as seen in nearly all the non-spot gag cartoons from here on. The shifts from these cartoons--such as our last study, Thugs with Dirty Mugs--to the largely mediocre spot-gag entries is jarring.

Why Avery chose to do these pictures is obvious: they were easy. Having spent himself on a cartoon like Thugs or A Wild Hare (1940), these spot-gaggers were a way to recharge his batteries while keeping product on-schedule. None of the directors at Leon Schlesinger's studio had time to stop and reflect. A set number of cartoons had to be delivered to theaters in every year's schedule.

The format was an innovation of the Avery unit, and perhaps they felt close to it. With most of these cartoons, the best one can hope for are islands of inspiration in a dull grey sea.

A familiar-yet-unidentifiable* voice greets us, in a soft impression of the panel cartoonist Robert Ripley. Ripley began to make live-action short subjects in 1930. You can see the first one HERE.

Faux-Ripley promises highlights of "many odd and interesting facts from around the world." He encounters an immediate critic:
Elmerhead is more Fudd than Egg at this point. Avery abandoned him as a narrative protagonist after 1938's Johnny Smith and Poker-Huntas. In his growing obsolescence, he, as in A Day at the Zoo, is little more than a straw man. He has little reason to be on-screen.