Saturday, 13 July 2013

284. The Hardship of Miles Standish (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 283.
Release date: April 27, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Old Man/Radio Announcer), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd - John Alden), Sara Berner (Edna May Oliver - Priscilla) and Mel Blanc (Hugh Herbert - Miles Standish.
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Gil Turner.
Music: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A grandfather tells his grandson "the way he heard" the story of The Courtship of Miles Standish.

The radio narrator concludes its story on the story of The Courtship of Miles Standish; which concludes that Priscilla and John Alden married, and lived "happily ever after". As the narrator makes the final concluding sentence of the program; listen out for the NBC chimes which overlap his dialogue.

The grandfather then turns off the radio, regarding the whole information from that story as "fiddlesticks".."That's not the way I heard it at all! Even if it did happen that way. It couldn't have happened that way!".

The grandchild, sitting opposite his grandfather on a armchair; asks "Did it really happen that way, Grandpa?". The grandfather scorns, "No, Dang-burnit! That ain't the way I heard it! The way I heard it was.. Well, a long time ago". The elderly man's line is supposed to be a parody of Bill Thompson's 'old timer' character in Fibber McGee and Molly. Great animator staging planned by Freleng, where his head is away from the armchair as he watch him puff on his pipe. It really creates mystery as well as appeal. He explains the story of, how he heard it, The Courtship of Miles Standish. "Many years back", the grandfather continues, "even before I was a little boy. It was set in a town called, er..Plymouth".

As the story goes back into the colonial days, the place is set at Plymouth, Massachusetts, but somehow the date changes to 1621; instead of the real date: 1620 which was when the Mayflower ship landed on Plymouth Rock, unless it was intended as a gag. The next part though, is a light gag, where civilisation in the town builds, and the date changes to 1621 1/2.

The net sequence, we find a fellow stuck inside a stock with a sign reading 'Do Not Open 'Til Xmas' which is a little corny gag itself. Then a town crier walks around the scene where he rings his bell and reads out special news on a piece of paper.

I believe this is supposed to be a radio/newsreel reference, but am not so sure at the moment. Anyone else can help? The Town crier reads out: "Flash! What made is that way about a certain captain. For further details, see your local newspaper!".

The next sequence goes straight to the introduction of our characters...where we see the affection towards Pricilla Mullins and Miles Standish. Here, they're portrayed as 1930s celebrities.

Edna May Oliver playing Priscilla, and Hugh Herbert as Miles Standish. Very amusing options for them to play the leads where writer Jack Miller is in good taste since both celebrities are so unlike to play those colonial figures. As their houses are based just opposite each other; they wave from their windows with affection. In Standish's window; he uses the windscreen to swipe some of the snow from the window; as he also waves. The windscreen part is a little weird; but then again is just mocking its time period. Prisicilla then looks past her window as she wishes: "I hope he sees me". Hugh Herbert also peaks back whooping merrily, "Lotta fun, lotta fun!". Love how the radio is inside his home, implying he can't resist not having it in his own home.

Back into reality where the grandfather then continues the story of the affection Miles Standish and Priscilla had towards one another. He narrates how their love had been striking for years. "Miles Standish didn't have the gumption to propose to Priscilla".

Then back towards the story; the grandfather narrates how he had the idea of writing a letter of his affection in a form of a letter. Back into the sequence; we find Miles Standish attempting to write a solid letter, but remarks "Terrible, terrible, terrible".

Some funny satire from his catchphrase where he scraps the letters calling them "terrible" which is great connection. The fact he has piles of letters crumbled up in his desk. The next shot; facing straight towards Miles Standish; he attempts to write romantically.

 "Dear Priscilla...your eyes are like..", as he struggles to write..he finds an advertisement placed on his board which reads: Don't write - send her a singing telegram! The contact is towards John Alden -- Messenger Service. In the point of view shot, Herbert whistles lustfully at the girl in the pin-up calendar. So far, so much radio and modern 1940s references which are just all scrammed into this parody. Once again, Herbert (Miles Standish) then praises the idea of a singing telegram by quoting his catchphrases "Very good, very good". Admittedly, the humour is not really punchy or energetic, as its just mere dated celebrity and modern-day references, as of appearing mainly all through this cartoon, it just runs down together. Note the April 1st date marked in red.

Miles Standish walks over towards his own closet where he scans through the telephone directory looking out for John Alden. Rather amusing in a subtle way how a directory is rather huge, in contrast to the small figures it would have had back in 1620.

