Thursday, 5 July 2012

173. Porky's Railroad (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 172.
Release date: August 7, 1937.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig) and Billy Bletcher (Silver Fish engineer).
Animation: Joe D'Igalo and Robert Bentley.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky Pig is in threat of a streamlined train which is planning to take over him.

The cartoon begins as we find an animated locomotive in perspective moving while the title cards still appear. The animation of the locomotive driving down is done in an animation cycle which I feel is suitable and it's done in a point of view shot. The train has the number '515' printed on it as it is steaming through the railroad. There are some interesting camera angles done by Tashlin such as watching the bell ring.

While the steam train rides into the camera with perspective animation; the title card reads in modern writing: The 30th Century Limited the Railroad's Crack Train. The music played at the opening of this cartoon is called California, Here I Come which is a popular Stalling cue when you hear trains or travelling. You can hear the lengthy version in 'Porky the Wrestler' which is heard two-minutes in the cartoon non-stop. There are some pretty interesting Tashlin timing here as well as camera angles that shows how modern the steam train looks describing it as "30th century" and picturing the speed of it.

In the next shot after watching the 30th century updated, faster steamtrain we find an interesting comparison towards Porky Pig's steam train that he engineers. The title card for that reads: The 15th Century Unlimited - also a crack train. A little jokey part is added in describing the steam train and Porky, too -  everything cracked - including the engineer. The animation of the steam train completely puffed out, lacking energy has got some good personality animation.

Porky Pig is then about to ride on top of a hill called 'Piper's Peak' which is shown in Porky's point of view chosen by one of Frank Tashlin's interesting camera techniques even including the shot of what is supposed to be the train going up the hill and instead; it's the camera moving up the hill. Porky is ascending up a hill but is moving up there very slowly. The funny part that is that the train is moving so slowly that a snail moving up the hill is even going at a faster pace which is funny pacing and gag. As the train continues to try and move up the hill; the train then suddenly halts and doesn't make anymore movement.

Porky Pig already finds that there is a problem with a steamtrain but finds an idea to solve that problem. Inside a box where Porky appears to keep his tools; Porky grabs out a pepper-shaker and shakes the pepper on the candle where the engine is. The train starts to sneeze and ends up doing so which starts to make a slight move up the hill. A clever gag idea; and even amusing as Porky blesses the sneezing train, "Gazuntite" (bless you in German).

Everytime when Porky's steamtrain - called Toots starts sneezing; it makes slight movements up the hill. The timing of the steamtrain sneezing starts to get faster as it starts to reach to the top of the hill and then lowers down the hill. Then it comes back with some point of view shows of the steamtrain descending down the hill and then moving forward as the background shows us there's no hill ahead which is why I love those obscure camera angles that Frank Tashlin was experimenting with as he was more of a live-action man. The steamtrain then enters through a tunnel but finds that it's out about two seconds later; and sorry Tash but the pacing of that was a little too quick.

In the next scene you find that some very obscure animation is seen as well as obscure layouts in a bird's-eye view shot of Porky's train "Toots" driving through the train tracks from the looks of it it just looks like a bunch of blocks driving through the train tracks. You make it look more stunning and eye-grabbing attention; Porky's train from the bird's eye shot then goes through very complicating railroads that are all over the place in which the trains split apart in different sections before reattaching together.

Meanwhile as Porky is still driving his train; we find that the '515' train is steaming straight past as it's much more updated than Porky's train. The animated shot of the train steaming past is reused animation of earlier on in the cartoon. Porky Pig notices that the incoming 515 train is coming straight ahead moving incredibly fast. Porky Pig notices that he is in trouble with the incoming, fast locomotive as Porky then starts to make a move on the other side of the railroad so he will be dodge. However there is already one caboose that isn't part of the tracks where Porky is and is likely to get crushed by the incoming train. Porky Pig then starts to pull the last caboose in on the last second just as the incoming train drives past. Now that animated scene would've been just difficult to animate in terms of timing and movement.

Porky then starts to sweat, "Phew" which was a close one after the caboose was almost strucked by the train. Porky Pig can still continue to ride on his train but however faces some trouble as there is a cow sitting in the middle of the railroad. The point of view shot of the cow chewing on the railroad gets closer to attempt to show the halt of a railroad but that camera effect doesn't feel very effective to me.

The concept of this gag of a cow chewing on the railroad has been seen in early Disney cartoons like 'Plane Crazy' or the very Harman-Isings and Tashlin pulls it off here; but it's not the exact same sequence; but just built up differently in this cartoon. Porky Pig then steps out of the railroad and tries to speak to the cow to move although stutters: "Excu..., excu..., Pardon me Mrs. Cow, will you kindly get off the track?" The cow moves her head very slowly making no posture or even an answer to Porky's request but instead just gives a stubborn feeling of not moving. Porky then starts to get more assertive towards the cow, "Come on, come on, get going! Time's a wastin'!" The cow still stays still in which Porky starts to try and push her off but the cow then starts to move along. Huh? Considering that Porky calls her Mrs. Cow - where's her udder?

