Monday, 9 July 2012

176. Speaking of the Weather (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 175.
Release date: September 4, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Conductor / Cholly Jam / Walter Snitchall), Charlie Chan (Detective) and Billy Bletcher (Public Enemy / Judge).
Animation: Joe D'Igalo and Volney White.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Books and magazines come to life doing what else? Singing and dancing.

This is the first Frank Tashlin cartoon produced in Technicolor and the first 'Merrie Melody' that he makes. He is influenced by the Harman-Ising cartoons here; in which he said so in an interview. This cartoon is sort of a remake of I Like Mountain Music.

The cartoon begins at night time as a clock tower reads that it is midnight. We then make a PAN with a pretty decent camera move to the drug store. There is a sign displayed outside the drug store that reads: ALL POPULAR MAGAZINES ON SALE HERE. We start to truck inside the drug store and view inside a stall full of the popular magazines. We continue to pan as we stop at a magazine called "Dog World" and a travelogue magazine next to it called "Asia". Note that the date of it reads 'October 1946' - looks like this cartoon is set in the future then. Interesting.

As we continue to truck in we then start to hear the sounds like some kazoo being played but it turns out to be a caricature of Bob Burns playing a "bazooka" which was his notorious musical instrument that was novelty. The magazine in which he is playing at is called 'Radio Stars' and note that his name on the magazine is called 'Bob Boins' which sounds Brooklynese. The "bazooka" then starts to break in which Bob Burns sits down speaking to the audience, "Y'know folks, I can't play this bazooka as good as Uncle Fud back in Van Buren". I imagine this is referencing Van Beuren where Tashlin used to work at.

Bob Burns continues, "We know him as Uncle Fud. You know him as Ted Lewis". Bob Burns then points to his right on Ted Lewis. Ted Lewis is introduced in this section of the cartoon as he's on the magazine cover of Radioland which does sound like an appealing name for a magazine.

Ted Lewis then dofts his top hat holding onto a clarinet and shouts out his catchphrase, "Is everybody happy?" Ned Sparks appears from another magazine and responds, "No" and Sparks was famous for being a grouchy man. That is a very funny gag added in - even at the time considering it's a very popular Lewis quote and yet they add in a grouchy celebrity to make it funnier. Ted Lewis then starts to play the clarinet playing to the song With Plenty of Money and You. We find that Lewis then plays the clarinet for roughly 10 seconds on the screen before then it switches to an outdoor life magazine which was meant to have a beaver on the front cover that joins inside an instrument magazine playing the double bass. I like how that Tashlin has organized the combinations here to make the audience rather eager and pleased with what is being seen. 

In the next scenes we find some dance scenes but it's reused animation from recycled animated shorts. There is a magazine called 'The Dance' in which it shows a dance duet dancing all in silhouette and this is animation reuse from The Miller's Daughter. The next scene shows a boxing magazine called 'The Ring' where there are two boxers on the Ring as they dance. That is reused animation from Those Were Wonderful Days. The next dancing scene takes place in a gardening magazine called 'House & Gardens' with these flowers dancing. Animation reuse from Flowers for Madame.

Ted Lewis returns again playing the clarinet and even some original animation; but with Tashlin making the reuses I guess it's also clever since these animated shorts with reused animation are probably forgotten by this point and nobody sitting down watching this cartoon is going to think it's reused animation or would even care. I imagine that the Ted Lewis dancing scenes must've been a little hard to animate; at least with movement as he's drawn like a human but moves a lot; which meant the animator must've had to take care with the drawing.

Here are some comparisons to compare the animation reuses:

After watching Ted Lewis finish off his clarinet playing sequence; all of the toys then applaud as they would to for every act. I believe the animation of the boys applauding is probably reused from an earlier production but I can't remember. We find that even Hugh Hebert inside a magazine article is applauding and giggling; which he is known for those characteristics. Note that in the article; The CooCoo Nut Grove gets mentioned. 

Ted Lewis then bows to his audience; in which the end of his suit form into hands shaking triumphantly to the audience. After that sequence with the audience clapping; we find in the 'Asia' travelogue magazine (Huh, that's funny I already thought a magazine of that appeared early on in the cartoon). We find that in the Asian magazine there is a snake charmer playing an instrument. We PAN along to the magazine reading 'Better Homes & Gardens' as there is a hose pipe on the front cover hypnotized to the music. The hose pipe ends up dancing to the snake charm music and squirts out water. 

