Tuesday, 30 July 2013

293. Little Blabbermouse (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 292.
Release date: July 6, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Little Blabbermouse), Bill Thompson (W.C. Fields Mouse), William Days (Order Book) and Thurl Ravenscroft (Bad Tobacco Face).
Story: Ben Hardaway.
Animation: Richard Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag where a WC. Fields mouse gives a tour of a pharmacy store.

Ben Hardaway's last credit for Warners; where he had only briefly headed the Story Department before his departure from Warners in early 1940, except when he came back very briefly to write one cartoon: Bone for a Bone for Freleng about a decade later. He would also go on to contribute a great deal to Woody Woodpecker, as well as providing his voice for a while. Bugs would continue to have his reputation for the most bizarre and insane gags for Lantz, as well as continuing with his trait consisting of unfunny puns.

For Hardaway's departure, he creates a new character for Freleng; but one of Hardaway's own kind of characters. Instead of the characters Hardaway loved; wacky characters who are completely off the wall, he also appears to have an appeal towards chatterbox characters with annoying voices.

He used this before in It's an All Wind; and has been used in previous Warner cartoons, as it was apparently funny in the eyes of Hardaway. Evidently; the character is Blabbermouse; who would prove to last in only one more cartoon, which was released later this year: Shop, Look and Listen.

The opening shot of the pharmacy takes place during night where the camera pans through the dark, empty store. Stalling uses a lovely melody during the underscore of the opening shot. Inside a mouse-hole is a tour guide mouse who is a caricature of W.C. Fields. He gathers the crowd to go through a 'sky ride' tour of the pharmacy store for the price of 10 cents.

The voice of the W.C. Fields caricatured mouse is believed to be voiced by Bill Thompson, ; thanks to Keith Scott for identifying the voice for the character..even if it sounds a little unlike Thompson.

Back in Thompson's early career; beginning with Fibber McGee and Molly, one of Thompson's voices was of a boisterous W.C. Fields voice, although it is partially different in contrast to this cartoon; and he even changed the vocal tone for the voice, whereas in 1939; it was much broader than it was three years earlier. Blabbermouse then makes his screen debut, and of course an unfunny and obnoxious debut where he continuously asks the tour guide mouse questions such as ('What is a Skyride?', 'Could I get in free?', etc.) just like those 1930s voices you've heard in the Warner shorts--it's sped up, and has the exact same deliverance and monotone. The Fields mouse then moves Blabbermouse out the way with his cane, 'Step aside, my little lad!'.

Just as passengers are about to step aboard on the sky ride; through the admission, Blabbermouse approaches the admission counter asking the Fields mouse continuous and annoying questions. He looks at Blabbermouse with grief, 'What? You again?'.

Blabbermouse hands out a dime coin to pay from, and the Fields mouse then makes a very subtle eye-take, as he accepts the price. Friz's comic timing on the eye take couldn't be any more subtle, as it only appears in a few frames, before his eyes remain back to normal.

Just then, he speaks to the remaining crowd for the next sky ride to leave in a few minutes, and Blabbermouse walks through the entrance to the sky ride. Just then, a group of passengers then board the sky rider; where the expedition around the pharmacy is being prepared. The W.C. Fields tour guide then grabs out marshmallows towards any fellow passengers as a 'soft seat to sit on'. Just a lady mouse trips on the steps; he remarks 'Watch you're Ps and Qs, lady', which I believed is used as a abbreviation for manners, or carefulness.

Just as the sky rider then takes off upwards; Blabbermouse finds he is still standing on the ground due to the rails on the floor being far too wide. He makes a take; realising he is back down but the sky ride then drops him back down to collect him. The tour mouse then asks: 'Are you goin' with us or not? What do you want from us, a car?'.

Blabbermouse explains: 'I was standing here like this'. He continues to explain a fastly paced voiced which almost irritates the WC Fields mouse. Freleng's timing on Blabbermouse explaining shows off his particular traits such as the jerky timing when Blabbermouse explains.

Just then, the Field Mouse then halts the continuous taking: 'Okay, skip it! Skip it!'. He grabs out a mat and places Blabbermouse through it, so he wouldn't fall off, and proceeds with the tour. The following scenes shows a very complex animated shot in terms of perspective where the sky rider moves upwards during the horizontal pan, and its perspective is rather realistically animated. Still a technique in animation which is difficult to accomplish, but Freleng achieves the target well.

