Friday, 2 November 2012

214. Cracked Ice (1938)

Warner cartoon no. 213.
Release date: September 10, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Russian dogs / Drowning bird / drunk fish / Skating Judge) and Ted Pierce (W.C. Fields pig).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: W.C. Fields pig in ice field attempts to steal alcohol from St. Bernard dog.

The cartoon begins where it feels like an opening of an ice scene with a crowd from the Disney cartoon 'On Ice' where it feels like Tashlin is using some Disney influence from that period. In that crowd shot - we then find an elephant skater that just skates in perspective covering up the whole screen as we then start to find some more individual animal skaters in this opening sequence.

There are shots following past of several animals skating which was pretty common back in the Disney days or the 1930s cartoons where you would have a few gags to demonstrate a few animals in a sequence - such as skating. We then start off as we find a caterpillar skating on ice. Of course - the caterpillar is made up with different bodies and when the caterpillar is about to approach some cracked ice - the bodies then start to disconnect dodging past the cracked areas before joining back in. Its a rather clever gag which shows that gags can do anything in animation. The music and the chorus in the backgrounds are of course singing a song but in the rhythm of Johann Straus' famous piece Blue Danube which has been very popular over the years and still is today. More skaters then join in at the scene as we find there is a pair of Russian dogs as they are skating - they then go into a Russian dance with the Russian dance music played in the background. They dance the cossack and shout "Hey!". Of course - it's a pretty common gag used a lot in those cartoons and I think that bit of animation was reused from 'Dog Daze'.

More skaters then continue on as we find there is a group of chicks in single-file as they skate on the ice. As they continue to skate - we then discover one of the chicks hasn't been hatched yet which is cute. A pelican skater skates around the ice but opens up his beak where his throat pouch shows frozen water in his mouth and a fish is skating inside and I find that to be rather funny.

Another skater at the scene then skates in perspective animation (and also some complicating animation staging and Tashlin camera movement) where he just jumps over the barrels as the camera pan continues and that little shot is probably worth looking at. The amusing part is when the crane ends up balancing over the barrel when her jumps weren't further enough. She ends up rolling the barrel as it falls into a freezing pond area and splashes right into the scene. Meanwhile - we then discover that it is almost the exact same pig that we had seen from 'At Your Service Madame' which is the W.C. Fields caricature pig - (called W.C. Squeals here) and the voice by Ted Pierce was a very good impression. He is humming the theme to the 'Blue Danube'. As he skates and sings in theme to the tune he then hears the sounds for "Help!" he then turns and wonders, "Hey, what's going on here?" he looks and it turns out that the crane is drowning in the freezing pond. Instead of doing something like to help out the drowning crane, he then calls for help: "Help, help! Aid assistance. The man's in the water. He's drowning! Help, help, help. Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

Upon hearing the shouts we then discover a St. Bernard dog (sitting inside a kennel with a first aid flag hanging at the top) hears the screams for help from W.C. Squeals and he walks over to do his duty since St. Bernard dogs are trained to help injured skaters famous for carrying a barrel of gin to awaken those unconscious. The St. Bernard dog then walks out of his kennel and places a sign at the front to show he's unavailable  - the sign reads: "Gone with the Gin" - of course a reference to Gone with the Wind.

The pig is still calling for help for the St. Bernard dog to arrive as he shouts, "Hasten, hasten, my shaggy lifeguard, or you'll be too late". He arrives at the pond area where he manages to pull out the crane but is caught frozen inside an ice block. Afterwards - the St. Bernard dog pulls him out of the pond and he then breaks the ice block and tries to awaken him. The St. Bernard dog knows that the crane is frozen so he opens up his small barrel and he starts to pour some alcoholic drinks that would be able to do the trick. W.C. Squeals notices the alcohol in the barrel (and the lines from his eyes looking directly to the barrel with the alhocolic drinks) is a rather nice 1930s effect that was very popular back then (at least before character animation advanced). W.C. Squeals then rudely asks, "I believe you have got something there" not knowing that the alcohol is used for emergencies only. The St. Bernard dog then asks a lemon at the top of what looks like a cocktail drink. He pours the drink down the crane's beak and he manages to defrost. A rather appealing little gag effect shows the crane waking up (and the inside of his body representing a fireplace being warmed up) and the St. Bernard dog uses his hands to check how warm it is.