The next magazine we find that Leopold Stokowski is on the front cover as there is rain falling on top of the magazines where he is standing. The magazine is titled; 'The Etude'. Stokowski was of course; a famous Hollywood conductor of the time. Leopold then opens to the conducting book as he's going to conduct 'The Storm' which is a part of the William Tell Overture piece.

That would've expected at least a funny gag considering there is a bit of storm in the magazine Leopold is standing on. He then turns on the windscreens and wipes the rain off the paper of where the musical notes are. Stokowski then begins to conduct (starting with that notorious pose he makes before the music starts) and then 'The Storm' is heard in the background. I like how that Stokowski in the magazine also yanks his hair to make the action of the music rather exciting. As we find he's still conducting that serious musical piece; a funny part interrupts the musical piece in which Stokowski turns around as he starts off to sing Speaking of the Weather which is a popular song of the 1930s and more lively and upbeat than William Tell - evidently.

Another copy of 'Radioland' (probably published from a different issue) focuses on the front cover with the Boswell Sisters sitting on the piano singing the title song of the cartoon. The animation reuse of the girls in the piano is from I've Got to Sing a Torch Song. Hugh Hebert then joins into the theme of the music gayly clapping his hands. There is then a houselady inside a magazine who sings her part and Clark Gable is in the front cover of a lady's 'Companion' magazine which I guess meant Clark Gable was a lady's man back then.

Inside a "Best Foods Magazine" we find a page that speaks of tongue sandwiches; in which the tongue sandwiches go into rhythm which makes the song rather entertained and the audience listening to that would think it's rather clever. The tongue sandwich scene was reused from 'Buddy's Beer Garden'. The shots then cut back to Stokowski still conducting like mad (in which a kettle boils in one of the magazine covers to give the some a rhythm). Meanwhile there is a Greta Garbo that is in the front cover of 'Photoplay' magazine and we find that her feet are caricatured as large that it looks like we think she's on a rocking chair reading her book but she's using her own legs and feet to make it looks as though it is considering she is tall and had large feet.

After some entertainment; something pops up which I thought wouldn't return again. Yep, it's the dancing lobster that has appeared numerous times in these pre-1935 cartoons that was reused in animated cartoons like Mr. and Mrs is the Name, Viva Buddy and How Do I Know It's Sunday? It's not a problem but I do find that dancing lobster very annoying. The clams also join into the rhythm of the lobster dancing.

During the 'Speaking of the Weather' song; there is a thug - who is the villain of the cartoon in the 'The Gang' magazine. The thug then steps out of the magazine who will cause trouble for the rest of the cartoon. The thug then walks over to another magazine where there is a vault locker on the front cover and the thug grabs out a burning device to open up the vault to steal money. The thug hears a voice from a detective in a detective magazine who is pointing at the thug with his pistol stating he's under arrest, "Put out our hands, please. You're under arrest, my friend". Afterwards the scene fades to a 'True Confessions' magazine in which the thug clearly admits that he's committed a crime which I find rather funny as it works well with the magazine titles and the gags being pulled off.

Here is another comparison here with the dancing lobster that we've seen a couple of times before.

After the true confessions part; there are montage shots which lead to the arrest of the thug as the judge in a judge magazine is about to give the thug the penalty as the judge shouts, 'You have confessed and pleaded guilty. I sentence you to LIFE". The judge then points to a magazine which reads 'Life magazine' which was an actual popular magazine of the time which makes it a funny gag. They're all real magazines that were read at the time; so it's clever how it's been pulled off which would've been very funny at the time but dated today.

We find that the thug is already caught inside the bars of LIFE magazine and struggles to open the solid bars. The thug wearing prisoned uniform then thinks up an idea on how to escape. The thug then walks all the way through the other magazines and then goes to the 'Liberty' magazine (also a real-life magazine of the time) in which the thug walks over the bars and escapes. These are clever gags as it all works together. The thug tiptoes towards his escape.

As the thug is about to make his escape; another magazine. There is a Walter Winchell caricature who is known as "Walter Snitchell" in this magazine. Winchell was of course famous for his time as being a radio gossip commentator. "Snitchell" then peeps through the keyhole in 'Look' magazine (another well-done gag as it's also a real-life magazine). An interesting point of view shot features the thug tiptoeing.

