Friday, 21 June 2013

279. Pilgrim Porky (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 278.
Release date: March 16, 1940.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Cook ?) and Robert C. Bruce (Narrator).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Norman McCabe.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag cartoon here Porky is shown as a Pilgrim figure onboard the 'Mayflower' to discover the New World.

After directing Africa Squeaks; Clampett goes for another attempt for directing a spot-gag cartoon where he still follows the formula that Tex used for his own spot-gags.

Starting with the effects animation wavering through the opening credits, the tides splash straight towards the screen where we find a exposition card which tells the audience the time the cartoon is set is in 1620, and the location is Plymouth, England....and Porky portrays a pilgrim about to set sail to the New World.

The background of the opening shot, probably by Dick Thomas, presents a rather Stewart-looking visual towards it, and its use of colours are effective. The narrator, by Bob C. Bruce, narrates the opening where Pilgrimists board the Mayflower to set sail and develop a new Empire. Since the 'Mayflower' ship did leave for the New World in 1620.

The only little nit is that it departed from Southampton, and not Plymouth, unless there is supposed to be a little humorous link towards Plymouth, Massachusetts. In a rather conservative looking scene, a crowd of Pilgrimists wave towards those remained in Plymouth as they're about to embark.

Porky has the megaphone as he reports towards all his crew on-board, "Hurry up fellas, raise the gangplank (stutters) leave it down!". The narrator takes over the remaining use of dialogue where Porky was just standing by, whilst the narrator makes the orders towards his crew.

The pirates do their orders, such as pulling the rigger upwards whilst in mid-air. Once the narrator orders, 'Hoist the anchor!' the anchor is then sucked up by the ship's bow like a mouth slurping a straw...its suffice enough to be a Clampett gag, and is cleverly and funnily visualised. Porky walks into the bridge where he disguises himself as a streetcar conductor, as it sets the destination route to 'America' and blows on the whistle. One of those cute gags which are pretty light. As he rings the bell, the ship's propellers, disguised as boots, press on the pier and sets sail. The narrator comments, "Heave ho, heave ho--it's off to sea we go!" is a funny little reference to the Heigh-Ho song.

Carl Stalling already makes the most of the Anchors Aweigh melody which is heard rather frequently in the opening scenes, as well as when the ship is sailing. Some little modern-day references appear on the bow of the ship where they have car template-numbers which was seen as a common appeal for a 1940 audience.

A gag which Clampett very similarly used in Kristopher Kolumbus, Jr. appears where the narrator continues the story that the ship is sailing away "from the horizon"...and it's cleverly planned, as well as the gag itself, where it flips over like a pancake and vanished from the distance.

Being a spot-gag cartoon, it turns out to be a low-quality chance where we get a song sequence which is substitute lyrics to the popular song A Life on the Ocean Wave. A series of light gags appear in each shot where a figurehead ends up covered with ocean water, and gargles the water out, an out-of-nowhere tramp is seen sitting on the ship's bow.

As three Pilgrims sing the song, their movement as well as animation is extremely rigid, and makes the song appear unentertaining. Whilst singing, they end up seasick and lean over towards the starboard to vomit. The song sequence finishes with the sailor pulling a tight rope towards him (a shot seen earlier in the sequence) and in the next shot the tide waves cover him and ends up, apparently eaten by a popular as those 1930s sadistic gags were, the seal part is just maddening. Having been a shark..better.

Inside a cabin, Captain Porky Pig pops back into the film with a slightly longer appearance as he is seen in his writing desk to prepare a record and document on the ship's vessel and journey. Some entertaining use of the ship tilting due to its sailing, whereas the camera waving gives it a realistic approach. The ink tipping with its ink flowing and flowing back is also amusing itself.

As Porky just sits thinking of what to write, he finally starts to fill in the books. As Porky then fills in the document of the ship log; his handwriting is written out like a typewriter, with typewriting sound effects.

The gag itself, and the punchline is very weak as it's barely as ambitious as what Clampett's usual approach tend to be. The next sequence, the ship's stereotypical cook is seen in the kitchen doing his duty, and is caricatured with a Rochester accent. The narrator asks the cook to go collect some fish as he responds: 'Okay, boss'. He dives out of the galley and into the sea to look out for some fish. He grabs a puny one out and shouts, 'How's this one, boss?' where the narrator comments: 'No, that's a little too small'. So, he dives back under the sea to find a bigger fish. Mmm, funny how the ship doesn't sail away whilst he continues searching...but then again, its only a cartoon.

