Sunday, 1 April 2012

140. Sunday Go to Meetin' Time (1936)

Warner cartoon no. 139.
Release date: August 8, 1936.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Cast unknown.
Musical Score: Norman Spencer.
Animation: Bob McKimson and Paul Smith.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Nicodemus refuses to go to Sunday church; and truants it. While trying to kill a chicken; he turns unconscious after being hit by a fence until in his dream he is being sorted out by the Devil.

This is the 2nd cartoon I'll be reviewing that's on the infamous "Censored 11" list created by Ted Turner. The last time we saw one was 'Hittin' the Tail' and it's been five years so we'll see what happens on this short.

Our cartoon begins with a street outside where there are chickens wondering around pecking on the ground there are sounds of Church bells going on where all the blacks would have to go to Church as it's Sunday. The black preacher is singing the song 'De Lawd's Day' as he welcomes everyone entering the church as he greets them "Good morning, brother" or "Good morning, sister" which is sort of stereotyping what blacks would say to people; but I wouldn't call it harmful but it shouldn't be considered that.

I do quite like that song the preacher sings at the beginning of the cartoon as well as when the bell rings.

Inside the church is a black old man who is pulling the rope down to make the church bell call. The gag shows that he jumps up and down with his trousers unattached as he reaches high in the sky and is wearing trousers when he reaches the bottom. Oh come on; this is a type of gag that Harman-Ising would use or in 1934 Merrie Melodies; I thought Friz was better than that by then.

Another stereotypical gag shows a black person sleeping on a rocking chair as it rocks; his head hits the bell to show his head is the clapper of the bell. It appears to be stereotyping as it's showing us how his head doesn't seem to be positioned in a right angle and changes as he hits the hell. It seems a little harsh to show them working hard on bells which could lead to injuries although that is just me; and I guess everyone used it back then for entertainment.

There is a black couple walking down a street (I like how the animation fences and paths move as they walk down); and they are looking good in their outfits going to Sunday black church as they stroll down singing the title song Sunday Go to Meetin' Time. The dancing that they do is pretty good animation.

A black man walking to church that that sloppy looking walk with his head down and a rather loose lip is for sure stereotyping African-Americans in this short; and I notice how that there are no whites in this short although they probably live in an area where they all live together considering that back then blacks had no civil rights towards white people like that's why they would have separate bars, separate churches (as shown here) or separate parks, etc. The couple then finish off the title song they were singing and then they go off to church.

Meanwhile a housemaid is inside cleaning up children's faces with a cloth that shows her with a Aunt Jemima look to it - with the bandana and the earrings. There is a black cleaner who also wipes the children's heads and one of them steps out with a very shiny bald head which would be an offensive gag since they have no hair and makes it a shade lighter.

A black mother walks her twins to church in a wooden-type pram (probably can't afford it and is made out of wood) walks out of her front yawn but steps back inside when she picks up her bra and places them on her two children's heads forming a type of baby hats that they would wear to keep their heads worn. But I'm just thinking isn't that part where she places the bra on the twin's heads just wrong??

The church bells ring again; and this time a mother living in a shack steps outside calling for her son (I believe) called Nicodemus - Nicodemus was a man who (in religious beliefs) did favors for Jesus and I wonder if that's why he was called that. He walks down the street calling for Nicodemus, "Oh Nicodemus, Nicodemus" she yells.

The mother then spots Nicodemus' hands as he's seen playing dice gambling with the others. Although to me; it suggests as though black people back then liked to gamble with the pair o'dice they had in teeth; or whatnot - I don't understand it all since I'm too young to know it all I guess. The mother then shoves Nicodemus about having to go to church (and saying it in a type of black church) but Nicodemus with a black stereotyped voice shouts "But I don't wanna go to church". The mother keeps on pushing Nicodemus to go to Sunday church or worse could happen to him "You good for nothing! Get yourself to that Church! The Devil's gonna get you as sure as you're born!"

The mother continues to drag Nicodemus in the ear as they enter the black church; and of course black churches are more spiritual with their hymms - gospel music.

Nicodemus then starts to sneak out of church as he escapes and runs off. Nicodemus then skids as he's ran off far enough. Nicodemus has stopped by a farm where there are chickens that live there. This is a bother to Nicodemus' conscience as he grabs out a club as he threatens to kill one of the chickens to eat. Now that is some pretty sadistic stuff that tells us Nicodemus is mad to kill chickens; although it doesn't matter what race this is stereotyped but no-one should try to do that - unless he's supposed to be a troublemaker.

After Nicodemus opens the gate to enter the poultry farm; there is a chicken pecking the ground minding its own business until Nicodemus turns up and tries to wriggle his finger to come forward but the chicken refuses. Nicodemus keep on bringing his hand out to try and encourage the chicken to come closer but the chicken keeps on shaking its head.

Nicodemus (stereotyped as a minstrel show and coon song) then attempts to whack the chicken with the cub until a chase sequence begins and starts to chase the chicken around as it squawks with fear. Nicodemus then reaches the end of a gate but a plank falls on him leaving him unconscious in which this all dissolves into a dream sequence. Notice how that Nicodemus is standing by a poster of a judge reading Vote for Judge Jailem for Court of Justice. It turns out that the poster used was used in Nicodemus' dream as he has ended up in hell in the Hades Court of Justice.

