Sunday, 29 April 2012

158. The Fella With the Fiddle (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 157.
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?

Inside the house of the residence of J.Field Mouse shows the grandfather sitting on his favourite armchair with a footstool up reading the newspaper. He appears to be looking after a group of children while their parents are out and the children mice are playing happily. Grandfather appears to want peace reading the newspaper while he leaves the children to have fun. I wonder if Friz Freleng had his own character designer in that period since the designs on the characters appear to be used often in that period?

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.

Grandfather Mouse then starts to stand by the children tapping his feet tutting; "So, you will be greedy. Now I'll tell you a story about a mouse who was greedy and came to a bad end". He is therefore telling the children the story of the 'Fella with the Fiddle'.

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 dream then starts to fade with a blind mouse playing the fiddle as he's singing the title song; The Fella with the Fiddle. He is standing by his stool that reads "Help the Blind" with a pot for folks to place their coins to help fund them. If you think that the mouse playing the fiddle blind is impossible; then take a look at Stevie Wonder; he can play the piano and he's blind as a bat.

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).

After a day of trying to raise money to help the blind; he then starts to walk home as it appears to be that he lives in the junkyard in that rather old looking shack. The mouse then starts to look around to see if anyone's around and then quickly opens the door. So, it appears that the mouse isn't blind as he was just faking it to just scam people's money. What a horrible character and definitely a sign of greediness but I'd go beyond that - he's a bastard.

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 scum then starts to walk over to his bank vault as he opens the lock as well as opening several doors as it appears to be very hidden and secretive where he hides his "other" money. After opening several vault doors; he then grabs out a stocking where he keeps his money. He opens up the lock code and tons of coins then fall out on the table.

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.

The fiddling mouse then starts to grab out his money back into his stocking before locking back into the vaults. Friz Freleng is showing a sign of improvement here with some speed but gradually improving. The mouse then starts to pull the blinds so that it looks as though the walls are made of wood and shabby-looking.

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 walks into the house as the "blind" mouse asks, "Good evening. Could you spare a dame for a cup of coffee". The way the tax assessor responds to that is by dropping a bit of ash from his cigar onto the blind mouse's hand which is a little harsh blind joke trying to make him believe it's a coin and not ash.

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?"

The taxman then starts to push a button with a stove popping out as he's beginning to suspect. He walks up to the "blind" mouse as he asks; "Say, what kind of a join is this anyway?" The entire room then starts to flicker with floors spinning around revealing the rich items that he owns as the taxman just turns around looking at what is happening. You can see a little bit of smear animation of the taxman turning.

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 fiddling mouse continues to hide everything in his mouse after he hears the rattling from the doorknob as he starts to make a dash. The timing here is a big improvement on this cartoon as the speed of it is pretty fast and sort of inspired by Tashlin's timing in it's way.

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.

Inside the house the blind mouse is still playing with his money happily as the coast is clear - well at least he's safe without the taxman around. He doesn't realize he's in peril of a cat standing behind his house peeking through the window. The cat outside then places a special type of mousetrap and places a bit of coin in it.

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 is astonished to see that the mouse has managed to grab the coin without being caught. The cat then thinks up of another trap for him as he grabs out a box of "gold crowns" to place on his tooth for the fiddling mouse to try and catch.

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.
...as the story has ended the grandfather then concludes the story in his own words, "...yes sir, right into the old cat's mouth went the poor mouse". The children mice are rather worried as one of them then asks him "Did he eat him all up, Grandpa?" and the Grandfather mouse replies with a "Yes". At least that he is telling us that in words which is a good director's decision made by Friz which shows that if it was animated; it would redeem creepy and sad for an audience.

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.

Overall comments: In this cartoon I'd say that Friz Freleng has directed a cartoon that's told us a pretty good story. It's all animated from the Grandfather's imagination and I like how the tale of it has morals at the end even though it's presented as a little bit dark and there are several climaxes in that short. The great twist appears at the end when we find out that he has the golden tooth in his waistcoat that suggests that he was almost eaten by the cat and probably just managed to get out. This was also a vast improvement with Friz Freleng's pacing and timing too in the scenes of the walls, items, floors, etc. flickering and the fiddling as well as the mouse trying to get his old shack back to place. The character personality of Grandfather is interesting as he's trying to teach his children not to be greedy which makes him a rather hypocrite to say since he was nothing but a money-stealing hack when he was younger (that explains the calendar dated to 1898) which shows some complex structures of this cartoon. The animation is also pretty solid in most of the scenes of the mouse in his elderly years telling the story and the smear animation. I don't want to judge conclusions, but I think that Ken Harris did some of those scenes of the taxman looking around as it shows a bit of smear animation; a trait that Harris did like to use but I'm not going to reach that conclusion; just a theory.

7 comments:

  1. It's absolutely, unmistakeably Mel Blanc.

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  2. ...and just to add to that, it's pretty much Mel Blanc as Mel Blanc -- the mouse's voice is pretty close to Mel's actual speaking voice circa 1937. He still vocally 'acts' with it, but this seems more of a test by Friz to see how Mel handled that basic role than to really start working out his vocal chords, as the studio would start to do beginning with "Porky's Duck Hunt".

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  3. The younger Mel Blanc's song: an apt showcase. I bleieve the speaking role was his too. The razz is coquoliialy known here as the trombone gobble.:)Steve C.

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  4. Besides erroneously being re-titled as "The Fella with a Fiddle," this Blue Ribbon reissue is also the last to bear Leon Schlesinger's name (just as "Buckaroo Bugs" was the last standard Warner Bros. cartoon, Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies, to do so); subsequent re-releases starting from "When I Yoo-Hoo" (Blue Ribbon 2/24/45; original release 6/27/36) would bear the text "A WARNER BROS. CARTOON" in the series titles.

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    1. But how come no Blue Ribbon reissues had "Produced by WARNER BROS. CARTOONS inc."?

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  5. The best cartoon of Friz Freleng (with Pigs is Pigs) from the year 1937. Really good.

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