Tuesday, 7 August 2012

185. The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 184.
Release date: December 4, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Mr. Growlin / Owl Wolcott / Mr. Allen) and Tedd Pierce (Tizzie Fish).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Robert Bentley.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Radio stars as animals entertain the Woodland Community Swing with many references.

This cartoon is sort of a remake of The CooCoo Nut Grove that was made a year earlier by Freleng; and this is Tashlin's take on this cartoon where he uses mostly birds to resemble celebrities for this cartoon. I think T. Hee is still going the caricatures of the celebrities; if it is then it would be his past cartoon for Warners before leaving for Disney becoming a sequence director on 'Pinocchio'.

The cartoon begins as we find a hand is ringing a bell in which we truck back to find an owl (who is a caricature of Alexander Woolcott's 'Town Crier' radio program) as he rings the bell and begins his talk on the microphone that belongs to a phoney radio company called, 'KuKu' (play on words to 'Cuckoo'). The owl (called Owlcott) speaks:

'Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. This is Owlcott speaking and blandly announcing that the Woodland Community Swing is now in session, or off to Buffalo, so to speak. I hope that this elaborately attentive audience will stretch their esofogay to the fullest extent and burst forth with flowing sweet melodies. And, now, it pleases me extremely to have the honour of introducing your skintillating Master of Ceremonies'. I find that the caricature and design of the Alexander Woollcott was caricatured pretty well (and I don't think those are T. Hee's designs there; the designs look an awful like Frank Tashlin did them). The voice was pretty good; and I'm sure that's Mel Blanc's voice there considering it's the exact same impression that Tashlin has used later in Have You Got Any Castles. However; admittedly I think that the first scene with the animation was in fact done rather sloppily; I don't like the lip-syncing animation of the owl because it doesn't even look like he's talking and it's not really comfortable to let me watch it.

After Owlcott has introduced the show of this cartoon; he then passes on the show to Ben Birdie (caricature of Ben Bernie) and this is in fact the exact same character design that is reused in this cartoon but was previously featured in The CooCoo Nut Grove. Ben Birdie is holding back his cigar in which he is holding onto the violin and bow at his back and he introduces the show, 'Greetings and salutations, youse guys and gals. This is the old Maestro and all the lads bringing you a program of fun and frolic from the Woodland Community Swing. Dear, dear. So help me.

Much of the animation of Ben Birdie at the beginning of the shot was in fact reused animation from CooCoo Nut Grove but I think there is some new animation following but I'm not too sure; but I know that not all the Birdie scenes were reused; as there were some new animation. After the Ben Birdie dialogue scene; we then view to a caricature of Walter Winchell where he's another bird but is instead called 'Walter Finchell' (I guess to just make it rhyme) in which he shouts out on top of a tree with a microphone; 'Flash! What are you doing here, Birdie? This isn't amateur hour!' Ben Birdie then replies whilst tapping the ash off the cigar; 'Dear, dear.  If it isn't my old palsy-walsy, Walter. Yowsa, it all goes to show that all cuckoos aren't in clocks' which was a supposed one-liner from him. At that time; Ben Bernie and Walter Winchell were friends but they had publicity feuds which they made up to catch the audience's attention as of course their feuds were just setups. I've said this before in the 'CooCoo Nut Grove' but for each purpose or gags relating to the celebrities; I will still repeat so I inform the reader what is going on.

Ben Birdie then continues to host his show at the Woodland Community Sing as he introduces the first act: 'Now from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again. Introducing that celebrated radio star, that boisterous buffoon...' as Birdie is still narrating the act; Walter Winchell from up a tree walks over as his plan is to drop an egg; however Birdie opens up an umbrella so he misses being splat which I find is rather funny. '...that incomparable purveyor of puns and piffle'.