With the tour beginning with a proper and established start; the W.C. Fields mouse begins to show his passengers the displays in the pharmacy; the first being the newly invented vanishing cream. In a background shot of the vanishing scream; it would've been displayed as a overlay where it would've faded away. He comments: 'Now you see it, now you don't'.

He then chuckles and states, 'No, it wasn't done by mirrors'. Blabbermouse asks annoying questions such as why it vanished, which almost provokes the tour mouse, as he snaps; 'Quiet son, don't interrupt'. Moving on after a little mutter, he gives his passenger a new glance of a 'scientific phenomenon'..which is the reducing pills.

It is labelled so in a bottle, the bottle itself however reduces from the effect. Both very corny and unoriginal spot-gags; although the cork popping out of the bottle was timed fittingly. Another section of the pharmacy store; the sleeping powders. The inanimate packet of sleeping powders have faces where they are displayed as snoring.

Then the 'smelling salts' bottle where the bottle forms into a motion of a dog and sniffs through the table like a dog. The gags and its delivery are very delicate, and sluggish; although the cough medicine shows some good character animation and execution.

The next small sequence is one of those climatical structures which Tex used frequently in his spot-gag cartoons; although Freleng takes it at a different approach. He describes the next tour stop to be 'colossal, stupendous, breath-taking'..the typical praise words to be used from hosts. The passengers then whistle with joy.

From the bottom; the camera pans towards a huge poster; where its staging in terms of the layout is rather challenging. The camera pans to the top, with its music score full of surprise and suspense; features a 'Giant Malt' with a milkshake as the illustration of the poster.

Rather breath-taking for a mouse considering the size. The finishing pun to finish from the host is: 'in contrast, we have a little squirt'...the camera pans vertically horizontally where a spray squirts out perfume. Although this is supposedly meant to be funny in terms of size; its execution and contrast was rather great, but the punchline was very tepid.

Another quick move is the shaving brush, where the shaving brush actually shaves with a shaving blade; as Sinkin' in the Bathtub plays in the underscore. The next gag is explained from the Fields host as, 'the wild man from Texas' which is actually a 'Krazy Mineral Water' bottle which then starts to act wild and nuts. Blabbermouse then ruins the screen to irritate the audience by asking questions concerning of the crazy bottle, and the host just ignores him frustratingly.

Moving onward; the host then exclaims with surprise, 'Ooh, a rubber band, is a liven' breathe'. The box then opens where a group of rubbers stretch upwards and downwards playing their musical instruments. The gag is very punchy, where it is executed well, the animation is realistic, and well as cheery. A great little pun, itself.

Just as the rubber band plays, a pair of 'military brushes' step out as they march to create a percussion rhythm. After the little rubber band finishes, the host remarks: 'Snappy little outfit, was it, or wasn't it?'.

The next part of the tour proves to be a delight where the passengers are to be enchanted for the inanimate objects to sing a various selections of popular songs. For the music and animation enthusiasts, also a real delight..for songs we all would know. It's a great little sequence to be placed at a fitting part of the spot-gag as it jazzes up a whole lot of gags to be combined with the popular songs; which may be a little clever and fun way of organising the songs to match the gags. Instead we'd just ignore the gags itself and enjoy the music which is a pleasing occasion for the spot-gag shorts.

The clocks then sing together in a group to the popular song: (Ho-dle-ay) Start of the Day, which is a popular Stalling cue, particular for the Warner cartoons as well as a very cheerful and catchy tune.

After the little tune; an order book comes to life holding a pencil singing substitute lyrics in the melody to I'd Love to Take Orders from You; with the brief singing covered by William Days.

Following up, a group of dancing powders then perform a little dance routine as Shake Your Powder Puff is being sung by the Rhythmettes, whilst the male vocals are sung by the Sportsmen, thanks to Keith Scott. Following after that is a little cheery scene as a group of coins, two liberty and one a penny with a mohican dancing and singing to We're in the Money--the song we all know. Following that is a a bottle of pink pills which sings solo of the song: You're the Cure What Ails Me.

A pipe tobacco product then features an angel side, and the other a devil side; where considering how tobacco was considered, perhaps: 'naughty but nice'; where the popular song is: Half of Me (Wants to Be Good), William Days, I believe is the angel voice, and Thurl Ravenscroft, himself is the devil voice.