Porky Pig finally has the "cow" taken off the track in which he walks back on his old steamtrain "Toots" rather annoyed commenting, "It's cows like that, that give milk a bad name. I bet she can't give sweet milk with a sour puss like that". Okay Porky, but don't bother crying about a cow. Porky Pig then steps back onto his steamtrain.

Meanwhile as Porky would be about to get going on the track; a bull walks into the scene. The bull looks very cartoonie; but very tough and bold. I like the nose pierce and appears to have a missing tooth inside his mouth. The bull walks at the end of the railroad but Porky notices that the bull's tail is sticking out of the railroad refusing to walk any further. Porky Pig steps out of his steamtrain and tugs at the bull's tail, "So you won't walk, eh? I'll show you, you four-legged piece of hamburger". Mmm, is it me or does the line "So you won't walk, eh?" sound like a bit of dialogue that a Billy Bletcher character would've voiced. The bull then starts to turn aggressive towards Porky as Porky is making the bull angrier. Porky makes a take from the angry bull and dashes back inside the steamtrain. The steamtrain then dashes away very quickly through those curvy tracks until only you find a speck of dust. The timing of that is done very well and I imagine this was difficult for the animator; likely to be AC Gamer.

After some sequences featuring Porky and his railroad troubles. We find some montage scenes of a hand (influenced from live-action camera angles) tapping on a wireless operator. The operator then comes out with a printed message reading Stop Porky's Train. There are more of these obscure shots of a hand pulling the lead in which the traffic orders the train for Porky's steamtrain to halt.

Porky Pig then stops the train at a local station as a telegram is delivered to Porky through a type of washing line and Porky grabs out the telegram and reads the message: ENGINEER PORKY PIG, ROLL UP YOUR TRACKS AND GO HOME - THE STREAMLINE TRAIN IS HERE TO STAY - I. FULLER CINDERS P.S. PLEASE RETURN SPIKES. I'm not too sure what the "Spikes" reference is meant to mean but the telegram shows that Porky's career as an engineer is in jeopardy as a streamlined train is about to take over Porky Pig. I love that eye shot of how the words "streamline train" is highlighted which is bad news for Porky Pig.

Yes, and a streamlined train is driving through the tracks in which it is called 'The Silver Fish'. The movement of the Silver Fish then starts to zoom in closer (done with arcing and perspective) as the driver of the streamlined train certainly looks evil and a threat to Porky. In the meantime; Porky Pig then starts to sob as his job being an engineer is over. Porky stutters on saying "au revoir" (means "goodbye" in French" but then stutters, "goodbye Toots old gal". Porky then quotes Romeo & Juliet, "Parting is such sweet sorrow".

I love how that in early Porky Pig cartoons that Porky definitely shows personality in his stutter; he tries hard to say complicating words or speaking foreign as he did now but stutters and just thinks of a simpler word on the spot; I appear to notice that an awful lot in these early 1930s cartoons. The "parting is such sweet sorrow" line used in this cartoon is rather funny to use it considering that Porky has used that steamtrain for such a long time.

The Silver Fish streamlined train then arrives at the scene of Porky sobbing of his steamtrain "Toots". Porky walks up to the Silver Fish engineer and stutters, "I wish you lots of luck, Mr. Silver Fish". Mr Silver Fish then grabs out his hand to shake Porky's hand rather violently that Porky is off the ground and goes into these weird poses without inbetweens.

Mr Silver Fish then points at his old steamtrain rather rudely, "Say, what is that? A perculator on a roller skate?" Mr Silver Fish then starts to laugh at "Toots" the steamline which starts to flatten like a burst balloon. Porky then starts to break the forth wall speaking to his audience:

Porky Pig: I bet my Tootsie can beat his old Silver Fish.
(Mr. Silver Fish picks up Porky) Mr Silver Fish: Oh yeah? It's a bet. We'll have a race and see.

Mr. Silver Fish prods and pokes Porky's eyes just to bully him for him as an inferior. Evidently the villain of the cartoon is voiced by Billy Bletcher who is popular all over the studios.

The next scene then fades into the dace. Porky's old steamtrain is next to Mr. Silver Fish ready to begin their race. The referee is holding a stopwatch and is holding a gun in the air as though their race has been made official. The referee then fires with his gun as the streamlined dashes off in a millisecond leaving a speck of dust that blows off revealing Porky's "Toots" all tied up like a pretzel. From what we are seeing - it would be impossible at this point to see him win.