The first act that we find is a squirrel who is a caricature of Milton Berle (but here called Milton Squirrel); Milton Squirrel then speaks on the microphone in a Milton Berle tone, 'This is your squirrel friend, Milton. I sure hope you like...'; Milton Berle in fact used to be an emcee of the Gillette Community Sing as that is the point of why he is caricatured here; being the emcee of the Woodland Community Sing. A voice is then heard as he was still talking; 'Hello, Mr. Squirrel'. Milton Squirrel looks over as there is a girl called Polly as he shouts; 'Golly, if it isn't Polly'. The parrot called Polly here; is a reference to Jolly Gillette (real name Elaine Barton) as she worked with Milton Berle on the 'Gillette Community Swing' show since she was 7 so it's referenced here. Polly Gillette then replies: 'My daddy says you gotta let me sing, 'cause he's the sponsor'. Milton replies to her, 'Course you can. And everybody else can sing with that red-headed music maker Wendell Howl (referencing celebrity Wendall Hall). And here comes Wendall now'. I'm not sure but I think that Polly Gillette here is voiced by Sara Berner but I don't know if there is proof.

We then PAN towards Wendell Howl (caricatured as a bird like everyone else); and in reality Wendell Hall was a country folk singer; or vaudeville actor of the time and he was well-known as being 'the red-headed music maker' so that's why Milton Squirrel referenced him. The camera then makes a pan towards Wendell Howl in which he announces: 'Evening, neighbours. Let's sing'. I imagine that was a reference to how he says 'Let's sing'. I like the animation on how he curls his neck around the microphone and loops back.

He then opens his songbook as he asks the audience; 'Open up your songbooks to page 22'. A shot of the whole audience flicking through to get to page 22 is seen; and I think that Tashlin shows some shots arrangements like watching the audiences from your perspective of the action; and the dialogue scenes would show Wendell Howl. Howl then starts to make an error as he shouts, 'No, page 44'. So the audience then flip to page 44. Then he starts to make mistakes with the songbooks of the specific song he's looking for continuously as he shouts; 'No, page 28, 42, 36, 45, 23, 16, 18, 5, 14, 81, 73'. I like how that we see his personality where he makes mistakes and the audience keep on flickering through the pages non-stop with his patience; but because it's basically like reused animation of the flipping scenes; that's why they look like they've got a lot of patience. I'm not too sure but is this referencing that Wendell Hall makes a lot of mistakes with songbooks? Howl then starts to give up and announces, 'Never mind, we won't use the books'. The audience respond to that pretty harshly as they shout out (like in a pantomime) 'Oh yes we will' as they then start to throw books towards Wendell Howl demanding for their books to be read. They then start to throw the books towards him in which they all start to bundle towards him until he's completely covered or trapped. Why do they throw the books at him if they want to use it? Doesn't make sense to me.

After the books then bundle towards Wendell Howl as he is trapped; the singsong sequence begins as Billy Goat and Ernest Bear enter the scene singing 'How Do You Do, and How Are You?' (parodying it from the song; 'On the Rue de la Piax') the pair are in fact caricatures of comedy team Billy Jones and Ernest Hare (wouldn't it have been funnier if they used him as a hare instead of a bear). They are notorious for novelty songs.

They then walk in singing their silly song of greeting the audience and they start to begin the show. They pull the curtains open as the lyrics of the title song of the cartoon The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos is revealed. The pair then start to shout out, 'Come on. Everybody sing!' They then start to begin the lyrics of the song. The whole audience then start to join into the intro; 'The woods are full of cuckoos, cuckoos, CUCKOOS...' - the rest of the first verse is on the board that reads; 'the woods are full of cuckoos and my heart is full of love'. The audience then sing onwards; as the second poster reveals the second verse Mrof the song; 'Oh, the fields are full of daisies, crazy daisies / Oh the fields are full of daisies / And my heart is full of love'. I guess that the title cards were displayed in the backgrounds maybe because Tashlin wanted the audience to get the audience into spirit of singing the song as well. Ben Birdie then appears again as he's also singing; 'Tick tock, tick tock / who's the cuckoo on your clock?'. On top of the tree again reveals Walter Finchell who then sings his verse but is changing the lyrics as a parody; 'Take a look and see / it might be Ben Birdie!'

