Saturday, 31 March 2012

139. Porky the Rain-Maker (1936)

Warner cartoon no. 138.
Release date: August 1, 1936.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Joe Dougherty (Porky Pig/Porky's Father), Ted Pierce (Narrator) and Earle Hodgins (Inventor).
Musical Score: Norman Spencer.
Animation: Cecil Surry and Sid Sutherland.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky and his father are farmers where there's a drought; Porky purchases a box of weather pills to help his farm produce more rain; until animals ruin it.

The first WB cartoon that I know of to use narrations in a cartoon; and probably the first cartoon to have an off-screen narrator in cartoons; according to Frank Tashlin in Mike Barrier's interview when Tex Avery said he invented narration in cartoons. Avery has redesigned Porky in this cartoon making him look much smaller, rounder and chubbier while before that (and what Jack King used) Porky was what Michael Barrier described as a "Roscoe Arbuckle" type pig that is too large to be adorable.

Our cartoon begins with an off-screen narrator showing us a view of the farm as it is scorching because of a heatwave. The narrator announces that rain is the only hope for the farmers. Water would seem very unlikely since no rain is happening and that it is probably a heatwave season where the farmers suffer.

As we pan to a tree; we see some pretty good animation of the tree's leaves rotting which is causing a drought on the farm. The narrator then shouts "Uh-oh! Looks like they'll be no shade (singing) under the old apple tree". Of course this is spoofed from the popular song 'In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree'. A plum hanging from a stem also rots until it turns very "prunish"looking and wrinkly. All of the crops that are in the field then rot and die because of lack of water. Looks like the farmers need water desperately. Even a watermelon is having problems; but look at the animation INSIDE the watermelon that shows us the water inside is boiling; really great animation and also a good gag but interesting theory. The next gag shows egg plant melting until they crack with yolks formed since the sun has cooked them - now that is typical of Avery to put in.

Porky Pig and his father are standing by the fence watching the crops die with Porky's Poppa worry; "Worry, worry, worry". Porky Pig is of-course a child character in this short and has a father; and would sometimes alter into an adult; this would finally stop around 1938 when Frank Tashlin still did that; and in 1937 when Porky became a cuter, young adult that we all know of.

A group of farm animals then start to make noises as they exit the barn with signs. The first chicken leading the march is holding a picket sign reading "No Feed, No Eggs" and the second chicken is holding a sign reading "Ditto!". Another typical gag of Avery to put in. A mule then walks past with a sign stuck to his back reading "No Feed No Work" which shows that the gag represents the mule being stubborn ("stubborn as a mule" remember the simile?). A cow is wearing a barrel reading "Closed Shop". The last part with the cow I don't understand the gag exactly or if it is meant to be a gag.

Porky's father then brings out his purse and it has a sock at the end of it? Ha! "Here my son, take my last dollar and buy those animals something to eat". He brings out a dollar coin in which Porky has to go and buy it. That voice of Porky's father is Joe Dougherty's regular voice (I think) and Avery seemed to have liked it; but Dougherty sucks and I kind of think that stutterers who can't control themselves shouldn't be acting.

Porky Pig is about to walk to the general store to buy some animals food but gets interrupted by a presenter who is on stage giving a speech about his latest invention his rain pills. This makes Porky eager as he walks up to the man on stage.

"Do you need rain? Are your gardens down?", etc. the inventor then brings out the box of rain pills shouting that "these will help ya" where it will make it rain "where and when you want it to". The inventor then announces that "only today" he will sell the rain pills for one dollar which is very lucky for Porky since he's got one dollar.

The inventor also announces that he is giving away free pills that contain other weather forecasts such as ice, thunder, snow, cyclone, wind, earthquake, sun, lightning and rain is already on there. Porky is leaning on the platform of the stage in which he is very interested as it's just happened as a matter of fact. The inventor gets out his stick shouting "Don't lean on the platform son, you're bothering me". As Porky stops leaving and continues to listen to the inventor's smashing ideas.

The inventor then starts to hand out umbrellas for the locals that are volunteering for the inventor to demonstrate that the rain pills work. Everyone has their umbrellas out in which the inventor grabs out a rain pill. He sucks the rain pill inside a tube in his mouth and blows it out as he reaches it to the sky.

Ureka! It's raining from the clouds which is a definite miracle for Porky. This is live-action rain that Tex Avery used which I think was a process used to film rain in a studio room and transfer it onto film; other studios have used that rain process a lot but the most notable studio to use that process often is Disney. The inventor announces that the experiment demonstration has worked as Porky is holding an umbrella feeling the rain with his hand stuttering, "Oh boy real life rain" with some rain drops dropping at his hand.

