Thursday, December 3, 2020

End Of The Line, Folks: Crazy Cruise

 

Original release date: 3/14/1942

DVD AVAILABILITY: Wrongly included in a disc of Bob Clampett cartoons on Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5.

You can see a decent version of this cartoon HERE

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This is it. Production #455 was the last of Fred Avery's supervisions to go through the animation process at Leon Schlesinger's studio. By this time, Avery, now allowed to use his nickname Tex, was probably at work on Red Hot Riding Hood or another of his earliest Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer efforts.

I don't think anyone ever asked him about these after-the-fact last Schlesinger films. It would be revealing to know what he thought of them--if indeed he gave them the time of day. Avery didn't seem the type to reflect on what he'd done in the past. It's not the worst final cartoon (and compromised "film maudit" to boot) anyone ever made, and it might be too much to expect a last blaze of inspiration and fervor in a film finished by other hands.

Sans director credit, this final spot-gag travelog provided groans and chuckles before going to the ether of cartoons that didn't get reissued. Revived for TV fodder, the cartoon aired uncut for years before someone bothered to watch it and caught the morbid/racist gag deep within it. That bit was then snipped out, making a compromised film less itself.

Gag One: The Deep South; a tobacco plantation. Though African-Americans are heard humming in a spiritual mode, with gorgeous Technicolor in hues of night-time.
Dissolve to tobacco bug, whom narrator derides as the scourge of this cancerous crop.
Super-sensitive microphone allows us to hear tobacco bug speak for first time ever.
Makes like motormouth auctioneer.
Ends with "sold to an American!" tagline.
Spits; resumes crop destruction.
Gag Two: Our unseen cruise-boat drops by pre-revolucion Havana Cuba for a drink at Sloppy Joe's. In an easily animated dotted line, path of pickled ship is evident. Nice curlicues, if nothing else...
Gag Three: Wartime concerns have caused American battleships to use camoflauge. The S. S. Yehudi passes by...
Gag Four: a suite of bits set in the high Alps. After a second multi-plane shot that showcases Johnny Johnson's background paintings, a plane is forced to fly at low altitudes by hugging the contours of the mountains. To wit:
There's something oddly sensual about the phallic plane caressing those peaks and valleys...
A gag about St. Bernard rescue dogs allows for a familiar rule-of-three jape.
More multiplane as our narrator fills us in on the region's mountain goats, and praises their ability to make daring leaps from peak to peak.
After goat takes a pratfall, he proves an Avery comedy thesis: obsessive hewing to a physical pattern.
...and off the cliff to oblivion, in a surprise finale to this Alpsian jaunt.
Gag Five: Scene shifts to the Sahara Desert, in a workout for the background painter and for our narrator, who expounds at length about the mysterious silent Sphinx:
A New York World's Fair gag--a couple of years late, but then again this cartoon might have been written while the fair was still a going concern. It's a lovely moment of visual incongruity.
Narrator makes the most of this moment: "...defying the ravages of time through the ages...day in...day out...year in...year out...century upon century..."
In a camera dept. gaffe, the Sphinx's mouth is a few seconds late arriving on-screen, but we all know where this is headed, don't we?
"Monotonous...isn't it?"

Gag Six: a convoluted verbal build-up about an oilfield in central Europe seized by an aggressor nation (?), visually established with a nice ashcan-school landscrape and phallic, phallic, phallic...
Gusher is about to spout.
Spitoon's lengthy dance is an odd choice, but is the best naturalistic animation
of a cuspidor you'll ever see.
Gag Seven: another suite set in darkest Africa, we look in on the treacherous flower,
the Eatenmus Abuggus.
Bee describes graceful arcs around the flower before zizzing inside...
Inevitable occurs.
"OUCH!"
Next gag: short, cute bit about animal "watering hole."
Next bit: we enter the Congo for some regrettable moments...
It gets worse. We go deeper into the Bralla-Bralla-Suet region, legendary home to
"a ferocious tribe of giant cannibals."
"Here we see two of the world's most famous big-game hunters, about to brave this unexplored jungle..." One is a caricature of Friz Freleng; the other Ken Harris.
They disappear into the deep thickets...
Camera shakes as screams and sinister sound effects fill our ears...
Then, in a sequence that smacks of anonymous fill-in director Bob Clampett, the native guide rambles at length, gesticulating wildly and quoting "The Hut-Sut Song" verbatim...

A Clampett tell: the cat-like pupils in the native's eyes.
"They got 'em--LOOK!"
Look we must upon the ghastliest moment of Frederick Bean Avery's career.
"Uhmmm...king size!" notes Mel Blanc as Giant Cannibal #1.
There is a grotesque impact to this image; that can't be denied. But no surprise that this bit of business was scissored out by the end of the 1980s.