While the song is still being sung; there are several animal characters sitting down singing with their songbook. The rabbit next to the fox is a caricature of Fred Allen and it turns out that he is singing the wrong song as he is singing Swanee River by mistake. The rabbit next to him is a caricature of his wife, Portland Hoffa. They go into dialogue.

Rabbit: Oh, Mr. Allen?
Mr. Allen: Yes?
Rabbit: You're singing the wrong song.
Mr. Allen: (hollers) Why doesn't somebody tell me these things!!'

Of course that was a popular catchphrase reference of the time at least in the year 1937 since we've already heard it a couple of times this year like in Porky's Badtime Story or Porky's Super Service. The joke of that scene is a reference to Allen's battles with the film censors as he was notable for being one of the most censored comedians in the Golden Age of Radio. I'm not too sure about who the voice of the rabbit here is, anybody here have samples? Then we cut back to Billy Goat and Ernest Bear (Jones and Hare) as they announce to the audience, 'Now time for a second chorus?' and then they continue to sing the rest of the song.

The next sequence then focuses on a long pan where we view the Woodland Community Swing reserved seats section of where it's a special seats that appear to be where the famous celebrities sit.

During the pan we find the first singer is Eddie Gantor (Eddie Cantor) as he's portrayed as a duck. They're all singing the same song. Then there is Sophie Turkey (Sophie Tucker) as she's titled 'The Last of the Red Hot Gobblers'. Then there is W.C. Fieldmouse (W.C. Fields; of course - even the design) as he holds his cigar and I love the play-on words that really goes well - "Fieldmouse". Dick Fowl (Dick Powell) follows on, along with Fats Swallow (Fats Waller) as it shows one of his famous trademarks where he plays the piano. Deanna Terrapin follows on (as a turtle, and a reference to Deanna Durbin. Irvin S. Frog follows on gulping like a frog with a cigar (reference to Irvin S. Cobb). Fred McFurry follows on as a bear and is referenced to famous actor Fred MacMurray. This time ol' crooner Bing Crosby is caricatured here as a crow so the pun of his surname fits; 'Bing Crosby' - I wonder if that pissed off Bing Crosby again as he apparently dislikes how he is often portrayed as or caricatured. Al Goatson - the Swinging Kid (Al Jolson) then shows up as he sings with his characteristic arm raising. I love how he is caricatured as a black sheep as at the time; I think it's the perfect animal for him to be caricatured as in one of his blackface acts. Ruby Squealer (Ruby Keeler - at the time married to Al Jolson) oinks to the title song. Then Lanny Hoss turns up (Lanny Ross) as he is of course a horse. I like how the celebrities are caricatured here being animals and they suit well.

The last celebrities to be featured in the reserved seats area are Grace Moose (Grace Moore) and Lily Swans (Lily Pons) as they are both well-known for being operatic soprano singers. There is a little funny sequence going on as they perform with their soprano voices.

They start off with sopranos but it is shown as a type of competition as each of them try to get higher than the other. They end up singing so high and they perform at equally high notes that their necks even stretch out as it becomes incredible before their necks slide down panting with exhaustion. The neck stretching was pretty funny and the soprano gag. I like how the camera PAN has worked for this cartoon and it's even a very long continuous shot which must've been a very difficult scene for the given animator. After the song has finally finished; we then truck back to Ben Birdie as he continues on with the show; 'Dear, dear. Mutiny on the high seas. (clears throat) Get it, the high seas?' he was obviously telling us a pun/joke about the high-notes that they were singing and associates it with 'mutiny' and the seas. Walter Finchell then appears once again as he asks, 'Flash! Why is Ben Birdie like the high seas? Because he's all wet!' and of course Finchell was telling joke on his radio-character enemy friend. Ben Birdie puffs on his cigars with his comeback on the joke; 'Yowsa, ladies and gentlemen. All's wet that ends wet' and that is referencing to the famous phrase 'All's well that ends well. And now, some of your favourite radio stars'.

