Tuesday, 18 December 2012

226. Count Me Out (1938)

Warner cartoon no. 225.
Release date: December 17, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Danny Weber (Egghead), Mel Blanc (Vinyl Record) and Tex Avery (referee).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Herman Cohen.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Egghead inspires to become a boxer - and uses an interacting vinyl record to help him.

The last cartoon where the original design for Egghead is seen in the cartoon; whilst the other design (or if you prefer to call him 'Egghead's brother') continues until 1939, and then later: Elmer Fudd.

The cartoon begins as we see a letterbox where it is Egghead's residence. We see the letterbox reads; "Air Mail" - I guess it is a dated reference meaning air mail was rare in that period whereas its very common. We pan as we find Egghead appears to be a rancher in a mid-western American life. He moves his head whilst reading the letter just like a typewriter - which is some neat timing.

Egghead receives a letter, supposedly from the cartoon company, "Acme" where the main heading reads: Are You a Man or Mouse? as Egghead receives a letter where he is encouraged to become a boxer and the letter suggests boxing lessons to become a fighter.

Egghead then declares: "I'll be a fighter! I'll be a REAL man", he walks over to the letterbox as he grabs out an air place as he uses 'air mail' to travel the plane towards the 'Acme' company's location. The airplane then leaves as a U.S. mail cart then arrives in about a millisecond (gives Egghead a fright) as the old-timer mail clerk hands in the package to Egghead:

Clerk: Here ya be, Johnny!
Egghead: That sure is fast service!
Clerk: I wouldn't have been here sooner but the bridge was out! Entirely gone!
Egghead: Okay, pop.
Clerk: Well, you can't please anybody, get up mammy.

The mail clerk leaves the scene, as Egghead walks back holding his package. That sequence with the mail delivery was some really good timing (still unsure whether Dalton or Hardaway did the timing of the cartoons). The use of speed was rather necessary for that; and it did make the gag work. Shows that those two were even capable for some fast-pacing. Love the Egghead take where there is a real use of exaggeration in the squash n'stretch animation.

Meanwhile inside the house - Egghead already has the boxing supplies in his desk where he will be caught how to box. He already has some punching gloves, as well as skip-rope for physical exercise. He then grabs out a vinyl record from inside the box where it is an educating record to teach you how to fight.

A very cool effect where we see the close-up of the vinyl record and it already starts playing from there - rather tough to have nailed down to make it look rather realistic. After the fadeout - we see Egghead is already in his own boxing outfit ready to practice. His first job in the program is to perform some correct poses for boxing.

Egghead performs a couple of attempt for his fighting poses -as the program continues the instructions. A really funny gag which is very Avery-esque is where the radio gets personal and shouts, "I said chest out!" and Egghead sticks his chest out.

Another gag is added but here I think Hardaway-Dalton get carried away with the gags; as it turns out the instructor answers the phone through the introduction. It's not particularly very funny, but the 'chest out' part was and even Egghead's deep breath getting more intense as he pants.

I love how his pants drops and we see his boxers. We then follow on a small scene where the record instructs to pace faster and faster until Egghead is merely an airbrush (boy - that print really needs cleaning) and Egghead puffs out from exhaustion. It's a repeated gag from Sweet Sioux but I have to say - the effect of Egghead pacing does look a LOT better. The instructor even makes some talk towards him by telling him off for panting and comments the audience are watching - which is rather amusing.

Egghead walks over to the next step where it involves the punching bag. He is informed to strike the punching bag rather firmly, but what happens is the punching gag somehow ends up stuck on where it is hung. Egghead turns around, wondering but the punching bag shoots out and whacks Egghead out of the scene. Okay, but I don't see how a gag like that works as it doesn't make sense to me. I guess its meant to be wacky but it doesn't feel it here

Egghead gets back up - as it appears that the record player is just watching what he is going through. Okay, but the 'chest out' gag was rather funny, but that record player is just making more remarks throughout the cartoon and it just becomes unfunny and tepid.

After a few punches with the punching bag and Egghead punching nice and easy - the vinyl record concludes today's lesson. As the punching bag still keep moving, the record player impatiently blurts, "I said that'll be ALL for today!" As the punching bag still keeps on banging - the instructor from the vinyl record shouts, "Stop punching that bag!". Now that was certainly funny - as it was well executed, with the tone of voice and all - but with those personal remarks being toned down (to avoid repition) it would definitely had worked much better. Its even funnier to me when Egghead grabs his shotgun and shoots the punching bag dead. Probably the only hilarious gag in that cartoon.

The next day - Egghead continues with the program as the next step involves some physical movement by dodging the punching bags shooting out. Mmm, just think if Egghead got punched in the crotch - it would be the most painful punch.

After managing to successfully dodge the punching gloves - the vinyl record then gives him a diploma as he has graduated from his boxing education. Egghead then shouts out in his Joe Penner voice, "It's AMAZING!" Egghead walks out in complete uniform as he is ready to pack and leave for his next stop at the boxing arena. He checks in the mirror where there appears to be a little reference (maybe Penner but a little unsure). He walks out but just as he walks out - the punching bag then ruins Egghead's luck as he socks Egghead in the face and his suitcase ends up flying. He is knocked out afterwards - as then the sequence then dissolves into a dream.

