Sunday, 1 September 2013

299. Malibu Beach Party (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 298.
Release date: September 14, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Danny Webb (Mostly male actors), Jack Lescoulie (Jack Bunny/Phil Harris), Sara Berner (Actresses), Marie Greene (Darbis singing) and Mel Blanc (Rochester).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Gil Turner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Jack Benny and his wife host a beach party in his Malibu home with various celebrities invited as they enjoy the lifestyle and fun.

Ben Shenkman at his office at
Hanna-Barbera. c. mid-1960s.
Quite possibly the biggest contributor of the cartoon was one of the finest caricaturists to work in animation: Ben Shenkman. Shenkman's career in animation had begun in the 1930s in New York where he was working as an assistant animator. One of his contributions in the 1930s where he designed all the caricatures of the celebrities for the Color Rhapsody cartoon: Mother Goose in Swingtime.

Friz Freleng had evidently been impressed with Shenkman's caricatures that he borrowed him over to the Schlesinger Studio where he would design the caricatures for this cartoon, and also for Tex in Hollywood Steps Out which was already in production around the time Malibu Beach Party was.

Thanks to Keith Scott whose incredibly research reveals the voice actors for the cartoon; as well as the story of Shenkman's brief stint at Schlesinger; before he moved over to MGM after his stint for Warners. His designs had a particularly very exaggerated but realistic appeal which is particularly challenging and delicate to animate, due to the richness of his drawings.

Jack Benny, however called Jack Bunny in this cartoon, is the main 'star' of this cartoon. His beach party takes place in his Malibu home; where he receives his guests, along with his wife and partner: Mary Livingstone.

Jack Lescoulie, however, performs a rather fun impression of Benny; whose voice impersonation has quite a similar tone..who used the same Jack Benny voice for the Caveman in Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur and also Slap Happy Pappy.

A lot of Benny's cast crew from The Jack Benny Show also appear in this cartoon; not to mention Rochester, but parodied as "Winchester"; and Mel Blanc of course pulls off the voice with such great execution and delivery. Let's not forget, Phil Harris who also appears briefly with his band, but his band are given the pun: Phil Harris and his Corn-fed Band

He responds to Benny's request for music; 'Okay Jackson, I'm right on the beam'. 'Jackson', however was a line what Harris would regularly call Benny during radio shows with a cheerful expression. Of course; not to forget: Mary Livingstone who was Benny's wife and longtime partner for his show appears towards the beginning; waiting for the guests to arrive at their beach party. I believe she is on character which references her radio performances; though not too sure.

Being a whole cartoon crawling with old-time references, which is really what the gist of the cartoon is; another satirical short with then's most popular celebrities. Jack Benny, being the main star, also concludes, and ruins his beach party where he plays on the violin in an unappealing tune to Kinderszenne.

The gag appears to have been a particular mock towards Benny's talent in playing the violin, who was a gifted violinist in reality. This causes a particular stir amongst his guests who then turn to leave the party.

He even forces Rochester to stay on with the show, when Benny catches him attempting to sneak out the back door. Friz's timing as well as the ending shot wouldn't have been presented funnier; where he sits on poor Rochester. He asks him when he expects an agreement, 'Isn't this beautiful, Winchester' as he responds: 'Under the circumstances..yes!'. Benny concludes; quoting himself: 'Goodnight, folks' during the iris out. Note the music cue is also heard in one of the Schlesinger gag reels.

In other aspects, even so towards the end, Jack Benny himself is really the main butt of the satirical humour and gags in this whole cartoon; much more than the other celebrities. There is without doubt he was very popular in radio, and would still remain so...though here he is presented as particularly unpopular with his guests. It mainly happens when he holds out the 'applaud' card when no-one applauds, and Winchester ends up having to grab out a pair of hand-clappers to clap for them. Any Benny experts, see the real gag behind this?

