Sunday, 29 April 2012
158. The Fella With the Fiddle (1937)
Release date: March 27, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Billy Bletcher (Grandpa Mouse / Tax Collector) and Berneice Hansell (Little Mice) and Mel Blanc (Fiddling Mouse)
Animation: Cal Dalton and Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Grandfather tells story of a mouse who was greedy, scammed people's money pretending to be blind with children not realizing it was actually him in his prime...
This is Ken Harris' first screen credit (despite it being a Blue Ribbon issue) and Harris would become one of the studio's most profilic animators as well as one of the greatest animators of all time. So by this point we know that he is definitely animating; as Greg Duffell spoke to me about Harris claiming to have started animating back on Little Dutch Plate which is very interesting but was he already at Warners by 1935 and not on the screen-credits by 1937?
The children appear to hear the sounds of ringing bells as they all prance around excitedly around their grandfather as he tosses a coin for the lucky person to catch while he can still read the newspaper. The children then rush out to try and fetch the coin as they scramble together to try and catch it. As they continue to fight over the coin; it then starts to come out of their hands as they turn to find that the coin then just rolls down the hole of the floorboard as they look at it with annoyance.
As he begins to tell the story of the fella with the fiddle who had a violin he is mimicking the violin impressions with some pretty good character animation. He then speaks about how that he had a lot of strings in his fiddle in which it amazes the children mice as they whistle with astonishment. He then starts to go into the story as the story is being shown by us the way he tells us it...
The fella with the fiddle then whacks the random guy in the streets with his fiddle as he tried to take some money out of his pot. Internet Movie Database (which is very unreliable with their sources) claim that Mel Blanc did the voice of the Fiddling Mouse while it could be possible but it doesn't sound like Mel Blanc for one bit as I wouldn't imagine him being given singing parts as he was the master voice although maybe since he was just new to the cast; Friz Freleng was just trying him out to see how he goes. (My mistake: this IS Mel Blanc doing the dialogue and singing).
Inside his house he is actually pretty wealthy as he can afford to have so many decent belongings in the house as it looks rather rich; and he's earnt it all by ripping off people's money. Another way of how rich he apparently is that he has his own butler who greets him, "Evening, master". What a money hacker. The mouse then starts to open the door into his dressing room and then steps out like one second later already wearing a tuxedo. Okay; but does he have a machine that can dress him in a second just like that.
The greedy mouse then starts to play with the coins happily enjoying the feeling of being rich and doesn't feel sorry for anyone who he's scammed and only cares for himself. After hearing a loud knock on the door the greedy mouse then asks:
Fiddling Mouse: Who's there?
Tax Collector: (off-screen). It's the tax assessor.
Fiddling Mouse: Tax assessor (takes). TAX ASSESSOR?
He then starts to make a jump as he realizes that the tax assessor is hear to assess his shack and needs to hide all his opulence and luxurious belongings to make him look like a poor fellow again without having to give away any money. Maybe that bit of dialogue from the mouse was Blanc but I don't know about the singing scenes; but the dialogue is.
He changes the portraits on his windows to the calendar of "February 1898" and replaced fancy, red curtains to tatty looking ones. He continues to replace all the other rich pieces of items back to what it was. The tax assessor is still knocking loudly at the door while the scumbag mouse is still taking his time in desperation to get his house back to normal which is why he should have thought of that before he got there. After all that time of trying to get the house back to normal with the continuous knocking the fiddling mouse is now back to his disguised routine as being blind as he asks the tax assessor to "Come in".
The tax assessor then asks him, "So you're a poor guy, eh?" The tax assessor has out his notepad writing down the conditions of the house but the "blind" mouse spots a coin on the table and quickly dashes to catch it before getting back to position with the fiddling mouse a little confused as to where was he but returns after a quick glimpse. The tax assessor then walks around the house, "Now let's see what you got so we can tax". Which could mean taking away an item to help collect tax money. The tax assessor then sits down on a stool thinking as he tries to find something to tax. The stool is a part of his trick floors where he hides a rich chair. The floor spins 360 degrees before being in the back place. The tax assessor asks; "What's going on around here?"
After that crazy sequence with some interesting timing; the taxman then makes a dash out of the house as he starts to puff and pant from the exhaustion in there. He throws a bottle away (probably the gag is that he's clear that he isn't drunk or something) and he starts to made heavy steps pretending he's walking away to see what the greedy mouse will be up to once he has left. The taxman then starts to fiddle with the doorknob to try and see what he is up to.
The tax assessor then opens the door but to be astonished thinking that his mind must be playing tricks as the house seems perfectly the same as it was when he entered it before with the fiddling mouse disguising himself as a grinning blind person. The tax assessor then slams the door shouting "Good day" and exits. There is a cat that is standing by the junkyard which then starts to frighten the tax assessor as he makes a dash through the cans; as it's no animation but just still drawings in the backgrounds which is a pretty interesting technique that was used here.
While fiddling with the coins enjoying his luxury time; he hears the sounds of whistles catching his attention. Instead of cheese; it is a coin placed inside the mousetrap in which it doesn't matter for him if he is in peril but just wants to grab the coin to add it to his "money collection" or something. He steps behind the mouse-hole of his house as he rubs his hands to grab out the coin, and manages to do so avoiding being trapped from the mousetraps schemes created by the cat. The timing on that was really good and this is a breakthrough for Friz Freleng's pacing.
The cat then tries to catch his attention again with a whistle and the mouse turns to notice a piece of gold on the mouse which he knows he can't resist but take it. The mouse then makes a dash to grab out the golden tooth but the gag is that he managed to quickly grab out a real tooth from the cat by mistake. Poor cat. The cat whistles again for the mouse to try and catch the gold tooth and the mouse manages to grab it but the cat manages to close his mouth shut on time. There is banging going on from his muzzle as the mouse is just banging trying to break free as we can see him in his stomach. It's a rather dark story if you ask me but I like how there are morals to it.
The grandfather mouse then concludes the story by finishing it saying, "He ate it all up". This is a very good twist to the story since we find out that there is a golden tooth by the grandfather's waistcoat. It turns out that he is telling the story of his youth when he was once greedy or had a lot of money and that explains why he probably still has a lot of money and trying to teach them a lesson and not go in the direction he went. The child mouse then notices he's making the ending up as he blows a sizzler with a funny raspberry effect made not believing the mouse in the story died; as it was Grandfather himself.