Monday, 24 December 2012

231. Hamateur Night (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 230.
Release date: January 28, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Egghead/Audience with Crushed feet/various contestants), Sara Berner (Flea/Juliet Hen), Phil Kramer (Host) and Tex Avery (Hippo).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Paul Smith.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: It's Hamateur Night playing with several contestants, and Egghead interrupting a few times but who is bound to win?

This is Irv Spence's final animation here (that I've noticed) he has done for Avery at Warner Bros. before he leaves and goes off to M-G-M where his famous career. continues. It appears around this time that Tex was rather eager in using other actors from radio shows to do some characters; here he's using Phil Kramer for the voice of the show who had appeared on the Grouch Club with Arthur Q. Bryan, and Lescoulie. And - he would use Q. Bryan for Dangerous Dan McFoo and later on would voice Elmer Fudd.

The cartoon begins as we see the sign outside a theatre where the name of the theatre is the typical parody name Warmer Bros. Theatre  for these Warner cartoon. As well as a parody with bright lights that read "Four Daughters with Selected Shorts" - as it is supposedly used  as an attraction.

The amateur show then begins as a conductor begins to play the music with the gag showing (instead of an intense opening) it already begins with some jolly music to It Looks Like a Big Night Tonight. Then the conductor and his orchestra grab out trumpets as they play together their own introduction to amateur night. A rather cool introduction with a fine gag on the conductor about to start off with a serious introduction.

The host then steps out and the voice acting is done by Phil Kramer who does a superb job at it. The host certainly has that unenthusiastic look on his face, only taking his role as 'just a job' which I find funny. He starts off with his rather low, humble voice:

"Hello folks, tonight is Hamateur Night - next we have...". As he is about to introduce the next act - Egghead enters the scene spoiling the introduction by singing She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes. Some hooks then arrive at the sop and Egghead is quickly dashes out which is some funny, loose animation by Irv Spence there - who animates most of the scenes with the host. A funny little scene which is just out of nowhere of Egghead to come through as it makes the host feel like a host, and I love how he doesn't show any stimulation in himself and the hooks just toss him away.

The host continues as he announces, "Next we have Maestro Palawitsky". The curtains then collapse as we find Maestro Palawitski sitting on his piano on the stool. We notice that he has a flock of hair that covers his face and he unravels it as we see his face. I wonder if the name or even the hair is meant to resemble Leopold Stokowski - even though there is no indication other than the name.

He then grabs out a coin in his pocket and plays it in the slot of the piano which is a little amusing as we know he is completely talentless and just sits there and as though he is not at all bothered with the piano playing The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down.

I love how the piano is presented as some juke box. The judge at the back of the curtain is appalled at the act (knowing what he did) and then slams the bell and his piano falls as well. Afterwards; we find that a member of the audience is already seated with his feet resting on a chair in front of him.

However, a hippo audience member arrives at the spot he is resting his feet and sits on them. The audience member then gets up shouting at the top of his voice, "OUCH! I give up! I give up!" The hippo then gets up and the dog notices his crooked feet and he walks out of the audience weeping like a baby - "Oh look at my feet. They're all crooked and everything!". Now that is certainly amusing; and the jerky animation is cool. The next amateur then focuses on an opera singing raven who sings so loud that it causes him to rise in mid-air. He even starts to sing in a falsetto which is just crazy and Tex is having fun with gags. higher and higher until the bell rings and he falls down upon hearing which is just wacky.

The next scene we find that the hippo audience member is already becoming a pest as he breaks out into Tex Avery's own infectious laughter as he laughs so loudly an audience member in front of him is disturbed. The hippo laughs out, "It's a killer!" at the amateurs that he starts to become unaware of his actions and ends up whacking the audience's derby hat and his hat ends up having his whole body down to his waist.

