Saturday, 5 May 2012

160. She Was an Acrobat's Daughter (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 159.
Release date: April 10, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Dole Promise / Who Dehr / Heddie Camphor / Stickoutski).
Animation: Bob McKimson and A.C. Gamer.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Parody of theatre programme with news reels, song and motion picture featuring celebrities and folks inside the cinema room.

This is effects animator A.C. Gamer's first credit which I imagine he did effects animation as he did effects animation in the past. This is a breakthrough for Friz's career in cartoons in terms of comedy. Much of the animation on this cartoon would later be reused nine years later in Bacall to Arms directed by Bob Clampett and finished by Art Davis.

 The cartoon begins with a theatre as to where the cartoon is taking place. I imagine the light effects of the lettering on the signs outside the theatre would be animation by Ace Gamer. The sign at the theatre reads; 36 Hours to Kill with His Brother's Wife. Both movies '36 Hours to Kill' and 'His Brother's Wife' came out in the year 1936 that tells us it's a double bill played in the theatre since double-bills were common back then as it explains in the banner below reading "Always Two Features". We then pan to the right that reads for the 'Mid Nite Show' 15 Features 15 cents - also Rejected Shorts. That tells us there are rejected short films being shown - Ben Hardaway used that gag in 'Buddy's Theatre' as it's occurred to me.

The next gag we see is inside the theatre and it completely doesn't make sense at all and just comes out of nowhere that you've got to admit that it shows some charm to it. There is an audience in the room as they've all got to their seats. The random part comes in is when two members stand up changing seats but I guess the gag is that everyone is changing seats to have better positions from where they like to sit. It all gets to the point where everyone then starts changing different seats until they're happy. It isn't very coherent but it's fun.

The show then starts to begin as the curtains rise with the film beginning as we see the title card reading: WARMER BROS. presents - GOOFY-TONE NEWS. The "Warmer Bros." pun was pretty regular for gags back then. The slang is 'Sees All - Knows Nothing'. This is a reference to Fox's Movietone News with the slogans 'Sees All, Hears All, Knows All' and Freleng is parodying it here that they 'know nothing' which is funny sincethey surely know what's happening in the news. But it's just a joke; it's still funny even if it's silly.

The news reporter is called 'Dole Promise' but the caricature is of Lowell Thomas who would regularly report the news for 'Movietone News'. Dole Promise reads, 'Good evening folks. This is...(he struggles to read his name as a prompter whispers to him 'Dole Promise' I wonder if that was a reference to Lowell Thomas if he had struggles with reading or pronouncing? I like how he sort of gets help from a behind the scenes crew. Dole Promise then goes on announcing; 'This is Dole Promise bringing you the latest news events of the day'.

The title card reads of recent headlines; U.S. BUILDS LARGEST LINER IN SHIP BUILDING RACE. We view the film of the liner crossing the Atlantic to London and the gag is that the liner is so huge that it only needs to move slightly and back to New York being a race.

The next title cards reads about "Heddie Camphor" (a  parody name to Eddie Cantor) who finds "little Oscar" to give him an interview. Camphor interviews him in this section as "little Oscar" is just a tiny bug. Camphor asks him how it feels to be back at home after being lost for a long time? Little Oscar then starts to rant out loud but since he's really tiny; the voice is very high-pitched and even fast-paced which would've been edited from a recording booth. Camphor then laughs answering back, "He said he's rather be lost". I really do not know if the "little Oscar" sequence was a dated gag or not - I couldn't find anything solid on Google. Notice that the briefcase on his right has Jack Warner's initials - as it appears to be. Mel Blanc does a funny of Heddie Camphor.

Meanwhile there is an usher in the room who leads a gentlemen to one of his seats. As he sits down he then takes as we see some good camera angles of the cinema screen that shows a 2-D looking Hitler walking down (looks like news coming over from Germany as it was growing a lot in the '30s). The dog member then walks down to the middle seat where there is an empty chair.

He takes as he sees that he's sitting at the front row in the cinema and has to sit up watching the screen as he can't view the films properly. We see some very solid animation of a horse-race with a horse running with a jockey attached to it. This has got to be animation by Bob McKimson and if it isn't him - who else? The dog member of the audience can't find anywhere else to sit and then stuffs his bowler hat on top of his head sitting down sulking. Meanwhile there is a hippo sitting at his chair but needs to be excused. He asks the person next to him, "Pardon", as he needs to walk over to get out of the row of seats as he appears to almost squash a lot of people.

