Monday, 27 May 2013

274. Africa Squeaks (1940)

The blog is back, and sorry if I have been absent in these past three weeks, as I've been extremely busy with exams and studying that I didn't want the blog to be a distraction. Hope you can understand, but anyway, here is a review...

starring PORKY.
Warner cartoon no. 273.
Release date: January 27, 1940.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Elephant/Jungle Cat/Lion/Gorilla/Natives), Kay Kyser (Himself as 'Cake Icer'), Bill Days (Singing Gorilla), Sportsman Quartet (Chorus singers) and Robert C. Bruce (Narrator).
Animation: John Carey and Dave Hoffman.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: In the darkest Africa, explorer Porky Pig and his tribes explore the darkest depths in Africa to encounter many unusual events.

After Tex Avery directed and created numerous spot-gag/travelogue cartoons, and Bob Clampett knocking out extremely bland and weak Porky Pig cartoons--Clampett, himself, gives it a shot in a attempt to produce a spot-gag done with a Tex Avery theme. This would mean Clampett would've studied Avery's spot-gag cartoons in order to feel inspiration and creative.

Our narrator (Bob C. Bruce) begins with his little introduction to Africa. A dark continent that is full of adventure, and mystery. The narrator continues as there is a exhibition going on, which begins in the dark Africa, and the camera pan moves to 'Darkest Africa' where the colours are getting darker in contrast. A Clampett gag borrowed from his own classic: Porky in Wackyland.

Fading to Africa from what the map displays; a tribe is seen chanting to Congo. It turns out the tribe are following their expedition leader: Porky Pig, who looks a lot more blander in terms of personality, as well as his everyman abilities.

One of the tribe members interrupts and sing: "We don't know where we're goin', but we're goin'", before they chant back to their song. During their journey they encounter a sign, which reads:

 Welcome to Africa - with the 'Lions Club' logo parodied on the sign, which is a well known secular-service organisation. Odd and baffling as to why there is a 'Welcome to Africa' sign when they are literally in the middle of the continent. Explain. Whilst on the journey, they encounter a caricature of Spencer Tracy, who is spotted in the jungle, and walks over to Porky Pig and asks: 'Dr. Livingston, I presume? The whole sequence completely satirises the 1871 encounter of H.M. Stanley and Dr. Livingston where Stanley is famous for the quotation, although Clampett hyperbolises the name to the extend where he is caricatured after a 1940s celebrity. Definitely shown as a attempt to ape Avery, it is a example of a dated gag.

Anyway, after Stanley presumes Porky is Dr. Livingstone, he tells his name is Porky Pig. Dr. Stanley shrugs and walks off, and the expedition continues. As the expedition continues, the narrator lurks and finds many interesting specimens who are seen as mysterious from the explorers; and one in particular is an ostrich's head buried in the hand.

A notorious tale and rumour, Clampett exaggerates the gag where we find the ostrich's head seen resting on top of a pillow. The next scene focus on a pair of lions who are seen chewing on some bones which were previously from a carcassed skeleton.

The next gag, is definitely posed as a Clampett gag, with the lion's facial expression, where the two lions grab a wishbone, and then the wishbone snaps. High up in the canopy of the jungle, where a mother monkey is seen taking her child out for a walk, its a cartoony effect where the mother monkey uses her tail to swing through the canopy, and has her child seated in a pram. Love the fact the mother monkey has a glove on her tail.

The next gag, though dated among today's audience, is worth a laugh, where the narrator creates some tension where a 'supposed' gorilla appears at the area, and it turns out the gorilla is a caricature of Tony Galento (holding a pint of lager), who shouts out his catchphrase 'I'll moider 'da bum!'.

Classic caricature of the boxer, as it links beautifully to the fact he's caricatured as a gorilla, as well as Blanc's delivery of the line. The next sequence features a native who is using a dart gun to 'put meat on the table', and afterwards, the dart gun pits the dart; as Clampett relates to that pun.

The dealer then hands over the 'ham' towards the winner, as he needed to win that dart. A little corny gag, but Blanc's voice is also charming to listen to. After the sequence, the narrator reaches to the silent, quiet part of Africa, where still dark, Porky and his travellers are pitched at a tent. Just moments later, there are some loud animal noises coming from the surrounding areas. Porky, disturbed by the noise, shouts out 'Quiet!' before going back to sleep. Watching the scene alone, you can't help but feel that Clampett feels as though he's tamed himself down in terms of exaggeration, as Porky is still controlled in that scene.

Meanwhile, Dr. Stanley arrives at the scene again where he is on the lookout for Dr. Livingstone, and continues to walk through the forest, and looks through a kangaroo pouch, in search for Livingstone...not going to bother to explicit the fact why a kangaroo is in Africa.

Anyway, a joey then pops his finger out to pinch his nose and tells him off for so, as well as tutting. More gags appear, as we see more gags just added for the sake of it: including the 'Los Angeles City Limits' sign, as there is a tree which shows a election poster for 'King of the Poster' which is a funny as it empathises that the jungles of Africa have politics, too.

Meanwhile, we find a jungle boarding house occurring where a cat landlord is seen evicting an elephant tenant. She then makes the final remark: 'Until you paid your rent, I'm going to keep your trunk!'. Clampett comes up with a amusing one-liner from the elephant which links to the pun well, as the elephant sobs: 'And it has my things in there, too!'. The whole 'trunk' gag also appears to be borrowed, though reworked, from Avery's A Day at the Zoo.

