Saturday, 20 April 2013

The March of Time - 1939

Having completed reviewing the entire year of 1939; a year with the biggest input of cartoon released: 44 shorts! Also for completing the entire 1930s; I feel I'd like to mark this post as an occasion to post a little bloodspot; where I view the Termite Terrace Gag Reels of 1939; which were gag reels, and according to Martha Sigall, were shown every year at the Schlesinger Christmas Parties.

I won't, however, post the 1938 Xmas Reel--(although, I should've done so) but I'm posting the '39 gag reels for my celebration of completing a difficult year--for me. The title itself, The March of Time - was a very well-known American newsreel programme which ran for 14 years from 1931 to 1945, and were shown in theatres. For those who are completely unaware of the reel's existence: go purchase the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 6 if you haven't got a copy. They're a real treat for the public to see life back in the Termite Terrace days, and I'm very grateful for Jerry Beck for putting this together back in 2008, and of course, Martha Sigall for identifying almost all of the artists.

Watching the opening sequence; the opening was a complete parody of what life goes on at the Schlesinger Studio. Dated, but, wacky for the time this was filmed. I wish I'd know who did these solid caricatures of Ray Katz, Henry Binger and Tex Avery--as well as background titles.

As it would've started off--Mel Blanc, here, performs the opening intro for the 1939 Christmas Reel. He uses his hilarious and infamous 'rubber band' noise. According to Martha Sigall, he created that effect from under his armpit. What genius of Blanc! Mel makes the noise in theme of Jingle Bells and the background titles show Father Christmas enjoying his booze.

Great little title card which even parodies the 'disclaimer' opening. Then the music fades to (I think) this is The Old Folks at Home, and it's the exact same music cue Stalling played in the opening of The Early Worm Gets the Bird.

The first gag reel featured; a supposedly reel of the executives working hard on production issues. However, it turns out only Henry Binder, shows grave concerns from his face. I love the fact that his caricature is displayed on the wall right behind him.

The camera pans, where Ray Katz gives the hotfoot to Binder, and Leon Schlesinger, himself, gives Ray the hotfoot. Ray's laugh is no doubt, Tex's laugh, but I wonder whether this was already recorded from a production (A Bear's Tale - maybe?). It's great to see Leon Schlesinger already having fun, and now that's what I'd call 'boss'. If you still believe in Chuck Jones' view of Leon (which is pure B.S.), this shows a great example of how Leon loved his studio, and is willing to make a fool out of himself, much like everyone else.

The next gag reel: we find a staff member walking through the corridors. Martha Sigall identifies her as Sue Dalton. No relation to Cal Dalton, I suppose? Anyway, we find assistant animator Alex Ignatiev, who was Russian, who is carrying a bomb with him and is portrayed as a Russian terrorist. Then Bugs Hardaway walks into the reel, picking his nose.

Sure wonder whether this was a habit of his, but I suppose we'll never know. The picking-nose sound effect is absolutely great.

The next gag reel, shows Johnny Burton, who has been a long-time production supervisor for many years at Warners, is seen having problems with cartoon production. Knowing it's going to be a great gag, we find him struggling in his desk. With three cel-washers: Charlie Jones (no, not the Chuck), John Marks (the black cel-washer) and Eddie Swift--who all walk in to place bets on the 'football pool'. I'll admit, funny as it may seem back then, but Blanc's stereotypical voice for John Marks isn't very fitting. Revealing, the struggles he's having on paper: he still can't figure out "2+2".

Another short gag features an ambitious inbetweener who aspires to become a motion picture executive. The reel then shows his frustration with Blanc's hilarious delivery, of Lee Halpern shouting and complaining incoherently, and mussing up his hair.

The next sequence features, what I consider, a treat: we get to see a brief studio recording of Carl W. Stalling conducting for a new cartoon.

The only known-recording of a cartoon score to exist is Putty Tat-Trouble, but here you get to see a brief sample of Carl Stalling recording for Chuck's cartoon: Mighty Hunters. What's great and intriguing to see is they used indians for the drumming that would be used for the cartoon. Carl has his moment of foolishness when he bows in rhythm of the drums bouncing.

After a brief moment at the Ink & Painting Department: which shows Treg Brown, teasing the ink and paints with his chicken clucking effects.

