Tuesday, 2 April 2013

260. Land of the Midnight Fun (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 259.
Release date: September 23, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Mel Blanc (Eskimo / Dogs), Tex Avery (Timber wolf) and Sara Berner (Chicken).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Charles McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Travelogue parody of a cruise ship travelling up the arctics of Alaska.

The first likely Merrie Melodies cartoon which is part of the new 1939-1940 season, as well as new opening rings. This is also Chuck McKimson's (brother of Bob) first animation credit; his first stint was at Schlesinger's until 1941, and returned around 1945/46 and animated under his brother, Robert...and continued to animate at Warners until the Warner shutdown in 1953. Title parody of Land of the Midnight Sun - which is consists of any northern region in the Arctic Circle.

After we see a beautiful overlay title card (backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen); the cartoon starts off at a harbour. Our narrator (Bob Bruce) remarks that the ship is about to embark on a educational cruise trip to the Far North of Alaska, and Canada.

Passengers then board the S.S. Wrecks - which is a pun of the Italian ocean liner: S.S. Rex which was very active in the 1930s; but sunk on September 8, 1944 by Allies in WW2.

The ship's horn then starts to burst, 'All aboard!' - which I suppose was rather cartoony of the time. The ship's anchor rises, but the anchor ends up holding up the aft of the ship.

The animation of the ship's anchor holding onto the aft is a little amusing and meticulous. The song All Through the Night, is the music cue mixes with Anchors Aweigh. The ship then leaves; and takes off like an automobile. After the ship embarks, the ship passes 'a little ferry boat' where the ferry boat steams past and tooting with a child voice, and the gag is its much smaller compared to the S.S. Wrecks. The narrator announces: 'Being a new and treacherous course; the captain thought it's best to follow the coastline'. The route is displayed through a map of the East Coast where the route of the ship is dotted. In a animated shot, the ship follows very closely through the coastline that it ends up curving -- which is a little bizarre.

The third day out at sea--we find that the ocean liner is 2'000 miles away from its destination. Underwater, we find a group of underwater fish species that reside under there. The narrator identifies the fish creatures swimming past. The first being barracudas, then swordfishes, tunas and then salmon. The gag is the salmon is seen as a tin swimming underwater. A funny little goofy gag.

Meanwhile back in the surface: the narrator chants out like a commentator: 'What's this? Someone's shipwrecked? Throw him a line! Throw him a line!'. A sailor looks out on deck, and grabs out a lifebelt.

As soon as the lifebelt is tossed towards him; he refuses the lifebelt and he brings out his sweetheart (which is a caricature of Bette Davis). Certainly some subtle humour from Tex there; even though its a very corny gag. In the next sequence; the narrator narrates: 'The forth day out - the seas became a bit choppy'. Of course that's the gag - as the sea isn't 'a bit' choppy. The gag also continues where the narrator comments: 'many of the passengers have made it by rail'. Of course, the gag is the people are leaning on the rails of the deck; feeling sea sick.

Later on in the journey of the cruise liner; there are giant icebergs that appear at the scene. Including with a sign reading 'Los Angeles City Limits' as well as an ice-cream truck with a guy ringing bells to call for crowds. All corny gags. What? No Titanic reference? Anyway, the narrator explains now it wouldn't be possible for the liner to break through ice without 'ice-breakers'.

A hand from the hand actually breaks ice; which is just a nutty Avery gag, which is also rustic. After many hours of sailing through ice flows, the ship ends its voyage and docks at Nome, Alaska. It follows through with some gags of the plank dropping with the passengers running into the freezing sea.

The next scene features an Eskimo fisherman returns home in his kayak with a fish. He walks over to his igloo (still attached to the kayak), and inside he's seen cooking the fish. I guess the gag of that sequence is the size of the igloo and how he is just able to fit inside it.

Meanwhile at a poultry farm in Alaska; inside we find a rather lame gag where the hen inside is freezing and clucks with coldness. She clickers, 'Gee, it's c-o-o-o-o-o-o-l-d! Brrr'. She then steps out and finds she has laid eggs; but it turns out they're made from ice cubes. Must've been a coincidence that the same gag was used only recently in Sweet Sioux. I guess that Tubby Millar must've reused that gag in both cartoons in that effect.

The narrator moves on to another part, featuring a duck who forgot to fly south. The duck makes a take, and walks out of the scene, disgusted...as the duck is caught with iced water around it.

Eskimo kissing is seen as unknown in Alaska; where they rub noses (hence 'Eskimo kissing'). This sequence certainly contains Avery's rustic humour and charm; as the female Eskimo places a lipstick mark on her nose.

