Tuesday, 3 April 2012

142. At Your Service Madame (1936)

Warner cartoon no. 141.
Release date: August 29, 1936.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Ted Pierce (W.C. Squeals) and Martha Wentworth (Mrs. Hamhock).
Musical Score: Norman Spencer.
Animation: Don Williams and Cal Dalton.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).

 The last cartoon to be scored by Norman Spencer (who probably went into early retirement) and NO people - he didn't pass away in 1936 just as Blanc made it up in an interview. This is also believed to be the first cartoon for Warner Bros. ink & painter Martha Sigall to work on this cartoon as she said so in her book. Apparently this cartoon was an attempt for Friz Freleng to create recurring characters of the Hamhock family but it never went any further. This probably sounds like a very unreliable fact but does anyone have proof to support that?

Our cartoon begins with the darkness of the sky but the sun rises as it's morning time. There is a small, crowded house on top of the hill where a pig mother and her piglets live. The rooster is giving out the morning call off-screen. Quite a neat shining effect shown of the window reflection here.

Inside the house are a group of piglet children in there single beds snoozing as the sun reflections reach through the window. The piglets are snoring and snorting. The mother pig named Mrs. Hamhock is preparing porridge for her piglets to have for breakfast. Mrs. Hamhock walks up to the bottom of the stairs ringing the bell calling for the children that are sleeping upstairs, "Wake up children; breakfast's ready". She is a widow as she is of-course left with the children. The Mother Pig continues to ring the bell until the children are awakened.

The children upstairs then hear the sounds of the bell as they stretch to wake themselves up. Piggy (not to be confused with Porky Pig); the other piglet appears to be sleeping in a single bed-room or just at the end side of the bedroom where all of the other piglets are as he is near the door.

Piggy dashes to the bathroom down the hallway to rinse his face; then back down but runs back to the bathroom he washes his toothbrush to pretend as though he's brushed his teeth before dashing downstairs to have breakfast. Piggy dashes downstairs quickly with his cutlery up with his hands ready for breakfast. If this was Avery or even Frank Tashlin working on this cartoon; they could take the timing of the dashing Piggy even faster. The mother is surprised to see Piggy made it at such speed. All of the other piglet children start to run through the hallway to go down the stairs; including a slow piglet jogging but gets stampeded by an incoming piglet with his pants flap down. Another piglet sibling who is considerate helps out the piglet and sorts the pants flap back up and even sorting out the pig tail. At least this shows the piglets having different personalities.

Piggy is still sitting down at the breakfast but is already helping himself scoffing up the porridge. Mrs. Hamhock is disgruntled by Piggy's manners as she bitterly tells him off, "Piggy, now you wait for the others!" Notice how the pig's breakfast meals are being served in small pig troughs - ha; at least it shows us realism since pigs eat from troughs. The rest of the piglets then arrive at the breakfast table.
 Mrs. Hamhock then begins her demonstrations on how to have good manners on the table while having porridge; by counting on "fours"; in which the first three numbers counted they angle themselves with positions of holding the spoon, dipping it, etc. and on the "four" count they slurp the porridge. The children are seen copying her actions as they seem to he not bad; but they hold their spoons tightly and not lightly with their pinkie sticking out like Mrs. Hamhock.

During the table pan scene - we pan to Piggy who is not on track and just slurping the soup and each slurp  is each count from his mother. The mother grabs out a stick off-screen to whack Piggy on the head as Mrs. Hammock gives him a telling off; "Now how many times must I talk to you? Can't you ever try to behave like the others? My, my - I don't know what I'm gonna do with you" Some pretty solid character animation of Piggy drumming his fingers on the trough sulking while the mother is grilling his ass. Piggy shows the character personality of a "greedy piggy" since pigs are portrayed as greedy and used as examples for someone being greedy with food; and Piggy is the odd one out here since he can't behave and would rather eat.