Much of the cartoon story itself is sort of constructed in the form of a beach party. It begins off with an invitation letter from Jack Bunny to an anonymous guest. It then follows through with particular guests arriving; then they chill at the beach, following on with a dance/talent show, but it all goes ruined with Benny's violin playing. The first to arrive are the following caricatured: Bob Hope, who is greatly exaggerated. Following Hope is Bette Davis, who is dressed as a Queen which is referencing herself from the 1939 Warner Bros. film: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Andy Devine then walks through, with his dopey attitude shouting 'Hiya, buck'...and he was also another member of Jack Benny's radio programme and regularly quoted the catchphrase. Danny Webb performs a rather solid voice for Webb, as well as various other voice actors for the short.

The beach sequence also shows the beach party following on chronologically; the guests have all arrived and are all chilling by the pool, enjoying the sunshine. It's also a good time for Friz as well as story man Jack Miller to pull out a few string of gags and references for a couple of celebrities.

John Barrymore approaches towards Caesar Romero; where John Barrymore performs a Julius Caesar act; where instead of stabbing him in the back; he buries him in sand which makes the punchline just appear wackier.

The gag to feature Ned Sparks; who exclaims with his grumpy tone: 'I never go anywhere, I never do anything..I never have any fun' in a funny performance also by Danny Webb. The crab who responds, 'Aww shaddap ya old crab!' is a particularly corny pun but Mel Blanc's delivery once again makes it funnier.

Friz Freleng's timing is particularly ingenious in this sequence; where Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks wants to bury Ned in the sand. Friz's comic timing as well as the punchline should be appreciated as Brice just returns with a truckload full of sand and dumps it on top of cantankerous Ned...all rather quickly timed, and it all particularly works in a comic, funny way.

Of course, up next you would not expect to see a Clark Gable gag without mocking his ears. He swims in the sea, though his ears do the strokes whilst he rests. Particularly hard to time comically, though it shows great satire. Friz's comic timing and delivery would be perfected and hilariously timed later on when Deanna Durbin sings; as Ned Sparks, can't help but slowly smile with difficulty and Treg Brown's sound effects are put to such good use.

A particularly interesting sequence towards me is during the talent show; where Deanna Durbin, one of the guests, goes onto stage and goes into a great opera performance of: Carissima. She performs so well she even tries to get Mickey Rooney impress and causes Ned Sparks to crack a grin on his face. When Deanna tosses the flower towards a keen Mickey Rooney, but Cary Grant catches it in time; leaving Mickey disgruntled. It is a particularly funny touch.

For a particular Warner enthusiast or historian, you'd definitely recognise the staging of the sequence, as well as the song from an even more infamous, and better Freleng cartoon: Back Alley Oproar.

Though the concept, the timing as well as the whole underplay of its satire of the singing cat was much more funnier as well as unrealistically well-done. Here, it isn't particularly too much of a gag, other than the reactions of particular audience members watching her sing. Though the sequence was reworked into the latter short, it is much more charming and funny due to being completely looney and off the wall. Thanks to Keith Scott for letting me know, and to warn everyone else: though this is Maria Greene singing as Deanna Durbin, bare in mind it's NOT the same voice or audio used in Back Alley Oproar; it is sung by a different performer.

Of any particular sequence who may particularly already parodied, or borrowed from previous shorts. You could say Friz particularly borrows a tiny portion from what Clampett had used in Africa Squeaks; gag wise.

Spencer Tracy walks over towards Mary Livingstone to greet get, asking "Miss Livingstone, I presume?", which is a take of Stanley Henry from the 1939 film: Stanley and Livingstone. Kay Kyser quickly zips in in his uniform responding (as well as one of his traits); 'That's it, that's it! Yeah, yeah, yeah, etc.!'.

A part of it feels particularly influenced from the short; but at least it was subtle. The dance action of notorious dance partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as they dance around the room; whilst the song Where Was I? played by Phil Harris' band, it was particularly reused though unnoticeable animation from a previous short: September in the Rain; another Freleng entry from three years earlier.

The cartoon doesn't particularly indulge or force too much on particularly silly puns as well as spot-gags; a few particular ones to mention are also heard when Mary Livingstone sees Robert Donat leave the household, and remarks: 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips'. It is a real giggly and well executed punchline to the film of the same name, and quite possibly Donat's most famous film.

