Wednesday, 10 April 2013

264. Fresh Fish (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 263.
Release date: November 4, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Danny Webb (Fish Teacher), Sara Berner (Starfish), Robert C. Bruce (Narrator) and Mel Blanc (Shark/Tuna/Pickled Herring/Two-Headed Fish).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: In search for the Whim-Wham whistling shark, the professor explores the seas as we watch many different kinds of fish under the South Seas.

The cartoon starts off with a disclaimer gag card where Avery jokes about all of the fishes that were killed in the cartoon was pure 'co-incidental'. He even uses a dated gag reference for the Santa Anita racehorse park...I guess the gag is the horses ate the fish.

After the title card scene, our narrator steps in cue and we find a cruiseship sailing through the South Seas, in a tropical island called Isle of Floy Floy (referencing the song 'Flat Foot Floojie' a popular song of its time). We find parrots and other tropical birds flying around the isle.

The narrator comments: 'Slowly our ship approaches the island' and the gag is the ship arrives in half a jiffy. On board, we find Professor Mackerel Fishface walking down the steps of the ship, carrying a net behind him. He continues to walk on carrying his net and the narrator explains the professor is to explore the seas in search for a whim-wham whistling shark. He is equipped with his own diving-bell as it sinks down under the sea.

Underneath the sea, as the professor is exploring the depths; we find many different types of fish swimming through the sea that the professor and the audience observe. The first fish we encounter are a group of sardines that the narrator describes as 'compacted so tightly in a can'. I guess the gag is that, since they come in cans; they're seen as compacted together.

In the next sequence; we then encounter a tuna, or otherwise known as 'Chicken of the Sea' which is a brand of canned tuna. Here, the choke is the tuna starts clucking like a chicken..which is one of Tex's most corniest puns ever.

As the tuna sits at a nearby next - the narrator explains a tuna fish would 'lay about 100,000 in a hatching'. The fish then starts to lay a mountain full of eggs with a very very clucking sound from the tuna who clucks continuously and very quickly.

After the end of the sequence; the professor moves on to another section of the sea to observe the crustacean species. At first we then find an old crab; whom I believe is supposedly a caricature of Ned Sparks and the old crab remarks to the audience: 'Why don't you mind your own business?' Moving on as we continue to pan.

Avery continues with his silly visual pans by watching a hermit crab reading a book on how to live in seclusion, and to like it. The pan continues as we find a 'taxi crab' - an obvious reference to a taxi cab. The taxi crab rides through the scene, and past the old hermit crab; but the 'old crab' has disappeared..heh, an interesting little continuity goof. Then we move over to a starfish, who poses as Katherine Hepburn and Sara Berner does an impression of her. She stands up and the starfish quotes: 'Some day, I shall be in motion pictures. And it will make me so sadly happy. Rally it will'. The narrator then moves to another specie which is the electric eel. Tex's story crew then have the excuse to punch in the Eat at Joe's reference--which really was a subtle gag for Warners considering how it was to encourage audiences to eat at Joe's Diners.

An unusual specie which is a two-headed fish then appears at the scenes, as the narrator balks: 'What a strange fish!'. Both heads of the fish look together and speak at the same time: 'You ask him! Alright. Pardon me, but could you tell me where I could find Mr. Ripley?'.

A funny reference which is a obvious reference to Ripley's Believe It or Not series...a funny little recurring gag throughout the cartoon, as Tex deliberately added them to the wrong cartoon--all for a laugh, whereas they should've appeared in--say--Avery's Believe It, Or Else parody.

So, the narrator asks them to exit; and they do so dejectedly. Moving on, the narrator looks at another fish specie: a Polynesian dogfish. As corny as puns go: Avery makes the dogfish bark like a look as the tiny hermit crab whose hiding under its shell. The little crab then turns towards the dog and barks much more loudly and ferociously which makes the dogfish scamper out of the scene. Some subtle movement for a fish to have the anatomy of the dog running.

The narrator explains in this little parody of how fishes are very clever in guiding themselves with manipulative of their fins. An example then appears as we find a fish who has dollar bills as fins with We're in the Money played in the background..a rather charming little gag.

Meanwhile; we cut back to the professor in his underwater submarine who is still in the lookout for the shark. The narrator wishes him luck. Moving onto another sequence: the narrator explains how certain small fishes have to struggle in order to survive.

An octopus arrives at the scene chasing after a helpless fish, but as soon as the fish is cornered: he shouts 'Boo' in a timid voice. The octopus makes a take and exits the scene by cantering like a horse. The music cue for the sequence was: Fingal's Cave.

Moving onto another section of the sea: the two-headed fish arrive back at the scene. They interrupt: 'Pardon me, but could you tell me where I could find Mr. Ripley?'. The narrator snaps and asks them to leave again. The interruption is cleared out of the way, and the narration continues as he discovers a clam in this part of the sea. He describes the 'cousin clam of the family is the mussel'. The clam opens where we find a muscly mussel.