In the next sequence, we see a passing by vulture who is seen looking around for weakling animals, which he despises. The narrator describes the bird as the most 'the jungle's most ruthless killer'. The vulture then makes a evil gesture, before spotting some helpless fawns in the distance.

The vulture finds some fawns and then makes a huge dive downwards. All of the deers scamper off to hide inside some tall grass, where they run helplessly. Afterwards, the grass slides down where one fawn shouts out 'AIR RAID!' before firing at the vulture.

A wonderfully executed gag, which Clampett used twice--later in Crazy Cruise. The vulture is eventually caught from the air raid, as its feathers are caught on fire, and then starts to fall like an airplane. After the crash, all of the fawns laugh at the vulture.

The next sequence, there is a little, frightened cannibal who runs towards Porky and ends up panicking and shouting incoherently (Blanc delivering the cannibal voice, perhaps?). The camera pans towards a African village where an isolated white person is seen residing over there.

Porky hears the news and drags Dr. Stanley over at the scene where his long search has concluded. Dr. Stanley walks over to shake his hand where it is believed to be Dr. Livingstone, he presumes.

As it turns out, the 'Dr. Livingstone' is in drags, as it turns out to be a caricature of Kay Kyser, although parodied as 'Cake Icer'...whose name in 1940 was very huge, being a very popular bandleader. Clampett saw his popularity as an advantage of the cartoon, and this is Kay Kyser's actual voice of himself in the cartoon--thanks to Keith Scott. Clampett asked and Kyser agreed to do the part. A little monkey pops out of Dr. Stanley's hunting hat, and gasps with excitement, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, etc!'. Music cue in Cake Icer's introduction is Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

Cake Icer then exclaims and directs his village audience with excitement, and directs them to get to the groove with his popular bandleader, which would be his usual phrases that he would exclaim in radio. The band then begin to play, with an elephant using his as a brass instrument. A singing gorilla sung by William Days starts off singing You're the Greatest Discovery.

The band then continue to play the song, as it turns into a complete jive around the village, encouraged by Cake Icer. The rest of the sequence is mostly typical Clampett with the cutesy gags, of a monkey taking out a rhino's horn to play music. Cake Icer then exclaims: 'That's it children, now we're looney-tooney!'..and even mimics a looney walk cycle.

Much of the sequence appears to be reworked or at least shows a strong influence from Avery's The Isle of Pingo Pongo including some of the dancing gags, and one scene in particular which was animation reused from the short. After the music sequence; our expedition then comes to an end.

Just as the narrator typically narrates, the expeditors reluctantly leave. However, Porky and his followers are leaving cheerfully singing California, Here I Come. In the last final shot; we find the earth view shot of Africa, the dark continent. The narrator bids a farewell towards the continent. All of a sudden, a face appears from the continent bidding and shouting 'Goodb-y-y-y-e-e-e-e-e!'. Debate whether its politically incorrect or not, but I'd say its more freaky, than racist--even though Clampett hyperbolises the 'dark continent' 19th century phrase for the final gag.

Overall comments: After directing almost an entire year's worth of terribly weak Porky Pig cartoons, Clampett attempts to turn fresh by giving it a shot at directing a spotgag cartoon, which of course, features Porky. Evidently inspired by Tex Avery's travelogue parodies which would've been a success among the studio, as well as the first spotgag: The Isle of Pingo Pongo--Clampett gives it a shot, although still has to follow the policy of having to include the pig--which disgruntled Bob. Viewing the cartoon, much of the writing as well as the gag setups are completely Avery-esque, whereas mentioned, Clampett would have meticulously rewatched Tex's travelogue cartoons in order to turn out just how Tex would've done so. Despite the fact Porky had to be used in the cartoon, I find Clampett's handling of the character particularly clever.

In a Avery cartoon, he would've created a normal , one-shot expedition leader to appear all through the film, or even use Egghead for satirical/comical situations...whereas Clampett sees Porky Pig as an advantage, he is very much just a background character. His role compared to Dr. Stanley is very much, analogous. The atmosphere of the cartoon, is very much like a Looney Tune: Porky Pig in the opening title, as well as being photographed in black-and-white. The cartoon itself, and its gags would pass as a Merrie Melody, if directed by Avery, photographed in Technicolor, and possibly, the removal of Porky Pig. This would've at least turned out as a average Tex Avery spotgag cartoon which has no merits...but being a Clampett cartoon of that particular crummy era, I find this would be a decent Clampett cartoon. This certainly may not live up to Tex's standards, and Clampett follows Avery's own gags, too much..but you've got to give him credit for trying. Asides from that, it appears Clampett made an attempt to give the cartoon a special quality by hiring Kay Kyser to be playing himself, which Kyser agreed to play the part, whereas a radio personality in a cartoon would usually be voiced by somebody else.


  1. You could probably start with 1939's "The Film Fan", but the theme of the Looney Tunes in 1940 is basically figuring out every possible way to use Porky as little as possible, both in Clampett's work and in Friz Freleng's efforts when he takes over Hardaway and Dalton's LT output.

    "You Ought to Be in Pictures", "Ali-Baba Bound" and "Prehistoric Porky" are probably the only three LTs of the year where he's actually the featured character -- in the others, as with "Africa Squeaks" he's only there because it's a 1940 Looney Tune, and he's supposed to be there (Freleng's legendary temper and the constraints he felt about working with Porky may explain why the studio completely revamped their rules for 1941, having all directors do B&W and color cartoons and no longer requiring Porky to be in every LT release).

  2. Spencer Tracy's gag appearance is not superfluous. He portrayed Henry Stanley in 1939's "Stanley and Livingstone".