In the next scene takes place in a city street where a entrepreneur pig who is walking down that is a caricature of Hollywood celebrity of the time; W.C. Fields but in this cartoon his name is parodied after W.C. and is called W.C. Squeals. While Squeals is down the side of the pavement; he notices a cigar on the other side of the street (such splendid eyesight) and he crosses the road but dodges incoming honking cars to help his way through.

W.C. Squeals then picks up the cigar as he walking around strolling in his characteristic walk with the cigar in his mouth. While walking past the Hamhock family - the name of the street is called 13 Pine Street. W.C. Squeals picks up the morning newspaper "Daily Bulge"  as he reads what appears to be the front headlines: WIDOW INHERITS FORTUNE and W.C. Squeals is reading the paper murmuring the words in the paper.

W.C. Squeals then looks out of his window to see what is outside and finds the exact house he read on the newspaper article by coincidence. As W.C. Squeals steps on the porch and before ringing the doorbell; he peeps through the window to see.

W.C. Squeals has his snout caught on the window as he attempts to push himself away from the window but his snout is still glued to the window. The comic timing isn't very exaggerated at all and too slow or my taste but at least when the snout plops  out of the window is good humour. W.C. Squeals then uses his cane to ring the doorbell like a snooker club. He picks up some posies that are on Mrs. Hamhock's front porch while he has prepared for her. Remember kiddies; he's only doing this for money. 

W.C. then greets Mrs. Hamhock with some posies.

W.C. Squeals: Good mornin; my little chickadee. Pretty flowers for ma pretty lady.

I think W.C. Fields said the "my little chickadee" line somewhere in a film but I'm not too sure.

Mrs. Hamhock then smells the posies he was given as she giggles as she is flattered, "Oh thank you. Won't you sit down?" W.C. Squeals sits himself down  on the chair with Mrs. Hamhock as he holds her hand faking compliments on her "What a beautiful hand you have!". He grabs out a microscope to take a closer look of the silver ring she is wearing but instead gets a squirt of her ring. Now that is a funny gag since he didn't see that comin', eh? I'm surprised that she's already being flattered by W.C.  Squeals who is a stranger to her; and yet she seems unaware of strangers. Of course; you'll back this up saying "but she is inheriting fortune so she would've known" but she  doesn't seem to know he's after money.

W.C. Squeals continues to faking compliments which he doesn't mean as he unenthusiastically says "What a lovely house you have in here, yeah, yeah, etc. This is very nice; Mrs. Hamhock. Quite homie". There is a point-of-view shot of W.C. Squeals scanning around the looking room looking for the vault as he finds the vault where the money is located. Removing the vault door  as visionary; the money is located in there.

W.C. Squeals: You play piano, Miss Hammy - y'know I sing a little.
Mrs. Hamhock: Oooh (giggles) certainly.

Mrs. Hamhock stands up out of her sofa to go over to the piano to play some tunes for W.C. Squeals being totally conned by his nasty trick not doing about the money he's after. Mrs. Hamhock then starts to play the title song in the piano; In Your Service Madame with W.C. Squeals (Ted Pierce) doing the singing.

While he is singing the song; Piggy is seen upstairs probably because of the piano playing and stranger singing that caught his attention. W.C. Squeals is still singing but gets annoyed when he sees little Piggy walk into the scene which shows he won't be able to steal the cold-hard cash.

W.C. Squeals then tries to scoot little Piggy away; "roll away son; you're bothering me". He quickly unwinds the lock to get access to the safe (which Piggy saw with his eyes) as he attempts to scoot Piggy out of the way, "That's all son, that's all". He continues to try and scoot Piggy away while still singing At Your Service Madame shouting "Scram, lad, scram" and gets to the point of kicking Piggy out of the way. Piggy rolls away as he hits a table with a fishbowl falling on top of his head as a goldfish swims around his head. Piggy plops his head out of the fishbowl as he vows to get revenge on Squeals. Piggy finds that he has eaten the goldfish which gave me a shocked chuckle since I also didn't see that comin'.