The inventor shouts "Alright; who's gonna be the first to buy these rain pills". Porky brings out his one dollar coin out to the inventor as he's the first customer to buy the box of rain pills. This is a lucky day for Porky as this will save his farm, his father and marketing.

Back at the farm with the heatwave where Porky's father is walking up and down murmuring "Worry, worry, worry..." Porky Pig then arrives as his father is happy to see he brought back something but not what his father wanted which is the weather pills. He shouts and stutters, "Pills?! I thought I told ya to get (food?) not pills!". Porky's dad then tosses the box of weather pills out of the way as they scatter all over the place.

While a hen is still holding a picket sign that reads "No Feed - No Eggs!" in which the hen notices one of the pills that drops on the floor. The hen obviously doesn't know what the pill is but eats it thinking it's food - but doesn't realise what she ate was a 'Lightning Pill'.

A few seconds after eating the pill; the hen then starts to turn into lightning as it reacts from swallowing the pill as we see superb timing and spectacular lightning effects shown. The hen starts to run away but still strikes and reacts with lightning covering the hen. Meanwhile a horse is walking along and eats a pill from the ground as it turns out to be a fog pill. The donkey continues to walk with fog around his body. Meanwhile it looks like as though the fog has dissolved so much that there appears to be the same horse trotting up in the air and has a microphone (now where did THAT come from - inc. the horse on air?) in which he reports the conditions just like a air pilot "Altitude: 10'000 feet, No visibility. Ceiling: 0". Okay; but I don't know if that's meant to be a funny gag since he's showing the horse is 10'000 feet up in the air but there is no ceiling which must mean he's on ground - this is doing me head in! This is one of Avery's gags where it doesn't have to make sense as it's meant to be funny since it's impossible?

A goose then approaches the scene finding two pills on the ground a thunder pill and a wind pill. Oh boy; if the goose is going to swallow them both then how will it all mix together? Oh, I see - the goose opens his mouth with thunder sounds but the goose rumbles until the goose starts to blow wind out of his mouth. If it was made today where shows would have toilet humour - then the wind would come out of it's behind making it an ill-mannered act. ;-)

The goose then lands on a pot; oh boy - if only if strong wind went out of the goose's behind then it would set free. Porky Pig then tries tells his father, "These pills can make real rain, Pa" as his father was strumming his fingers uninterested. His father then turns surprised from Porky's words as he turns to him "Well then why didn't you say so - where is it?" Porky's father then climbs under the fence to try and find the rain pill.

Porky Pig is also on the hunt for one of the rain pills but tries to pick up a cyclone pill to find out if it was a rain pill or not. A hen dashes into the scene and takes the cyclone pill. I swear that Tex Avery was one of the first directors to use the timing technique of a character dashing into the scene on the last second just before a character is about to do something.

After swallowing the pill; the chicken goes up in the air spinning around numerous times but very, very fast to get the felling of a cyclone speed. It continues to spin like a cyclone with all of the feathers flying out until the hen has no feathers left which means its naked. Only one part of her tail is left on the end of her tail but the tail spins itself off like a cyclone which is a funny gag showing that it's still effective even on one feather. The hen turns to the audience saying "Well, would you imagine that?" this is probably a reference that I couldn't find in a Google engine search but that time is something what all the classic Looney Tunes would say for a character when surprised like in (You Were Never Duckier "I do have the darnest dreams", etc.) so this short must be the first.

Porky then runs up to take another pill away but the hen grabs it with her beak as it turns out to be an earthquake pill. The hen swallows it down her throat  in which the hen walks off. After a few seconds of the hen being normal; the hen starts to shaken up badly with random poses for the earthquake pill to set up.

The chicken then grabs onto the tree to try and halt the eruption but the erupting still continues as the tree rumbles too. Porky and his father are kneeling on the ground looking out for the earthquake pills as they are still looking for the rain pill but Porky has FINALLY found it as it was lying on the floor since no animal has got it.

The goose from earlier on in the cartoon is still shaking after the mixture of thunder and wind pills. The goose starts to build wind out of its mouth again until it crashes to Porky who is just picking up the rain pill. Bad luck Porky.

The goose then swallows the rain pill in which Porky stands up shaking the goose's neck to get the pill out shouting "Get out you varmint!" - Varmint; ah? This would be what Yosemite Sam would call Bugs later on in the cartoons made by Friz in the 40's/50s. Porky grabs the goose's beak to check inside to see what is in there but tosses it out of the way as he gives up on checking. Now that the goose has swallowed three pills; the goose shakes like thunder, and spits out the pill from the gushing wind inside his mouth. The pill shoots straight to the sky in which the trick becomes a success - rain was fallen from the grey clouds. Now a miracle happens on the farm.