W.C. Squeals is very keen on the drinks (and is probably an alcoholic then) where he starts to pester the St. Bernard dog by asking for some of his alcohol in the barrel. He skates over to the St. Bernard dog asking for some drinks. He asks, "Pardon me, my little canine comrade. I wonder if you could spare two fingers of that alpine cure-all". The St. Bernard just walks along back into his kennel ignoring W.C. Squeals.

So instead - W.C. Squeals then decides on a rotten trick by pretending to act as though he has got a cold by fake coughing. The St. Bernard dog still takes no notice. "I'm not a well man, myself. (coughs) Slight cold. Winter air, you know. 'Course I never touch the stuff except for its medicinal value".  I like how that W.C. Squeals is in fact circulating and skating around the St. Bernard dog. The St. Bernard dog walking back is just an animation cycle where the W.C. Squeals character just circulates but tries to get the dog to speak would've been a very difficult scene to animate that would require a strong animator to animate as he also moves with perspective animation. Squeals then continues onwards faking his own cold, "Yes, yes. I can almost feel pneumonia embracing me in its icy grip". A rather good scene there which would've been a challenge for the animator.

W.C. Squeals then comes up with a next crooked scheme where he plans on faking his own drowning. He then ends up splashing a pond where he rushes back into the pond and he picks up a stone where he plans on dropping it to fake his drowning. "The beast turned an ear to my entreaties". As he throws the rock straight into the icy water he shouts, "Heartless bounder".

He then begins to fake his own drowning by shouting, "Help, help I'm drowning, etc." as he uses his own hands to pretend his drowning by creating splashing sounds with his hands. Its not a very good trick to pull at the St. Bernard since he's obviously out of the water and he is going to be noticed by that. The St. Bernard dog who was walking away then turns around to check for the St. Bernard but actually falls for his trick. I have to say, but that must be the dumbest St. Bernard dog ever trained - how could they fall for a trick since the pig was obviously out of the water since he is fat and huge you can just tell that he is not drowning??? The St. Bernard then turns around as he makes a pretty cool turn which is some pretty good timing. He then already embraces towards the St. Bernard where he begins to mix some alcoholic drinks so the W.C. Squeals pig can defrost and awaken - I mean, enjoy his drink. As the St. Bernard dog is making the drinks - you can see W.C. Squeals licking his lips which is barely noticeable on screen. The next part then looks like some pretty weak character animation where I didn't know what the hell happened - the W.C. Squeals pig just dropped and the St. Bernard dog just drank the alcohol - I mean why was he dropped - did the dog find him a struggle to hold on to, if so then why drink it anyway?

The St. Bernard dog then walks away after dealing with the W.C. Squeals pig. Suddenly, from out of nowhere we then hear an audience member in the background where he is chuckling at the incident. After W.C. Squeals hears the laughs he shouts, "Say, who's heckling me, who's heckling me?" The audience member then chuckles as he replies, "Well, Mr. Squeals, you don't seem to be doing so well, do you?"

Mr. Squeals looks around the audience checking to see where the voice came from. He looks and finds the audience member, "So its you - my little chum". He then points towards the audience - and his hands move in perspective. "What are you doing down there in the third row? Hiding from the woodpeckers, eh?" Yeah, just imagine what this cartoon was like when it aired in TV - the audience wouldn't have a glue what is going on since this gag is very dated. The audience member continues, "Oh don't mind me, Mr. Squeal. I'm just watching...Watching that dog make a fool out of you". W.C. Squeals is rather frustrated at the member of the audience and responds back assertive, "Listen, my little sawdust cynic. Just keep an eye on me, this this is only the beginning. Only the beginning". That little sequence there with the animation is pretty much Bob McKimson's animation as you can tell the hand movements move in perspective as well as the body which was a McKimson trait. I admit I find that this sequence was rather poorly performed. For example, when I was watching it - I hadn't a clue where the voice came from and the voice choice is terrible as it doesn't sound like some guy in the audience and the fact they mention the third row is definitely dated - and I can just imagine that gag not getting anywhere anymore. Yeah, the audience may have laughed the pants out of that back then (and any theatre references).

