Friday, 7 December 2012
219. Johnny Smith and Poker-Huntas (1938)
Release date: October 22, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Egghead / Indian Chief) and Berneice Hansell (Pocahuntas).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Paul Smith.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Egghead cast as Captain John Smith and explorers are set out to explore the new world - but are trapped by indians and only to be saved by Pocahontas.
He exaggerates by using the the amount of "zeros" that it stretches much more further than needed in the title card that it causes the "total amount" to slide down and through so we know there were that many. Of course, the Mayflower was a famous ship that sailed over to the United States that was sailed by many English Pilgrims that were sailing to pioneer the United States mostly in the 17th century. Avery uses a gag on the sign at the back playing around with words as the ship apparently used to be called "March Flower", "April Flower" with crosses covering it but not is called 'Mayflower' with a modernised propeller at the back of it. It's basically just bad puns - once again.
Egghead then chuckles gleefully and announces: "I'll be in history books, because I came over from the Mayflower". He grabs out his own telescope where there is a cool, jerky take as he has finally arrived at America. That little scene was of course Irv Spence's loose animation of Egghead. From the telescope's point of view - we find a cool billboard sign that reads: AMERICA and a little gag that announces 'free loans' since America was just discovered by those pilgrims there. We can hear in the backgrounds to (I Wish I Was) in Dixie' which is of course the Confederate anthem. They have arrived at Virginia which is where the Pocahuntas setting takes place.
More injun gags appear as there is an injun mother where there is a sign that reads "Minnie Ha Ha" which is referencing Canadian silent actress 'Minnie Devereaux' who was also Indian - she was nicknamed 'Minnie Haha' - we find her outside the teepee just repeatedly yelling 'ha-ha', etc. of course I wonder if that gag was even dated since she was only famous as an actress in the 1910s?
Meanwhile there is an injun out in the distance on the lookouts for incoming Pilgrim travellers. He wears his own injun hat (with feathers at the back as indians were portrayed for wearing). At the back is a gag which I find funny where it turns out that there is a turkey at the back. It kind of makes the character look rather foolish in that scene.
The Indian lookout finds a ship about to dock into the New World and the Indian rides on his horse to report the news. Now only amusing that they have wired telephones over there (even not existing over at the 17th century) but the fact that when he rotates the numbers - the telephone itself turns into a different angle. Over at the teepee where they deliver messages, there is the "No Stop, No Stoop and No Squint" which was a directory reference of the time. There is a very cool ringing effect with a drumstick beating on tom-toms at the beat. The directory Indian answers the phone and discovers the news through blabbering noises. He steps out and as he is given the call (through Indians) he steps out in front of a crowd in front of the villagers.
It is rather amusing as the excitement of the character is purely exaggerated as it also exaggerates on references a little (even for the 17th century time period). The Chief announces to his people "Ug" where the injuns cheer. That is rather amusing you there is a drumroll at the beginning of that, we'd believe that he is about to come out with a threatening message, but instead blurts out with a laconic "Ugh" sound which makes the Indians applaud - rather funny and typical of Tex in the 1930s as he is pretty much parodying an intense moment.
So, Egghead and his Pilgrim explorers are out hunting to develop their own land. As they hunt - they come across a sign reading, "Beware of Scalpers". At the spot - the injuns jump out with the Chief carrying a dagger as they plan an attack on the Pilgrims. In this Irv Spence sequence, Tex even uses more intense drama being parodied. As we believe that John Smith has been captured it turns out that the Injun Chief is offering a ticket to Egghead to watch a football match.
Egghead rejects the offer: "No thanks, I've got 6 to sell myself. I'm illuminous" as he chuckles gleefully. Egghead runs out of the scene as he is still being savaged by indians. As he runs off from the indians - a deliberate Avery gag (that even Tex would use in more pictures for fun) where a title card ends up being thrown in at the screen reading about the 'thrilling chase scene' being cut to shorten the length of the cartoon which was endorsed by the management. Of course; it was common for cinemas back in those days - so Avery spoofs it there and it was a very well done gag. The management even asks for Johnny Smith's opinion with a title card reading "Is that O.K. with you, Mr. Smith?" and that is just a wonderful use of satire for the title cards used in cinemas - as Tex is getting rather personal with the audience members watching the cartoon. Mr. Smith's response to that is "I'm under contract anyway" and proving that cartoon characters are also actors - something that Tex really knew how to show with his characters. I like how he quotes, "These redskins will NEVER catch me" before he laughs in his supposedly characteristic laugh. Of course 'redskins' would be rather politically incorrect these days...