Piggy continues to look at what Squeals is doing; which he is unwinding the lock for the safe. Piggy catches him opening the safe as he plans to stop him to save his mother. W.C. Squeals is stealing the money and placing them in his jacket without Mrs. Hamhock noticing since she's too busy playing the piano. Every time Mrs. Hamhock turns; W.C. quickly turns back acting all innocent.

Piggy has attracted a group of his sibling that are watching his shenanigans as Piggy whispers a plan to outsmart W.C. Squeals to get their mother's money back.W.C. continues to steal the money from the safe in which Piggy walks in as he's got an electric socket to place in his tail. Another piglet then turns on the lamp switch by the armchair which causes W.C. Squeals to be electrocuted as he turns to Piggy with a dirty look. Mrs. Hamhock gets the wrong idea as she tells off Piggy; "Piggy! Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You had better bringing up than that. Now you march right off to your bed! I haven't been so embarrassed in all my life!" Really, woman?

While Mrs. Hamhock is busy telling off Piggy as usual; the other piglets have set up the trap on W.C. Squeals. There are a group on top of a banister of the stairs with a hook attached to wire while the other group of kids in a different area of the lounge have the rope attached all the way to a laundry mangle.

The hook is being lowered as it's caught W.C. Squeals as he is high in the air. There is a brief bit of action going on as W.C. Squeals is being scraped by the stairs which follows him down the stairs and under the carpet as he spins around hitting the poles, and hitting all kinds of crazy shit. W.C. Squeals is already found himself in a good position already since he is caught on a lamp attached to the ceiling. There are piglets sliding down the rails of the stairs with a moose's head as they jab the moose on W.C. Squeals as he's sent flying.

W.C. Squeals has his snout caught on the wall as he is still attached to the rope. There is a little sequence going on where it shows the piglets are standing on top of a cupboard with dishes stored as they push W.C Squeals forward with W.C. Squeal's snout smacking the wall while the force of the rope pushes him backwards. This routine is repeated a few times.

I noticed how there was a little bit of perspective animation of the pig zooming towards the camera but it reminds me of a 3/4 angle shot - but not quite. W.C. Squeals then reaches for the window with the rope but is almost suffocated as a piglet closes the window to trap his neck. Blimey; now this is turning into physical violence where he could be choking? Doesn't that seem to be too much of a stretch there?

W.C. Squeals is still suffocating as he shouts "Say, what's the big idea?" and the piglets then grab out a type of machine that shakes with a slingshot that shakes; as they do that to W.C. Squeals' body and money falls out of his pocket so Mrs. Hamhock would finally know about his plan.

The shaking still continues until Squeals falls out as the window crashes. Mrs. Hamhock looks out the window as she pecks her piglets for getting rid of the fraud. W.C. Squeals walks off very shaky as he farewells her (although I don't fully understand it since it sounds like he's shaking in his speech. He then starts to walk down the path away from them - and I'd imagine the joke at the end was that he still thinks he has the money in his pockets which was part of the plan but he doesn't know that. Some pretty good animation of the shaking W.C. Squeals here.

When I listen to the 'That's All, Folks' ending in a Norman Spencer cartoon. He seems to have a trait where he would repeat a finale ending to the music over and over again in his cartoons.

Overall comments: Friz Freleng has performed a good cartoon here with character personality. Even the W.C. Squeaks character was a good take of W.C. Fields who was voiced by story man womaniser Ted Pierce; who in my opinion is pretty underrated when it comes to voices. Piggy showed some good personality of a "greedy piggy" but is of course the hero of the cartoon at the end. The cartoon consisted of character animation (mostly on the W.C. Fields character) as this was a pretty good try there; and it did the job. It's interesting to hear that Martha Sigall; an admired ink-and-painter veteran worked on this short where she would work and ink on all the Schlesinger cartoons until his retirement (if I'm not mistaken). This short was later followed by the sequel Pigs is Pigs which is an improvement to the cartoon; although the Hamhock family probably wouldn't be a great idea for recurring characters of the Warner Bros.cartoon franchise - but at least they were in good cartoons in their brief time.