Gag Eight gets some heavy-handed wartime imagery into the finale. Again, the Clampett way of doing things is stressed in the layout, character design and animation...this scene may have been tacked on to make a minor cartoon more topical. Our narrator gets histronic as he takes note of the codified food chain in action:
Bunnies scurry for cover, and the reveal is a brief foreshadow of a similar scene from
Avery's M-G-M war-timer, The Blitz Wolf:
Earmarks of a hasty addition: animated dialogue that has no parallel on the soundtrack, a lack of the vital shot of the Japanese buzzard getting hit and going down; and this inelegant "surprise" ending:
A very Clampetty Bugs encourages us to keep our "t'umbs up..."
His ears form the V for victory...
...and for real, that's all, folks!

This labor of love (or madness) is now complete. To all of you who have suffered patiently through fruitless months, and grumbled, "isn't that jerk ever going to get this done?", I thank you for bearing with me through feast and famine, sickness and health and all that tommyrot.

I hope this lengthy examination of the early films of Fred "Tex" Avery has succeeded in its goals--to explore the roots of the greatest maker of Hollywood theatrical cartoons during its heyday of the 1930s-1950s. Despite the patchwork affect of these last few cartoons, which bear the marks of diverse hands, I believe this blog is testament to the development of a great humorist--a man who shied away from the spotlight, was a brutal perfectionist and would have likely scorned most of his work for Leon Schlesinger's cartoon studio.

What Avery did in his seven years as a Schlesinger employee changed animation--moreso than anyone else of the era. Avery took chances, blazed trails, obsessed over the finesse of timing, cutting, movement and mood. Before Avery, the Schlesinger product was sub-par--lacking in humor, tempo and little beyond borderline competent film and comedic language. Avery reinvented the wheel with his Schlesinger cartoons. With each film, he got better at his work. His quantum leaps, like 1936's The Blow Out, might be followed by several tepid films. But another bold move forward would soon occur, and some of his weakest Warners cartoons have at least one moment of new thinking.

These cartoons suffer in comparison to Avery's M-G-M films. That's inevitable. But they should not be scorned, ignored or dealt with in haste. A careful study of these Schlesinger-Avery cartoons is an education in how animation changed, how humor changed, how cartoons broke the unspoken boundary between screen and spectator and how audiences adapted to broader, more outrageous humor delivered with increasing speed and savvy.

I have tried, with this project, to stress what Avery did as a movie-maker; how trial and error, stubbornness and intelligence transformed a stalled artform into something newly fluid, lively and consequential. I know I've upset some folks with my opinions on certain cartoons, but I stand by what I've written here, and if this blog, for however long it remains available, inspires new viewers to give Avery's early work an engaged study, then my time has been well spent.

22 comments:

  1. I don't have anything to say specifically about the fairly forgettable "Crazy Cruise".
    But I would like to say how much I've enjoyed this blog over the years. It is some of the best writing on animation I've ever read. I've loved these cartoons for literally all my life and reading your overview of Avery's Warner Bros. career has led me to think about them in ways I never did before.
    Thanks, Frank!

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  2. Thank you, Dan. Your comments make me feel that I achieved what I set out to do. Thank you for following this blog through the years.

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    1. Thanks from me,too...btw isn't Bob Bruce the narrator...the cannibal scene isn't anything *I* ever remember seeing, not even in the 1960s...it MUST have been cut out at the START of the mid 1960s! Take care.

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    2. I grew up in the Deep South, which may account for the slow action on cutting offensive scenes from cartoons. As late as 1991, blackface gags were still intact. The "Censored 11" never showed up on TV, of course, but the moments within cartoons that had questionable stuff stayed in unless someone complained.
      I'm not sure if that's Robert Bruce or Kent Rogers as the narrator, so I declined putting a name to the voice.

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  3. It sounds like Clampett actually didn't have a lot of influence on this film. The gags (other than the one mentioned) and the pacing seem to be very much Avery's.
    I wonder if Avery had begun work on other cartoons for Schlesinger that ultimately never got made.
    I'm so glad you took the enormous time to put together this analysis of Avery's work at Warners. This has been more enjoyable to read than some of the books I have on animation where the author seems to be talking down to his readers. You've raised things I've never considered about his Warners cartoons and that's invaluable.

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    1. Thank you, my friend. I've tried to have fun while examining these cartoons.
      I think Clampett's influence is more visual here. It's possible that some scenes were storyboarded but not finessed, since things never were done in order from scene to scene. That last sequence seems very Clampett in how it's staged and drawn.
      It'd be fascinating to know about cartoons that were abandoned or discarded. Joe Adamson has a list of titles of M-G-M projects that Avery jettisoned in his book on the director, but I've never seen any sketches, etc. for those unmade film projects.

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  4. Thanks for the interesting blog reviews about Tex Avery, thanks to which I found the cartoon movie history more educational than I ever expected.

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  5. Bravo. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.

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  6. Ditto with Dan-I got nothing on this one. But I do have something to say on your blog.

    The first time I read your blog was back in the summer of 2018. I was walking home from a class and decided to listen to the soundtrack of The Bears Tale, as I usually do. But when I came across your post instead of the cartoon, I became intrigued. Who would write about this cartoon to such a length, other than me? Frank Young, that’s who.

    For the next 2+ years, I woke up every morning to check your blog and read the new posts. Sadly, that ritual is coming to an end. But when a door is shit, a window is opened.