The Walter Winchell caricature then starts to grab out a script to report the news; he accidentally goes over to the astrology magazine to report it; but goes to the next magazine before it called 'Radio Guide' as he reports it: Good evening Mr. and Mrs. North America. South America. Flash! Public enemy number one has just escaped. This dangerous criminal is now at large. Be on the look out! During the call; we faded in to a microphone that was also on the front cover in which police cars drove out of the magazine pages to find the criminal. The 'American Boy' magazine features the front cover of a scout making the call on the trumpet -another real-life magazine of the time. During these montage shots of the call; there are boy scouts jumping out of the magazines to go to the rescue.

More montage shots arrvied; even with reused animation that features a Johnny Weissmuller dressed as Tarzan (Tarzan actor - also Olympic athlete) in which he makes the Tarzan call. The animation reuse is in The CooCoo Nut Grove. The animals on the run towards I believe was reused from Porky in the North Woods. The African natives running in perspective is reused from Buddy of the Apes.

After those montage shots; there is a sailor on the front cover of 'Sea Stories' magazine waving the flags as a sailor. The next montage shots also focus on reused animaton; such as the Navy tank sailing through which has been reused a couple of times; but originated from Buddy the Gob. The cowboys on their horses shooting from their pistols in the magazine 'Wild West', is reused from the Bosko cartoon Ride Him, Bosko. Then there is a caricature of William Powell who is maybe best known for appearing in the film, The Thin Man. We walks out of a magazine also called that in which he walks down and as he turns we find that he is indeed very thin and is as thin as a grasshopper. The music played in the background to William Powell walking is Boulevardier from the Bronx.

One of the dogs from the magazine called 'Dog World' another magazine at the time for dog enthusiasts - then points to the Thin Man character pointing, "That's my pop". The dog then leaps out of the magazine. Meanwhile the thug is seen disguised as a baby in a magazine called 'Better Babies'. The thug notices that he's being tracked by a dog that is sniffing on the criminal. The date for the magazine is also dated October 1946. I like that goofy take the thug makes when being hunted.

The dog then starts to sniff for some clues; and so does the William Powell character who is sniffing for some evidence. While sniffing for the thug; William Powell then starts to tie the dog's eyes so that the dog won't be able to see as though the dog is walking - I'm not sure what that gag is meant to mean - unless it's a dated reference. Whilst he is walking the dog; we find that the thug then punches the Thin Man character and covers him up with a blanket so he wouldn't be able to see. The dog starts to yap at the dog in which the thug escapes with the pram.

As the thug has managed to escape successfully with the pram; there is a golf player now after him by shooting golf balls at him. The thug keeps on missing hitting the balls by ducking and I like the facial looks on the thug which is rather cartoony looking. While after the thug; there is a cowboy in a cowboy magazine in which he's riding his noble steed and swirls his lasso. The lasso then grabs hold of the thug in which he is strangled and pulled off the pram.

The navy ship is reused again in which it is firing cannons then fires at the thug as he escapes on a rope but the rope rips from one of the cannonballs. The native are still out on the hunt again - but they're not running out of the books so it doesn't seem to be risky except they might throw one of their spears out at him. The natives try to throw their spears at the thug but instead the thug just bounces off each spear as the tribes have just missed. A "St. Nicholas" magazine shows Father Christmas as he is holding onto his bag full of presents and drops them to crash the thug whilst riding on his sleigh. The thug is still running away from those chasing after him and there are toys on top of him that are covered. As the thug is still trying to run away those after him; Greta Garbo appears again from photoplay and she steps her foot out so that the thug can trip.

After being tripped the thug lands inside a 'Country Life' magazine where the front cover shows a pond; and splash goes the criminal. A fisherman from a 'hunting & fishing' magazine then uses his fishing rod to fish the thug out of the pond. The worst part for the criminal is that he finds himself inside a pinball machine. The plunger then sets off and it is a dodgy and bumpy ride for the criminal. The criminal then starts to hit the bumpers. Although all I can say is that where did that pinball machine come from? It's not inside a book or shown inside a magazine - it just feels random. The thug then falls into the drain and is shot out. The pinball scene is reused animation from Sunday Go to Meetin' Time.

