Sunday, 24 June 2012

170. Egghead Rides Again (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 169.
Release date: July 17, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Tex Avery (Red), Mel Blanc (Egghead) and Billy Bletcher (Room Clerk).
Animation: Paul Smith and Irven Spence.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Egghead dreams of becoming a cowboy; and heads to Wyoming to apply a job as a cowpuncher.

Egghead would later become Elmer Fudd;
who is Bugs Bunny's main antagonist..
The first appearance of Tex Avery's character Egghead; who would star in a number of cartoons in the 1930s; and let's not forget that the character is a prototype of Elmer Fudd - however, Elmer Fudd wouldn't make his first official appearance until 1940 starting with Elmer's Candid Camera directed by Chuck Jones but Elmer was named in 'A Feud There Was' in 1938. This is probably the first WB cartoon to use the electric guitar sound effect to accentuate the WB shield; but I don't know if it was opening used before in cartoons before that which turned into Blue Ribbon issues later.

This is Irv Spence's first screen credit for Warner Bros. but not his first animation as I noticed a few scenes by his in Uncle Tom's Bungalow. Irv Spence was only at Warner Bros for roughly a year before heading off to MGM. I believe this is the first cartoon in which Paul Smith joins the Tex Avery crew and he stayed there until at least 1940? I wonder why he moved from Freleng to Avery? I assume that Spence and Smith went to Avery's unit because they were replacing Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett who went over to the Iwerks studio to make Porky Pig cartoons; which would lead to Tex only having Virgil Ross and Sid Sutherland as their animators; by bringing Irv Spence and taking Paul Smith away from Freleng's unit so their unit would be complete with 4 animators. Freleng's unit would also consist of four animators too: Ken Harris, Bob McKimson, Cal Dalton and Phil Monroe. 

The cartoon begins with our new character Egghead, as it appears is a cowboy riding a horse in an American desert. He is shouting very excitedly and acting like a cowboy. The camera then pans backwards as we find that the American desert is in fact an image of a calendar (dated June 1937 - I wonder if that was when Avery estimated the cartoon would be in theatres). We find that Egghead is in fact riding a pogo-stick.

That is a good camera angle and as we find Egghead is pretending to be a cowboy acting all boisterous but that sure looks pretty large for a calendar. Egghead is bouncing on the pogo-stick even all over his room and on top of the bed. That scene of Egghead acting like a cowboy bouncing around is animation by Irv Spence and you can tell how off-model and loose the animation is. The bouncing and the noise is enough to drive the man downstairs who is head of the boarding house. The landlord is also given personality as he keeps on saying "Dad burnit" to display annoyance so at least Avery has given the landlord some character. The landlord then walks up the stairs to toss Egghead out of the boarding house for his loud behaviour - "I'll put a stop to this".

So, in the next shot Egghead is tossed out of the boarding house for making a lot of noise and also disturbing those living in the boarding house - I assume. Egghead's suitcase with his belongings is also tossed out as it hits Egghead on the head with his belongings falling out of the case. The manager then shouts "Get out and stay out" so Egghead can go off to be a cowboy. Billy Bletcher is obviously the voice of the landlord here.

Egghead is rather weary from being tossed out but finds that there is an article in a magazine that suits his interests. The advertisement reads: WANTED - A GOOD COW PUNCHER -apply- BAR-NONE RANCH - Wahoo, Wyoming. This would be a good chance for Egghead's dreams becoming a cowboy would be likely. Egghead then rips off the page off the magazine as he reads; I like how his nose prods the paper. Egghead then shouts excitedly; "Egghead rides again!" Egghead cheers with his hat as he walks off to the post office as he writes them a letter to apply for their job. Egghead writes the address on the envelope addressing it to Bar None Ranch. The scenes of Egghead reading the advertisement and ripping off the piece of paper if also Irv's animation with the pouty mouth (and I've mentioned that before previously).
In the next scenes we find that we are in the deserted area of Wyoming where the westerns live. The camera PAN is gone very well; and even the overlays of the backgrounds are pretty realistic looking. It feels like a Disney look to it; except this was before the Multiplane camera was invented; while Warner Bros. would've used overlays to make it realistic.

The song that the cowboys are singing is called That's My Western Home and it's unknown who wrote that song. We then reach to the sign that reads Bar-None Ranch.

