Friday, 25 January 2013

242. Thugs With Dirty Mugs (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 241.
Release date: May 6, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Danny Webb (Killer Diller), Mel Blanc (Snitching Bank Clerk / Audience Member / Secret Agents) and John Deering (Flat-Foot Flanigan).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Music Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Story: Parody of famous gangster pictures where a group of gangsters commit to robbing numerous national banks and detective Flat-Foot Flanigan fails to find ways on arresting the gang.

Tex Avery was still turning out parodies of particular cultures: such as historial events, fairy tales, travelogues - but here he is parodying gangster pictures. I feel that this attempt of parodying gangster films is what Avery did the best at in his Warner cartoons. The title of the cartoon is a direct pun to the 1938 gangster film: Angels With Dirty Faces - which is rather executed well into a title pun - as mugs is used for the title which was a popular and informal slang for criminals.

With start off with a montage opening where Avery is already setting out the story by introducing the characters with subtitles below the featured characters - which was really common in gangster films of the era. The first character introduced is F.H.A. (Sherlock) Holmes - and Tex is already parodying Arthur Conan Doyle's notorious detective playing as 'Flat-Foot Flanigan' - with the caption 'with a floy floy'.

The subtitles is already silly as the character's name is a spoof of the popular 1938 song Flat-Foot Floogie. We find Flat-Foot Flanigan is pacing up and down puffing his cigar vigorously in his office - already aware of crimes scenes that have been continuously repeating. The opening shot already explains to you a story is definitely going on.

The next character introduced is the antagonist: an Edward G. Robinson bulldog caricature but called 'Ed G. Robemsome' who is playing a character named 'Killer Diller'. The term 'killer diller' was of popular use in the mid-1930s of a musician who played all out. We find Killer Diller is already committed to a robbery threatening a unseen bank clerk with his pistols. The bank clerk backs down with fear by hanging over the money. The Eddie G. Robinson caricature is rather invigorating to the personality we are already seeing as the caricature is really well-put.

The following shot in the montage sequence features a group of recent newspapers where the front headline screams with the amount of robberies that were committed by Killer Diller. The gag that flows is it exaggerates on how many national banks he's robbed but all in separate newspapers which is very intriguing. Notice how the columns below the main headlines are just the *exact* same articles as featured in the first newspaper?

Well, it'll just be a waste of time to come up with random articles, and who in 1939 would even care to notice? The last article appears with the headline '13th Nat'l Bank Skipped Killer Supertitious', then afterwards it exaggerates how many banks he robbed.

The '13th Nat'l Bank' gag is very funny as it implies if he robbed the 13th national bank - it would lead to superstition as we know the number is a very notorious urban legend that would bring in bad luck towards people - and it's very well executed, and cleverly thought out.

The action begins as we find the robbers approaching at banks - and robbing them. They rush out firing with their pistols before leaving the scene to rob more banks. They leave the scene to rob another bank - they rob another scene (13th National Bank in fact) where they steal the bank safe box which then converts to a trailer in disguise so the police wouldn't recognise what they stole. A really cleverly animated gag shows their car being squished and converts into a type of limousine which would be rather tactic as the cops probably hadn't even been on the loose for the muggers, yet. It's a rather simple gag, but relentless as it demonstrates the seriousness of the action scenes and the fact the cars are disguising themselves as non-criminal.

The next newspaper announces at 87 banks have been robbed in a day. Its a pure exaggeration but pulled off well as they continue to get away with endless robbery as we know the police are unable to arrest them. Amazing things that Killer Diller is able to do. The next sequence shows another one of Killer's tactic tricks at night. He pulls the doorbell like a pinball machine where the windows all ping and appear like a pinball. A rather colourful gag, and the backgrounds of the bank at night certainly is beautiful in colour.

Afterwards; the light of the windows appear diagonally and bags of dough flood out of the bank. The silhouettes are a rather nice effect to hide identity. The next headline announces that the police are already about to close in on the suspect. The next scene is a very good setup of an off-screen gag.