The timing of him striking the hat to his waist is just really funny and perfect comic timing by Avery. Afterwards - the man walks out of his seat and leaves the theatre in disgust. The curtains rise for the next act with the host standing by the wall:

"Next on the program - the Hindumistic Swanee River and his basket trick" rather amusing he's named after the Swanee River in Florida. We then pan to the Hindumistic who is standing at the center and we hear Hindu music in the background. The close-up of Swanee River is Irv's animation (and I think he did the scene before that).

In the close-up; the Hindumistic demands for his trick, "I must have a subject for the audience". He then calls out for a certain person who he spots. We know it is Egghead is the chosen member of the audience - as you can tell in the silhouette. Egghead arrives on stage, the Hindumistic then points to basket to enter the basket - and he enters. He then sticks his sword into the basket a few times stabbing him inside. The sound effects are very funny. The trick he made then failed as he tries to ask him back into the box; but instead he finds that he is already (and likely dead). He then  hands over the basket to the usher, and asks "Usher. Give the gentlemen his money back".

The host then walks over as he announces the next act to be the "world's smallest entertainer" - who is "Teeny Tiny Tinsy Tinny Tin-Tin". The flea then jumps out of the dog and hops over to the spotlight - which is a cool sound effect used by an electric guitar.

The flea also appears to have the world's highest voice that it almost sounds like it is going to break. This is certainly an ambitious gag for Avery as he would have probably Sara Berner to provide a voice and edited it to a high output. The flea is reciting the poem of Mary Had a Little Lamb and then concludes the first verse, and laughs. The act is rejected and falls down the rejection floor. It turns out to be a really long fall for the flea that there is a terrible crashing sound afterwards which is just very amusing and wacky for Tex...very humorous. Cool shaky effect in the camera which was (probably) done by Smokey Garner.

The next scene the host introduces the next act where it involves a walrus trainer named Fleabag McFoodle who can train his dog with expertise. The walrus then trains his dog the basic tricks like to roll over and the dog rolls over. Then he trains for the dog to play dead - and the pose of the dog playing dead is pretty decent. Fleabag McFoodle then trains for him to sit up, and then to speak...

The music cue for the dog scene is Where, O Where Has My Little Dog Gone? The dog then gets up and starts to speak and repeats the quote of what an actor from a play would say. He starts off with the typical line, "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...from the rockbound coast of Maine - to the sunny shores of California". I don''t know if its a reference - but obviously Maine and California are very far apart.

I love how he wriggles his own stomach for that. I suspect it might have been a Virgil Ross scene (only suspect) as it feels like the movement he would use. However, the dog ends up rejected and falls. Afterwards; the hippo then goes into hysterics again when he laughs so loudly he uses his own elbow to barge the other audience member. He barges them so violently that they all line up together and crash out of the building as they have already broken a wall.

The next sequence then focuses on a fox who is an amateur actor who likes to act Shakespeare plays. He then starts off by quoting the notorious line off Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He then quotes, "To be - or NOT to be!" and the audience disapprove of Shakespeare (probably) then throw tomatoes at his face. The fox actor then realises that every time he quotes the quote - a tomato comes shooting straight for his face.

Once he realises that it is already becoming a habit - he then quickly quotes the line and covers himself with the tomato not aiming for his face - just freezes. He then steps back and tries to quote the rest of the line, "...that is the ques--" and the tomato splats on his face.

That is some real amusing comic timing there and I love the fluidity of the tomato splats. The host then reaches under the curtains announces the following sequence to be the 'balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet. Afterwards a tomato then aims for the face of the host which is some great timing by Tex - also an Irv scene.

The sequence of Romeo & Juliet begins as we find the hen playing Juliet is up at the balcony as she quotes the famous line: "Romeo, Romeo ... where for art thou Romeo?" as she does her Katherine Hepburn impression. Here those characters from Daffy Duck in Hollywood and its appropriate to use them again. The Romeo actor then approaches, "Here, my love. In the bushes at the bottom of the garden".

He uses a ladder to climb up as they both share a kiss. Beautiful effect on the moon melting which gives it some atmosphere. Juliet then shares another famous line: 'Goodnight, goodnight. Parting is such sweet sorrow' and then impersonates Hepburn, 'Rarely it is'. At that moment the hippo at the back then starts to laugh out so loud at the scene.