The dissolve begins as there are a crowd of folks entering the stadium for the fight featuring Egghead vs. Biff Stew. As everybody is settled - the referee calms the audience and makes his announcements: "Ladies and gentlemen! In this corner - the champion of the world -- Biff Stew!". The audience applaud as we watch a bulldog wrestler who is Biff Stew himself. Behins his robe is bright lights that read: Biff Stew World Champion.

Of course - the directors couldn't have gone for a better choice when they chose Tex Avery for the voice of the referee as he was certainly a great voice actor other than director. As the referee is about to announce Egghead in the other corner, he ends up breaking into one of Tex's notorious, and infectious laughs. A rather amusing sequence

He laughs as he is mocking Egghead's physique with sarcastic comments. He hangs onto the ropes of the canvas as he laughs, "You can have him!" and falls off. That gag would later he reused in Chuck Jones' To Duck - or Not to Duck. Egghead is standing at the corner as he turns on his vinyl record so he would successfully win the match. The bodyguards (or crew) of Biff Stew then crowd together as to how the match will play. Egghead crowds over to see what the discussion is before the group depart leaving him in the centre of the arena.

The fight begins as Egghead dashes out of his own rice and begins his attempt on fighting Biff Stew. Since Biff Stew is very muscular and huge compared to Egghead who is a twig - he feels no pain. With no result, Egghead comments, "It's unbelievable". A really cool effect where Biff Stew just blows on his thumb and his glove stretches and socks Egghead. Egghead is already losing as he is being drilled to the sound.

As Egghead rolls out - his own interactive vinyl record encourages him to keep on fighting - so Egghead dashes out. As the action continues, we find a commentator who looks rather tired and bored as he unenthusiastically talks in a very fast tone, and at that spot a fly crawls at his desk but he just grabs the fly and crushes it with no avail.

As the fighting continues - Biff Stew is already thrashing him as there is a cloud covering up the action. Egghead's neck stretches up as he hollers, "Oh no!" As the puff continues to flow around the canvas - the fighting stops as Biff Stew walks out with the job done. Egghead is standing rather dazed as he walks very wearily.

Egghead sits on Biff Stew's lap and sits there as though he is a puppet. He appears to be making a Charlie McCarthy reference as he chuckles, "Imagine meeting you here. Small world after all, isn't it" and appears to chuckle like him. As the bell rings for another round - the pair then get back to their positions on that edge of the campus. Egghead is about to use his fighting poses but Biff Stew just lets him have it by socking him out of the way and Egghead ends up crashing the vinyl record.

After the crash of his own vinyl record - he gets up as he weeps rather cowardly, "I don't want to fight anymore". He is just about to quit as he tries to escape through the ropes of the canvas. As he plans on escaping - Biff Stew grabs his own pants and asks, "Where do you think you're going?" He then grabs him as he has hold of him. He whacks him where Egghead just stretches in the arena in perspective. That is just some good perspective animation there.

After the stretch from the canvas - he flies back and ends up knocking out Biff Stew. Being flattened underneath a knocked-out Biff Stew - he then bites his leg which causes Biff Stew to scream in agony. Egghead then finds that the entire canvas is cracked (as Biff Stew made a terrible hole in the middle of the canvas).

His movement then dissolve back into reality where he realises it was only a dream. First is first, he grabs the vinyl record and tosses it out of the windows as well as the rest of the boxing supplies. He dusts his hands, "I'm through with this - I don't want to fight anymore". As he walks out - the punching glove (from the machine) socks him in the face.

Overall comments: The gags in this cartoon at least show some hits there, but as well as misses. The vinyl record (I think) is the problem of the cartoon's humour as he ends up becoming an interacting record which I think isn't amusing and steals the humour of the cartoon. Much of the gags with the vinyl record (and even as a whole) is rather weak. It would only have been funny with about one or two comments that were directed directly to Egghead. With that aside - there were a few funny little gags like the gunshot gag which I think was definitely the highlight of the cartoon, or even the referee's infectious laughter. The voice choice for the referee was an absolute great choice for Tex Avery to play. With the gags aside - I must say that I consider this cartoon to be one of Hardaway and Dalton's 'stronger' cartoons even though they have a reputation for turning out mediocre or tepid material. I find that most of the gags actually work, and show some originality - that even some directors would be inspired from later.

Hardaway and Dalton were still only new as directors; and they borrowed Avery's original Egghead character probably as an attempt to make him a star; whilst Avery was using Egghead (the other design) as satire or the butt of other gags. Dalton has already used Egghead as a satire in A-Lad-in Bagdad which is similar to what Avery would do - but here they appear to try and make him a regular character.  Even though his evolution may have been very interesting and important; I feel both director's attempts on the character have basically the same personalities (probably because they both had similar story artists). With that aside; I find that Dalton (or Hardaway) are capable with a sense of comic timing that can actually be really amusing. The mail scene was a really good use of quick-pacing; but then at times (much like in the other cartoons) - the comic timing for the fighting scenes were a little sloppy, and way too slow.


  1. I don't think that would have been a vinyl record, as 33 1/3 LPs hadn't been invented. It would have been a 78 on shellaque.

  2. I found another print of Count me out on a russian site.