I like the timing here by Tashlin and that Porky's train is tied into a knot after a speck of dust. At least it wasn't so challenging for an animator to have to draw it. The Silver Fish then starts to zoom past winning the race; and drives through the wood pile. The wood pile then starts to fly out of the way revealing what appears to look like a Negro boy or a monkey; and I can't really tell the difference but it's likely to be stereotyped as a Negro. The steam train is already zooming by so fast that whilst going through a tunnel; the tunnel ends up going inside out - with the comic timing of that great. As the race continues; the streamlined train then stops at a bridge to cross a river as a tugboat is sailing past. There is a Mae West fish that pops up from under the water that comments, "Oh boy, what a man". I imagine that was a funny at the time because it's an impression of Mae West but I just find it really random, though. The steamtrain then starts to cross the bridge once it's formed.

Porky Pig  is now steaming ahead trying to catch up with Mr. Silver Fish. Okay, but HOW did Porky end up out of the tangled steamtrain - makes no sense to me and it was never even though. Oh well about that; let's get on with the cartoon. Porky is catching up on the speed so fast that he even crashes open a bridge as a ship is sailing past.

Afterwards Porky turns to find that there is a sailor on a lifeboat rowing singing Don't Give Up the Ship which is a rather funny gag. The name of the ship the sailor works for is called S.S. Leon which is of course; a reference to Leon Schlesinger. Leon even used to own a boat at the time and would even take his crew aboard his boat for events sometimes. There is also a lifebelt on top of the front part of Porky's train "Toots". I'm not so sure on who the voice of the singing sailor in this part could be. Meanwhile as Porky's train is still steaming past still competing to win; the bull from earlier on in the cartoon is on top of the top and spots Porky's train. The bull speaks in an angry voice, "He can't get away with a thing like that, I'll show him". There is a thought bubble that pops up near the bull remembering about what had happened which was Porky tugging at the bull's tail.

The bull then makes a dash down the hill onto the tracks. The bull then starts to make a very loud roaring sound that it slightly shakes the telephone poles. The bull then starts to run straight towards Porky's old steamtrain at full speed ahead. As the bull continues to steam upwards; Porky's train (from the bull's point of view) gets closer and closer. The bull then starts to wreck the cabooses on Porky's steamtrain in which only the front part (where Porky rides the train) is bounced off because it is made of metal and it makes a huge jump. Porky's "Toots" starts to jump high so fast that the train even overtakes the Silver Fish and wins at the finishing line as the scene fades out.

We iris in to find that Porky Pig has taken over the "Silver Fish" train although the last shot makes me wonder since when was the deal made of Porky winning the streamlined train? The camera then pans to where we find that Porky's old steamtrain "Toots" is wrecked and ready for disposal with the sign reading, "Headin' for the Last Roundhouse". Now I thought that Porky loved that engineer and yet he gets rid of it to take over the Silver Fish which I thought he said "I bet my Tootsie can beat his old Silver Fish". Now that is a rather lame way to end the cartoon in my opinion.

Overall comments: You can really find a lot of Tashlin's techniques in this cartoon as it's all over. The obscure camera angles and Tashlin really focused on point-of-view shots of the steamtrain driving past as Tashlin had to get the idea of what it would look like being on a steamtrain when climbing up a hill and such. The effects animation pretty much dominates the whole cartoon and I consider it to be an achievement of this cartoon although I don't know if Gamer would be the only effects animator animating the steamtrains as maybe one of Tashlin's animators had to challenge it. The montage shots were particularly decent as this shows Tashlin being influenced from film reels.

I find however that cartoon is oddly paced in some ways. I notice how that the first 3 minutes of this cartoon doesn't appear to go anywhere as it focuses on Porky's old fashioned steamtrain; then trying to get rid of a cow and bull. It then focuses on the race which feels like it could go on longer but it only lasts roughly 2 minutes. The story in my opinion isn't too great because I find that it waffles through this cartoon but the direction by Tashlin is very good. I just find it confusing as to how did Porky managed to untangle the knot on his train during the race and that the ending feels a bit cold as to Porky decides to take over the streamlined which I thought he didn't want at the beginning.


  1. Hiya Steven. I got to say, I just love how in-depth you get in these reviews. You've got a great blog here. If there was a way to follow it, I would. Keep these golden reviews coming!

  2. “Gazuntite” is actually spelled “Gesundheit.”

    The “stubborn cow on the tracks” bit goes as far back as the 1927 Oswald, Trolley Troubles, which Friz Freleng animated on. No doubt he remembered that gag for the first Looney Tune, Sinkin’ in the Bathtub.

    The person under the woodpile would be a caricatured Negro. A small patch of “I Wish I Was in Dixie” plays in the underscore.

  3. you can't tell the difference in a negro boy and a monkey? RACIST!!! Lol j/k loved this cartoon ever since I was a young 'en!