 In many gangster films - we find silhouetted scenes are very common as they give out atmosphere and suspense - but here, Tex just puts it out into a gag. Goes to show how Tex is a genius at building up gags and tension. Flat-Foot Flanigan shouts metaphorically to what we believe is a suspect: 'I'm gonna pin it on ya!'. Inside its revealed he is blindfolded and is playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and the gag itself is revealed - very well executed. Flanigan trips on a waste bin and the pin attached to the tail lands on his rear end which is some amusing use of timing - but Tex isn't showing off his comic timing which he hadn't perfected yet. A gag so nice that it was used twice - for Clampett's Great Piggy Bank Robbery.

The next sequence we find a secret agent who is attempting to make a phone call towards the police about the criminals he identified. After placing a coin inside - he then attempts to phone the police. 'Hello operator, give me the police'. No answer. He attempts to get a response from the line, but he ends up banging on the booth where it responds with the word 'Tilt' on the booth which is very dated when it came to technology - but it would've been funny as a gag then.

The next headline features the police being baffled. The same Flat-Foot Flanigan is pacing up and down with a cigar attached to his mouth. As he walks up he vows, 'I'll get the killer yet'. As he walks down - the cigar is still in air which is just rather plain silly in Avery cartoons. He continues: 'I'll send him up. The rat'.

He walks back up to place the cigar back in his mouth whilst pacing. The same mobster on the phone is calling for the police - and there is a split-screen sequence where the telephone lines reach over towards Flat-Foot Flanigan.

The split-screen sequence is a wonderful, accurate set-up whereas it wasn't too common for live-action films of the era but here it really makes the supposed dramatic setup wonderful. The mobster finally gets hold of him as he gives him an important message: 'I'm calling from Skunky Joe's beer joint'. The agent identifies himself with the codename 2 and 3/8. After trying to call up - Flanigan then cuts across the split-screen as he shouts 'Listen 2 and 3/8 - you're gonna have to talk louder. I can't hear a word you're saying!' Just wonderful as Tex is breaking the rules of animated cartoons. What makes it a hilarious setup is the fact the more time wasted - the more crimes sorted.

Afterwards - the 112th national bank has been announced for his robbery as the police are doing a poor job of investigating and solving the crime. The story then begins with the gangster's side of the cartoon. They arrive at their hideout where Killer Diller is sitting on the table looking at the cold-hard cash on the table. He's rather pleased with the results but wants MORE.

"Well, you need okay, boys. It was a clean job, see? Nice getaway. But you, Rocky, after this, lay off the penny gum machines. There ain't no money in them, see?' Of course 'see' was a trademark that Eddie G. Robinson often made in his own cartoons. The next part is just pure silliness, and this is definitely got Tex Avery's fingerprints all over.

Killer Diller addresses to the audience: 'Say folks, I kinda sound like Eddie Robinson, huh? Well I can do a Fred Allen, too'. He uses the tip of his finger to press his nostril so he can imitate Fred Allen. He performs the Fred Allen impression which is very funny. The whole scene is just really funny itself as its very corny, and the gag (and animation) is suffice alone to show Tex is just up for a huge laugh for the audience. Its very silly but that is the whole purpose. One of the mugs then cuts out the fun stuff: 'Ahh, come on Killer. Quit showing off'. The Killer stops and sits back on his chair.

The next sequence where Killer Diller and his gang arrive to rob a gang - this is Avery focusing (I believe) on comic timing - as well as other corny gags. The car parks at an area - the corny part is where it a sign reads its reserved for gangsters only - which is just baffling a gag what are you going to do about that?

Killer Diller approaches a cashier where it blackmails 'This is a stick-up brother. Give me all your dough!'. The bank clerk waves his arms up (which it wobbles). Killer Diller then keeps his pistols in mid-air and he steals the money that is given to him to steal.

The pistols where they are on 'hold' is certainly rather exaggerated and it appears to be Tex's way in this cartoon for exaggeration - where he has proven this is definitely an unreal world. The fact the gun is still pointing to him is rather amusing when Killer Diller isn't controlling the gun. Meanwhile there is a bank clerk who is rather goony looking and threatens to tattletale. "You're a bad boy!" and he chants "I'm going to tell!" A mugger arrives at the spot and clubs the 'teller' - great pun there which adds weight to the gag. The animation afterwards is a little exaggerated as the teller vibrates and still chants with a vibrating sound effect which is rather wacky. I feel this is Tex having a shot at comic timing - which you can tell he hasn't quite perfected yet and wasn't quite the master of yet.