After the view of Wyoming and the sign of the ranch; we find that there are four groups of cowboys sitting down on the porch of their ranch continuing to sing the song. I don't know if this was meant to be but the cowboy playing the guitar looks like a caricature of Paul J. Smith to me but I'm not going to imply that with certainty.

Meanwhile the head of the ranch looks out the window as he steps out of the ranch; and a funny looking Avery gag is in the background where you see the odd shape of the door for the cowboy to step out in that curvy walk. At least Avery could give the background artists some fun. Would this by John Didrik Johnson painting the backgrounds? The head cowboy points at an incoming vehicle; "Look boys, down comes a pony express". Of course; we think that it's a rider or probably Egghead riding a pony; but it turns out to be a type of trailer with the word "pony express" printed on it and there is a horse riding on it. The leader then brings the boys up to inside their saddles on their horses to join in.

The cowboys jump onto their horses as they yell excitedly and they ride along to the pony express transport. They wait by for the pony express to park and a postal clerk opens the door to hand them a letter until it rides away. The cowboy then starts to open up the envelope to check their mail; and we find by surprise that Egghead has delivered himself all the way inside that tiny envelope which is quite funny.

Egghead then talks a bit about himself as he appears to stutter or suffer with spoonerism when describing himself as a "rootin' tootin' cowboy". Egghead explains why he wants to join as a cowpuncher as he explains (done by Billy Bletcher) "because, because, because" and then it's Danny Webb who speaks in Egghead's voice "today I am a man". The phrase "today I am a man" is a phrase that was spoken at a bar mitzahs indicating a young Jewish man's passage to adulthood. Irv Spence animated that shot of Egghead there.

The cowboy then responds to Egghead's demand to join as a cowpuncher; "Well stranger, y'gotta be able to shoot strays and ride horses to join here". The cowboy (I don't know who that voice actor is) then asks a fellow cowboy named Red to help out Egghead with his trial. Red replies in Tex Avery's funny voice "Okay, boss".

Red then starts to make a roll-up cigarette by grabbing out a piece of paper; filling it with nicotine; chewing it and then forms it into a cigarette. One part I don't understand is how did the cigarette already ended up lit without a match or a lighter? The animation of the cigar smoking is still loose; and yes that's also Spence's scenes. He's the only animator I'm going to be identifying in these 1930s Avery cartoons as he's the only animator of the 1930s whose style I can recognize. The cowboy then shoots with his pistol straight at the cigarette so that it's lit. But it was already lit after chewing it or if that's just a direct error that was made by the animators and the crew of this cartoon.

The cowboy then hands over the cigarette to Egghead; "Okay; now you try it after". The cowboy swings the gun and then passes it to Egghead for his trial onto successfully practicing that skill. Egghead's hands drop to the ground as the pistol is too heavy for a weakling like Egghead. Red then makes the cigarette by chewing it; and then pops it out with a pipe (also by Spence). The chewing animation is basically the same drawings; but new animation with the cigar popping out.

Irv Spence animates that small sequence as well; as Egghead fires the gun but is blown out of the scene by force and after the bullets hit Red by accident; he disappears from the scene and we find that only his shoes and hat are still standing at that same position. Red's arm pops out of the hat waving a truce flag to not shoot. Red jumps out of the hat and back onto his shoes as he runs off. With his hat still standing in that position; he grabs it out of the way. Now that scene was a very funny bit of timing done by Avery and even with the shoes and hat still standing it would've got a laugh from the audience. All of the cowboys laugh at Egghead for his embarrassing performance but the head cowboy still has hope for Egghead to do his best. 

 As the cowboys are still laughing as to what had happened; they then move from the bench to the next step for Egghead's trial. The head cowboy gives Egghead a branding iron. The iron at the front reads the name of the ranch "Bar None". The cowboy then asks Egghead; "Let's see you brand it" meaning that Egghead is going to brand a lamb.

Egghead then runs over to try and brand the lamb but the lamb tries to escape afraid of the branding iron but all the other cowboys rush into the scene to stop the lamb from escaping by sliding through the fence and keep it positioned. Egghead runs into the scene to keep it positioned; and we find that a gust of smoke rises into the scene covering up the cowboys and what is happening at the scene. We find that Egghead has accidentally branded the humans' rear ends by mistake and that the lamb walks out of the way completely unharmed. Now that was a very funny scene considering that Egghead had the chance to brand a lamb that was blocked but is too clumsy and brand the cowboys instead. The walk that the lamb does whilst walking away is rather funny.

