Tuesday, 19 February 2013

249. Old Glory (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 248.
Release date: July 1, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig), John Deering (Uncle Sam) and John Litel (Patrick Henry) - lifted from Give Me Liberty.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky Pig is rather unpatriotic of learning the 'Pledge of Allegiance' - that is until Uncle Sam enters his dreams and guides him through the history of the United States and how they became a democratic country.

Yeah - I know the date for reviewing the cartoon may be the wrong time for feeling patriotic but...the time has come, and I better make a move on it.

In many ways this is probably the most unique of all of the Warners cartoons that is made. What makes the cartoon completely different is the fact this is the first (and one of the very few) Warner cartoons where it is 'gag-free'. Up to this point (in reviewing the chronological cartoons) - Old Glory was probably the most ambitious cartoon that the studio had made, and what Leon Schlesinger produced. Of course, only Chuck Jones could be able to how to handle such a cartoon where it required a lot of meticulous and strong character animation..as well as drama. It's probably worth to note this is Chuck Jones' first cartoon where he uses Porky as a character...and the first colour Porky cartoon since I Haven't Got a Hat.

To show the cartoon was the most ambitious the studio made (around this time) - the cartoon itself premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre -- the same theatre where Snow White premiered in 1937, and Gone With the Wind in 1940..shows how the cartoon was pretty hyped up back in 1939. Also, according to Martha Sigall - the studio bought brand new cels just for the cartoon. According to Jerry Beck - about roughly 150 film prints were being made which is about 100 more than an average Warner Bros. cartoon of the 1930s. The cartoon itself became a classic as it was shown frequently during the late 60s between rock acts at the Filmore in San Francisco, and Porky saluting the flag became a great amusement among Filmore patrons.

The cartoon begins when we take a view of the U.S. flag which is waving - the timing and even movement of the United States flag moving is certainly rather believable - but as mentioned by Martha Sigall - difficult to ink and paint. We vertically pan down to find Porky reciting the old 'Pledge of Allegiance'. He stutters and struggles to remember and revise the lines.

There is a really executed shot of the camera facing Porky's shoulder of the 'Pledge of Allegiance' and Porky is struggling to read and even feel patriotic whilst reading his history book. Whilst he is still revising and attempting to recite -- he gives up easily. 

He tosses away the book and grumbles, 'Oh gosh, I don't see why I have to learn the old 'Pledge of Allegiance anyhow'. Some really good personality animation which really captures Porky's reluctance and even frustration on learning..and even procrastinates by going to sleep. Chuck expresses procrastination there wonderfully to show how homework and even revising can be a drag. The whole colours and opening of the sequence really make Porky look beautifully animated and drawn as he is drawn in so much detail in terms of colour; especially the shading. At this point when the cartoon was released: Porky has probably never looked so handsome and solid before.

We pan horizontally as we find the U.S. History book scattered to the ground. Porky's dream begins as Uncle Sam fades into the scene, and is easily identified through the stripes of his trousers. After the vertical pan going upwards - we find Uncle Sam who walks over towards Porky.  Now you can see - the animation here is certainly an uproar in its ways--the animation of Uncle Sam is incredibly realistic. It looks completely drawn from scratch. 

This was a huge advantage for Chuck Jones, but probably couldn't have been successful without the help of animator Bob McKimson who probably animated all of the scenes with Uncle Sam. Here, realistic human animation has probably never looked as attractive--except maybe 'Snow White'. 

Uncle Sam kneels down to a sleeping Porky and inquires: 'You don't know why you should learn the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag? Come on over here - and I'll show you'. Porky's shadow steps out and I love the subtle animation of Porky's hitch-steps where he tries to keep up Uncle Sam's pace - it really does show wonderful personality animation, and animated by Bob McKimson who had the reputation of animating the difficult Uncle Sam scenes without rotoscope and effortlessly...although mind you, he had been studying human anatomy years before. The 50% shades on the colours of both Uncle Sam and Porky is a very nice vision to show this is a dream sequence.

Uncle Sam picks up the U.S. History book and walks over to a concrete bench and places Porky in his lap. All of this character animation; of Uncle Sam seating himself down and even placing Porky on his lap really shows how the character has a lot of warmth and patience, and even feels like a fatherly figure.