The next sequence with the following newspaper headline reads: Police Grill Suspect. It's another off-screen gag that Avery turns out - we believe Flanigan has caught the suspects as we hear him shout 'Take that you rat!' but it turns out he is throwing slices of cheese towards a rat which is just extremely bizarre but it makes you chuckle. Very amusing and cartoony looking rat.

After chucking slices towards him - he stops. "That's all you get. I need the rest for my lunch". The rat crying and wailing for more cheese is also very funny. The next sequence begins with a new day, the gangster's car parks at the 'Worst National Bank' where they commit a robbery - even if it is the 'worst'.

The bank already assets $250,000,000 and so Killer Diller and his gang break in to steal everything in there. The bank owner walks out to change the sign where the bank now only assets $2.

The amusing conclusion of the sequence is where Killer Diller runs back in to get the remaining two dollars. That's not the amusing part - the camera trucks in to the sign where the bank has no money already sums up to the name of the bank itself; 'Worst National Bank'. The next sequence we find Killer Diller committing more crimes through the telephone where he places his gun through the operator. A woman screams and then a lot lot of money flows out, as Killer Diller collects them with his hat.

The next sequence we find the gang and Killer Diller drive back to their hideout at night (reused animation from earlier). They empty the bag that was loaded with cash. 'Another nice haul, boys. Now we're getting somewhere!'. The gangster next to Killer Diller then goes into dialogue:

Gangster: Hey Killer, what's the next job we're going to pull off?
Killer: Wait a minute! I'm busy. Thinking!

There is a buzz sound that is heard inside his head which is some interesting sound effects for brain thinking. Killer Diller then finally figures out a place which would be at Mrs. Lotta Jewels (the pun name clearly indicates she has a lot of cash and jewels) and they decide to arrive at her place at 10pm. Whilst he discusses the plan - he watches a member of the audience about to leave the cinema room. This is a real moment where the audience member actually becomes essential to the story - Avery has taken these 'audience members' to a new level. Killer Diller spots him leaving, 'Hey, bud, you in the audience. Where do you think you're going?' The audience member responds that it supposed to be his cue but Killer threatens him with a gun until the cartoon is over - which is really powerfully executed and paced. It all works solidly. Killer  remarks, 'That mug's trying to get out of the theatre to squeal to the cops'.

The next scene fades where Flanigan is pacing up and down as he is still determined to find and even capture Killer and his gang. 'I could trap that killer, if only I could get a tap off on his next job'. A member of the audience then pops out and shouts, 'Oh captain. I know, Captain. I sat through this picture twice - and the Killer's gonna be at Mrs. Lotta Jewel's at 10:00 tonight'.

Flanigan replies with such awe as he has finally found out the evidence. He leaves but returns briefly to comment on the man, 'You little tattle-tale'. This is certainly a turning point of the Warners humour and even Tex Avery's own style. The story is not actually flowing as it doesn't even reach to conclusions through snitching and other circumstances - so writer Jack Miller has been very creative and unique through construction of the story that definitely makes the cartoon rather wacky in its subtle ways. This goes to show this is Tex and his unit hard at work in developing strong gags to pull off successfully.

Killer and his gang arrive at the sopt of Mrs. Lotta Jewel's estate. The lights are still on. Killer whispers to his men: 'Quiet you mugs. Wait til they put out the lights'. The lights then flicker out. Supposedly there could have been a funnier gag where a certain light still kept flickering but that would just slow down the pacing of the cartoon.

Inside the house they tiptoe through the hallway with overlapping shadows that reflect on the wall. Killer then halts: 'Easy now, mugs. There's too many of us here. You shadows stay back and watch the door, see?'.

Very typical of Tex where he just breaks the rules of reality. The colours and lighting of this sequence has some great atmosphere where the room looks very dark. A great camera angle is featured where the cops at are the balcony and they aim their pistols towards the mugs - which is a set-up that would be frequent in gangster or mystery films.