The cowboy then runs up to Egghead and shouts, "Get that calf and you get the job". Egghead raises his hat with acceptance. We find Egghead trying to jump over one of the bigger horses to get the calf but the gag is that he ends up riding a pony as it's even for his size. In that scene of Egghead riding the pony; you can briefly hear 'The Merry Go Round Broke Down'.

The calf discovers that he will be branded and jumps up jumping over the fence running for his life. Egghead then jumps over the fence to capture the calf. Notice that whilst he is riding the horse he hasn't got the branding iron with him. The next shots is rather amusing as the calf is running and jumps over the fences as though the calf is hurdling. I like how that the backgrounds are animated to make it look rather appealing and as though the calf really is running; and saves the background artists from having to paint a very long canvas. Egghead is also jumping over the fences shouting "Egghead rides again!". That scene of Egghead and his horse jumping looks like it might be Irv but I'm not too sure.

The calf is still running away from Egghead and then it leads to a path. There is a traffic light that halts the calf from running. The calf waits for any traffic and once it's safe then the calf runs. If the lights switch to green then it would've made more sense. Egghead also stops for traffic before running. That is rather funny as the action is interrupted with traffic before the calf can continue.

The calf continues to run but then thinks of a wise idea while reaching at the edge of a cliff; the calf rides under the cliff and Egghead jumps over on top not taking any notice as to where the calf has ended up. Obviously in reality; the calf would fall but at least it shows Avery isn't trying to follow realism at all and pushes the boundaries. The calf finds that it is safe to go back to the other side of the cliff and climbs back to the top and then runs off. Egghead is still riding but finds that the calf has run back the other way in which Egghead makes a turn to chase the calf. I like that stretch the horse makes whilst Egghead makes a turn to get the calf back. Egghead and the horse then jump back from the cliff where the calf was hiding.

The calf then reaches to another edge of the cliff in which the calf decides to slide down the cliff in order to escape Egghead. Egghead also reaches the edge; but finds that he is too cornered to make a risk of jumping off the edge; but instead decides to take the safety zone of descending down the steps. That is also funny; and typical of Avery to add a gag to the spot.

There is a long-shot of the action going on as Egghead starts to chase the calf around and around these small mountains and then back. The music played in the background is In the Stirrups which is a Stalling cue that he has used sometimes for action scenes. The chasing then continues as Egghead manages to chase the calf back into the farm where Bar-None Ranch is. The calf is cornered in which he ends up exhausted from all the running and this would be Egghead's chance to brand the calf. Egghead then starts to approach to the calf quietly hiding a piece of rope behind his rope attempting to try and keep the calf in position. I must say I find Egghead's voice a little degrading; at least in this cartoon. Egghead jumps straight at the calf as we see nothing but clouds of dust of the fighting on the screen; and after the dust dissolves - Egghead is seem tied up from the rope and the calf proved Egghead to be an idiot.

The other cowboys sitting by the fence then start to laugh at Egghead for not successfully completing the tasks and the fact that his chances of becoming a cowboy is pretty slim. From Egghead's failure; he pulls himself out of the ropes. He starts to rub his eyes as he's starting to cry. In the close-up shot of Egghead; he begins to sniffle and then a tear runs down his eye; I wonder if Avery was trying to intimidate Disney deliberately?

The close-up shot of Egghead trying is rather detailed but I'm not going to guess the animator; but it looks like an animator more controlled and detailed than Irv Spence who appears to like to focus on the structure of the drawing. Egghead then places his hat on top of his bald head as he walks out of the ranch dejected. It's all pretty solid character animation of Egghead walking glum and turning his head to look at the laughing cowboys not giving a hoot as to what had happened. After what Egghead has gone through; the head cowboy then walks into the scene to congratulate Egghead for the trial.

This turns out to be a miracle for Egghead as he thought that he was an utter failure but has now won the job. The head cowboy annoucnes to Egghead; "You are now a member of the ol' Bar-None Ranch". Egghead is amazed with excitement as they go into dialogue:

Egghead: You mean I'm okay; you mean I got the job?
Cowboy: (laughs) Why sure you do, shorty. Sure you do.