The thug lands into a book and finds himself arrested inside the book called Twenty-Thousand Years in Sing Sing with the author credited to Warden Flaws; which is a reference to Lewis E. Lawes. Why is there a book inside the drug store when I thought it was meant to focus on magazines? It doesn't make sense to me. The thug is therefore caught inside the book - trapped (when it could've just been the same "LIFE" magazine cover. Hugh Hebert; who appears to be a recurring gag through the cartoon as he pops in and out; when laughs at the thug's misfortune. The thug shouts "Arrgh! Dry up". Hugh Hebert still laughs in which the thug picks up a globe from a magazine cover and tosses it at the celebrity. Hugh Hebert then ends up with a lump on top of his head. The thug then starts to clap copying Hugh Hebert in part of his amusement.

Overall comments: I find that this cartoon overall has some pretty clever ideas with the magazines on how to make the characters work but I do find that this cartoon would've also been cheap, too. Maybe at this point the budgets being made were going higher and Tashlin made this cartoon in order to help save money or get it done faster in time to be released to theaters or if that cartoon had to fill in Schlesinger's release dates. This cartoon was rather fun, had some decent gags in it relating to book titles but as I said - kind of cheap. It would be frowned upon today by animation enthusiasts watching this cartoon who'd think they'd seen it before in a black & white Looney Tunes before but for somebody sitting down watching this; they won't notice and they'll just find that it's still a fine cartoon itself. I don't personally find the reuse of the animation particularly harmful at all.

Of course Frank Tashlin was a copycat; and he admits that. He explained how he was always influenced by Harman-Ising and made a couple of these pictures relating with book covers or magazine covers and made this cartoon which was a part of their influence. I find that this cartoon was a better version that the Harman-Ising one. Sure this cartoon had singing and ending; and the same old climax at the end but I still find those magazine ideas quite clever. This cartoon wasn't particularly special itself even with the amount of reusing and a recycled plot; at least there are more magazine ideas featured in there and some funny gags including the Ted Lewis and Ned Sparks gag at the beginning. The thug looked rather cartoony which appeared to have been handled a lot by some particular animator who drew cartoony for Frank Tashlin in that period but I'm not sure who it is.


  1. "hebert Hoover' is "Hugh Herbert.
    :) Not all the magazine references are dated; LIFE, TIME, and overs lasted quite long whiloe and some in the US still exist;; a popular subject--they did refilm 1930s references in the 40s and 40s anytime that these got released....Steve

  2. The toys cheering for Ted Lewis is actually from Toy Town Hall (which ironically reused a lot of animation from various cartoons).

    The detective who arrests the Billy Bletcher-voiced thug is actually Charlie Chan. Chan was played by different actors in about four dozen films, beginning in 1926 up until 1981. At the time, Swedish actor Warner Oland (the father rabbi in 1927’s The Jazz Singer) would have played the character.

    The dog from The Thin Man is actually named Asta.

  3. The reference to "Bob Boins" Uncle Fudd back in Van Buren isn't a reference to Tashlin's time working at the Van Buren Studios. A big part of Bob Burns's act was to talk about the funny things that happened to his family back in Van Buren Arkansas. And before you ask, yes, Van Buren Arkansas is a real place, right across the Arkansas River from Fort Smith Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border.

  4. This was a Blue Ribbon re-release in July 1945, so the dates on the magazines were altered so as to not tip off audiences they were watching an old cartoon.

  5. The reason Powell blindfolded Asta was so he wouldn't see the row of "Saturday Evening POST" magazines they were approaching (the oft-used WB dog whiz gag).

  6. Has anyone actually found proof that Warners went to the trouble and expense of digging up old artwork, re-doing the phoney dates on backgrounds, shooting old animation cels over new backgrounds, then splicing the footage into a negative and creating a new master for distribution?
    I keep hearing this theory on the internet solely as some kind of deductive logic but have never seen any proof it happened.

    1. Dave Mackey's site explains that but I didn't want to mention it in case it was wrong. Although I'm a little stumped about that. If this is an original copy on the Golden Collection set, with original titles found, then wouldn't the magazines already feature it's dates of the item other than the "altered" dates in the Blue Ribbon releases?

    2. Schlesinger/Warner was the cheapest and most parsimonious of the West Coast majors, so I agree with Don that the chance of them going back to redo footage for a reissue (as opposed to hacking it out) is slim.