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.
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. 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...
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.
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?
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...
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...
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.
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.
Look we must upon the ghastliest moment of Frederick Bean Avery's career.
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:
Avery's M-G-M war-timer, The Blitz Wolf:
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.