The laughing scenes sure do amuse me a lot - as it creates such an awkward moment for classic Shakespeare plays. Afterwards, he continues his lines (which certainly aren't from the play), 'Oh my darling, my only one. I love you more than anything--' the hippo laughs again until the chick actor steps down to shoot the hippo in the audience. Certainly a big move for Tex Avery with these gags as he has gone all the way to sadism - but then again its still very funny, and even many other WB cartoons used that afterwards. Afterwards; he tries to take the play more seriously but it turns out that the infectious laughter was really from her - making the actor a killer - now that is excellent satire! After the curtains close - he shoots her.

The amateur show concludes and the host enters the spot as he is going to find out who the winner of Hamateur Night is. He begins as he comments, "Now folks..." but Egghead comes in to interrupt the show by singing She'll Be Coming Around the Mountains before the hooks reach in and yank him out (also his hat). He walks over with a bib as he announces, 'Let's see who wins the cup!'. He walks over in chronological order.

The penguin opera singer has been rejected by the audience, as well as the Hindumistic and is rather surprised at the feedback. Then walks over to the dog that speaks but still boos, then the fox actor (well he's obviously getting them). Hang on a minute, what happened to the flea that was reciting nursery rhymes? The actor (who is still alive as the Juliet actress has been shot) and I admit its really dark.

Then the bib goes over to the final contestant who is...Egghead. He gets all the praise from the audience as the host is appalled. He looks at him and then the audience. The wacky part turns out that the entire audience are full of multiple Eggheads. All I can say is - what happened to the audience? Did they somehow get mutated or put under a spell and evolve into Eggheads?

Overall comments: Probably one of the more stronger cartoons of this year - and its one of my favourite cartoons that Avery has made at Warner Bros. Tex Avery has already made some parodies of famous stories, or legends but here this cartoon pretty much has a simple story where we see an amateur show that is put on. It follows on with a string of gags and most of them work pretty well. Egghead here is used only a few time - but I don't think him very focused on the cartoon as he only appears a few times in the cartoons - and it would have been funnier or even more broader if he appeared in and out all through the cartoon just singing She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain but the gag part at the end was a bit amusing but would've been funnier if he was used a little more often, even it would become a little obnoxious. The hippo character certainly did steal the show - whenever the gags of the amateur show were getting a little weak, and I think Avery here in this cartoon shows a great deal of him working hard at comic timing. It feels like this cartoon is a practice for his timing which of course he would be the expert of in his MGM years. The timing of the hippo bashing the hat is just really funny as well as the tomato splating.

The cartoon feels like that it is an end of some era for Tex in his WB career. For three years he's mainly been focusing on making cartoons that are humorous for cinema audiences who would want to come in and laugh at his cartoons which would have fine gags and even references. Afterwards, and with Irv Spence's departure - it seems to feel as though Tex then focuses on a new level and it feels he's sending his unit to art school as Avery somehow gets hooked with making travelogue parodies - which he would continue making until his Warner Bros. departure. The voice casting in the cartoon has been chosen very well, and its appropriate casting for Mel Blanc who pretty much voices almost all the contestants, as well as Egghead. You couldn't have chosen a better person (perhaps) than Phil Kramer who was popular in radio, and he definitely sounded the part. After this cartoon, Avery would then start to meteorite in his cartoons for the next two years (although every once in a while he would turn out some decent material) as he would focus on spot-gags, and even his cartoons start to get slow-paced.


  1. The pianist is a parody of Paderewski.

  2. There is an edited version of the Romeo and Juliet scene, which hides the fact that "Romeo" shot the obnoxious hippo, most likely done for censorship reasons. What happens, is that "Romeo" steps off the stage, but instead of a gunshot, we hear a voice saying "Stop it now!"

    What makes this edit even sillier, is that it keeps the gunshot sound effect when "Juliet" is shot.