Thursday, 18 April 2013

270. Screwball Football (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 269.
Release date: December 16, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Coach/Football Players/Cheerleader/Movitator).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag cartoon taking place in a football field; though on a side-gag...a baby in the stadium can't enjoy his ice-cream in piece.

During the title credits, Tex already creates a unique animated shot of American football players tackling, which overlaps the credits. Of course, it wouldn't be an Avery gag when a silhouetted player whacks the other with a mallet for tackling.

An off-screen commentator who is to commentate on today's American football game. The event is the 'Chilliball Football Classic'.

The commentator's comment on the weather is decried as 'perfect'. He also adds, that 'there's only one small cloud floating in the sky'. Of course, the gag is it's not a small cloud--it's a dark one with thunder striking. Avery has already satirised the obvious things which the narrator ignorantly comments as a tiny fraction. Inside the stadium, the commentator describes the attendance of the crowd as 'colourful'. However, Avery uses the metaphor as a gag; where each row is presented in different colours. The gag then results of the stadium over-crowding where the people are displayed as blobs, and all fly out of the stadium. Anyone here reading this review, have a clue who the narrator of this short is? Guessing will not be helpful.

Inside the stadium we find many people inside the stadium who are watching the football game. Many in attendance, and both young and old. Then the commentator turns his eyes on a youngster paying attention to the ice-cream cone he is reading. A rather elderly man (well, from watching the crowd--this is dog world) looks at the ice-cream with temptation.

He then turns around and licks the young boy's ice cream without him noticing. Avery gag: obviously, and its meaning is far less complex..but I suppose the man hasn't grown out of avoiding temptation.

The next sequence, we find the American football team warming up for the big game. One particular gag there is a lazy player only using his legs to kick an incoming football (as I'd prefer to call it: rugby ball)...towards the players. There are three players standing on top of the pitch; with one kicking a ball out of the scene. As they just happened to be holding onto each other's shoulders; Avery and his gagmen turn silly as they perform a softy dance. Another particular scene which is wild in terms of mainstream is where a referee flips a coin for which team to kick the ball first. As soon as the coin hits the floor--everyone tackles each other over the coin like a child.

The match is about to start, and then the referee blows his whistle. I love the fact has a bird whistle, and it produces a tweeting sound of a bird. Anyway, after the whistle--then the game begins. The game starts and then a really doofus-like player makes a run up and kicks the player at the behind at kick-off, and forgets the ball.

Anyway, the commentator makes a remark that any commentator would say: 'The crowd roared!'. Of course, another famous metaphor for commentaries: Avery really gives it a very funny delivery with an actual sound of a lion roaring.

The next sequence is just pure corniness: an American football player is holding another American football player like a baseball bat. He has the American football placed on the field and then swings his bat (the player) at the ball. The commentator then makes a remark as one of the opponent players makes an attempt to catch the ball: 'It looks like he's gonna get it in the end zone'. He ends up being booted by a player--for being in the wrong zone I guess, which the commentator comments 'He did'. Then it gets to the point where the player is on the run but gets piled on top of the players on the opposing team. Afterwards, he's out-cold.  The medical team then walk over with the injury bed. Instead of the knocked-out player, they place the football in the medical bag. Doesn't make sense, completely over-the-top..but hey, it's fun.

In the next sequence: we find the coach for the opposite team 'black team' or whichever you prefer to call it. The coach then gives the bench player a big opportunity. 'All right, Gregory. You've been on this bench for 12 years. Here's your big chance. Now get in there and fight!'.

Afterwards; the mini player then runs out of his bench and charges in there. But in a mere matter of seconds, he's already injured, and covered up in bandages. The coach responds, 'Great game, Gregory'. I like how the coach moves his cheeks as well as when he trills with his speech.

After a small sequence; where we return to the baby and the grown man ice-scream situation; the team are about to resume playing. There appears to be a particular gag that I'm not particularly getting, or I just know very little with how American football works; as I've not grown up with that sport. There is a particular player at the back who keeps on shouting 'Hike!'. I can only interpret the word is a common term for backward passing...but anyway, the player bounces continuously. Eventually, in a long-shot--the whole red team 'hike'.

Then, the 'hike' player grabs the ball and more puns and metaphors from Avery: 'he's fading...fading...fading'. Now that is another gag I'll give credit for its execution. Then it turns to another player on the black team who catches the ball. At this point, I find the execution a little weak. The ball then ends up squealing like a ball like a pig and wonders off. Okay,

I understand that it may be amusing and appealing to some people. No need to call me barmy, but at that point, I think Tex killed the gag there...from the 'fading' gag to a bizarre scene of the ball squealing away.

As the ball makes an escape, a whole group of football players pile on top. Concerned if it ends up as a touchdown, etc. a football player crawls out and comments, 'Hmm, could be'..a line borrowed from Mr. Kitzel from The Al Pearce Show. The next scene, which has been controversial with the censors then begins with the referee about to blast his gun when half-time is ready. However, the ticking of his clock is in sync to the pistol he's holding in his hand. As he accidentally fires at his head; it blasts and his head briefly disappears. His head then pops out--believing he'd lost his head, but makes a take from realising he lost the gun. A very funny gag which was timed and executed really solidly.