The mugs then approach a safe where they try to open the vault to steal the money - but the set-up by the police as a radio where they end up listening to a Lone Ranger story which is also amusing. The cops then turn on the lights and announce their arrest - with that same camera angle. The capture of Killer screams the headlines where the banks are no longer a threat. The next scene is a conclusion where we find Killer Diller in prison uniform locked up in a cell and is writing lines on a chalkboard. The lines read 'I've been a naughty boy'. Mmm, Killer Diller's posing of when he writes on the chalkboard kinda predates Bart Simpson, am I right ;-) (?). The cartoon concludes where he sticks his tongue to the audience which is a little childish.

Overall comments: A Tex Avery cartoon in the Warner Bros. period that says all you need to know. This is a WB parody (out of the many he has one) which I feel is first-rate work. He managed to channel gangster parodies like the dickens. The whole parodies and gags that have been used for the sequences are just very accurate that gags he pulls out all come in very smoothly and nicely. This is a cartoon that I feel is probably Avery's funniest cartoon he made in the WB period. Just to tell you I'm excluding his MGM work when praising here so I don't need to repeat 'in the WB period'. The gags that are pulled off in this cartoon - contributed by Jack Miller, and especially Tex Avery all smooth out very nicely - even wacky gags that become a climax to the cartoon story. I mean by that; such as the member of the audience who steps out to reveal what will happen - which is really what makes a funny detective spoof. It really is a whimsical Tex Avery moment that I can imagine not working as a gag - but the while gag situation is very solid and well executed. A lot of combination gags that all fit nicely in the cartoon. You have the certain simplistic 1930-ish gags like when the safe turns into a trailer or the pinball machine gag. You even have those really goofy, bizarre, charming gags like when Killer Diller impersonates Fred Allen or even the bank clerk threatening to snitch, and also the visual gags like what was seen in the 'Worst National Bank' window after the robbery. Lastly, those gags where it builds in suspense; like the off-screen gags of Flat-Foot Flannigan which is just corny but very well put.

With that asides - the story pacing and even construction has been constructed terrifically. The cartoon is not slow-paced at all; with many sequences that all fit in nicely. Many of the sequences appear to be spliced by each 'newspaper' headlines which actually works very well. Avery was very accurate with parodying the opening cartoon where it is a very long montage sequence, but it is certainly enough to get to know the characters: we get to know Flat-Foot Flanigan as a rather anxious character; whilst Killer Diller is willing to rob any bank he'll encounter - and it's all set out and acted beautifully without dialogue (or just little dialogue).The cartoon is exciting from the very first scene of Flat-Foot Flanigan pacing - the story already starts right at the spot. The cartoon even has its own twists through the cartoon, which you wouldn't find in WB cartoons - and that attributes to the strong story telling there. The cartoon starts out great: about the first half we get to know the characters as well as the crime scenes - the suspense it causes, and then everything gets into action. It has failed before. E.g. is to look at Uncle Tom's Bungalow - the opening sequence takes up about half of the cartoon itself that the pacing is extremely terrible, and the cartoon itself isn't a good satire of the Uncle Tom story - even being the first Avery parody. Tex's best parody here at Warners is excellent for its satire. The voice acting is also excellent as Danny Webb performs a great Edward G. Robinson voice, and even John Deering's voice acting is rather solid. Mel Blanc, as usual contributes to great voice acting. Lastly, the whole cartoon has great satire - it doesn't even have to be broken down in words: it already shows its a satire all through the cartoon. Tex was at the top of his peak here.


  1. - ‘Tilt’ is not necessarily dated. It is still in use for today’s pinball machines, so that the player cannot cheat.

    - You wrote: “The rat crying and wailing for more cake is also very funny.”

    Do you mean more CHEESE?

    - You wrote: “'Another nice hole, boys. Now we're getting somewhere!'.

    It’s actually “Another nice HAUL.”

    - The buzzing sound in Killer’s head is a busy signal – very funny auditory gag.

    - To add to your voice credits, the voice of the henchman who asks Killer about “the next job we’re going to pull” is Ted Pierce.

  2. One of my favorite WB cartoons of all time, for reasons expertly stated. Thanks for the recap!

  3. Their car didn't turn into a limousine when they stopped short, it flipped inside out, the interior of the car was on the outside. It's a really corny gag!

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