Friday, 18 May 2012

165. Uncle Tom's Bungalow (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 164.
Release date: June 5, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Hound, Excited Little Eva), Berniece Hansell (Little Eva), Billy Bletcher (Simon Simon Legree) and Ted Pierce (Narrator).
Animation: Sid Sutherland and Virgil Ross. Irv Spence uncredited.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A parody retelling the story of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'.

The title of the cartoon is a parody of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It's rather ironic that the previous cartoon (Clean Pastures) and this cartoon would later become in the Censored 11 programme as these cartoons were made at the same time. Michael Barrier writes this is the first cartoon to NOT have a title name of the cartoon named after a popular song (as it always has been since 1931) but 'Pigs Is Pigs' was actually the first, I'd say.

The cartoon begins with a Southern setting at the coast set in the old South. We then notice the shaking camera effect to give it a rather upbeat effect as we still pan towards the cotton field. We continue to PAN until we arrive at a plantation house. The narrator comments on the behind-the-scenes crew; "That's real swing, boys". At least that is rather charming giving the camera guys some credit.

A little girl then steps out of her porch being introduced to this cartoon. The narrator continues, "Now we introduce our characters - first a little lady. Tell us you're name honey?" the narrator asks the little  blonde girl. The little girl blabs on talking about her own details and not asking what her name was. Blimey; does she have some understanding problems or something - unless that was the gag? "I'm six years old..." she goes on. She talks about her being in the first grade of school knowing how to spell two very simple words "cat" and "dog". She talks about her own toys shouting she's got a doll and a teddy bear but she then shows off her pantalet. The narrator pauses her,

Narrator: Hey, hold on. No, no. Remember you're a big girl. Now all we want to know is you're name. Little Eva: Little Eva, you dope! (shouts).

The shouting line of Little Eva might have been performed by Mel Blanc but I'm not too certain. That was a nice little opening scene of the little girl bragging on trying to show off while only her name is asked. This part if a turning point for Tex Avery making parodies of characters being introduced. The shouting scene was funny but  Berneice Hansell is just an unfunny actress  - very unfunny.

In the next scene after Little Eva has been introduced; the next character being introduced is a little black girl who is probably the playmate of Little Eva. The "girl" is standing inside a shack as the narrator asks, "Hey girly; step out of that shadow and introduce yourself to the folks here". The girl then introduces herself as "Topsy". Watching that scene; with the "step out of the shadow" part - I wonder if that is meant to be a stereotypical joke since she's inside the dark but it doesn't make a difference once she steps out - just wondering. Topsy is shown very shy to the camera and the narrator comments, "Very cute".

In the next shot Uncle Tom walks down the street and "here comes ol' Uncle Tom now" reports the narrator. The crooked walk movement is animated pretty well. He talks to the narrator who comments on him as his knees are "shaking" as he shouts "Brother, ma knees ain't shakin'".

The next character being introduced here is a scullery maid "Hey gal, give us a low down". The black maid replies, "Ma name's Eliza and I'm from Dixie". Of course; we're referring to the South here. The narrator replies, "You're from Dixie, gal?" They appear to go onto conversation with Eliza asking if the narrator is from Dixie as the narrator replies "Of ocurse; I'm from Dixie". This reference is parodied from the film called 'Way Out West' that came out in 1937 with the quote "Well shut ma mouth; I'm from the south too!"

Eliza then starts to go into excitement about the narrator from the south and about how she enjoys being in the South. Hmm; this is good old fashioned family racism. I find that the animation of the scullery maid jumping about rather loose but the whole excitement part was rather silly and all for my liking.

The next character to step in who is being introduced is the "viper of this picture". The villain is Simon Simon Legree. The name is a parody of the book viper Simon Legree - while the other characters Little Eva, Topsy and Eliza are real characters from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. I have a feeling that this might be Chuck Jones animation of the viper twidling his beard as it's the same sort of animation he did in 'Milk and Money'.

I like that short gag of the subtitles read below; (Pronounced - SEEMOAN ~ SEEMOAN). To try and reassure the audience watching this cartoon on how it's being pronounced. Simon Simon Legree then greets the audience, "Hello, hello everybody". Although from the accent I'm hearing from Bletcher; it sounds more like a British accent than a Southern but that's just me. The twiddling beard scene is quite a nice touch to add.

In the next shot; the final characters being introduced here are the dogs. The narrator goes on, "...and last but not leash (pun,  folks). The hounds". The hounds are sleeping at the porch by the docks. The narrator asks one of the hounds, "Say 'Hi' to the folks". The grumpy dog wakes up and says "hello" to the audience before resting again. A nice small Mel Blanc line that he got as it's more funnier than the other voices so far.

The narrator chuckles but moves on to the story - "Now, onto the show". The narrator asks if Little Eva is ready as she replies; "You bet it" and giggles. I'm not sure what she calls him but it sounds kind of dated. He asks Topsy; "You too, cutie?" and she replies "Anytime you say, professor". He asks Uncle Tom still walking; "Do you want to be an actor?" and Uncle Tom replies reassuringly, Oh sure, sure sure. Oh sure, sure, sure".