Notice the little John Barrymore name, but as 'John Burymore' in the phone directory. Miles Standish then rings John Alden, who is then seen answering the phone but Elmer Fudd plays the character.

Elmer answers the telephone as he then accepts his duty and walks out to send a telegram. He knocks on Priscilla's door, where she opens up and gasps: "My, startled me".

Notice in the POV shot the telegram is Western Onion--which is, again a silly pun for Western Union telegram service. Elmer then blows on a whistle where he is clearing his throat, and warming up his vocal chords. He then begin to shape into rhythm, and goes into song: You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby. As a whole, I find the sequence itself the highlight of the short. Arthur Q. Bryan brings a very good cover performance on the song; and the way the gag has been executed, and using the song on that time period is well satirised. Elmer's interruptions during the telegram sequence is rather amusing, and shows great personality considering how he's meticulously reading the message. The most fun, but climatic part of the sequence is; Priscilla has fallen for him.

Just as John Alden then finishes off the lyrics from his singing telegram; an arrow then shoots straight through the telegram, which shows a warning by indians. Great comic timing on the arrow shooting through the telegram, as the song finishes. Indians then invade the area; where Elmer makes a 'double take' and shouts 'INDIANS!'.

Elmer then rushes inside the house; where he blocks the door prevent the Indians from crashing inside their door. Just as Priscilla blocks the door; she realises; "My laundry!". She rushes outside where, as a woman, needs to go outside to fetch her laundry, as well as dodging arrows.

Rather amusing as so, considering how it could be seen as 'typical women'...and how she'd be willing to get all her laundry when outside is perilous. She rushes back inside the house with her laundry as the arrows continue to shoot past. She then acts childish towards the Indians: "Nah, you didn't even touch me, you didn't". Great, solid acting as well as timing from Sara Berner from the dialogue; and gag set-up from Freleng and Miller. The way she yelps in pain with a Hugh Herbert whooping sound makes it all-round hilarious and well accomplished.

Meanwhile, the indians have surrounded the cabin where they perform their war dance around the shack; trapping Priscilla and John Alden. Elmer, then rushes towards a emergency glass where he pushes the slide part open with a gun, and not damaging a glass. For the funny part; he just rushes back, wasting time, and smashing the glass.

For some amusing Freleng timing, each shot Elmer fires; his hat jumps up at every beat. Freleng uses that particular gag useful for the shooting, whereas it makes the action a lot more eventful, and less dull.

Back to the grandfather and child; the grandfather continues to narrate about the Indians' invasion. Then it cuts back towards the story where Freleng, in order to save a bit of original footage; the following montages of Indians charging were reused from Sweet Sioux; a short he directed three years earlier. As the grandfather continues the story; the child questions: "But Grandpa, those weren't Indians, they were bull players!". The grandfather snaps; "They were too, Indians! They were the Cleveland Indians". Of course; mocking modern culture to a 1620 time period; an indian calvary are seeing wearing Cleveland Indian jerseys which is just a corny pun.

As the battle carries on; Indians continue to fire their arrows; and they pop up from the rocks; one-by-one shooting straight at the cabin. It makes the comic timing a lot more droll and farcical. They all appear at different parts of the foliage; until they all stand up shooting one another.

Elmer, inside the cabin, is made the butt of the sequence where as he's about to take a shot -- an arrow flies and steals his hat. Of course; it would be considered a lucky aim because the arrows just miss his head, and only shoot his hats.

Every time he grabs a different hat, they're all shot by arrows. A dippy-looking Indian, cross-eyed, tries to shoot his arrow towards the cabin, but off-screen his arrow hits with a dodgy result. It turned out he accidentally hit the arrow towards the indian's head where the arrows fall off his head. This sequence is full of subtlety, as well as sneaky. Watch the Indian's mouth as he lips silently, "Goddamn, son of a bitch!". Of course, this was all Pre-Code, the Warner writers really got some creative freedom where their inappropriate gag was shown as so subtle and hidden, even the censors passed it. The dippy Indian responds with a "Pardon me".

As the montage shots go on; and the grandfather continues to narrate the story of the Indians attacking. He reaches the final conclusion of how the Indians defeated, as one: "The Indians were getting the best out of their ordeal, until one of them, pulled a boner!". The next Indian; seen with a bow and arrow has a feather on his cap constantly falling on his face.

Seen as a distraction, he blows the feather off, and the same action appears a few times before he fires the arrow. Some good personality of the feather falling which makes the Indian warrior just look like a fool. The glass of the cabin window then smashes.