He gives Porky a brief introduction about the U.S. history: 'You see Porky, we Americans haven't always been as fortunate as we are today'. The dialogue in the sequence is really juicy and appealing; as well as the personality of Uncle Sam and even the character animation. 

Uncle Sam opens up the history book and shows the map of the United States as seen back in 1939 - hence as to why Alaska or Hawaii aren't included because they weren't admitted as states until 1959. 

Uncle Sam comments: 'Now here is the United States of America, as we now it - the land of the free'. He asks Porky what it means, but an extremely eager Porky nods his head. Uncle Sam chuckles 'I thought so. I'm afraid there's a lot of us who don't appreciate our freedom'. The chuckle is a nice touching effect of Sam's personality. Uncle Sam opens up the history book and points out - 'but these people did!'. We see a map with a caption that reads: 'American colonies - 1775' with the East Coast highlighted. Uncle Sam comments: 'They came to his great unknown country in search for freedom. Instead they got...'. Chuck Jones beautifully visualises Uncle Sam's comments with words approaching the screen, starting with: oppression, unfair taxes, tyranny, unfair laws - but most importantly: injustice! And of course, the thirteen colonies were being ruled under the British Empire.

The next sequence focuses on a shot of Patrick Henry in the courtroom where he is disgruntled over the injustice in the United States. Chuck displays the very notorious speech he made: 'I know not what courses others may take..but as for me: give me liberty, or give me death'. 

That whole sequence was completely rotoscoped, and was rotoscoped from the documentary Give Me Liberty (played by actor John Litel) which was released three years earlier, and coincidentally enough won an Oscar. 

The next sequence we find a cannon that fires and dust fills the scene. A silhouette shot of Paul Revere climbs onto his horse and then rides around midnight shouting 'To arms'. The whole sequence is a tour-de-force as Carl Stalling's arrangements and Milt Franklyn's orchestration is absolute top-notch. Stalling uses the Athalie Overture by Mendelssohn as his music cue. Despite only being rotoscoped throughout the entire sequence - I find the whole sequence is very striking in terms of atmosphere and even Stalling's music purely empathises on the atmosphere of the midnight ride.

Paul Revere continues to ride through the streets at night where civilians are awoken and the lights turn on. They watch him ride and hear his message. A group of followers step out of their homes and decide to follow him carrying guns and ammo for protection. Then a whole group of more Americans look out of their windows to hear the commotion but everyone decides to follow by carrying their own guns and protection.

It's pretty much just entirely done through rotoscoping as much of the human animation does not look extremely realistic and the rotoscoping isn't very believable - but its certainly serviceable; but I feel Chuck's dramatic staging and music climax helps build up and provides a nice illustration of the night of April 18, 1775. 

The Mendelssohn cue is probably one of my favourite cues Stalling has used even if he's using it for dramatic purposes. The way the civilians feet run towards the camera was a neat technique. The sequence really does speak out to me as I've probably already indicated. It really shows the suspense and excitement through Stalling's music. All done without a use of dialogue (except for Revere shouting 'To arms').

After a scene with the men's feet marching - we fade to John Hancock banging his gavel on the desk. We find a group of politicians are at the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 where John Hancock is given a document which is the Declaration of Indepence. At the very end, John Hancock signs the document. 

Now the thirteen colonies have formed into the United States of America. A cannon fires at the scene (with the year reading: 1776). The animation timing of the cannon firing is just absolutely perfect and meticulous. 

The figures from the infamous Spirit of '76 painting come to life with two of them playing a drum, and the other a flute. They play The Girl I Left Behind Me

The sequence is also a tour-de-force scene in the cartoon as Chuck gives the sense of freedom the Americans now have as they have gained independence from the Empire (though were at war with Britain, still, during the Revolutionary War).  Whilst painted with 50% shades; there is also a montage shot to go with it of a bell that is striking; and the movement is incredibly rich. Though Chuck doesn't express it with storytelling; he pretty much shows it in a rather philopshical form. Afterwards; we find another documentation which is the Constitution. The constitution gives access to freedom of religion, freedom of press and freedom of speech which whirls straight at the screen. George Washington is then seen signing the document looking satisfied. 

We cut back to Uncle Sam who reads about George Washington's signing of the document and comments: '..he layed the foundation for our great democracy'. Porky looks and even believes with such motivation and enthusiasm. He shows such patriotism in his comments, 'Gee, that's wonderful'...then he eagerly asks..'Then what happened?'.