The next bit of news then pops up as we find it's Who Dehr (a reference to comedian Lew Lehr who's famous for the catchphrase 'Monkeys is the cwaziest peoples!' and has been spoofed in Warner Bros. cartoons a number of times). Who Dehr is a part of 'Nit-Wit News'. He goes on to narrate his story: Ladies and gentlemen, listen while I explaining you the latest news of the day. D(L)ehr then chuckles. He throws on a funny German accent as well as his usual Napoleon hat for comedy.

He goes on in his story speaking: Boondoggle Mo.  Strange malady afflicts Midwest City. Mad dog's bite has peculiar effect on towns people  (which is being read from the title card that is shown on the screen). The sequence then starts to fade to a film sequence and I love the colors used in this bit that gives it a black and white look to it since this is a Technicolor cartoon and it makes the cartoon more realistic. The townspeople then start to act like dogs as though they've been affected by "mad dog's bite".

Who Dehr then spots the Mayor acting like a dog:

Who Dehr: Look at that! Even the Mayor lead's a dog's life in Boondoogle. Mayor, here's a fella wants to pick a bone with you.

The dog then enters the scene as the dog notices the Mayor digging the soil to bury a bone. The dog starts to growl at him but turns around in turmoil wondering what is going on until they go into a "dog fight". The brush effects on the fight is pretty decent. Who Dehr then shouts for the Mayor to return and "don't be a dog in the manger!" The next title card we move on to reads: BOONDOOGLE'S LEADING SOCIETY MATRON IS LATEST VICTIM OF SCOURGE. It then shows a part that Mrs. Ben Astorville has been effected from the mad dog's bite. It's  rather funny that she runs up to the butler and he feeds her a steak that shows personality of a dog she's presenting.

Who Dehr has finished narrating the short film that he has presented in his 'Nit-Wit News' which was rather silly and random to me but I liked the animation and colors shown here. He concludes that it's the 'doggonest thing I ever saw'. Meanwhile a local person then enters the scene also behaving like a dog and bites him on the head as he screams "Ouch!".

After the show has finished; the audience seated in a row are annoyed again as the hippo has returned from a toilet break but asks them "Pardon me" as he makes his way through the seats to sit back down. He sits back down as he appears to chew loudly with his mouth. That bit of animation was notable of being reused in 'Bacall to Arms' as well as there being new animation; you can tell the difference between the character designs from the year 1937 and how it had already improved in 1946.

The next part of the programme in the theatre presents 'Stickoutski [It's Leopold Stokowski, guys] at the Fertilizer. Stickoutski then pops up at the screen sitting down on a chair by an organ which it extends. He then shouts out "Everybody sing!" This is sort of a reused formula that was seen in Bosko's Picture Show in fact -much of the cartoon is so but it's like an improved version. We see that the lyrics then pop up as Stickoutski plays the music the title song, She Was an Acrobat's Daughter. The audience then start to sing the song themselves. I like how there are illustrations displayed on the cards that appear to describe the song.

The 'Please Don't Spit on the Floor' illustration is rather humorous as it shows us to spit in a spittoon and not on the floor. The crowd singing the song is rather weird in a way but hey; at least we know what action they're doing even though it's sort of cycled animation only used once for the singing scenes. There is some pretty good drawings of the lion biting the acrobat's daughter and drawings of the lion died that is rather cartoonie and probably fun for the background painter to illustrate.

After the song has completed; the film them finally begins as the programs have finished. The film showing is a Warmer Bros. film and their trademark at the beginning is a parody of the MGM lion. The feature is called Petrified Florist and it's a Vitamin production (a parody of a Vitaphone production) which is what the Warner Bros. cartoons were produced by up until 1939. The title of the film is a parody of 'Petrified Forest' which starred Leslie Howard and Bette Davis as they appear in this cartoon. The film also co-starred Humphrey Bogart which is what made him famous -thanks to Howard.

The hilarious part of the Warmer Bros. lion is that their own trademark is it's a cockerel sound which is laugh-out-loud. There is a whole list of credits shown here and it includes:  The Hero... Lester Coward; The Shero... Bettie Savis; Rich Man... John P. Sockefeller; Poor Man... John Dough; Begger Man... Kismet; Thief... Oph Bagdad; Doctor... Jekyll; Lawyer... Ima Shyster (the last five names then repeat endlessly). 