 In the next sequence - we discover the St. Bernard dog is walking on ice doing (I don't know) minding his own business I suppose. W.C. Squeals appears to be so determined to have some of that alcohol from him which is crazy. He grabs out a dog's dish and he starts to place some bones on top of them - as he is up to more antics. Mr. Squeals then tosses the dish towards the St. Bernard and he ends up being hit by the dish before hitting the ground. Poor dog.

Mr. Squeals realises that the St. Bernard has his attention on the bones and then he grabs out a magnet and plans on moving the bone dish backwards towards him to try and entice the dog. The St. Bernard instead just turns his head down looking at the bone plate just move back and it causes him to bounce backwards which is a rather complicating bit of movement to explain but it is rather cartoony.

The St. Bernard then ends up finding himself chasing after the bones and barking at them, too. There is then some good movement at the St. Bernard where he is just speeding up trying to have the bone as the magnet is being pulled back by magnetic force and the St. Bernard just chases up determined to catch it. Because of the increase of the speeding, Mr. Squeals then looks and to his surprise the bones then clash back but the St. Bernard runs straight into him as they both crash and they hit the ice ground. The magnet that W.C. Squeals just had then flies out of the way and is flying up in the sky. There is a really complex animated sequence where even the ice is animated - look at how the magnet just flies at the top - although I felt the magnet flying back down was rather slow. Look at how the magnet then just drops into the ice under the water - that is a rather complex Tashlin technique that would've gone to an ambitious effects animator. I like that animated scene as I think it is rather good animation of the magnet just flying and moving with a 3-D like form. Just watching that animated background of where we see the trees and the ice fields all just fall back down as we reach to underwater - that must've been just incredibly difficult and complicating.

Afterwards the magnet continues to fall down the ice where the magnet bounces back up and flowing by fish ends up being caught to the magnet. He ends up using his own fins to try and escape from being trapped from the magnet as the fish is jammed. Meanwhile at the surface; Squeals and the St. Bernard are knocked out from the crash - and the barrel is open - where the alcohol ends up pouring under water.

The fish flows through the scene and at that moment where the fish swims through an area with alcohol pouring down - the fish ends up immediately intoxicated. So after swimming around and whooping like Hugh Hebert - the fish then ends up and acts drunk by being engaged from hiccups. Of course - we know that the fish still has the magnet attached to him. He then ends up swimming through the first use of metal at the top is an axe which is placed on a chopped down tree trunk. The gags then develop as we discover that the fish is in fact swimming in circles and the axe is following through the magnet. The same crane skater is still there as he skates around but after the axe forms a hole - the crane falls back into the icy water once more. Afterwards - the axe then starts to shoot straight towards W.C. Squeals - the St. Bernard is already knocked out so he ends up taking the barrel full of alcohol - however, the climax then begins to develop...

...the W.C. Squeals pig then ends up being caught by the axe as he is left dangling on top and his snout is caught on ice. He is still holding onto the barrel, though. The effects from underwater with the fish hiccuping also control the pig's actions. From the hiccuping reaction, the pig ends up having his snout bouncing up and down before being stuck back on the ice and the comic timing for that is very funny.

Afterwards - the axe then meets its finish as it then stops at a tree stomp and Mr. Squeals bounces off and hits the ground. He continues to keep on bouncing and eventually letting go of the barrel but as he hits the ground he manages to keep hold of the barrel. Some more clever gags and clever climaxes then continue as we discover that W.C. Squeals is holding onto the barrel but the the fish the magnet how has the magnet attracted to the metal skates that Squeals is wearing. W.C. Squeals struggles to control himself away from the magnet but he ends up being forced as well - which gives some good weight animation wise and makes the situation funnier. However - the fact that the fish is just swimming in circles and circles (obviously very drunk) gets W.C. Squeals to be skating in circles and it turns out he is in a Ice-Skating Competition where the crowd cheer for him.

So, he ends up then being engaged in the rhythm of 'Blue Danube' as the fish continues to swim violently as Squeals hits the ground in rhythm which is good music timing organised by Milt Frankyln, Carl Stalling and Tashlin, too. Its some real funny animation of Squeals as he is just moving sideways with some fluid action as well.