Uncle Sam looks at Porky and answers: 'Then Porky, began a vast movement to the west. Led by the great scouts, a courageous people pioneered their way into the unexplored wilderness'. 

We cut to a silhouetted pioneer scout who looks west and his followers follow him on with wagons and pioneers sing to the traditional pioneer song Oh, Susanna. During the travel scene - we see that the amount of exploring and even the map fades with new states that have been admitted and established through the years: which I believe is a clever time technique Chuck has used. Uncle Sam reads through the book and concludes reading: 'And the incredible hardships, and the magnificent sacrifices these gallon pioneers might have been in vein. Had it not been for a great American'.

We horizontally pan upwards to a statue of what is Abraham Lincoln, as Uncle Sam quotes: 'That we highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth'. 

The statue, of course, links to the quote Uncle Sam says as he is quoting Abraham Lincoln himself, who is emphasising that the dead shall not be forgotten, and if they're forgotten then they died for nothing.

Porky Pig wakes up after the fade-out, and having learnt a huge lesson in his dream; he picks up the book and revises the 'Pledge of Allegiance' in a flash. Afterwards; he then salutes towards the United States flag next to him: 'I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all'. Of course; he's saying the dated version, whereas the updated version reads: 'one nation, under God, indivisible...'. We horizontally pan upwards towards the U.S. flag where the cartoon ends without the 'That's all, folks' sign but instead just a plain 'The End' to demonstrate the cartoon's patriotism and seriousness.

Overall comments: Warner's most unique cartoon that has ever been produced - quite possibly so - in terms of humour. Despite the cartoon being virtually gag-free; it's impossible to dislike the cartoon as it has such a unique and even striking form to it. Therefore, I salute Old Glory to be one of Chuck Jones' early masterpieces..and certainly one of the echelons of the 1930s Warner cartoons. Despite being an unfunny cartoon - I feel the cartoon itself is very powerful and even moving that it doesn't matter being a Warners cartoon. I suppose it gives me the whimsical feeling and even a sense of patriotism that I don't really feel when watching them. Yes, of course it would be odd if I was patriotic to the cartoon considering I'm not American but the cartoon really makes it a decent patriotic cartoon. What really stands out to me as a whole is the warmth of Uncle Sam. I find him very appealing from the very first shot, and John Deering does an excellent performance on voicing the patriotic figure who performs it in a very tender way. 

In its ways - the cartoon is revolutionary for the Warner cartoons: being the first drama cartoon, is kind of a break after Avery and many others have been producing and turning out dozens and dozens of humorous and satirical cartoons...even though Chuck was certainly an oddity at the time for making humorous cartoons that Clampett, Avery, Freleng or even Hardaway-Dalton were producing. As mentioned, the cartoon in many ways is a gem on its own. The animation of Porky and Uncle Sam is probably some of the finest animation that Bob McKimson has ever produced. Having Porky even stepping into colour is certainly a big change as he has been continuously been a black and white character of the past years, and in that aspect - the cartoon was a revolutionary for the 'Merrie Melodies' as Porky has finally stepped into colour. Much of the storytelling, is visualised and its great to see Chuck Jones have a go at it here; and I believe he manages to display it wonderfully without dialogue (except for Uncle Sam explaining it) but he hadn't quite mastered the technique yet. Overall, I think the cartoon is truly wonderful, and my praise for the cartoon is NOT facetious at all!


  1. Not exactly the FIRST without gags, but the first since Avery and Clampett came along to revolutionize the studio, and one of the longest and most patriotic and we all the better for it (and to boot, the studio used red, white and blue rings for the Merie Melodies soon thereafter. Nice use of apple cheked Porky, btw.)SC

  2. Looneytooneyfanpl12 November 2013 at 12:48

    I saw the That's all folks closing titles from 1953 BR reissue, aired on Polish TV station.

  3. Back when animation actually had real talent's behind it. (No offense, John K.)

  4. There is no wrong time for feeling patriotic. In fact, it's more important now than ever.

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  6. This could have been a good cartoon but it does not reflect on the fact that we fought the British and then formed a REPUBLIC. It gravely calls this a democracy, which is what they fought against.