The film begins with Leslie Howard as a hitchhiker walking in the Petrified Forest of Arizona holding a book in his hand. Cars are riding straight past him ignoring the character. Remember this film is just a parody of the movie which would be popular of it's time as this cartoon is pretty dated. Leslie Howard then rings the bell by a railroad pole waiting for a train. Meanwhile there is a donkey member sitting in the audience that sits up doing his duty as a man who delivers foods in the cinema to members of the audience. Because of his loud, annoying voice - the audience kick him out for disrupting the audience as he's tossed out of the theatre continuously shouting "Peanuts, popcorn, Cracker Jacks, chewing gun" still thinking he's on duty.

Back to the film that the audience are watching, the Leslie Howard character then walks into a hamburger inn in the middle of the desert. The Leslie Howard character then demands a waiter to arrive and demand service. The Bette Davis character pop up as there is sort of a relationship going on.

Bettie Davis: What's your name?
Leslie Howard: Puddin Tame. Ask me again, and I'll tell you the same.
Bette Davis: Are you a poet?
Leslie Howard: After a fashion.
Bette Davis: I love poetry.
Leslie Howard: Would you like me to recite?
Bette Davis: No!

The Leslie Howard character then starts to recite the poetry to 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' which I guess is meant to be funny since it's just a children's nursery rhyme but even can't pronounce the poem correctly saying she had a goat. I imagine that these were lines from the original movies. Is it me or wouldn't it have been cheaper that much of the cartoon was painted in black and white since it's meant to be printed like a black-and-white film and the news reels too; unless it helped save budget costs.

While Leslie Howard is reciting the poem (and doing rather badly at it) there is a baby duck sitting next to her father asking questions about what is going on in the picture which is just annoying for the father and pretty common of what children do when going to the cinemas.

The baby duck is speaking in an annoying voice asking questions at 24/7. The baby duck then asks of having a drink of water over and over again until the audience members sitting behind the child duck shush the baby duck. The duck still asks questions constantly asking to watch cartoons and asking what's going on in the films until the audience members shush the duck and stick their tongues at him. The father shouts "What's the idea?" but gets a whack from the audience. I guess that being in the cinemas back in the days had involved a lot of "interactions" with many other people. The baby duck tries to ask another question but gets whacked out of the screen room.

The baby duck then starts to run up the stairs and is standing outside the projection room door. Of course; curious for a child to enter the room; they would mess up what's being shown on the film.

The baby duck then starts to fiddle around with the film projector as the film is being run. May I ask, why isn't there a man supervising a projection room? Was that common back then? The baby duck then starts to fast forward the film in which we hear Leslie Howard trying to recite a poem but his voice is all sped up. It looks like that Friz Freleng is having the kick of using sped-up voice effects to also make comedy suitable.

After failing through a couple of attempts to try and fix the film projector back to normal; the bay duck realizes that he's done a bad thing. The film then starts to speed up the motion of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis again and I imagine this was a task for the animators as there is no inbetweens required as it just hops from one pose to the other to make the effect believable. The film then starts to move backwards as the animation of that would've moved backwards from a camera effect.

The baby duck realizes that this has turned awry and tries to fix the film projector by opening the door of it but gets caught up by these cogs that almost tear his feathers out. I do wonder why the audience don't seem to react to something strange? You can notice some smear effects animation presented here of the duck caught inside the film projector. The cartoon finished with the baby duck tied up by these film reels and struggles to break free.

Overall comments: As I have mentioned (as had Greg Ford in the DVD commentary) I feel that Friz Freleng has found his humor for this cartoon as I think it's proved to be a success in areas. It would've been very funny at the time it was made; and while it is still fun to watch today; the cartoon is very dated. There are a lot of dated references shown here like on the radio programs and also the film being shown. Although we all know that Warner Bros. cartoons are extremely crammed with dated jokes today (as they would've been popular of the time) but they were fun at the time but I find this cartoon in particular to be one of the most dated.

The animation of the short was very good animation especially with those unique camera angles that Freleng has set up and the staging was all done very well. Much of this cartoon was filmed in black and white but it works well for the newsreels and motion pictures. Besides; it's also an easier and faster job for the Ink and Painters. I do not know who the voice of the Baby duck is but I'm not going to prone on who it is. That "little Oscar" reference does bug me as to what the reference is. I particularly enjoyed watching this cartoon as it's one of his more interesting cartoons of this period.


  1. The gag with the double-bill is that it unintentionally reads as a single title-"36 Hours to Kill With His Brother's Wife".

    "Rejected shorts" is a pun on "selected shorts".

    Also worth noting that T. Hee designed the "Petrified Forest" caricatures.

  2. Thanks for the info - looking at it; it does look like T. Hee's designs.

  3. Great Cartoon -- you're starting to get into some real gold now.

  4. The father duck sounds like W. C. Fields in this short.