  1. I can't remember if he said "My little chickadee" in 'It's a Gift," but he did in 'If I Had a Million' in 1932. It's the title of a movie co-starring Mae West released in 1940.

    1. Thanks Yowp; I knew that W.C. Fields would've said that line as it had his accent but since I'm too young to know his films (or come across it) I had to assume it was from Fields.

  2. I was really surprised when I encountered this particular cartoon. I was always a fan of PIGS IS PIGS -- from the moment first I saw Freiling's remake bake in the '60s. I never knew that there had been another cartoon featuring these characters. But the surprise was a good one. This film was made as a tip of the hat to W C Fields -- one of a number of WB toons featuring caricatures of him. This toon however, was clearly written as a tribute to him. The short portrays a story very much in line with his style of film humor; translated into Merrie Melodies style. It also served as an introduction to a set of characters who somehow upstaged the main character -- namely Mrs. Hamhock's children. Piggy here is shown to be sort of the major-domo of the children; a far different depiction from his latter appearance in PIGS IS PIGS. But this was enough to make WB revisit the characters. There would ultimately be only two WB toons that would touch on the subject of morality. The concept of bringing morality into the Merrie Melodies repertoire probably would have been not a good idea in the long run. But I still can't agree with your opinion that "the Hamhock family probably wouldn't be a great idea for recurring characters." Piggy would ultimately be reimaged into the character of Hampton Pig in TINY TOONS. Hampton, like Piggy, is both a glutton and a clean freak. I really would have liked to see the stories that the other children would have told. Mrs. Hamhock had seven children; that would have correlate with the concept of the seven vices and seven virtues. And the stories they would have to tell would have been interesting. The episode WHOLEY SMOKE, I believe, would have been the next in the series, but a decision was made to not to continue the Hamhock family and instead used Porky Pig. The vice in that toon was clearly pride.

  3. This cartoon works well on two levels for me. Yes, it is a kind of tribute to the con man characters that W. C. Fields would play, even having the character dubbed W. C. Squeals shows that Freleng was inspired by the comedian's antics, whether the comedian himself was complemented or not. Hanna-Barbera would do something similar to this plot with a later CAPTAIN AND THE KIDS cartoon featuring John Silver, the red-nosed pirate in the Squeals role, with the kids finding out about Silver's scheme and devising a plan to send Silver flying like a firey rocket out of the house and back onto the raft from which he came. The cartoon is called "THE WINNING TICKET", and Silver finds out about the Captain's sudden wealth from lottery winnings and decides to dress in drag as a woman about to faint. The kids send Silver riding through the house via firecrackers tied to a plunger that Silver had to use as pegleg when a woodpecker destroyed his original wooden leg. As Silver whooshes through the house, he gets caught on the walls by the suction end of the plunger, a slightly similar bit to Squeals' nose being the body part that gets stuck as he is sent rolling and tumbling through the rooms. These two cartoons, one from Warner Brothers and the other from MGM in 1939, work well if shown on your own mini-marathon. This cartoon is a great debut for W. C. Squeals who would reappear in Frank Tashlin's "CRACKED ICE", a terrific title. It is a shame that both the Squeals and Hamhock Family characters would no longer appear, but I guess both would have been considered dated entertainment by the 1940's. The Hamhock Family reminded me of so many OUR GANG situations and neither OUR GANG or W. C. Fields were major contributors to films and shorts in the later 1940's. But that is why the 1930's were so, so vital. You had all these great physical comedians, including children who knew all about timing and pratfalls. Animated cartoonists ate this stuff up, and we love 'em for it.