As half-time is about to begin, Avery swaps a gag differently to what usually happens in reality. During half-time, players (in English football, or rugby, and American football, of course) would swap in different sides of the stadium. However, here--he makes the whole audience swap opposite seating positions.

That recurring gag with the elderly man eating the child's ice-cream. I'm sorry, but I really hate this recurring gag. The worst recurring Avery gag I've seen. I do mean to put this bluntly, but, that grown up is so border-lined from eating a children's ice-cream. I don't care if its wacky or gross, its just an eyesore to watch. Yeah, sure, borderline gags are funny, but doing that to a baby? No!

Anyway, the game resumes where a guard of the stadium pulls out a trumpet (and randomly, so many other trumpets are packed inside one). There is a particularly funny shot where the band leader is swinging his drum stick. As he tosses it in the air, and it spins, he ends up in spins himself. Avery manages to execute a gag wonderfully with a great sense of staging and perspective. We believe, from our perspective, he is carrying a big drum to bang, but oddly enough, the drum is seen inside of him.

In another sequence; we find that an over-enthusiastic cheerleader is seen speaking to an off-screen group of 'cheerleaders' to chant really enthusiastically towards the American football game. He even ends up shouting at the top of his voice: 'Give it all you got! YELL!' Then the camera pans and only one, unenthusiastic cheerleader lets out a very tepid: 'Ra, ra, ra'. The execution appears dated these days, but I can imagine the rave it got for a 1939 audience. I really can.

The commentator then takes a move towards the locker room where he speaks: 'The players and coach get together for a pep talk'. Inside it turns out that the football players are seen ranting and lambasting at a targeted, meek player for the wrong conducts at a football game.

Now, that gag certainly has an impact on me, and kind of stands out more than the other gags, in a subtle form. I would say so, as its a very realistic gags all the time--you'll always find a bad sport--and its exaggerated very humorously. The same recurring gag then occurs again with the borderline grown up just tricking the baby and licking the poor baby's ice-cream. Somebody shoot that man.

The second half of the game then begins. Another Tex corny gag appears where 'the whistle is about to blow' and the whistle literally blows off the referee's mouth. One of the players boots the ball, but with a red football player still attached to the ball. As he flies in mid-air, we find he ends up being held onto by the opposing team.

However, a really corny but funny moment appears when the red player has a really weird but silly affection towards, as he's being 'embraced'...and then kisses him on the cheek. The black football player then drops him to the floor and runs off with the ball.

During the scene where he charges; he then immediately drops to the floor and poses like some homosexual, as there appears to be an advertisement reference where it appears to refer to 'softness' or some such and the football player is meant to stand out as a sissy.

He reaches over to the line and makes a touchdown. An overly excited guy has his head decapitate and bounce as he cheers; 'We made it, woo-woo!'. In the next shot follows a mini montage sequence of of the football game continuing. I must say, the montage effects certainly isn't common of Tex to use that, isn't it? After the montage; we are seconds prior to the game's finish--and again the grown man licks the baby's ice cream. A few seconds later, a gun blasts, we believe the game has finished. However, it turns out that the gun shot was from a baby who shot the man who's been licking his ice-cream. The timing on the gun-blast was funny, but the whole concept of the recurring gag is extremely dark and creepy. Surely, it could be more light-hearted..or maybe I have weak guts.

Overall comments: My overall impression when I see a typical Tex Avery cartoon is: gag to gag, and in-between: recurring gags. Most of the time, the gags in his spot-gags were particularly weak, but his recurring gags were the highlight. Here, in this cartoon--I find it is pretty much the opposite. I thought this cartoon had a mixture of very funny and very corny gags, but here, I really disliked the recurring gag here. I just thought the overall concept and even the idea of a grown man licking a baby's ice-cream to be disturbing. I know, most wouldn't think so that way, and I suppose the character got his just-desserts...but maybe in a harsh way...but maybe it was the only wacky solution to end the baby's problem.

Not too much to say about the overall comments, but I did particularly like the gag after gag sequences; as there were many gags which I would call a highlight: such as the way Avery has analysed the metaphors commentators use all the time and combined them into gags wonderfully. Perhaps this is one of the stronger spot-gag cartoons he made over at Warners, if I minus the recurring gag sequence. Now, this is Avery's last cartoon he directed of the 1930s, before we move onto the 1940s where he remained at Warner Bros until 1941; but would become an even better director in terms of timing and better gags. With this cartoon reviewed, one more cartoon to; that's 1939 finished and the entire 1930s of Warner cartoons completed.

1 comment:

  1. In the middle of the touchdown, a RADIO ANNOUNCER interrupts the play {and the play-by-play}---because obviously this game WAS being broadcast SOMEWHERE--- reminding the "listener" who's paying for the privilege of bringing it into people's homes: "This program is being brought to you through the courtesy of the CORNY BRAND 'FLUFFIES' BREAKFAST FOOD COMPANY! Have you HAD your 'FLUFFIES' today????". Then, the announcer shuts up, and the impatient player, waiting for the sponsor I.D. to end, (successfully) finishes his touchdown play................