The concluding scene combined with a popular song is Sinkin' in the Bathtub with a bottle of bath suits bathing itself in a tub.

Afterwards; a group of 'Xmas seals' which are stamps though modelled as seals also clap like them as an applaud for the song sequence. After the song sequence finishes; the usual routine is then restored back to the short where the W.C. Fields host mouse then moves over towards the 'Greeting Cards' section. Over there, the cards show illustrated characters who wave and greet the passengers on the sky ride. Listen out for the Jerry Colonna reference mentioned, 'Greetings gate'.

As the host then moves onwards; he then exhibits the dangerous mousetraps which, of course, are very deadly for mice; and they then dash out of the sky-ride; minus Blabbermouse. No, not because the thought of the mouse-traps or the sight of them, the sight of a fierce-looking cat. He continues: 'Now don't go away folks, these traps are perfectly harmless, as long as you keep it a safe distance'.

Blabbermouse then looks upwards of the cat and makes a subtle take as he shakes the host's waistcoat trying to catch his attention of a hungry cat behind him. He then struggles to speak, as he hesitates, panic-strikened in explaining of a cat behind him.

The host then appears to be explaining on a particular object, which ironically is the similar features of the black cat standing right by him. As he explains, he provokes the cat even further by whacking him with his cane before he breaks into a double-take. He exclaims, 'Whoa, who let him in?!'. He then breaks down a policy announcement: 'Due to conditions which we have no control the tour will be temporarily discontinued'.

 This then results into a brief action scene as the sky rider then zooms through the table knocking over medicine bottles. The sky rider then manages to escape to the exit throughout the mousehole; with the cat knocking to the wall, just missing them. The host and Blabbermouse heavily breathe due to the intense action and risky escape. Just then, Blabbermouse starts to chatter towards the host; which then almost drives him to the limits.

He explains quickly on how he would his father, whose supposedly an officer to stop the cat. The host, not caring, then grabs out a bottle of aluminium and stuffs it at Blabbermouse's mouth. Just then, the host removes the bottle away from Blabbermouse. In the final shot, Blabbermouse asks:

'Why did you do that? I don't see why you got mad at me. I'm not mad at you at all. All I ever did was ask you many--' at this point his lips then get compressed tighter and tighter. Of course, being the obnoxious Hardaway concept created; and of course the ending was probably not what Hardaway interpreted to be, at least Blabbermouse got his justice.

Overall comments: With a supposedly new character being introduced; it still had the same formula of obnoxious, chatterbox characters which were used in previous cartoons (i.e. I Wanna Be a Sailor, It's an Ill Wind, She Was an Acrobat's Daughter, just to name a few). In most of those shorts, the character really didn't get any justice for annoyance where it was interpreted that those characters were generally meant to be amusing or charming for an audience. Here, Blabbermouse is used as a deliberately annoying character, that the crew working on the short are already aware the character is more irritating than amusing. As for story wise on this short; being sort of a spotgag cartoon it seems, it has been structured a lot more solidly in terms of its pacing and story.

Instead of a typical spot-gag where it shows a string of gags, and also a recurring gag to appear throughout the cartoon..here all sorts of unique activity flow through the cartoon rather juicily. A song sequence is played later in the short; where the audience would be thrilled to hear their favourites played and used as gags, although in that case; the gags would require little attention from an audience. The cartoon also had a little climatic sequence towards the end, where it generally shows that there is certainly a little bit of story going on. If so, the short itself would've been a treat considering Bill Thompson made his appearance as the W.C. Fields caricatured mouse; since he was already a star on Fibber McGee, where Freleng asked him, and he agreed to do the voice. The next short: Shop, Look and Listen would be a definite followup from the short, although it feels more of a continuity, and a less surprising experience.


  1. Not "aluminium" but "alum", or more specifically hydrated potassium aluminium sulfate. It's an astringent still used today in styptic pencils to stop bleeding from shaving nicks.

    1. Alum was used for preserving pickles.

      And the W.C. Fields-soundalike character Bill Thompson played on the McGee show was called Horatio K. Boomer.

  2. As I noted on the followup "Shop, Look, and Listen"(1940, Steve H.'s latest at this time), the other Fibber McGee connection is Blabbermouse, based on the Teeny character from the radio show.:)

  3. My most favorite cartoon of all time!