The next gag sequence is rather short, but a personal favourite for the staff at Schlesinger's is where Porky spots flying fish on top of the sky. A group of flying fish are seen on their planes as they carry banner which turns into another of those Eat at Joe's gag which is a rather personal gag for the staff, which is dated.

The narrator remarks that suddenly, the sea starts to turn rather choppy and turbulent. He mentions 'white caps appear', and I'll say the gag itself is humorously executed itself where the white caps spit out drops from the ocean which is just wacky and Clampett's own charm.

The stormy sequence is rather cartoony, but cartoony in a 1930s perspective, where lightning strikes and the two separate lightning strikes sharpen each other. The ship itself also curves as it sails through choppy waves. At that moment, one of the lightning strikes turn into a trident whilst the other turns into a saw, where a cloud is sawed, and lo and behold--rain falls.

Of course, to avoid going over budget and not going too ambitious--the rain for the background was all done through the assets of live-action rain. Whilst it rains, a title card pops in with a silly little in-joke: The Rains Came (From the Motion Picture of the Same Name) which was a 1939 film which starred Tyrone Powers.

Just as the ship sails through the rain--it's already located at the Northern Atlantic Ocean, and is approaching an iceberg. A lookout up on top of the crow's nest, (this time has binoculars unlike the real Titanic crew) and spots the iceberg. The lookout has a dopey Clampett feel where his pupils are disjointed, and can't even see the iceberg in a close distance. Just as the ship is sailing straight dead towards the iceberg, the iceberg suddenly unfolds itself as it sails past it. Titanic reference? If you say so, except it was crushed on the ship's hull. The figurehead then shakes with relief.

With the arrival of the cook, he dives under, believing he's caught another fish, but still not huge enough--must to the narrator's opinion. It's the recurring gag of Clampett's choice, in this spot-gag; as that is another recurring formula.

Meanwhile, after days of sailing, junk is seen floating on top of the sea, and the figurehead first notices it. Porky uses his telescope to investigate and discovers their destination to the New World is completed.

To modernise the cartoon, a billboard sign screams reading: AMERICA as well as having a parking sign below it..and also a FHA reference. Next towards it; it turns out there already is a Statue of Libery, but only aged 3. A really childlike gag which is very unrealistic in many ways...especially for the cartoon's time period which it is set in.

As the ship then reaches the Plymouth Rocks, he 'eases' the ship into the rocks--where the gag is that he isn't careful at all. Porky and his crew are greeted by an Indian tribe, and its chief: Sitting Bull. He walks over and announces: "Uh, you you hope our country" and then turns dopey by shaking his hand with a Elmer Blurt impersonation: "I hope, I hope, I hope". For the finishing scene, the narrator interrupts to find out how the cook went. He caught a huge one except, he's inside the huge fish--and at last, to the narrator's approval.

Overall comments: Sort of a follow-up from Africa Squeaks -- where Clampett takes a different approach with Porky Pig. To make his cartoons rather less boring, he does so by looking and studying Tex Avery's (then) current productions, goes to show how even Tex's spotgag cartoons, even if they were weak, proved to be inspirational amongst the staff as well as outsiders of the studio. The short runs at a larger shorter time than it would usually do, although from the first two spot-gag attempts that Clampett has made: I'd salute Africa Squeaks as a little superior towards this short. Both aren't as executed as well as Avery's efforts, I find the pacing and atmosphere of that short a little more fitting whereas in this cartoon it appears to run down together a bit.

It shows not an awful lot could be accomplished in a Pilgrim leading to a New World journey. Considering that spot-gag cartoons generally have a lot of hit-and-miss gags, and the recurring gags appear to save the short's pacing--this short's recurring gag is a little flat, and doesn't feel paced or planned out very well. Hell, at least give Clampett and Warren Foster for trying. Overall the short isn't particularly significant at all, the story feels as though it's only been through a rough draft, and it isn't completely full of surprises. Not being full of surprises definitely is shown in contrast towards Africa Squeaks Kay Kyser performed as himself personally, whereas there isn't  particular jazzy sequence of Porky's celebrating his arrival in the New World. Its one of the shorts where it only has 'moments' which show goodness. The 'moments of goodness', to me, appear in effects gags with the lightning strikes as well as the horizon it is visually appealing as well as amusing.

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