Monday, September 23, 2019

Hollywood Steps Out and les films maudits of '41

Release date: 5/24/41 (according to BCDB); the version we have is the edited Blue Ribbon reissue of 10/2/48

DVD/BR AVAILABILITY: Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 2LT Platinum Collection, Vol. 2; LT Spotlight Collection Vol. 2 (all Warners Home Video DVDs)

You may view a crisp correct-ratio print of this cartoon HERE. The screen grabs are provided by our great pal Devon Baxter, and make this frequency of posting possible. 


Tex Avery's remaining Warner Brothers cartoons often suffer from tampering or the presence of another director's hand. Some were cartoons left unfinished when Avery parted ways with Leon Schlesinger; others had cuts demanded by the front office.

Hollywood Steps Out is an example of how certain cartoons were altered for their reissue--in this case, seven years after its director had moved on to M-G-M. In this window of time, a war was fought, times changed and some celebrities lost their mass appeal; others matured and no longer resembled their caricatured selves. As wartime gags were scissored from post-war reissues, cultural references that no longer made sense got 86d. None of this mattered to the average moviegoer. The cartoon was not the reason they came to the theater. 

Bundled with other short subjects and coming attractions, they were the prelude to the main features--extras that, if missed, weren't a problem for most viewers. Cartoons came and went; some became word-of-mouth favorites and the good ones built a gradual fan-base that blossomed in the age of television.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Avery's Final Black-and-White Cartoon: The Massive In-Joke of Porky's Preview

Release date: 4/19/41 (according to BCDB)

DVD/BR AVAILABILITY: Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 5 (DVD); Porky Pig 101 (both from Warners Home Video)

You may view a crisp correct-ratio print of this cartoon HERE. The screen grabs are provided by our great pal Devon Baxter, and make this frequency of posting possible. Thank you, Devon, for this and all the great work you do in exploring and documenting animation history.


Black-and-white theatrical animation was dying off in 1941. Warner Brothers, Terrytoons and Paramount dropped their monochrome series by 1943, in the wake of Disney going all-color in 1935. The Screen Gems studios hung onto the less costly process through 1946, giving messed-up anti-classics like Kongo-Roo and Giddy-Yapping an additional layer of WTF.

Porky's Preview is significant as Tex Avery's final black-and-white effort (barring the aborted Speaking of Animals series for Paramount and his commercials of the 1950s). As with Famous Studios' last monochrome, Cartoons Ain't Human (1943), it's a cartoon about making a cartoon, with faux-primitive artwork. (The Famous film fares worse at creating "bad" animation, and cuts from Popeye's home-made cartoon to its real-life projection, as if to assure the audience that it's okay to see this stuff.)

In both cartoons, the arguable opportunity lost is that the "bad" artwork must still be professional-looking. The squiggles and naive drawing of Jack Mendelsohn's Jackys Diary, which was successfully translated to animation in the 1960s, or the UPA cartoon Baby Boogie (1955), were not feasible in the '40s, to judge from these two similar cartoons. The stick figure drawings are still slick and professional-looking, which somewhat dampens their intended humor. The animation is minimalist,  but it's the obvious work of skilled craftsmen who know what they're doing. Both cartoons would work much better with lumpen, scraggly animation, but it wasn't in the cards for either studio. Higher-ups and exhibitors might have complained (and not gotten the essential idea of either film). 

These are compromised cartoons to the modern eye, and much uglier, more carelessly primitive animation has since appeared on TV and the Internet, which further waters down their impact. 

Porky's Preview is narratively slight and gentler than usual for Avery. It may have been devised as a cheater cartoon, from the viewpoint of Avery and his team. Though there is a degree of nuanced movement in these stick-figures (which, at times, resemble the more stylized figures of a mid-'30s Van Beuren cartoon), the animation was likely easier to accomplish, and the simplicity of the film may have kept it under budget. If this spate of black and white films was an attempt to economize, such streamlined animation and minimal backgrounds did the trick.