The head cowboy then replaces Egghead's cowboy hat as though he's not going to be needing that and replaces it with a white hat and gives Egghead the job for being a sanitary worker. He is given a wheelie bin; as well as a mop as he's the ranch's new cleaner. Now that is a rather funny twist to the end since Egghead's wish of becoming a cowboy doesn't come true and has to end up working as their janitor. The cowboy continues: "There you are" and then leaves him to do the job.

At least Egghead has the job but just not becoming a job as he must feel like crap. From that point where the cowboy announces he's "got the job" that's Irv Spence's animation that goes clean through to the very end. Egghead then starts to try and conclude the cartoon by shouting "But Egghead rides again" but as he says that; he's interrupted with a horse neigh and concludes "But Egghead (horse-neigh heard)...sweeps again" looking rather disgusted from facial features being given a humiliating job to him.

Overall comments: Of course; Egghead is a new character created by Avery and it would become his regular character through to the 1930s before turning into Elmer Fudd. I imagine that Avery would be using Egghead as his main character for the 'Merrie Melodies' to break the old rules for the series to only allowing one-shot characters. I find that this cartoon has great satire since Egghead suffers from humiliation although determined to become a cowboy. I like how Avery decided not to show sympathy for the character in the cartoon even though getting the job; but not becoming a cowboy. There were some gags in there that was typical of Avery such as when Egghead fires the gun at Red in which his body disappears for a bit with only his shoes and hat standing.

Tex Avery sure must've loved Egghead back then as he continued to use Egghead for the next two years but also Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton used Egghead too - unless this cartoon was a hit with the box-office which encouraged Tex to make more of those cartoons. The animation is also fun to watch; especially if it's animation by Irv Spence who makes it rather loose and funny looking; while the other animators back then working for Tex were more bland. Irv would animate on a lot of those Egghead cartoons that Tex was making in that era as it was the character he was often assigned to work on. 


  1. The other thing to note here is that while Egghead eventually morphed into Elmer, his voice here is actually the one Tex would use for Daffy (Mel had used it a bit in "Porky's Duck Hunt", but this was the first time the voice was given extended dialogue, and the Leon Schlesinger-inspired lisp. Daffy would get his voice back and Egghead would get Joe Penner's voice and a toupee in their next apperances).

  2. Just to clarify, Egghead isn't the ranch's janitor at the end of the cartoon. The "wheelie bin" marked DSC and the white helmet - probably a pith helmet - mean that he's the ranch's "street sweeper" or more accurately that he's cleaning up after the horses when the horses are out of the stable or corral. Most American cities into the 1930s and maybe even the 1940s had men (sometimes known as "white wings") whose job was to clean up horse manure that fouled the city streets. This would be a pretty obvious gag for most people who lived in cities in the 1930s.

  3. Just to clarify, this Egghead, and the "Egghead" from later shorts ("Little Red Walking Hood","Cinderella Meets Fella"), were apparently considered two different characters, at least by Warner's management. One publicity sheet for "Cinderella..." refers to the character as "Egghead's brother", which Mike Barrier had shown a couple years ago. Also, a lot of merchandise referred to the squinty-eyed Egghead character as "Elmer".

    But, many people still refer to them both as Egghead. I guess it's just simpler to do so.

  4. I know "Uncle Tom's Bungalow" and "Streamlined Greta Green" had the older-style opening theme song without the guitar sound, so only "Sweet Sioux" (July 3, 1937; turned into a Blue Ribbon short as of April 8, 1944) would be probable as to being the first with the guitar sound in its original release opening theme song.


  5. Very late comment here, but this is probably the first WB cartoon to have the guitar effect for the zooming shield. How? I checked Porky's Super Service and it didn't have any guitar effect for the zooming shield. Coincidentally, this cartoon's ending music (probably the last WB cartoon to not have specialized closing music depending on whether the cartoon is a MM or a LT) fits perfectly with the 'that's all folks!' closing.

  6. Soorya,

    The final Merrie Melody of the 1936-37 season with stock music over the closing was "A Sunbonnet Blue," also directed by Tex Avery but released on August 21, 1937.

    There were no Technicolor Looney Tunes until "The Hep Cat," released October 3, 1942.

    1. Speaking of the Weather, Plenty of Money and you, and Dog Daze were the only three Merrie Melodies to have closing music, based on MWRA. and those 3 endings have different slight variations.