Elmer steps out of the window to inspect the damange. He spots the damage from the window where he asks: "Who broke that glass!". The Indians, knowing their defeat then turn afraid of having to pay for the damages and attempt to walk away nervously. A very cartoonish composition from writer Jack Miller, which is just so looney, that it has charm. Elmer then sternly warns, "One of you folks gotta pay for that glass!". In a dire need of hurry; the Indians then escape the surrounding areas running, and bumping into each other. Love how they foolishly just slam into each other whilst attempting to run away.

Unintended to have chased the Indians out of the way; John Alden is now declared a hero; in the way the grandfather has explained the story. Priscilla then picks up John Alden where she declares; "My hero" with affection. She kisses poor Elmer all over the face where he has kiss marks all over his face. He then remarks, puzzled: "But Miles Standish wants to marry you!".

Priscilla, not giving any care for Miles Standish any longer; already is in love with Alden, and continues kissing John, which then concludes the story. Watching poor Elmer suffer the kisses of a Edna May Oliver Priscila is amusing considering how very elderly and unattractive she is, and we all feel empathy for him.

Just as the grandfather has finished his story and puffs up his cigar: Friz Freleng finally really gets to really show how his master timing is used for such advantages and hilarious purposes. The grandfather, rather opinionated of his version of the story: "If that ain't the truth. I hope lightning strikes me!".

Suddenly, lightning then strikes his house in a flash; and Friz's timing is pure gold in that scene. Of Freleng's over comically timed scenes from earlier; this part is really the most convincing and evidently the best accomplished in the short.

The scene alone only appears in 13 frames, and shows you must appreciate his use of speed, and sudden timing..which makes the gag alone, funnier. Just after the effect; the boy looks around at the result of the effect of the house; and the camera pans upwards where the elderly man is seen dangling on the roof. He then concludes: "Maybe now, that's the way I heard it!". Of course, Freleng would use the same gag, which would be equally timed well in The Trial of Mr. Wolf.

Overall comments: One word which would be my main thought of the whole cartoon would be 'timeless'. No, I'm not meaning it on the positive side; meaning that it hasn't gone dated by age, whilst it certainly is a rather dated cartoon. I mean 'timeless' by associating the theme where a lot of modern culture has all been jammed into a 1620 time period for gag purposes. The telegram sequence is a great example of how the sequence stands the test of time; making an obvious mock for being in the wrong time period; but it was really shown as a persuasion for an audience to accept these gags, as after all, wasn't main goal for cartoons to make audiences laugh (exc. Disney)? Well, it depends on which volume of humour...whilst this short is jam packed full of dated references. My overall views of the short is that a lot of the old references which only enthusiasts would only understand; just all run down together.

The Hugh Herbert scenes, really run down too much where his habitual catchphrases sort of slow the short down. The first half, admittedly, was extremely slow for my liking...whereas the second half was punched up more with more vivid action; particularly with the singing telegram and some of the gags with the Indians. The gags combined in this short consist of very weak as well as very strong gags. The 'I hope lightning strikes me' gag is extremely strong, and in many ways, it makes up for the weaker gags used in this short...particularly some of the Indian shooting gags, which are a little slow paced. The short, in some aspects; feels like a combination of what Hardaway-Dalton would create; whereas another part would definitely feel like a Freleng epic. The conclusion of the short are definitely a resemblance of what Freleng would definitely have contributed, as well as the 'Goddamn son of a b*tch!' line, considering how Friz was much more daring in terms of his approach in contrasts to his predecessors. Overall thoughts; the short is very mixed: it has its strong spots as well as weak spots..then again, the quality and perspective of the humour is noticeably a lot different from after a year's worth of WB shorts without Freleng.


  1. The town crier, as most know, is a parody of the much-caricatured radio personality Alexander Woolcott aka the Town Crier [as in earlier Warner Bros. cartoons like 1938's "Have You Got Any Casters"?He's also the reason you don't usually see the open or ending save the opening shadow.] Mel Blanc plays him and the various Indians in addition to Hugh Herbert/John Alden. SC

  2. Just as an addition to Pokey's comment, the cryer's quote actually should read "What maid is 'that way" about a certain captain?" which highlights the 30s-and 40s-style gossipy nature of the veiled announcement regarding Priscilla and Alden.

    1. Obviously, that "Flash" announcement parodies Walter Winchell.

  3. Granted, the caricatures of Edna May Oliver and Hugh Herbert date this cartoon short, but it's still a pip.