Thursday, 28 July 2011

5. The Booze Hangs High (1930)

Warner cartoon no. 4.
Release date: October 1930.
Supervision: Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising.
Producer: Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising, Leon Schlesinger (associate).
Animation: Friz Freleng and Paul Smith.
Musical Score: Frank Marsales.
Synopsis: Bosko enjoys some musical farm at a barnyard setting.

[REVISED VERSION: 19/05/2017].

Throughout Bosko's animation career, he's expressed very little characterisation. That's okay - most animated characters from 1930 didn't. A key purpose for Harman-Ising's cartoons was to lighten up the tense atmosphere surrounding the Great Depression by providing straightforward entertainment values, like dance sequences or novelty gags.

The Booze Hangs High beholds all those main elements. Bosko was merely a product of optimism and carefree spirit - a personality cherished amongst people suffering by the Depression. Previously, we've seen Bosko at a construction site or an African safari. This time the cartoon's setting is a rustic barnyard.

Although the locale in Congo Jazz suggested something adventurous - a barnyard location has a more homely atmosphere. The cartoon itself doesn't follow a conventional plot; as it's merely an experience of watching Bosko create musical melody with barnyard humour. Along with the novelty of synchronised sound and impossible gags; the entertainment values are all there. The short's title is parodied after Lewis Beach's 1924 play, The Goose Hangs High which was adapted into a Paramount film, a year later.

The short's first half is entirely centred on Bosko's antics with barnyard animals. An opening begins as a cow walking away from the camera, rear facing the audience. The influence of Disney's early sound cartoons remain strong - as the animation and staging is done in the same vein of Disney's Plane Crazy (1928).

Bosko enters the scene as he enjoys a little song and dance. The musical number is lifted from the Warner Bros. musical The Song of the Flame, whose songs were composed by George Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein II. Their fun is spoilt once the cow's pants (?) drops; revealing a polka-dot blouse. The cow walks away after Bosko laughs.

This is soon followed with an enjoyable sequence that embellishes synchronised sound and animation. Bosko moves over to a horse and cart. He hops onto the cart, and begins to play the horse's tail hare like a fiddle.

Cartoon sound was still fairly primitive, and it feels as though the scenes of Bosko attempting to tune the horse's tail were used to entrance audience by illusion. The music is kept momentarily quiet so that a stronger emphasis of sound can be applied.

This soon follows with a musical little ride; as the horse trots in time to the music. It's a satisfying piece of character animation that's beautifully timed and fluid in motion. Despite budget constraints the Bosko cartoons were hampered with; its animation quality remains at a professional level.

Harman-Ising's barnyard humour is evident throughout the cartoon. A striking example occurs in a sequence featuring a family of ducks. The family dance merrily to Bosko's rake/banjo playing. A duckling interrupts their cue, by prodding the mother's belly - in desperate need to use the toilet.

The mother duck pulls down the duckling's bottom flap - so he can defecate away from their vicinity. The little duckling then returns, and their musical frolic continues, ending with the family landing at a lake.

It's a perfect example of how toilet humour predates a lot of modern approach to lowbrow comedy. The sequence itself is a beacon of Pre-Code cartoons, that was otherwise taboo once the Code was enforced. The gag itself today is tasteless and unsophisticated, but it reflects the rural humour which both Harman-Ising and Walt Disney favoured in their early sound cartoons.

The latter part of the cartoon is primarily centred on the antics of a pig family. Two piglets discover an alcoholic beverage inside their trough. Presumably smuggled? After all, this was still the Prohibition. Both piglets consume enough from the bottle, making them a little tipsy.

The father pig intervenes, and observes the beverage. Then, he takes a swig from the bottle and immediately becomes intoxicated. This soon follows into another musical number of the lightweight father singing nonsensically to One Little Drink.

The entire sequence itself is corny in delivery - but that's putting it nicely. The pig's "singing" is deliberately obnoxious in conveying intoxicated behaviour. It's a very charming little scene, that reflects the absurdity of intoxication. The bass voice adds to the charm, too.

The father pig accidentally throws the bottle away - shattering on top of Bosko's head. Bizarrely, Bosko also becomes drunk from the impact. He staggers towards the pig family - and briefly sings (You're the Flower of My Heart) Sweet Adeline in unison with the pig family.

A highlighted scene of the latter part of the cartoon is an out of the blue gag of the father pig accidentally regurgitating the corncob. It's a very juvenile, discomforting gag but its unexpected delivery isn't without its entertainment values.

Some nice character animation touches are applied, as the father awkwardly looks at Bosko and his piglets before opening up his stomach to place the corncob back. The cartoon ends in a finale with Bosko and the pigs dancing closer to the camera, until the iris out.

A somewhat enjoyable effort from Harman-Ising, even if it's not spectacular. The short presents a good case of entertaining its audience by watching animated images synchronised with sound. By today's standards, the enthralling experience has worn out. The Booze Hangs High is fairly standard of Harman and Ising. The cartoon does the job of entertaining its audiences with Bosko's musical talents.

An October 5, 1930 Film Daily review, reads: "Another of the cartoon creations that clicks as usual with its nutty comicalities performed to the tune of rhythmic musical accompaniment and some synchronized vocal efforts. The idea is taken from "The Goose Hangs High" and the adaptation of the lyrics from this piece to the purposes of the cartoon is quite entertaining. Activity in this instance is provided by the fantastic animals, including "Looney," engaging in the usual dancing and musical-instrument burlesquing.

Although its entertainment values might've grown old fashioned overtime; some of it still holds some merit. The scene of the pig vomiting a corncob still holds up well for its funny execution and crudeness that makes early sound cartoons enjoyable to watch.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. What did you think of the scene where the pig vomited up the cob of corn?

  2. Zartok, I haven't really got much time to go through this (as I will be leaving for holiday shortly) but the idea of a pig vomiting is always gross, and I assume it is gross. Before the Hays Office.

  3. Darn, I was hoping for a screen grab of that.

  4. It wasn't before the Hayes Office. Hayes came up with the Production Code of 1930 (he had been hired in 1922).
    You're thinking of the better-known Production Code of 1934. It's before that.

  5. Little correction, Steven. The song that Bosko and the pigs were singingt near the end was not "One Little Drunk." This is actually what they sang:

    "You're the flower of my heart, Sweet Adeline."