    Thanks, Frank, for the memories, laughs, smiles, and good times.

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  7. Wonderful Blog. Are you considering another one dedicated to Avery's MGM Masterpieces?

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  8. Wonderful Blog. Are you considering another one dedicated to Tex Avery's MGM Masterpieces? I would love to see your take on those.

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  9. I've thought about doing the M-G-M cartoons. Still on the fence. I think I would not do the scene-by-scene frame grabs but be more selective in the visuals. I'm grateful for Devon Baxter's help in supplying frame grabs for several cartoons on this blog; that was a huge enabler to post more often. So I'm contemplating the M-G-M films...I'll say that.

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    1. You don't have to if you don't want to. Ithink covering Avery's WB work is enough (mostly because people aren't familiar with it, outside of "A Wild Hare" and maybe "The Heckling Hare" since that had an interesting backstory about the lost ending and "All This and Rabbit Stew" because it was supposed to air on Cartoon Network's 2001 June Bugs marathon, but it and 11 other cartoons were banned for having outdated racial caricatures).

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    2. I'm thinking about it, but it would be another multi-year commitment...but it could be compelling to write about those M-G-M cartoons...mulling it over at present.

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  10. I just wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation for your work.

    I was lucky enough to catch the Tex Avery documentary as a teen; before that I'd never given much thought to the individual directors. It completely changed my view of animation and I came to realize that Tex was my favorite golden age director.

    I discovered your blog about 3 years ago and it's made me appreciate Tex all over again. Your research, analysis, and commentary provides much needed contextualization for the shift in tone in animation that took place in the late '30s and early '40s. It's easy to take for granted that this didn't happen in a vacuum.

    I've been a fan of the '20s Felix shorts as well but have only really ever saw a smattering of early '30s material so your work helps create a roadmap to connect Otto Messmer to Tex Avery and I think that's important.

    I've even gone back and watched some early/mid-30s Oswald and had a greater appreciation for it than I expected, by better understanding its place within that arc.

    I think in particular it would be interesting to have you continue through the Avery catalog, both to highlight Tex's continued development but also to contrast his late WB work with his early MGM work and the context of that against the backdrop of the industry.

    Particularly I'd love a close look at how Avery's arrival at MGM affected the Hanna-Barbera unit as well.

    Thanks again for doing this and I wish you the best with your next project, whether it involves Tex or not.

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  11. The last sequence is mostly repurposed animation from Clampett's Africa Squeaks, with the baby deer redrawn as rabbits. Given that Clampett reused animation frequently, it fits that he had a bigger hand in supervising the final gag, plus Avery had joined MGM a few months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and most likely didn't foresee any US-Japanese conflict while he was still at Warners.

    I've also really enjoyed reading this blog since its inception and congratulations for completing it.

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  12. Thanks for everything, Frank.

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  13. Hi Frank, it's always been fun reading your blog! Are you thinking of doing another one? I think it'd be cool to do one on another director at Warners like Frank Tashlin who's work outside of WB was more well known then while he was there (just like Avery)

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  14. Late to the game here due to lots of pre-holiday work, but thanks for going through the Avery WB catalogue for the past half-decade plus, Frank.

    The cannibal gag surprisingly was not edited out when it aired in New York in the 1960s, where WNEW-TV was normally very sensitive about the racial visual images even before the "Censored 11" (Freleng's "Malibu Beach Party" never saw the light of day on Ch. 5 due to the Rochester drawing). Both the end gag and the oil well bit seem to have come from Clampett, and you can also see his touch a little bit more on the drawing style elsewhere, as with the face on the tobacco bug. While it's not the best cartoon to go out on, there is a looseness to the drawing style that would be missing from Tex's early MGM efforts, where as Joe Adamson and others have noted, Avery was giving ground in the early going to his Disney-trained animators to let them do their thing, and the results would weigh down a few of the initial releases in ways that the Bob McKimson-anchored animation at Schleinger's did not.

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  15. Dear Frank, thank you for making this blog. I’ve just finished an Avery marathon, watching all his WB cartoons, some for the first time, and then reading your comments on them. It is really fascinating to see how his sensibilities evolved and your comments opened up some thoughtful ideas about them. I appreciate your dedication to the blog despite everything, as that is one of Avery’s qualities which I take away from the marathon. I am reminded of Martha Sigall’s comment somewhere that Avery was one of the few directors who frequented the ink-and-paint department to see how them ol’ pictures were coming along and it shows. Really, in his most uninteresting cartoons, there is a moment or two which deserves a chuckle or makes you think “now, that’s smart”!

    Cheers from a fellow Blogger fault-finder

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    1. Thank you, Marin. I was determined to complete this project, and I hope it'll be of interest to folks for however long these blogs stay online.
      I stop and realize, sometimes, that I did get this project completed. I slogged through all those spot-gag cartoons. I got to write about Avery's triumphant cartoons for Warner Brothers and was able to point out the winning moments from lackluster efforts as well.
      I appreciate your kind comments. It was my pleasure to see this project through.

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