Some funny satirical dialogue appears as Egghead pleads:
Egghead: Hey you guys can't do this to me because I came over---
Indians: ---on the Mayflower (bleegh)
Chief: Gee that stuff gets me!
Goes to show how all the executioners have heard the same stories from many Pilgrims that were executed by the Indians. Just as the execution is about to occur - the executioner lowers Egghead's collar where there there dotted lines around is neck that read: "Cut on Dotted Line" which is hilarious. Just as the begins - there appears to be a weird cut from where the indian rubs his hands to where Poker-Huntas is in her teepee - I wonder if that was just a television cut - but there doesn't appear to a source to show which scenes were censored.
"Ooh, I better get going" and Winchell responds, "Yes, you better sister. If you want this picture to have a happy ending". Funny gag which Avery liked to use with the radio actually having personal talk with the listener. So Poker-Huntas runs out of the scene to save Johnny-Smith as it did happen in reality. She uses her car to drive over to Johnny Smith with the executioner but Poker-Huntas stops the execution and escapes with Captain Johnny Smith by running over the indians. The fast-pacing shots where she drives fast (and as the chopping off scene is about to occur) make the action rather exciting. They dash through a photographer - but zip back for a photo of both of them before they continue their own escape. Stalling uses the 'Western Scene' cue which was a popular cue he used for action scenes western style. The indians notice the escape - and some funny Avery humour (and yet child humour) is where the Indians count (adding on 5 each number '5...10...15...20, etc.' before they continue the action which is done in a hide and seek style.
The Indian officers then ride out of their motorbikes as they appear to ride invisibly which is the gag. It appears to be a gravity type gag I suppose. They stop as they notice their mistake but get run over by their own motorbikes. As the chase sequence continues - there is a lovely bit of loose animation of the car that appears to almost fly out of the edge of the cliff but manages to keep track on the road. The amusing part is where the reckless indian drivers appear to drive straight through to chase after them and somehow - they don't fall down. After they stop - the Indian Chief announces, "Hey fellas, ain't this so fun?" as the indians shout "Yeah! Let's get some more!" before continuing on. Of course - even they aren't taking the chase scenes very seriously - like a game on the playground.
So, as Johnny-Smith and Poker-Huntas escape for their lives; Poker-Huntas giggles: "Now don't you people half-get excited? Because you see, the indians don't ever catch us and we escape on a ship--". Johnny Smith interrupts as there is personal conversation going on: "Aww come on Poker, don't tell them the whole story - let 'em guess!" That is definitely rather humorous.
So they manage to escape on the ship (as she has described almost the entire story) and they managed to flee America. The ship is rather inanimate as the anchor pushes itself away from the harbour and back to England. Mmm, looks like Avery got some influence with inanimate objects from the 20s and early 30s cartoons. They wave away from the indians and they share their own kiss at that romance scene (even her feather tail appears to get erected - which is rather subtle humour). Much later on - as they have returned to England, we find they are already married (as identified on their letterbox). They are both reading a book titled, "The Last of the Mohicans" as Poker-Huntas questions, "Oh yeah?" and pan towards their own infants which is a combination of Eggheads and Mohicans which is a rather funny conclusion to this parody of the real-life event of Pocahontas.
Avery's star characters that he was using by this point were Egghead and Daffy Duck. Of course, Egghead (or if you insist on using 'Egghead's brother') were used as they were the reason of satire - and of course Avery turned out two Daffy Duck cartoons after the first (Porky's Duck Hunt). It's rather interesting that he used him a lot but it took him so many cartoons to evolve into Elmer Fudd. Indian stories for animated cartoons appear to have been very popular among the Warner cartoons and other animation studios of the 1930s as I suppose its history was rather popular of the time period the cartoons as being made. This cartoon has its original titles that exist through Sogturtle's (Tim Cohea) nitrate film frames of some of the Avery films but it's cropped. You can see it in the 'Warner Bros. Titles' website - it's cropped with the exact image of the silhouette ship (although you can't identify the writing).