This becomes a happy time for Porky Pig, his father and of course the animals. Porky is lifting his arms out feeling the rain which shows the pills he has were successful - after the animals have been screwing up with the "other" pills and of course for Porky's father who tossed the box away redeeming it as useless.

All of the plants and crops that we saw at the beginning of the cartoon that were rotting suddenly grow back again looking fresh and good as new. I wonder if the animation of the crops growing back was reversed since it's another trait of Avery - but most notably in action scenes.

A hen then runs into her hen-house where she starts to hatch more eggs - and she is able to hatch so many that it already looks like a small mountain. Gee; I wonder if this also inspired Frank Tashlin in his cartoon 'Swooner Crooner' which I've related to the cartoon to the Bingo Crosby caricatured shorts Friz made that I reviewed recently.

All of the animals including Porky's father and Porky cheer for the rain. Porky's father lifts his hat out to measure how many raindrops there are but places his hat back on where water drips on his head. They then sigh to the loveliness of the name and they are ready to break the cartoon.

This is a funny example of a breaking the forth wall type but with no dialogue but instead the animals start to react to the pills they have earlier and the only way it would stop if it digested. There is an iris out at the end of the cartoon (which should've happened before the animals reacted - as part of director's orders) with the goose stuck on the black screen, bangs at it to get back onto film in which he's dragged in from the film before the actual cartoon irises out properly when the 'That's all Folks' credits pop up.

Overall comments: Porky is of course different through design as he plays a child but this was a pretty good cartoon to watch as it didn't matter to me what age Porky varied. This cartoon gave the writers such imaginary and let them explore their minds to come up with creative new ideas. The idea for the rain pills invention would be a bestseller for farmers in particular if their crops are dying but truth to be told - WHO ELSE would want to buy a rain pill? Nobody likes rain if not needed. The other pills that the inventor invented is kind of crazy since who would want to use an earthquake pill or lightning pill; some mentally unstable person who wants to cause damage in town I guess. The only pills that I think everyone would want is the "sun" pill so it would be sunny in Winter and the snow pill - only would appeal to young people; not people who have to go to work. The animation timing was some improvement as it gave the characters some weight like the animals after swallowing the pills. Overall; a a good idea for a cartoon but those rain pills are a crazy idea to be on sale; only a miracle to Porky's farm.


  1. The deadpan gag with the chicken's feathers being sucked in the cyclone from the pill except for one is derived from 'The Zoo', a 1933 Oswald that Avery worked on with a similar gag that he had to have pitched. In that cartoon, zookeeper Pegleg Pete opens a can of moths on a bear. The moths consume the bear's fur coat, leaving the bear in his underwear. Instead of the traditional shocked reaction, the bear looks at the audience and calmly states "Well, imagine that!"

  2. A few items to help your understanding of some of the gags:
    Closed Shop is a labor union term that only those who have joined the union can work at that place of business. Since the cow isn't being fed, she has refused to give milk (and the Hayes code had, by then, put the kibosh on showing udders anyway).
    The mule/fog gag: Those are horseflies (or muleflies, if you want to be finicky), radioing for instructions from an air traffic controller, reporting weather conditions at an altitude where visibility and ceiling (the altitude of the base of a cloud layer) was where an airplane may experience such conditions, relative to its position.
    Varmit is a regional dialect of the more rural parts of America for vermin, of any type (rodent, insect, etc.), just as vittles is a bastardization of the Middle English word victuals.
    The "Well, would you imagine that?" is simply a fourth wall-breaking device, in line with the speech characteristics of the time.
    As for the other pills, well, it wouldn't be a Tex Avery cartoon if you didn't have gags to support the main premise (and pad out the 7 minutes of running time).

  3. very also mentioned his being the first use of cartoon narrators offscreen. [1975]. However, he'd mentioned the LATER Porky short
    "Village Smithy" as the first, when we all know "Porky the Rainmaker"
    is the one. The Iris gag reminds me of "I Love to Singa", the last one
    reviewed on this blog.Steve C.

  4. Sounds like Spencer, besides using his ubiquitous woodblock, has music from J.S. Zamecnik in this one.

  5. Thanks for explaining me the gags and references here; although I know what "varmint" means. The horsefly did just didn't seem very clear but now you mentioned it - it is funny.

  6. I can say that we can heard some narration in "Bosko's Picture Show"...
    P.S. You forgot about the labels ;)