As Squeals ends up moving sideways continuously - that would be the fish riding on a pendulum of an abandoned grandfather clock underwater. Squeals continues to shake from the magnetic reaction but then ends up shaking which is in fact a take of the fish as he encounters a much larger fish that eats little fish. However - Squeals even ends up almost crashing into a small tree but he is saved by the fish underwater who just spontaneously moves slightly and Squeals is saved from being hit by that tree. There is even some action underwater with the fish and the monster fish which makes the animation much more broader and the action sequence more exciting. W.C. Squeals then finds himself a small tree which he manages to tug onto but the force is almost pulling him off - and look at the weight of that animation. The ice skates then eventually fall out of his feet from all that weight and effort and then the skates shoot straight through a log which is mildly amusing.

The judge then announces the winner of the ice-skating competition which goes to W.C. Squeals. The first prize trophy then goes to W.C. Squeals who has even carried that barrel with him the whole time successfully. W.C. Squeals then carries the trophy and thanks the audience that cheer him on. He comments modestly, "Thank you, thank you - nothing at all. Yes, my little termite terrace. He who laughs last, laughs last. However, underwater the underwater chase sequence is still continuing on with the little fish in peril. The trophy then ends up being attracted from the magnet and Squeals just poured alcohol in the trophy. The trophy then slides through the ice and into the distance.

Overall comments: Probably the main word that I will describe the cartoon - and quite plainly is that it is "nuts". The cartoon just flows really crazily - the whole story was just crazy and even the atmosphere felt a little bit odd for me. The story was rather crazy but then again - it is rather creative. What I believe makes it crazy is why would an upper-class pig like W.C. Squeals be so determined just to steal the St. Bernard's barrel which is full of alcoholic drinks? I'm sure he was wealthy enough to not bother stealing alcohol. Not only that - but the fish magnetic gag was just crazy although Squeals did have the last laugh there. Of course - its also crazy since this magnet is just unbelievable - I mean what type of trophy can connect to magnet - okay, I've never tried it before but it just seems really unlikely. The whole dance sequence was a little over-the-top but it was very amusing and Tashlin is having fun with comic timing. Some of these creative climax sequences actually remind me of some of the early Avery cartoons around 1936 to early 37 where Avery was full of ideas for climaxes (like the reaction of weather pills in 'Porky the Rainmaker' or a ventriloquist singing in ice-cubes in 'I Only Have Eyes For You') which shows that this magnet gag was very creative.

With that asides, the animation there is pretty splendid and of course Tashlin did complain of needing good animators like Bob McKimson for the personality animation and lot of great character and acting was used extensively in these scenes that the character animation looks really top-notch in these Tashlin cartoons. The climax sequence I thought was the overall highlight of the cartoon. I find that this cartoon was just interesting to me. It started off with a Disney-esque sequence with the ice-skaters but then it just gradually got more broader and the climax took it all over and stole the show. The gag with the audience member, I still find is rather not very well done and..Tashlin got it right when he made 'Case of the Stuttering Pig' but not here? One question is what happened to the St. Bernard dog after the knockout - did he just stay there remaining knocked out or probably just gone back to the kennels because he didn't chase after Squeals for the barrel  - so it seems he stayed knocked-out till the end. Poor dog. I would have to say that Ted Pierce was also a very talented voice actor as well as a great story guy and from what I've seen and watched in these 1930s cartoons - he would be the go-to guy for a caricature or character resembling W.C. Fields for these cartoons.


  1. The unseen audience member heckling W.C. is Charlie McCarthy, the dummy of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, who as part of their act had an ongoing "feud" with Fields.

  2. I am sure that you can find live action clips of comedian W. C. Fields, on which Squeals is based, bantering with Charlie McCarthy, the dummy of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and, from that, you will find the inspiration for this cartoon. In some of his movies, W. C. Fields was portrayed as a rabble-rousing bar-hopper, and that is where the lust for alcohol figures into the plot of this cartoon. The amazing Tashlin visual here is present throughout, and one wonders what these gags would have been like if Tashlin tried somehow to pull 'em off in a live action film, especially as the fish, having swallowed the magnet, is being chased around and around and around by a bigger, hungrier fish, and the skater (Squeals) being trapped in the magnetic pull and dragged in circles, entertaining the crowd watching him skate. I, too, like the scene as our eyes follow the magnet as it flies up in the air and lands in the water, only to be swallowed by the fish. Tashlin's animation and live action point of view shots were worlds beyond what any other animators or movie-makers were attempting in those days.