Narrator: How about it, Eliza?
Eliza: Yeah, man.
Narrator: (shot of Simon Simon) All set Simon, Simon?
Simon Simon: The sooner, the sooner.
Narrator: (to the dogs) You sit-downers ready?
Dog: Yeah. I guess so. There ain't nothin' else to do.

The cartoon now finally begins to take place in action after roughly 2 and a half minutes for the audience to get to know the characters. Now the cartoon starts off it's plot as a sign on top of a shack reads "Smiling Simon Simon Legree - Used Slave Co. 6%". The narrator also directs the camera as he shouts out for the cartoon to begin.

There is some evil laughter being heard here from the viper Simon Simon Legree who is holding onto his whip. I like how that the end of his whip shows actual hand movements. While whipping; we PAN forward to the slaves for sale. The slave at the end is Uncle Tom as each slave is $175 each. The viper is about to walk up to Uncle Tom for a whipping as he goes into a funny line; "Ma body may belong to you but ma soul belongs to Warner Brothers". A rather funny bit of dialogue included as the viper covers his ears hearing that.

The two girls Topsy and Little Eva are skipping along the streets happily. They look in despair to find that Uncle Tom is being whipped harshly. The two girls then ask the viper to stop whipping poor Uncle Tom as they insist on "buying the old man". In the next shot; it turns out that Uncle Tom has been bought by the viper. The viper hands over the contract. "Here's your contract. But remember, if you're all behind in your payments; I take him back!"

In the next shot; the two girls take Uncle Tom to Little Eva's plantation as they skip merrily using Tom as a playmate. After they step into the house; the seasons change from a sunny day into a winter, snowy day as the narrator comments "My, my - how time does fly". They appear to have a fine life living with Uncle Tom.

Meanwhile back into the shop where the overseer of slaves works; there is already bad news over there. The viper is reading through the book to try and find who to tax. They are reading the plantations of Topsy and Eva. They're names are obviously listed since they have bought the slaves. While running down with is finger; the girls started off rather well with their payments but have been past their payments recently.

The viper finds they are behind their payments and comments; "Well; I'll fix dat!" The narrator comments on the bad news of Simon Simon Legree walking through the snow in an interesting characteristic walk. The narrator tries to help the characters also a part of the story; "Better warn the kids". Uncle Tom and the girls are seen rather happy with their servant but warn that Legree is arriving at the plantation. They then start to tip Uncle Tom inside the mirror where he can hide.

The overseer enters the house from the blizzard wanting to take Uncle Tom away from the girls and with him ruining their friendship. The viper points at Little Eva shouting "Where's Uncle Tom?" The two girls try to act innocent as Eva shouts, "We don't  know - so there!" Topsy shouts "So there", too.

That shot of the two girls denying on Uncle Tom's whereabouts is Irv Spence's animation - probably his first animation at Warner Bros. with Tex. The characters look rather taller and looser with movement like Spence and very off-model which was why I thought so. Simon Simon Legree then insists on searching for Uncle Tom, "Alright, alright - I'll find him and when I do..." Legree then starts to slither like a snake would; and this is the same animation that was used in 'Milk and Money' but I don't know if Chuck Jones was the animator -wasn't he already off with Ub Iwerks by this point? The narrator then records on how "warm" the character is on reaching "Uncle Tom".

Of course the narrator is on the Eva and Topsy's side as he's trying to help them out. He tells Legree that he's getting "warmer" as he is reaching his hand under the settee almost touching a socket render. As Legree then reaches his hand inside the socket; he starts to go into an "electric shock" that shows he's "scorching" after touching the socket. The effects animation would've been by Ace Gamer of the lightning reaction effects and it's very astonishing animation. After the reaction; the narrator goes into a pun, "Boy; you're burnin' up!"

Simon Simon Legree then walks up to the two girls that are terrified of Legree as he shouts "Tell me where Uncle Tom is or I'll whip you with an inch of your life!" I believe that this was also Spence's scenes of Legree and the two girls terrified. I like how Eva's face gets darker and darker with a terrified look.  As Legree is about to whip them; Eliza the scullery maid opens the door to rescue Eva and Topsy. The comic timing of Eliza opening the door was very neat.

Eliza then scurries out of the house in the snow running away from Legree the overseer. Is it me or is the parents never shown in this cartoon at all; or unless the maid Eliza is meant to be the lady looking after them. Legree then steps out of the house blowing a whistle towards the dogs sitting down on their porch lazily but wake up and follow Legree.

Simon Simon Legree then moves down to the ground sniffing for tracks like a dog. A very funny Avery gag pops up which is one of the "impossible things" that works by charm. A footprint on the snow pops out to life and kicks Legree in the behind. The timing of the buttocks is rather funny movement. The narrator then reports the chase sequence of Eliza and the children being chased by Legree and his hounds. Eliza runs down the road of her plantation. The commentary scenes are at least worth the amusement as this would've been a serious part of the novel but at least Avery can lighten it up with fun.