A new sequence is then about to begin as we find a raven that is called Raven McQuandry (a reference to Haven McQuarrie who was an emcee in Do You Want To Be an Actor?). He then starts to point, 'Do you want to be an actor?' The audience then shout out, 'No!' in which he makes a funny take on that. In which he raises his hands with an 'Oh well' attitude. Of course that is referencing his show which would've been pretty hilarious at the time.

The next sequence that follows on features Joe Penguin (and this is a direct reference to Joe Penner) and I think that is parodied well. The penguin is then dressed up as Joe Penner as though he's in one of his acts and the penguin starts to sing the song to My Green Fedora which was a popular song of the time (and a Warner cartoon released two years earlier). He sings his verse but it is pretty short; but notice that the animation of the penguin in his green fedora and jacket dancing is practically the same animation movement from My Green Fedora but it's just all the animator had to do was trace over the penguin from the rabbit and do it on every single drawing; tedious but it's easier than having to animate from original exposure sheets. After the singing from the penguin; a horse character called Moutha Bray but is a direct reference to entertainer Martha Raye is singing a different, but very popular song called How Could You? It's a very funny caricature. The movement of the Martha Raye horse shows some pretty exciting looking animation of the dancing and movement. The Moutha Bray character then starts to stretch her mouth towards the screen as it completely covers the screen until it is pitch black.

After the sequence has pitch-blacked; we then start to iris in towards a caricature on a fish called Tizzie Fish and that's actually a reference to a character on the Al Pearce Show called 'Tizzie Lish'. She then starts to speak to the audience introducing her act, 'Hello, folksier (the character's supposed catchphrase). Today we'll make a lish-delicious wiffle'. This is Ted Pierce performing her voice and I think he does a good job impersonating it.

She then starts to begin her recipe by starting off with her ingredients. At first it may look boring as she is cooking a recipe; as she's starts off with by adding 'four cups of flour' but the crazy part is when she asks, 'Put the cups in too' which I think is a reference to her personality on that show. The funny part is that whilst she is making her recipe; she is adding the right ingredients but she hasn't measured them and she's just dumping from where they are manufactured like a milk glass in there; as well as a box of lard and boy it really won't make a very good recipe at all. She starts to mix up the recipe though comments, 'My friends say I'm a good mixer' - yeah, retarded friends more like. I like the pun that she says when she adds five duck eggs and asks the audience; 'are you ducky, or aren't you?' After mixing it altogether; she then pours it into a baker and waits it for it to bake then hums. She then takes the "wiffle" out as she flies it in the air and makes a funny joke to end the sequence, 'You must have iron in your system, or should you? Now I'll leave you as my doctor friend does, in stitches. Bye folksies'. Then there is an iris out after the sequence has ended.

After the sequence ends; it's back to Ben Birdie again who is of course the head of the show here in this cartoon. He continues on, 'Now you guys, and gals, with a bit of pit in my heart, I give you the First Lady of Hollywood'.

The next sequence features a caricatured possum called Louella Possums (a reference to Louella Parsons who was a well-known American film-columnist of the time. The sign at the bottom of her identified name in the cartoon reads, 'Hollowood Hotel' (and it's a reference to a hollow wood (?) I guess; but mainly referencing Hollywood Hotel). She then begins, 'Ladies and gentleman. I want you to meet my guest stars; Jack Bunny!' Then we start to switch to Jack Bunny (of course, Jack Benny) in which he takes over the screen for a while, 'Hello again, folks'. Louella Possums then reads the next featured guest star; 'Canary Livingston'; and she is a reference to Mary Livingston. Louella Possums then introduced the last guest star; Andy Bovine (reference to actor Andy Devine - who was a particularly beefy character of his time). Andy Bovine is ported as it looks like some type of bull that is shouting out loud, 'Hello folks!' Louella Parsons continues, 'Who will present scenes from the Warmer Bros. Pictures: The Prodigal's Return. A little music, Ben. To get us in the mood'. Okay; but I'm having a hard time with identifying the parody of the movie; and anybody in the comments who can help me or stumble upon reading this; if any of you know please help me; thanks.

