Saturday, 17 December 2011

71. Sittin' On a Backyard Fence (1933)

Warner cartoon no. 70.
Release date: December 16, 1933.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Earl Duval.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Cast unknown.
Animation: Jack King and Don Williams.
Musical Score: Norman Spencer.

It's been a while since I reviewed a Merrie Melodie (well, last week) but this is the last review of 1933, and as Sittin' on a Backyard Fence was released on December 16, 1933 - it turned 78 years only yesterday. Pretty spooky, huh?

 The short begins with a couple of inanimate objects that are sleeping, such as a clock that is snoring, a telephone that is also snoring but the line is off of course. We then see a shot of books that causes the pages to flicker, and then we pan to see a glass with false teeth inside that snores too. We see these good gags of inanimate objects snoring that is good, but also bizarre.A man is snoring loudly in his bed, with his dungarees waving from the snoring air - fine gag, but used many times. So, as the man is fast asleep, a female feline sits on the window sill, and finds another cat sitting on a backyard fence, and they meow to each other. The female cat then jumps to the backyard fence where they both sing.

A bunch of cats then follow her, and from what I've noticed the designs of the cats now seem to have a cartoon style to it, as it was blandness designs by Tom Palmer. Again, this is why I feel Earl Duval was showing promise as a director, he's giving his characters some design and drawing style - he seems to be actually trying. The cats then walk through the fence and it looks like they are walking through some type of X-ray moon where we can see the inside of their bodies. At the bottom of the fence, we see these posters of a bull and cows, and it seems the bull is flirting with the female cows in the other posters but they sing the title song Sittin' on a Backyard Fence, which I find a little strange and so far this cartoon is crazy.

We see a dance routine that is being performed by a long pair of underwear which just spooks me because they remind me of ghosts dancing or something paranormal. They also do some aerobics on a laundry wire up in the apartments. The cats themselves get dancing as well, with some old barrels, brooms, etc. and turn it into a type of swing band. More singing is coming from the backyard fence (more of meowing) from the male and female felines, and it seems that the female cat is trying to snuggle up with the male cat playing a weird type of string instrument.

Meanwhile, there appears to be some type of homeless cat that is licking Kat nip that is lying on the dirty grounds, and then he puts on a record player on with a cassette inside, and I don't know what the cat is doing but it looks like as though he's trying to do an impression of a celebrity that I don't even know, and the reference is too dated for me to know on my own. The cat with the eye-patch does it to the female feline on a backyard fence was was engaged to the male, but instead she jumps off and dances with the eye-patched cat. Due to jealousy, the male cat jumps off the fence and wants to seek revenge on the cat. 

The female cat turns out to be a two-timer when dancing off with another cat, and is more interested. There are these quartet of cats that tap their tails to the rhythm. During the song, and they sing a verse where it mentions "tic tac toe", and we see these cats using their tails on a bucket of paint and paint on a wall while playing tic tac toe. As one of the cats gets his "o's" in a diagonal line, and wins the game - the cat blows a raspberry at him which I really like that comeback. As the new cat couple are dancing, the other cat uses a bin opener and opens it with a brick flying into the cat's face.

After that, the cats then start to chase each other (I'm starting to find the plot is sort of similar to Springtime for Thomas a Tom & Jerry cartoon made 13 years later). However, the chase sequence to begin with is pretty slow and unentertaining, as they tend to skid and run through fences, but it gradually gets exciting as they jump onto mirrors. But one of the cats seem to run around a power pole, in which we see these early use of speed lines which isn't achieved yet.

Both of the cats then climb on top of the telephone power pole, in which they start chasing one another, and sort of a puss fight on top of the wires (lucky that they aren't electrocuted). This riot turns out to be nail-biting for the female who is very worried about them. While they are fighting, a rolling pin coming out of an apartment window flies out, and their tails are caught on the rolling pin in which they get a ride through the wires, and they keep on bumping at every edge. They both continue fighting with each other, until they are covered in tins and pots, and they look like some type of robots to me. I don't particularly like the fighting stuff because their characteristics are just like real cats, and they are being attacked which doesn't work to me, while in a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon where you see Tom in pain, it is shown in a way to amuse people. 

They are then being chased by a type of bulldog, and the female cat catches them from up in a telephone pole looking rather curious on what's going on. They run to a fence, where they open the door with the bulldog running past it. They block the door, and the bulldog comes out of a narrow part that is missing a plank of wood, and the bulldog then beats up the cats. After the bulldog walks past, the door opens with the female cat who seems to be engaged to another striped cat but it looks an awful lot like a tiger, it is revealed that they made babies (had sex so quickly?) and there are kittens that comes out. One of the kittens blows a raspberry at the cats. The two cats then look at each other, shake hands, faint and that's all folks.

There is then a scary looking cat who says "So long, folks" to us audience - but truth is that back in 1933-1934, each character who played a role in a one-shot Merrie Melodies got a chance to say "so long folks", but that cat is so freaking creepy. 

Well, I thought that this cartoon was particularly strange and bizarre. Of course, it's interesting to find out what cats are up to when the adults and owners are asleep. There is certainly a plot going on - while the other cartoons in that era had really no plot. It's definitely more coherent that watching I've Got to Sing a Torch Song. The whole cartoon was just bizarre to me, but I guess that Duval was experimenting. The animation was in fact quite good, and there certainly was character personality gone on here, such as jealousy. 

If Earl Duval stayed longer, then he would've probably been the guy who starting kicking things up, and showing potential, but don't forget if he stayed longer, the Looney Tunes would've probably been very different if there was no Tex Avery or Bob Clampett around. But for what the Looney Tunes used to be, the cartoons would've hopefully improved with Duval stayed longer but it would be completely different to what we know. This was Earl Duval's first Merrie Melody and the final year in 1933 - it was a pretty poor end, as Harman-Ising did turn in some fine cartoons (a few fine) but as Leon Schlesinger took over with a completely new staff - it just weakened.


  1. Are the cow voices the same chorus that sang the song in the feature?
    The guy doing the eye-patch cat seems to have been around Warners through the '30s. Off the top of my head, he sounds like the guy who does Ben Bernie as a bird in 'The Woods are Full of Cuckoos'.
    The record player doesn't have a cassette inside. Tape hadn't been invented yet. He's using the face of a clock as a record player with the minute hand as a needle.
    I wonder if that's Don Williams doing the animation of the cat playing the gridiron as a guitar.
    The fight scene's great. Duval's testing his animator's adeptness with perspective.

  2. I don't know about Don Williams animating the cat playing the girdiron. I'm not an expert on his animation. I enjoy Duval's timing here and that his cartoons seem to improve at each one, so far.

  3. This cartoon was really looks like something different, some improve after previous Schlesinger's cartoons. You're right that Duval trying to change something in Leon's dump. But I think that he became the director like Freleng of 30th - nice done, but very mediocre.

  4. I don't know why, but I'd always liked alley cat cartoons of the 1930's and 1940's; so this cartoon is almost a precursor to not only "SPRINGTIME FOR THOMAS" the TOM AND JERRY cartoon, but also "THE ALLEY CAT", a Hugh Harman cartoon created for MGM at their in-house studio after Harman and Ising returned as part of the animation staff. The production number around the title song is amazing, and some of the stranger graphics are probably out there to out-Busby Berkeley Busby Berkeley; just a hunch since his musicals were very popular around this time.