Sunday, 17 March 2013

255. Detouring America (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 254.
Release date: August 26, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Mel Blanc (Mr. Butterfingers/Cow Puncher/Full-Grown Papoose/Mosquito/Praire Dog/Fawn) and William Days (singing part).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Rollin Hamilton.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Travelogue parody of a look all-round America.

Last WB credit to animator Rollin Hamilton, as well as animation credit. He pretty much disappeared into oblivion, until his death in 1951. Also, probably well-known as a fact amongst WB fans for being the first Warner Bros. cartoon that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1939 since 1932's It's Got Me Again! However, the cartoon lost to Disney's The Ugly Duckling (also Disney's last Silly Symphony) - as Disney dominated the entire decade of the Best Animated Short category. I imagine that Leon Schlesinger had finally omitted his cartoons to be entered for the Oscars, whilst before that, it was rumoured he had boycotted the Academy Awards before that - due to Disney continuously winning them.

This is also Robert C. Bruce's first cartoon he did for Tex Avery's travelogue parodies; and all the other credits I've foolishly credited to Bruce such as Pingo Pongo - will be changed.

Avery begins with an opening card with the 'co-incidental' disclaimer that was of popular use in the 1930s. In the card you can hear a combination of music cues cleverly arranged by Stalling such as: California, Here I Come, Arkansas Traveller, etc. which plays different ranges of U.S. state music.

The America travelogue begins as Bruce narrates: 'We take you on an educational tour of the United States'. The first stop is New York City, and we get a decent horizontal pan of large New York building backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen.

We get a new through the narrator's comments of the Empire State Building, who explains it with such awe. At the height of more than 1250 metres, and made from steel and granite. What's next--it turns out there is a crowd at the sidewalk of the building of a human fly attempting to climb the Empire State Building as the sign reads 'HUMAN FLY will climb building at 2 o'clock' - but the narrator remarks 'We'll see him'. Of course; that is going to be the running gag of the cartoon as already indicated.

The travelogue then moves over to see a military academy whose reputation is considered the most outstanding in the country. During the 'Reveille' call - students rush for roll call. We find a group of soldiers marching as the narrator compliments on the discipline and marching. As the camera trucks back, it turns out that their legs are not routined or straight which is some very funny personality animation.

Moving on to the next sequence -we move down south of America in a jungle where a scientist is on the hunt looking for a rare mosquito which is known to have been lurking in the area. Whilst the unsuspecting scientist is looking around the wild forest with his magnifying glass, 'a disease carrying mosquito strikes!'.

The mosquito lands on the scientist's hand. He uses his other hand and smacks the mosquito who shouts 'OUCH!'. The way Mel Blanc delivers the line, as well as his flamboyant and sense of comic performances is absolutely hilarious and believable.

Meanwhile as the travelogue parody moves over towards the Wild West - we view the 'rolling plains of Texas' - and Avery has some fun with his visual puns as he makes the hills of Texas roll which is rather amusing, but typical. Another typical pun for him is we find a typical 'cow-puncher'. It turns out it is a cowboy who is seen punching a cow.

Now the visual pun itself is just plain silly but amusing. The narrator comments: 'Hey this doesn't look right' and it turns out the cow-puncher is a Jerry Colonna caricature.

The cowpuncher comments, 'Ah, so you're wondering, too?' which I can only interpret it was a line Colonna used in a radio show. Then continues to punch the cow. Then we interrupt the travelogue as the human-fly appears in a shot in the middle of climbing up the Empire State Building in this long-shot. The narrator looks at the human fly climb up with pleasure: 'Well - our friend certainly has courage...what a way to make a living'...of course; he will return later in the cartoon.

Moving way further - we move to the arctic circle in Alaska. We continue to horiztonally pan through Johnsen's background paintings until we spot a hitchhiker. No, it's not an eskimo hitchhiker. It turns out to be a Southern slave who happens to be in the arctic. Here he is singing, Carry Me Back to Old Virginny. An eskimo arrives at the spot and gives up the black hitchhiker and carries.

As the background fades, the eskimo has walked the entire way to the Virginia State Line where over there with the Southern scenery in the backgrounds (steamboats, plantations, etc). The singing part of the hitchhiker is provided by William Days.

The whole gag itself is displayed as some gag where it is supposed to have a huge climax, but instead the eskimo just brings him back to Virginia. It's a very corny gag but it has been censored on Cartoon Network. Though I do find the walk cycle of the eskimo just carrying him all the way to Virginia not giving a hoot, is rather amusing, and I also love the fact he just dumps him there and leave.

The narrator of the travelogue parody moves on further in the American presentation where he leads us to the Valley of the Giants, which I believe would be the Valley Giants in Oregon. The narrator continues to praise the culture and nature side of the valley - and describes it as one of 'nature's most breathtaking panoramas'.

The pan through the forest is very slow but also quite effective through colourful Johnsen backgrounds which certainly do dominate the cartoon as well as many of Avery's spotgags.