The devil is laughing evily at Nicodemus in hell; and even the devil IS stereotyped as an African-American with the voice. Is it me or is this short just set in a dimension of where blacks live. The court then tells him he'll open the book to "reveal his past" on the bad things he's done - I'm not trying to take offense but it just appears to be that way in this cartoon.

The devil opens the pages to read what he done; the list shows us he's been "Shooting craps" in a simple form gambling with dices; "Stealing chickens" as he tried to kill one earlier, "Missing Church", "Raisin' Dickens" and "Stealing Watermelons". The devil then laughs as he pulls the switch in which Nicodemus falls down a trap door as he is falling down the scary parts of Hell where there is a lot of fire. Nicodemus then lands on an edge of a cliff but dangles while holding onto the edge. He tries to climb back up but Hell proves to be his emotions as the grass rips off while trying to climb back up but ends up falling again.

Nicodemus then starts to land in a type of pinball game where he is prodded by the sticks from the pinball machine as he moves. This is pretty good animation but I imagine it was hard to get Nicodemus move like a pinball ball here. Nicodemus then falls into a type of trap but zaps him out as he lands in a hole into another part of Hell.

A group of little devils then start to grab Nicodemus in the arms and legs as they capture him; but Nicodemus tries to break free from the group of small devil creatures. The animation of Nicodemus trying to break free isn't very good as he seems to stretch quite a lot and it doesn't look good on cartoons like this where the characters were rather stiff.

The group of little devils then dump him on the ground after grabbing him as they all go into some type of coon song about going to dispose Nicodemus - even the devil does so. The close-up of the devil singing to Nicodemus is pretty expressive animation.

The devil then starts to poke Nicodemus in the eyes numerous times with those funny springy sound effects heard. The little devils are the chorus singers while the devil is singing in gospel music. There is sort of a fire dance performed by the little creatures where they walk up and down shouting "Yeah" almost going into perspective animation. The devil keeps on reminding Nicodemus "You gotta, you gotta, you gotta give the devil his due". The devil has finished the song as he shouts; "Okay boys - give him the works" as the group of little devils start to yank him with their pitchforks which causes Nicodemus to scream.

We fade back into the real world where Nicodemus is being pecked by a group of chickens which gave us the feeling of being hit by pitchforks. Nicodemus then wakes up scaring all of the chickens out of his way. Nicodemus hears the sounds of church bells again and from the nightmare he had; he decides to be a good Christian in which he dashes all the way to church running up and down the fences just to travel to church. He continues to run all over the place as he dashes into church and we see him in a silhouette singing a hymm; and on the stained glass window is an angel where he's standing which probably suggests that he's a good person now; going to heaven - I guess.

Overall comments: This cartoon certainly has African-Americans stereotyped here with their charactertistic walks, and the strong of use caricature adds it up. It's sort of an entire black cast here in the world they're from. Censored 11 cartoons are hard for me to review since I try to be careful with what to say and if I'm getting my information right. I wouldn't consider it a racist cartoon even though the character Nicodemus has a religious name and acts like someone from a minstrel show and coon song stereotypes - even though this is information I got but I'm a little too young to understand the actual meaning but I have a feeling what they mean - minstrel shows being white actors performing blackface and coon songs are songs about racial slurs towards blacks. I know "coon" is an offensive word to blacks that describe him as lazy - but I'm unsure if this would describe Nicodemus but he does like to gamble which seems to be a black stereotype of the time. This cartoon would've probably been good if it was about a normal boy who skips Church and does naughty things (sounding like Disney) but just putting it with black characters makes it subtle for me to review. I didn't hate the cartoon at all but I just don't find it comfortable mentioning religion and discussing about it.


  1. Ted Turner is silly and all, but he didn't CREATE the 'Censored 11' list, he just endorsed it. It was originally concieved by United Artists in 1968.

  2. "Another stereotypical gag shows a black person sleeping on a rocking chair as it rocks; his head hits the bell to show his head is the clapper of the bell. It appears to be stereotyping as it's showing us how his head doesn't seem to be positioned in a right angle..."

    Actually, the stereotypical aspect isn't in that he's doing the action wrong. It's just that his head is functioning as the clapper. There was an old, racist idea that black people had extremely thick, un-injurable heads—to show that they were (supposedly) dumb—because "thick head" is an old insult for a stupid person.
    So the fact that the poor guy is able to repeatedly hit the bell with his head and not get hurt is supposed to reference his stupidity... sigh.

  3. This particular title does pander to a great deal of racial stereotypes; it is a product of its time and a mirror to earlier times. There were African-American musicals that took place, partially, in a church, like the film "GREEN PASTURES", and you should seek these films out to better understand the culture. Shame that this cartoon is one of the imfamous titles, because the music, as you pointed out, is rather good. I like the performance of the title song especially, and I wonder whose voice that is that we hear singing. It is also a "blue ribbon" title, meaning that we never get to see its original opening and closing. was there ever a "that's all, folks" or "so long, folks" ending tag to this one?