Release date: November 28, 1936.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Bernice Hansell (Dionne quintuplets), Ted Pierce (Ben Birdie ?), The Rhymettes, Verna Deane, Danny Webb (Walter Winchell Mouse) and Peter Lind Haye.
Animation: Bob McKimson and Sandy Walker.
Musical Direction: Carl Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Character Designs: T. Hee (uncredited).
Synopsis: A Hollywood nightclub for celebrities caricatured as mostly birds, other animals; and humans, too hosted by Ben Birdie (Ben Bernie).
This is another celebrity caricatured cartoon that was very popular in the Golden Age; and Warner Bros. would make The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos, Have You Got Any Castles? and Hollywood Steps Out are the cartoons I can think of at the top of my head. T. Hee does the character designs here which are very appealing for this cartoon as well as the incredible use of backgrounds (I think) were by Zack Schwartz who briefly worked for Freleng in '36.
The host of the Hollywood nightclub event is a caricature of entertainer Ben Bernie but is called Ben Birdie as he's caricatured with a pointy nose and a thick lower lip. The drum is his band called "Ben Birdie and All the Lads"; which is supposedly called "Ben Bernie and All the Lads". After the iris in on Birdie he then goes into speech: "Greetings in salutations, youse guys and gals. This is the old maestro and all the lads bringing you a program of dance music from the Coo-Coonut Grove. Yowsa, so help me". A Walter Winchell caricatured-house pops out of a tuba holding a piece of celery shouting "Flash! An orchid for you, old mousetrap, from your old pal Walter Windpipe". Winchell and Bernie were good friends but played as enemies on Ben Bernie's radio show. Ben Birdie then shows the Walter Winchell mouse out of the tuba as he shows flying. Winchell then shouts "Flash! We'll be back in a flash with a flash!" Ben Birdie then goes on about Winchell, "Dear, dear. It's an ill wind, an ill wind. Yowsa. My, my just look at all the celebrities". Is that Ted Pierce doing the caricature voice of Ben Bernie?
The next scene at the table as we PAN along is W.C. Fields who is portrayed as 'Squeals' from At Your Service Madame as he comments on Mrs. Heartburn who is caricatured as Katherine Hepburn as a horse - which is why there is a pun on her surname. He fakes the compliment on the Miss Heartburn's (Hepburn) hoof, "What a beautiful hand you have, Miss Heartburn". She then starts to neigh snickering before looking at him disgusted; which was what Hepburn did. The next guy on the table is Ned Sparks who is playing a grouchy man saying "I go everywhere, I do everything and I never have any fun". I'm not sure where the line originated but Sparks was known to play grumpy, deadpan characters. Meanwhile up the palm tree is Johnny Weissmuller and his date Lupe Velez. The joke is that Weissmuller is wearing his Tarzan suit pouring wine in his glass; and Weissmuller and Velez were actually married back in that period. Weissmuller then starts to bang his chest doing his Tarzan impression but instead in that very annoying, obnoxious Buddy sound that makes me want to grind my teeth of annoyance. Weissmuller was a star for playing the Tarzan movies at the time and used to win gold medals for swimming in the Olympics back in the 1920s.
Ben Birdie: Well, well and well. The profile of profiles.
We see the "profile" man is John Barrymore walking down the hallway of the nightclub in perspective. I like how Barrymore's head stays in the exact same position while walking down, turning and sitting down at his table. I guess that this was meant to be a joke about his head which probably meant he never really moved it much at all.
Ben Birdie then goes on to another part of the nightclub where the celebrities would eat: "And now let us indulge to a bit of the light fantastic, etc. etc." All of the bird members in the nightclub then start to get up as they go dancing since they've already found themselves a partner. The animation of the birds getting up (I think) is from I'm a Big Shot Now. There is a celebrity dancing couple which is a tortoise George Arliss and Mae West as a chickadee. Now that is a pretty funny pair since George Arliss was an elderly person at the time who wasn't particularly handsome at all while Mae West was a sex symbol that people thought was a attractive; and they're definitely different from one another. They do a little dance routine speaking to each other, "Atta Baby; keep up the good work, handsome".
The Hardy pig then grabs out a coconut from one of the palm trees as they decide to share a drink from the coconuts. The Hardy pig grabs out a straw for both of them each and then they slurp the drink. A funny gag pops up as they're drinking; the Stan Laurel money turns into a really fat, pompous figure like Hardy while the Hardy pig turns as thin as Stan Laurel - which the same weight is there but different person.
Celebrities in the audience are enjoying the dance; particularly Clark Gable who is caricatured with big ears. His big ears then flap with excitement. While Edna May Oliver is still dancing, Gary Cooper is walking down the hallway which is similar to his films in the characteristic walk he would often do. There are a group of monkeys that comment on Cooper; "He's pixallated!" is a reference to the two bad sisters from 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'.
The Dionne quintuplets are going into song singing "My Old Man" a song with music written by Bernard Hangihen and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The quintuplets then turn around as they go into a type of dance with their feet and their panties showing. The animation on that sequence was pretty good although I imagine it was a challenge to animate the Dionne quintuplets to make them very identical; do you suppose that they only animated one of them and then copied four more from the original drawings to get the exact movement?
The Harpo Marx bird is still acting like a screwball chasing after the unidentified lady who is screaming. The Harpo Marx bird then pops out as he grabs the lady but the "lady" turns out to have the face of Groucho Marx - the brother of Harpo. The Harpo Marx bird then dashes out of the scene because of Groucho's rude awakening. The gag would be repeated again at the end of Hollywood Steps Out.
In the next sequence we see tears drop. It becomes the finale of this cartoon as it shows torch singer Helen Morgan singing 'The Little Things You Used to Do". Helen Morgan is singing the song in tears as the gag is that she's singing a rather sad song. The animation of Morgan singing is top notch - I have to say. Her singing catches the heart of celebrity Wallace Beery who is sniffling and wiping his nose. He then grabs a banana in which he squirts it on his knife by taking the lid off and placing it on the knife like squirting out a bit of toothpaste. She continues to sing the torch song in tears.
Edward G. Robinson and George Raft are portrayed here as tough guys who are manly enough not to cry. Robinson is smoking his cigar while Raft is busy flipping a coin. Eventually break down into tears because of the song in which they hug each other. Helen Morgan is still sitting on the piano in which it is floating on water. The "water" is coming from the tears of the crying celebrities. They are sitting on their dining tables as it floats away.
1936 has been an improvement for the 'Merrie Melodies' series; and I'd say especially improvement for Friz Freleng. He started out rather slow at the start of the year with his tedious shorts which he made the knack of in 1934-1935 but around this time he showed signs of improvement even though (I still have to say) he still made weak cartoons (but Jack King probably turned in the weakest output). Freleng definitely shows bigger improvements in 1937 and you'll see for yourself. Also, Tex Avery got to direct a couple of 'Merrie Melodies' which were the best of the series in that year. I think 'CooCoo Nut Grove' was Freleng's best cartoon in that year. Some of the animation in this short would be reused a year later in The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos.