Saturday, 5 January 2013

239. Bars and Stripes Forever (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 238.
Release date: April 8, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Warden Paws/Main Prisoner/Barber/Fly), Danny Webb (Prison Guard/Other Prisoners).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Life and schedules inside a prison building - until one particular prisoner comes up with a rotten trick and escapes the prison.

Rod Scribner's first animation credit. Rod Scribner (1910-1976) is without doubt, one of the most influential animators of the Warner Bros. animation age; as well as one of the most influential Golden Age animators of all time - most notably for his work for Bob Clampett. He's also probably one of the most discussed and acknowledged animators ever.

Being his first animation credit in 1939; he was first employed at the Leon Schlesinger Studios shortly after Leon opened it in 1933; as he started off as an assistant animator.

It is unknown as to when he was first promoted to being an animator but apparently started off as an animator in the Tashlin unit before Chuck took over that unit. Despite not being credited back then - its likely he served there as a B animator before joining as a full-fledged animator for Hardaway-Dalton and received his first screen credit.

A little bio about Scribner before the review (try to be as brief as possible). Born: October 10, 1910 in Joseph, Oregon, United States to parents to Frederick Farnsworth Scribner (12/8/1882 - 7/5/1965) and Sarah Magee (10/21/1882-6/2/1975). Had an elder brother named John Magee - born 1909 - and recently died in 2008, and a younger sister named Elizabeth C. b. 1914 and d. 2003 (?). Moved to California when he was roughly 6 years of age in 1916 to Burbank, California. Father's occupation was known to be a banker -- listed as "2nd Street". Married Jane Bannister Kieser (md. 4/18/1938 - div. 1966). The couple had three children: Lynn: b. 1940, Judith Kieser, b.1/4/1942 and Charles Roderick b. 3/16/1952. After they divored: Rod married Leona Carmen Acker in 1967 but divorced around February 1969. In his final year, he remarried the third time to Georgie Anne Dieter in 5/23/1976.

Click here for a bigger look!
Served as an employee at the Leon Schlesinger Studio around '33 - and remained animating for Warners until the WB shutdown in 1953. Inbetween from around (1945 or '46 to '48) Scribner was diagnosed with TB from a tuberculosis epidemic and was off-work for nearly three years before returning to animate for the McKimson unit. Later animated commercials at UPA, Melendez and even for Ralph Bahski. Mark Kausler recalls meeting him when he was trying to pick up work at Spungbuggy. Described him to have a face with a 'Jose Jimendez' face. Mark greeted him, and acknowledged the work he provided for cartoons like Coal Black and for Clampett, unfortunately Rod couldn't remember working for Clampett and only recalled his last work was for Peanuts for Bill Melendez. I won't go into the details of him escaping in and out of hospitals, looking for work as its been mentioned many times.

Rod Scribner passed away on Dec. 21, 1976 of bad liver (fatty liver, in fact). Here is a copy of his Death Certificate which I have cropped. Joe Campana sent me a copy of it a year ago through e-mail.

Well, onto the review:

The cartoon starts off with a dawn view of a prison island which is some nice details on the backgrounds by Art Loomer. Also some neat overlays of the mist flowing through the island. As we fade in - we find the name of the prison is called Alcarazz which is an obvious reference to the infamous Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco.

We see some sign gags that would likely be sign ideas coming from Bugs Hardaway. The sign gag starts off reading, "Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make". A sign is then pulled back as it reads, "But they sure help!" I wonder whether the spoonerism in the first time was deliberate as it should supposedly read, "Stone Walls Do Not Make a Prison".

Then we pan through as we see a clock tick and pendulum swing. The sign on top reads, "Your Time is Our Time" - nice!! The pan continues as we see the prisoners snoring and the doors open and close. But...wouldn't the doors already be locked so they can't open?

Two prisoners - as they are sleeping on their bunks - the one below is snoring intensely that an iron ball of the top prisoner keeps on moving and then hits the small prisoner. He wakes up and then punches the ball out of the way and into the net like a basketball which is a amusing gag.

The next scene I find to be hilarious where a prisoner is in bed; and is awakened by a fly flying around the scene. As the fly is about to land on his toes, he stretches his toes apart and then catches it. The fly outs out in a loud, agonising voice: "OUCH!" done by Mel Blanc. That animation there is just all solid and well constructed - and the fly's take is just hilarious. All the prisoners in this cartoon are basically seen as 'dog men' which appeared to be a very popular tradition in the WB cartoons and yet appeared to be abandoned around the early '40s.

The next sequences focuses on a small prisoner who uses a chisel to try and escape through the bars. Hang on a minute - the bars are so thick he could easily have gone through. However, he is spotted by a police warden and he improvises by disguising himself as filing his nails. The police warden looks over - even at the big prisoner and walks out. The big prisoner grabs out his slingshot and shoots straight at him.

The warden returns rather annoyed, "Who done that?" The big guy disguises himself by not having any involvement. So, the police warden accuses the wrong person and whacks him with a baton. The effect of where his head vibrates is very funny.

Meanwhile - Warden Paws; the name is a reference to author Lewis E. Lawes. He walks out and it's Mel Blanc impersonating Lew Lehr or Hugh Hebert but I'm more proned to believe it is Hebert - so I'm going to think its more like Hebert than Lehr. The Warden babbles about how it is a wonderful morning and even giggles, everything he says 'Sure'. He walks over to the prison cells and grabs out his little bell and rings it. The animation there of the Warden is certainly very jerky but then again I love the solid posing he goes into. He attempts to wake them up as he orders, 'Can't sleep all day, you know'. I love that little lineup as he remarks, 'I don't sleep all day myself. Insomnia'. Now that is just a hilarious crack-up. Oh, and the theme of the scenes with Warden Paws is The Umbrella Man.

Warden Paws walks over to one of the cells and there is a prisoner who attempts to escape by digging his way out. The prisoner spots Warden Paws walking in to inspect; and he steps out sitting on his bed. Paws looks through and notices the ditch which is being nice. The prisoner comes up with an excuse and remarks, "Mice" have been making the mess.

The Warden then steps out and just remarks to himself about bringing in a mouse-trap. He appears to make a little prison joke about the mice being on parole after bringing in the trap. The next scene we find a prisoner just wakes up and he walks over to his jailbird in a cage and shouts "Good morning, Oscar". The jailbird remarks, "Hi, lug" (?) if that is the line.

The prisoner walks over to pull out the blinds and remarks, "Just get a load of that sea-air". The water then splashes straight inside and wets him - which is a little bizarre. Another scene in prison is where the prisoner is in his own cell brushing his teeth. It turns out the gag is we think he is brushing his teeth - but it is revealed in the mirror that he only has one tooth in his mouth.

The next sequence we fade as there is a silhouetted scene of prison wardens grabbing hold of a squirming and reluctant prisoner. The prisoner squirms, 'No, no - you can't do this to me!' and the wardens continue to keep on pushing them forward. He is then taken over to sit in a chair - and the silhouette here displays the intense drama of what would be seen in live-action - and I like how it is parodied here.

Then we see a silhouetted hand and it looks like its the intense moment where he will get the electric chair. It turns out that the scene features the light flickering on and then off slightly as it appears to have little watts contained in the bulbs. It turns out that the prisoner in the chair is in fact in a barber shop where he is having a trim.

The barber remarks, 'You sure got tough whiskers, buddy' in Mel Blanc's Italian accent of a barber. The way that the whole scene has been setup is certainly very clever as it feels as though its creating a dramatic moment - but we all know its just a parody, but how would it turn out as a set-up? And - the reason why the prisoner's begging not to have a haircut - well, I suppose he hates having his whiskers trimmed.

The next sequence we find the big prisoner and the small one as they are doing their routined duties - scrubbing the floors. The warden walks in to see if they are doing their jobs and then walks on leaving them to it. The big prisoner holding onto the mop asks the small guy "Watch this". He throws the mop towards the warden and the mop is caught on his face.

The warden walks over and asks, 'Who threw that'. The big guy sets up the smaller one - scrubbing the floor and remarks 'Who wants to know?' The warden then grabs the small guy and whacks him with the baton. That real, cool vibrating animation and sound effect certainly is the highlight.

The big guy then suggests he gets back at the warden: 'Why don't you bounce that ball off his dome'. The small prisoner walks over carrying his iron ball and he is about to hit him with the iron ball. The warden turns around - leaving the small prisoner pretending to bounce it with his hands. The warden orders, 'Drop that ball!' after he drops it - the floor breaks and the small prisoner falls down. That scene where he balances the iron ball and even falls - that is just some very sloppy timing. It lacks a lot of weight - and look at the way he falls - such poor timing; as it doesn't feel as fast or even believable.


The next scene it is lunchtime so everybody in the canteen are on their lunch break. The main prisoner of the cartoon looks around - as he has a sneaky plan. He bites on his onion stick and whispers to the next prisoner, '2 o'clock'. Which every other prisoner whisper the same time which is the time for their escape rampage. The main theme in the cafeteria theme (as well as original titles) is St. James Infirmary Blues.

The small prisoner is the last person to past the message but doesn't realise he is standing next to the warden. It feels weird that the small prisoner is sitting on a baby chair.

The small prisoner holds his dish so he doesn't get slammed by the warden. After he feels its safe - the warden gets him with the baton - as per usual. The clock ticks - and it is now 2 o'clock. The escape plan begins. In the next sequence; the big prisoner walks out and is carrying his pistol and is about to escape. As he begins so - two police guards have a shotgun jabbed behind his back. The prisoner looks under to spot and then he immediately breaks into song. I'm not too sure who he is impersonating but it sounds like he's stretching his vowels like Jerry Colonna as the prisonwe sings Daydreaming (All Night Long). He sings the song through substitute lyrics of his dreams of escaping.


As he appears to sing in a poor impression of Jerry Colonna (if it is him) and the warden guards follow him. The prisoner steps through cell through cell. The prisoner walks back as he sings, "all those warden guards - they all bore me". He closes the cell door and the guards are trapped. The scene where he sings about his 'life in prison' and screen grabbed I suspect was a Rod Scribner scene - judging by how loose it looks, and the detailed teeth.


The song then follows as the prisoner continues to sing, and the prisoners wish him good luck. The prisoner kisses his lips towards them: "My lovin' buddies". The whole sequence just is incoherent where he just sings to Warden Paw of him leaving - "About time I scram from here". There is a shot where a police guard uses his shotgun to play the flute.

The singing continues as he sings: "And now I'm going to go?" - flute playing. "Yes I'm going to scram - (then the prisoner sings rather quickly - though I can't make out what is sung)...A Goooooood-bye!" He runs out of the prison managing to quick Warden Paws. He even runs back shaking the Warden's hand before rushing back to shake his hand. Then he rushes out of the prison headquarters and is out of sight.

Warden Paws then waves 'Bye-bye' as we hear Blanc's impersonations of Lew Lehr (or Hebert). Suddenly, he then realises as he shouts: "He's gone, gone, etc." - the moment where he takes - it is horribly timed with the voice acting and animation. It is terrible. He then remarks: 'Why don't somebody do something, maybe I can do something, sure. Hoo-hoo!'. He blows his whistle call and puffs. He can't get a sound out. Afterwards; the whistle blows itself with puff coming out.

The guards are now out at the scene as they are on the search for the escaped prisoner. The whistle blows, and then they all escape in their cars. They arrive at the scene of the prisoner's hideout. The prisoner is shooting outside the windows in his hideout straight at the police guards.

As he fires - the police look up and find that the bullets shoot their police hats off. One officer fires but appears to turn into a twist and then swirls back again. As the prisoner continues to fire (whilst sitting inside the bathtub) one warden guard comes up with a neat idea. He shoots his gun up a drainpipe and the bullets the shower out and attack the prisoner. He then shouts 'ouch' in agony and finds one other way to hide by climbing up the fireplace.

The prisoner climbs up on top of the chimney outside the mouse. All of the police officers then fire and the chimney is about to collapse. The prisoner makes a take as he is about to fall. As he falls - he lands into the police car. The police all whack him with batons and the car itself drives off. I always thought that scene was animated by Rod Scribner - the way the prisoner's eyes cross together up the chimney certainly is a bit of a giveaway - but I can't be 100% certain.

The prisoner has returned to prison and this time been secured inside and definitely properly locked up in case of further escapes. Meanwhile the small prisoner is standing near him - scrubbing the floors. The warden guard walks over to see the work coming along.

As he walks along - the prisoner whacks him with a club and quickly acts innocent. The guard turns around ready to accuse the small prisoner and to let him have it. However, the small prisoner (knowing he will get whacked anyway) grabs the baton and whacks himself in the head with it and his head vibrates. The cartoon ends with a really funny conclusion as the baton gag comes back during intervals of the cartoon until we wait for its ending - I feel it was a funny move.

Overall comments: I'd have to say that this is one of Hardaway-Dalton's better efforts. I feel as though the cartoon at least had some stronger gags to carry through the cartoon - and the pacing of the cartoon's story went through quite well - and at least the song sequence didn't take forever. The prison gags at the beginning with the prisoners were certainly very amusing and there was certainly some fine pacing going on like when Warden Paws came in ringing the bell - in-between gags. Probably because this cartoon's story was written by Jack Miller - who in my opinion, written some pretty strong cartoons of 1939-1940 (Thugs With Dirty Mugs, You Ought to Be in Pictures, etc.). The cartoon also did have some flaws - particularly some of the singing sequences where it sounds like a bad impersonation of Jerry Colonna - although it may not be him.

The way he stretches his vowels sound like it - but there is no other indication. Some of the cartoon had some pretty sluggish animation timing - particularly the 'iron-ball' gag which was just very sloppy. The Warden Paws is rather debatable as I've heard sides debate about it being Lew Lehr or even saying its Hebert - while it does sound like Hugh Hebert to me - I'm just going to leave it so I know for sure. The way that the gags have been set up is certainly rather fun - as I do like the baton gag that goes all through the cartoon. The electric chair gag is certainly very funny. Many of you folks would probably consider this cartoon to be an 'average at best' cartoon - I'd consider it a guilty pleasure of mine since I've known that cartoon for a very long time - through PD tapes.

4 comments:

  1. The little dog is actually using a nail filer to escape through the bars, not a chisel.

    The main prisoner actually bites into a cob of corn, not an onion stick. Those would be smaller.

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  2. Most syndicated prints (A.A.P.) of this cartoon omit the full version of the WB opening studio logo, which would have carried the original production # of 8835 and a 1939 copyright. Why? Because, after the A.A.P. logo fades out, it jarringly cuts to the Merrie Melodies series logo. (Other WB cartoons syndicated by A.A.P. that sometimes also cut out the WB studio logo were The Bear's Tale and Pop Goes Your Heart, the former of which can be seen with its full opening credits.)

    On the Dubbed Version print, they inexplicably use the opening logo from "Gold Rush Daze" which carries the 8749 production # and a 1938 copyright.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The dubbed version does not use the gold rush daze opening, Turner actually restored the opening rings to Bars and Stripes forever for the dubbed print.

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  3. Damian, Pink No More12 September 2013 at 21:08

    The "stone walls" line is a reference to the works of English poet Richard Lovelace, specifically, "To Althea, from Prison":
    Stone walls do not a prison make,
    nor iron bars a cage;
    Minds innocent and quiet take
    That for an hermitage

    ReplyDelete