In the next sequence: the narrator spots, in a sunken ship -- a pickled herring. It turns out that the "pickled" herring is intoxicated and steps out with a drunk attitude singing You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, and constantly hiccups. Can't say I have much thoughts of it as a gag--but Blanc performs a funny drunk voice.

Then a whale of some sort opens up his own jaws to let the pickled herring be swallowed inside. After a few moments, the pickled herring shouts: 'I'm blind! Let me out of here!' which is echoed!

He dashes out back to the sunken ship and pulls out a 'Do Not Disturb' sign. In the next sequence: there is a seahorse race going on. The narrator quotes what commentators say in horse races: There they GOO!". The seahorse face continues as the whole gag is supposed to reference horse racing which is just a really lame gag. However, it gets even more cornier as you see that a seahorse named Malicious wins the race. Of course, what makes the gag cornier as the seahorse with a malicious mustacehe; but its also a reference of a racing horse named Malicious, and yet some reason the seahorse appears to look as though its a disabled seahorse.

In the next sequence; the two-headed fish (again) pop over again as they respond about the same question: asking for where Mr. Ripley is. The narrator is annoyed once again, and asks them to 'go lay an egg'. They respond sadly again 'Yes sir', but this time they arrive back with eggs already laid.

I guess that was supposedly the conclusion of the entire recurring gag; but its a really lame conclusion. Back to the actual cartoon itself, the narrator moves to another area of the sea with 'shark-infested waters'.

The first we approach is a tigershark. The tigershark, however, has the stripes and even 'meows' like one. Heh-heh-heh (facetiously). The next gag featured is the 'hammerhead shark'. It turns out it is a different like of 'hammerhead'. Avery's take on the pun is a wacky one where the shark whacks himself on the head with a mallet. Okay, I'll give Tex credit for a creative idea for that gag--even if it was plainly obvious. The next shark to be featured; is a 'shovel nose shark'. The shark is seen with a nose the shape of a space and is digging for a W.P.A. project. The dated reference is that it was a US government arm that create make-work projects during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, out in the submarine - the professor is seen still exploring the depths of the seas (I guess you can consider the two-headed fishes and the professor as recurring climaxes in the cartoon).

The narrator moves over to a school sequence where a fish teacher approaches the scene and gives the class a lesson. In this classic sequence, voiced by the talented Danny Webb: the fish teacher gives a lesson on the dangers of hooks. He shows one hook, and he teaches them to approach a hook from the underside. He gives an example, and the hook misses him.

After he demonstrates the third time: he then brings up his pupils to NOT eat at the hook straight-ahead 'like this'. He already demonstrates, and there is some neat comic timing where he shoots up from the hook and then the hook responds with a sign that reads: SCHOOL DISMISSED.

All of the small fishes celebrate with the idea of school finished. A rather dark gag, but then again...probably the only very funny sequence where it really shows the ignorance of characters which the Warner characters were great at.

After a whole series of spot-gags: mainly hit and miss gags (mostly miss). The narrator decides to leave the professor as the time is getting late. However, the professor hears the sounds of a whistle from the whistling shark. He opens the submarine door, still fine, with curiosity. Really exaggerated and cartoony of Tex...considering how the pressure underwater would crush the professor in reality.

This then turns into a silhouetted action scene where the professor grabs out his net and attempts to try and chase the whistling shark. The narrator also commentates on the action: 'He's got him!'

The sailor on top of the boat makes a take, believing the professor has already caught the whistling wish. He pulls up the submarine that he was in. The narrator then comments with such excitement: 'We are about to experience for the first time in prehistorical history: the Whim-Wham whistling shark!'. As soon as the door is opened: we see him alright; but has already eaten the professor. He turns to the audience, quoting the Mad Russian: 'How do YOU do?' - which must've got a great laugh for a 1939 audience.

Overall comments: Being a typical Avery spot-gag cartoon as it is: you'd expect Avery to punch out many corny little visual-puns, dated reference, climatic gags, and of least one very good gag. I still think that the fish teacher is easily the best highlight of the whole cartoon, even if the cartoon hasn't got much merits. I guess the fish teacher is another example of how really underrated cartoon voice actor Danny Webb is, and how more needs to be written about him. I also really liked Avery's subtle exaggeration when the professor opens up the submarine without being crushed from the pressure--definitely shows how Avery is only paying attention to the fact this isn't real. Then again, I suppose his career was too short compared to Mel Blanc's. It appears to be, for a spot-gag cartoon, that its rare to find two climatic gags that occur all through the cartoon, but its just padding. The two-headed fish sequence, in my opinion, isn't really much worth for the sequence as its own conclusion didn't seem so precious or even noticeable, while the ending gag with the submarine was obviously a conclusion. Asides that, overall, I find the whole cartoon was very weak. Many of the gags aren't particularly funny. Not dated, but the visual puns weren't particularly funny and a lot of it was pretty padded.


  1. In gambling parlance, a "fish" is a sucker or loser; someone who is inexperienced or bad at gambling.

  2. Is the pickled herring a caricature of someone?