Ben Birdie then starts to conduct the music where it is played spiritual as it is asked to get the audience in the mood. The curtains then starts to rise as the film begins. It shows Canary Livingston (Mary Livingston) in a home with a cradle with a baby that belongs to her and Jack Bunny (Jack Benny) who is sitting down on an easy chair reading the newspaper like a typical father of that time. Canary Livingston then comments, 'My boy', as Bunny comments 'Howdy, son'. The Andy Devine bull then starts to pop out of the cradle shouting back 'Howdy, Ma! Hi, Pa!' as it turns out he is playing an overgrown baby, which I think is quite funny to watch. I like how that the Andy Bovine character is actually shouting out so intense that he actually blows Canary Livingston out of the way with all the other objects in the house and then blows Jack Bunny away. I guess that the whole gist of the sequence meant to resemble the personality and appearance of Andy Devine as it is shown here, and I personally find that rather amusing. Although Devine was a B-actor (I'd say) of the time, he did however play the role of Friar Tuck in Disney's animated, 'Robin Hood'.

Louella Possums who was of course a film critic of the time comments on her report. She comments on the film; 'That, ladies and gentlemen was just one of the thrilling, exciting scenes from this wonderful pictures'. She then turns over the paper as we know as the show is going to end, then she states; 'And now; it's time to say...'

We then cut back to Owlcott (Alexander Woollcott) who appears to be the beginner of the show and then concludes it as he comments, 'Good night. The Woodland Community Swing peacefully terminates. All is well. All is well'. He then starts to ring the Town Crier as it finishes.

Overall comments: This cartoon was pretty much another remake of The CooCoo Nut Grove that appears to have inspired Frank Tashlin to have made this cartoon. Of course; I have no disrespect to Frank at all but he was in fact a copycat; and he even admits that himself. He talks about him being influenced by the other early directors like Harman-Ising and he's been influenced by 'CooCoo Nut Grove' that he's even used the Ben Birdie character again. Watching this cartoon fully; I started to realise that it doesn't look like Frank Tashlin is the dominant artist on this cartoon; as it feels like it's been strongly followed by character designers; and T. Hee has been attributed for the character designs of the cartoon - and it could be his designs there (well, obviously the caricature of Ben Bernie) but I'm not too sure of the other animals but it doesn't strike to me too much as his style; just commenting though.

The designs of this cartoon are pretty good; and it's a colourful cartoon but I have to say; I actually prefer Friz's CooCoo Nut Grove cartoon than this cartoon. I love the 1936 cartoon because I find it very beautiful in terms of colour, animation and design and even the gags of it were also entertaining. I find that the problem with the cartoon today is that it's just got too many dated radio references; as that's mainly the whole point of the cartoon. This was made for adults to enjoy; to get them indulge with radio references but in animated cartoons. The cartoon had a few moments of course; particularly with the Andy Devine caricature which I thought was particularly very entertaining; and the high-sopranon animals were funny enough for me to enjoy. What I find very interesting is that it really doesn't feel as though Tashlin really focused on his obscure camera angles too much; or not much that I have noticed. The Alexander Woollcott Town Crier character; would of course he used again which is the same concept in Have You Got Any Castles in which Tashlin wouldn't make until less than a year later.


  1. Andy Devine was a regular guest on the Jack Benny Radio Program at this time. He was Benny's cowboy sidekick in the "Buck Benny Rides Again" sketches and a incongrous voice in other skits i.e. "Grandma" in "Little Red Riding Hood" (Show 19/12/1937)https://sites.google.com/site/jackbennyinthe1940s/jack-benny-in-the-1930-s/1937-1938-season

  2. They're "using" the songbooks by throwing them at him. That's the joke in this situation.