Wednesday, 26 October 2011

47. Three's a Crowd (1932)

Warner cartoon no. 46.
Release date: December 12, 1932.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Directed by: Rudolf Ising.
Producers: Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising and Leon Schlesinger (associate).
Cast unknown.
Animation: Rollin Hamilton and Larry Martin.
Musical Score: Frank Marsales.

This is the first Warner cartoon in which it evolves book illustrated characters coming to life for the night, as it followed on in shorts like Have You Got Any Castles? (Frank Tashlin, 1938) and Book Revue (Bob Clampett, 1946).

The short starts off with an old man happily sitting in his rocking chair reading a book peacefully by the warm fire at 1.20AM (look at the watch),  but at least for an old person - he likes to stay up. But as the clock strikes at 1.20am  - the man stretches and yawns as he decides that it's time that he ought to go to bed. He brings out his candle holder and places it on a table outside his door, and blows it as he's going to sleep. A settling and calm introduction to start off this short...

 ...but as soon as the old man closes the door for the night, the book that the man was reading: Alice in Wonderland (actually, the book is called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice in Wonderland is a title you see in films), in which Alice pops out of the book. She jumps out of the book and onto the table in which he is going to turn on the radio to dance to some music. This is probably the ugliest character design of Alice in any animated-adaptation, isn't it? I know that it's presented in it's Harman-Ising form but the design is very ugly and cartoony. Definately not like the Alice you will find in Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

Alice tunes onto the radio going through different choices, but none of them suit her picks, but then she dances to the title song, Three's a Crowd. Do I hear some Rudy Vallee in the radio singing? You see some characters from Robinson Crusoe pop up humming to the music. We see that Rip Van Winkle is sleeping in the book titled with the same name, and he is dancing to the music. Perhaps, he's woken up early as he's slept for 700 years in the book.

Alice continues to dance along the books, as she opens up The Three Musketeers - the musketeers step out of the book illustrations and say their famous line "All for one, one for all", which was the motto for The Three Musketeers. The musketeers start humming together to the song as well as Robinson Cruesoe characters, Napoleon and Omar Khayyam. We even see Henry VIII clapping after the song shouting "Whoopee", (book titled Henry VIII which was one of Shakespeare's many plays).

The next sequence we see is the book Antony and Cleopatra (another Shakespeare play), we then see Antony step out of the scene and shouts "Ladies and gentlemen, lend your ears to the old Maestro". We see Emperor Nero (the old Maestro) who is playing the violin, while we can see in the illustration backgrounds of Rome burning.

We then see a Cleopatra sequence with the her doing a dance with the music. I must say I just find the dance very spooky to me and weird movements. The animation is very nice and subtle, but the dance movements just put me off because it just looks really weird. I wonder if Bob McKimson did an uncredited role as he was a great draftsmanship - could he have done this particular scene; if not - Rollin Hamilton??

Alice continues to walk along (as no one seems entertained with the Cleopatra bit) but then Alice opens the book with the title The Specalist of a shack in which a man saws a hole through it. Everyone claps at that part. Alice then wonders to the next book along to open up Uncle's Tom Cabin. Alice quickly turns on the light switch so Uncle Tom can appear at the spotlight. He appears at the light and sings the song Got the South in My Soul which gives the audience of book characters some spirit. 

Everyone is enjoying the book, but as we PAN right, we see the book title of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which Mr. Hyde steps out of the book cover looking for some trouble. He's very well designed here for this bit of animation, I mean - at least he looks creepy looking. He creeps out of the bookends and spots Alice dancing - why that's why he plans to capture her to cause a riot. Mr. Hyde then captures her which causes Alice to scream.

I must say that having the book characters casted in this short is just fantastic. Mr. Hyde is just the perfect choice as the villain to steal the girl, as Alice is great for the main role. In fact, it's sort of a skeleton of the Alice in Wonderland story as she wonders through different book - except she's not looking for a White Rabbit, and wanting to turn on a radio. There is no Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit or Queen of Hearts. The story here is very well done, and it's great to see some familiar characters from literature pop up.

As Alice screams for help, Tarzan pops out of his book and screams as Tarzan would scream. He swings down a rope to rescue Alice (so, will that make Alice, Jane in the book - they're both British characters :). Robinson Crusoe and Friday (the tribe) try their duty to rescue Alice and defeat Mr. Hyde by squrting ink out of an fountain pen onto Mr. Hyde's face. The attempt worked, as Alice runs for her life - but Mr. Hyde hasn't finished yet.

Meanwhile, Cleopatra characters start to help out in persecuting Mr. Hyde by holding onto a pipe and burning Mr. Hyde's rear end. Robin Hood helps out by shooting matchsticks with his bow. Now that gag, I just simply love. His bow doesn't just come in handy with arrows, but matchsticks for characters in book illustratrion sized works very well as well. I must say, I think Rudolf Ising was at his best here.

The Three Musketeers then help again by playing pen points onto a pencil sharpener and shoot them at Mr. Hyde, in which he starts to hide inside a small box as a shield from the pen points. Various book characters then hold the box, with the "Death March" music being played at the background. The box is then tossed into the bin with all the celebration going on from the characters - and that's all folks. If only the man didn't own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde there wouldn't be any trouble.

Great cartoon. Just a great cartoon. It's very creative and I think it was the best cartoon made by Harman-Ising at that point. The story was very creative, and the choices of characters was well-thought. It was certainly better than the other cartoons they were producing in terms of story and character development. There isn't even a reused gag in there, which makes the cartoon even more rich itself. Even though, I complained about the character design of Alice and the dance movements for Cleopatra, but that's separate - that's animation standard. The animation quality is still the same as the other Harman-Ising - I'm afraid. But the way the animation looks doesn't matter, the story really does and the characters too. I think it was Harman-Ising's most creative and inventive work at their time at Warner Bros. You have to agree, the short inspired guys in a new generation to make more of those cartoons like Book Revue and Have You Got Any Castles.


  1. One aspect that will become important as you pursue this project is a knowledge of American popular culture in the period of the cartoon.

    In this particular example Anthony refers to Nero as "The Old Maestro." In this particular case this is a references to 1930s band leader and jazz violinist Ben Bernie who was known as "The Old Maestro" on his various radio shows. People of the time would know it (and if Nero was smoking a big black cigar it would be patently obvious) but it might be a mystery to people watching the cartoon 80 years later.

  2. I knew the "Old Maestro" was a nickname used back then, but for some reason I thought it was a Shakespeare line, as I've not read "Antony and Cleopatra", but I know it's Shakespeare. I did a Google search while writing this post saying that "Old Maestro" was never mentioned in the play. So, it must've been a Ben Bernie nickname.

  3. This cartoon would not only inspire upcoming LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES titles, but Hugh Harman would use the premise as the first of his GOOD LITTLE MONKEYS cartoons, taking place in a book and curio shop at night.