The next reel, is another great treat...we get to see stock footage of a stripper which was a live-action reference used for the lizard striptease gag in Cross Country Detours. I believe the stripper there is Marcia Eloise, who was cast to do some live-action for the animator working on that cartoon (source from Yowp, written in Los Angeles Times, Aug 27. 1939).

Obviously, the shots of Henry Binder watching the stripper were filmed separately. For the time this was made, where crude humour had to be subtle, this would've got the whole studio hyped up. After the stripper has stripped off much of her clothing and revealing much of her body; save the bra, Henry Binder already turns aroused and has his very long tongue sticking out, panting like a dog. Goes to show how even the studio executives were willing to have fun.

The next sequence takes place at 3 o'clock where everyone takes a break from working. The first three guys play a game with a ball (though Sigall could only identify Phil Monroe and Ray Young in that shot). Then we follow into a great sequence of fencing, and the screaming is hysterical...including the part where the guy in the white shirt is stabbed, though still alive. The music cue is Ain't We Got Fun which is the same cue heard in Early Worm Gets the Bird.

The next sequence is pretty cheesy, corny, but in other words: that's Termite Terrace for ya. According to Martha Sigall, most of these couples making out--would later get married. The couples include: Virgil Ross and Francis Ewing, Paul Smith and Dixie Smith. The last couple: Mae Verlandes (spelling?) and Herman Cohen cracks me up, and its completely the opposite of subtle, when Herman Cohen is given a 'hand job', for lack of better word. And of course, You Must've Been a Beautiful Baby is played.

The last gag of break-time: where the title card reads: '--while here is one employee that actually relaxes'. We find cameraman Smokey Garner who is reading The Einstein Theory and comments (with Blanc's voice dubbed): 'Great stung, great stuff'. According to Sigall, Smokey is illiterate, which is a real shame to hear.

The next reel features a few members of staff who, apparently, 'were too stingy to write Christmas cards' then extend their Christmas wishes. The reel itself is also very amusing, with Blanc's least the male voices. I love how they all just act like cretins, then again, of the period this was made...their humour are wackier than the 1939 cartoons they made.

Not going to go through all the staff, but a few noticeable ones to mention, such as Sid Sutherland: who acts a complete dope and his facial expressions are priceless. It's great to see Bobe Cannon also pay his greetings...although I wouldn't imagine the word 'stingy' would associate with Cannon.

Ken Harris, does an impersonation of Elmer Blurt from Al Pearce Show--and watching his face...he certainly can pull off the character's characteristics quite well. Great to see Friz Freleng's return, and looking completely settled from his short tenure at MGM. From what we learn about from Cal Dalton, he is a Republican supporter...unless it was just intended as a gag. Ray's Katz ill-mannered moment is also priceless.

Then the dance room reel takes over and we find many of the Schlesinger employees with a female to dance with. The song, That's My Cue was written by Martha herself. A great sequence which is really dirty towards the end, but when Treg Brown clicks on Ginger Morgan's back--those sounds are hilarious, especially the fart sound.

Great to see Clampett having fun, and dressed as a drag queen with Ray Katz. Of course, its no surprise to see them dancing since Ray Katz headed Clampett's unit at the time, which was at a totally separate studio. Very typical gag setup for Friz Freleng dancing with Ads Renella (sp?). Obviously, the difference is the height; which was all set up.

Another great moment is where, Ted Pierce, dancing with Martha Sigall, just kills the dance room with his trousers dropping. Being a womaniser that Ted was, fun to see the joke's on him. However, being this was taken at the 1939 Xmas Party, Pierce was all the way over at the Fleischer Studios in Florida. Perhaps he came over to spend Christmas and was invited to the Schlesinger Christmas Party?? We then find a flirtatious Gladys Halberg who tries to tag Tex along to her home...however, Tex already uses a gag of one of his own cartoons where he bangs and bellows: 'I can't do it, I can't go through it!', although this is stock footage to be used for Cross Country Detours and also Circus Today.

The 1939 gag reel then comes to its own conclusion where Leon Schlesinger, wishes to extend his Christmas wishes and a Happy New Year. However, as he turns to look at his watch; he comments: 'Say, I'm going to the bowl'. No, no, not the 'bowl' as in football...he then rushes over towards the toilet and closes the door. Love the gag where he flips the sign to read: 'Danger! Man at work!'.

That's all, folks. This was little a little commentary about the 1939 blooper reel. Nothing too special, but if you haven't seen it. Check it out.

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