Other puns which is already seen is the 'old crab' rearm at the beach. As for the rest, however, they are particularly very same: like 'Jack Bunny' and 'Winchester' which are just particularly unrelated names which feel particularly forced and appear to lack much purpose.

The George Raft gag, though with the caricatured celebrity flipping a coin, and standing next to a raft has more purpose than 'Jack Bunny' type puns, though it is still particularly very weak.

In conclusion, Malibu Beach Party is a particularly daring concept towards Friz Freleng in terms of animation wise. His unit would've had to particularly follow Ben Shenkman's wonderful caricatures in a methodical manner and keep them on-model in order for the characters to have a particularly common appeal animatedly. Overall, it is a good combination between particularly amusing celebrity references and it is pretty well animated. Tex would borrow Shenkman for the designs used in Hollywood Steps Out; which was reportedly in production for 18 months; and it was seen as a more ambitious short. It's a particularly typical celebrity satire where you see particular traits and quirks all poked fun, though animating in a realistic form would've been a pleasing effect for a 1940 audience, as well as showing how Warners was already improving so much in quality.


  1. The Fanny Brice-Ned Sparks sand gag also was a borrowed one, having come from Clampett's "Porky's Naughty Nephew", the first cartoon Warren Foster received story credit on at Warners (and he'd borrow the gag back two decades later, to use in Yogi Bear cartoon after he moved on to Hanna-Barbera).

    Friz already had done something like this with T. Hee's charactures for "Coo Coo-Nut Grove", with the main difference being the designs were much flatter in the early cartoon, making them easier to animate. Here, Shenkman's facial drawings are far more three-dimensional, and the bodies are also moved in a more graceful fashion (Helen Morgan lying on the piano is the only human body Friz really tried to nail as having believable movements in the first cartoon -- four years later after his stint at MGM and the Schlesinger studio staff's own internal improvement in drawing, everyone here moves believably, even though ironically the cartoon feels a bit weighted down by its lack of cartooniness because people move slower than cartoon characters).

  2. Hey, just came upon your blog accidentally through a non-related google search and was immediately astonished by your research. I'm a Golden Age Animation admirer, got the Silly Symphonies collection on dvd, but these Warner cartoons are really tricky to find. Could you be so kind to tell me how to find these masterpieces? I was able to find just some online and would really love to watch them all. Thanks :)

  3. Phil Harris is named "Pill" Harris (nice to read that Jack Lescoulie did other characters than Jack Benny).

    Deanna Durbin, a personal favorite of mine [and I'm perhaps the YOUNGEST to confess that, having been born in 1960, TWELVE years past
    her retirement] and passed away at the start of this year [1921-2013].

    It is not the same "Carissima" singing voice as "Back alley", that's for sure!

    That later voice is said on "E.O.Costello's" WB site that a singer named Glorya [sic] Curran did that "ambigious" cat's voice.
    [BTW Deanna was super cute in her day, just as the artists drew her.Ironically, a Universal player, not a WB one, and yet far as I know, no Univ.[Lantz] short even caricatured her..though to be fair, I haven't watched enough Walter Lantz cartoons to checked if they featured her or other Universal Pictures [or other stars] or other stars of that time.]

    I personally like both of those "Carrissima" vocals even though the cat's more funnier due to looking male but having a female voice coming out of him.her (and I wish that the piece HAD been used much more often..)
    Jack's sad solo, "Kinderznenne", of course was used in the second Daffy Duck and Egghead short, 1938's short simply, of course, called
    "Daffy Duck and Egghead"-it's right before Daffy singing the LT theme.

    The Yogi cartoon that J.Lee mentions in his post is "Gleesome Threesome"(1961, 1960-1961 Yogi Bear show.).
    Steve C.

  4. And the date is almost 73 years ago (and on the say day, Saturday, a week and a half from now!

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  6. This cartoon was the first to have the new merrie melodies logo and the last to have the 1939 - 40 theme song.

  7. I really loved Carissima, it's a shame they don't have an official (albeit old) recording of the Arthur Penn Song. I haven't found anything resembling the song on other video media.