As Eliza is about to run through the river; she pauses discovering that "there's no ice down the river". The narrator tries to calm down Eliza who is just skittering around the edge of the river trying to find a way out, "Relax Eliza, don't get excited". She replies screaming, "EXCITED?! I'm not excited!" Boy; that line SURE must have been a favourite at the Schlesinger studios as it's now been used not once but three times.

The narrator then discovers some shack on where to find ice which is next to her but it has jackpot slots. She places a 5 cent coin inside the slot and ends up winning the jackpot as blocks of ice end up flowing into the river forming a bridge. She is still crossing the roads escaping from Legree as the narrator continues to report, "and Eliza rides again!" However Legree and his hounds end up crossing the path as it's no difference to the chase now. Eliza and the children end up crossing the river safely before tripping onto the log.

Simon Simon Legree and the hounds then surround Eliza and the children about to take a whipping before an interruption takes place. There is the sounds of a car horn in which it turns out to be Uncle Tom dressed in very wealthy clothing holding a lot of cash notes in a fancy red limo. The narrator concludes; "Looks like the boy has collected on his social security". There is a great twist to that end which turns out that he has enough money to give the money to Legree so he no longer needs to be hassled or even the children.

Eva asks, "Why Uncle Tom, where'd you get all dat money?" Uncle Tom reaches out for his pockets , breathing his hand shaking the dice and unrolls them hoping to make a "lucky 7" but ends up with snake-eyes. The snake-eyes dice then immediately jump up to form a 7 that shows Uncle Tom has been gambling which was seen as the culture for African-Americans. For the iris out - with the dice left in the credits; Uncle Tom reaches his hands to catch it in this fine piece of animation - probably by Gamer. The narrator ends the story; "and there you have the story of Uncle Tom's Bungalow - or have you?"

Overall comments: With two cartoons now shown (but twice in a row) I have to say that I do prefer this cartoon than Clean Pastures. Of course the cartoon does feature racial black stereotypes but I don't particularly call this cartoon a harmful, racist cartoon by Tex as this is just basically a parody of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin so I don't think there's any racism intended. I don't really want to analyse the racial side of these cartoons as I really don't have much to say on this side of this cartoon. This is the first of the Tex Avery parodies and also the first Avery 'Merrie Melodies' cartoon where he doesn't need to use the song; which means that the cartoons are getting better by this point.

Ted Pierce's narrating was rather decent and kept the story going but I don't think the narrating from beginning to end was needed throughout the ENTIRE cartoon but that's what Tex like so I won't go against that. The lighting socket effect was rather decent. The opening was a breakthrough for Tex getting to know the character's personalities to make it funny as it made the cartoon rather interesting but I did feel it went on for a bit of time. Interesting about how the opening analysed on almost every single character - even the hounds. I think this could be the first cartoon where Irv Spence's animation first appears - as it's the first time I've been able to spot it as his animation is very easy to identify. I like how this parody it's much more brightened up while the novel is a very serious novel focusing on the relationships and here it's parodied for fun. I don't particularly find this cartoon very harmful to watch but it's a little bit fun, but a little mediocre as it felt rather slow to me (particularly the beginning) and rushed afterwards. I may plan to write a post using extracts from Mike Barrier's book 'Hollywood Cartoons' coming up shortly.


  1. The "Seemoan-Seemoan" gag is in reference to actress Simone Simon.

  2. This is also the first cartoon to introduce the idea of the 'comic' villain, a bad guy who is far more funny than threatening. Avery and Clampett would flesh out the idea later in the year with "The Sneezing Weasel", "Porky's Hero Agency" and "Little Red Walking Hood," but this was the first cartoon to move away from the standard Disney/melodrama-ish notion that the heavy in the picture had to be taken seriously, and set the tone for all the WB and other studios' cartoons to follow.

  3. Some of the dialogue in this one is actually pretty funny, for example -

    My body may belong to you, but my soul belongs to WARNER BROS!!"

    Why can't good verbal puns, great dialogue and funny stories go togheter with great animation, huh, why does it have to be one or the other, good animation but bad story, bad animation but good story, regular animation but bad story, restricted "limited" animation but good story - SHEESH!!.


  4. A couple of Jack Benny references in this. Pierce's narrator shouts "Buck Liza rides again" when she's hopping from ice block to ice block. Earlier, Pierce says "And here comes old Uncle Tom now." In the Buck Benny sketches, Mary Livingston used to exclaim "And here comes Pappy now!"
    Avery's experimenting a bit here. The cartoon is mired in late '30s pacing; there's no way in the '40s he would have taken half the cartoon to set up the characters. And I imagine later, if he used a gag of the narrator warning characters in a future scene, they would probably talk back.
    It sounds to me that Bletcher is doing Little Eva yelling back at the narrator.
    I like Pierce's work in this.