Of course; the tree backgrounds that overlaps the other background were done by overlays; so it would've evidently been painted separately, but, think of the back painting as one big canvas. The narrator the continues as we look through the river as we find giant California redwoods sailing through the rivers, and in the narrator's words 'cut and bloated, down the rivers to make the homes of tomorrow'. As the logs continue to land, traffic signs pop up as logs from the other side of the river flow past before the logs go past. It's a really corny and gentle gag itself. I love how this just satirising the seriousness and the beauty side of detouring travelogues--Avery managed to pull it off well in this sequence.

As the travelogue looks further at Wyoming - we come across some of the plain fields where they are homes of an American praire dog. A praire dog then pops out of his hole and grabs out a pair of binoculars from underneath. Other dogs look behind him to see.

Through the binoculars he looks through the plain parts of Wyoming to find anything; and all that is seen is a tree. In that point-of-view shot; he trucks back to the tree, and shouts out 'TIMBER' as the whole group of dogs follow.

Of course, a little subtle childish joke by Avery where they have found the perfect spot for them to piss. Meanwhile out in the California desert, we find an occasional prospect who hopes of looking for gold, and digs for it. He manages to find a small golden pebble. After a subtle eye-take, he whispers to the audience: 'Don't tell a soul, I found it at'. Then a whole group of diggers arrive at the exact same spot digging for gold which is rather amusing as it is shown as a superstition. We return to see the human-fly once again continuing his climb up the Empire State Building; and the narrator declares the height he's reached to would mean a fall of death.

Following on further - we move over towards the Indian territories of South Dakota where they are the homes of an Indian tribe. The Indians are seen walking down the mountains impossibly but its a pretty bizarre gag anyhow.

As we look at in Indian village in South Dakota; we find an Indian doctor who already has a patient and the patient is asking for snake oil. After stepping inside; guzzling the snake oil remedy - the old Indian slithers out of the teepee like a snake which is just nuts!

I do like the 'Wa-Hoo' sign at the top.  Another sequence we see is where a mother is carrying her papoose on her Papoose. She stops carrying him and remarks: 'Here's where you get off. You big boy now'. The huge overgrown Indian baby screams, 'Aw ma! I don't want to get off' and cries on her shoulder. Love the fact the baby is overgrown. Moving onto the next scenario in the Indian village is the Indian snake dance. It is revealed to be actual snakes performing the rain dance which is just a ridiculous, corny gag but I do like the jerky timing of the snakes dancing.

The next sequence moves to the Riverside Geyser in Yellowstone National Park (it could've just been shown straight after the Praire dog sequence as both Yellowstone and the dog sequence was set in Wyoming) which of course is notorious for its reliability, and the sign next to it reads 'Old Reliable Geyser' where we briefly see the eruption about to build up.

The narrator announce of the trembling sounds of the geyser as he speaks. Afterwards; only a drop spits out and lands in a spittoon. A similar gag would be reused in Crazy Cruise. The timing of the pressure is really great.

In another part of the park is a 'timid, little fawn' who approached a wooden cabin in the middle of the woods. The fawn shyly walks over and then bangs on the door, 'Hey in der! How about a handout!'.

After a series of spot-gags all through the cartoon; we then conclude the cartoon with the human fly who is struggling but has managed to make it all the way up the Empire State Building. Some great character animation of the human fly's fingers who is struggling to hold on. The name of the human flyer (Mr. Butterfinger) is asked by the narrator: 'Would you like to say a word to your friends here in the audience?' He responds: 'Yes - HEEEEELP!' as he struggles to keep on holding. The scream and even build up of the gag is a little realistic and amusing.

Overall comments: Of course, the cartoon itself may have been considered rather important of the time it was released. Hell, it was nominated for an Academy Award - which goes to show that the Schlesinger studio had already established the essential Warner Bros. humour -- as by 1939; their own humour was much more acknowledged and recognised -- and I guess Schlesinger probably finally admitted his cartoons to the Academy Awards. Considering that 1939 may have been a weak output for Warners - you can probably name a few entries which you would consider to be classics, such as Thugs With Dirty Mugs, Dangerous Dan McFoo or maybe for fan popularity: Hare-Um Scare-Um. However, they're more popular with modern fans -- but a few may raise an eyebrow: is this cartoon really good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award?

Yes, it may not be a great enough cartoon and it's certainly not an Avery classic - but I guess the idea of Tex's travelogue parodies were really hyped-up when he first made them and had encouraged him to make many more. Then again, I do understand the idea of it being hugely popular as travelogues were made to inspire folks to travel as well as imagination; and the idea of parodying them was considered very clever, even though its very dated. Nevertheless, I will admit it is one of Tex's, probably, better travelogue parodies he did. Many of the jokes were rather amusing, particularly the build-up, but then again this is just a typical spot gag for me, but I will have to give credit towards Blanc for his really hysterical voices he puts in this cartoon, especially the mosquito and human flyer at the end. You also must give credit to Johnny Johnsen for his marvellous and meticulous background work in this cartoon as well as the many travelogues he did for Tex; as they certainly require a lot of realism and detail and Johnsen is very versatile as a background painter.


  1. Hi Steven, you are doing a really nice work. So interesting. Keep going!
    Kind Regards from Argentina.

  2. looking for this episode where the sequence in cutting forests to make a single pencil
    Might help me?