 As they both rub each other's noses; the Eskimo then gets turned on from the reaction. He immediately explodes with arousal and shouts "WOW!" until he faints to the ground. It's certainly some very funny comic timing on the Eskimo screaming with excitement until he falls. Definitely shows how dated the cartoon is; as these days: being called 'eskimos' wouldn't be politically correct...even they're more commonly called that than say: inuits.

Alas; here is another sequence where it includes a recurring gag that Avery loved using in his spot-gag cartoons. A 'subtle dog-piss' gag. An eskimo is seen sleighing with his Alaskan dogs. The narrator remarks they're a requirement. They then hide where blocks of ice covers them; and then there's a telephone pole. We see them; and we all know they're taking a pee--then carrying on sleighing.

The next sequence shows some more typical, light-hearted Tex humour where an Alaskan timber wolf is running at the scene. Tex Avery, himself, provides the voice of the timber wolf; and the pun is he keeps on shouting out 'TIMBER!'.

Avery's distinctive laugh can also be slightly heard or recognised. You sure got to love Tex's laugh. The timber wolf then whispers to the audience: 'Gee this is silly', and he continues to shout out 'TIMBER!'.

In the next sequence we find the narrator remarks that penguins live on a diet of fish. A penguin dives in a lake, and swallows the first fish. Music cue is I Was Strolling Through the Park One Day. After he swallows the second fish, he aims for the third fish. For the whole time in this sequence, and having watched many of those cartoons with that gag: we all see this coming. The fish steps out having eaten the penguin. Not that I have anything wrong with the gag, but it has been over-used, and I still find it a dark gag.

The next sequence we take a gander at an Eskimo nightclub, where (according to the narrator) 'the nights are 6 months long there', even though we know its only true in the North and South pole. Inside we then find a skating entertainer; who is supposedly a caricature of Sonja Heine - who was a very popular celebrity ice-skater of that very particular era.

There is then a really long dancing and skating sequence where you watch her dance. Of course, judging on the jerky timing of the animation--I'm sure there was a lot of live-action reference, or perhaps stock footage of ice-skating since rotoscoping was expensive. Some nice details on the layouts and staging where the spotlight is completely animated; and also how the nightclub is completely dark. The whole skating sequence really didn't feel so worthy as there was no gag at all, just skating and being a caricature of Heine. However, the narrator gets concerned as the time is 'half-past October' and the ship has to get sail away from Alaska.

As Tex Avery would often end his travelogue parody cartoons; the narrator would say: 'We bid a reluctant farewell...' and the ship is leaving Alaska. Prior that, we find reused animation of the ship leaving (the same horn and anchor animation) and the ship sailing away from Alaska and to return to New York.

Whilst returning on the way back to New York; Avery then uses some padding on that scene where the ship is going through some heavy fog, with poor visibility. Five days later; the ship still finds they are suffering from the fog as well as sailing through the wavy seas.

The commentator then announces that the S.S. Wreck is approaching the mouth area of New York Harbour, and speaks about how when the fog will clear away; the familiar sightings of New York would be pleasant viewing. As the fog clears away; it turns out that the ship has arrives alright; but they find themselves on top of the 1939 World's Fair Trylon...which is a very wacky conclusion to Avery's spot-gag.

Overall comments: My impression and response to the cartoon: just another spot-gag Tex cartoon which really doesn't contain much merits. There are a few gags which are hit-and-miss. The gags in this cartoon that I do particularly like and have Tex's charm is, of course, the Alaskan timber wolf as its just plain silly, goofy, but its one of those Avery jokes where (quoting Jerry Colonna: 'I don't ask questions. I only have fun') is about. Another gag which I do particularly like is the aroused Eskimo (even though Clampett pulled it off earlier in Polar Pals though it was a much milder gag). I must say the conclusion of the cartoon certainly stole the whole cartoon itself. Then again, there were also many other gags I would consider misses, and of course a lot of the sequence itself is padded; to add more time. The skating sequence really didn't feel as worthy enough as we are watching almost a minute's worth of skating and all we are watching is the movement, and there is no gag at all. Then again, as the gags were hit-and-miss (aren't you going to find it that way in any Warners cartoon?); I do appreciate a lot of the background work by Johnny Johnsen, who really did give Avery's spot-gag cartoons a sense of beauty even if the humour was not top-notch.


  1. The ferry boat gag has nothing to do with size. It's a gay joke. Ferry = Fairy = Gay = Effeminate Voice (by Blanc). I suspect if the budget allowed it and the animators were capable, the ferry would have stood up from the water, put its hand on its "hip" and swished, like many an early '30s cartoon.

  2. Another print (a russian print, and a 1995 dubbed print) exist.