Wednesday, 4 December 2013

310. The Timid Toreador (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 309.
Release date: December 21, 1940.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett and Norman McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig/Slapsie Maxie Rosenbull/Matador).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky is selling hot peppers in the streets; and it ends up coming to advantage when he is encountered by a fiery bull.

The first cartoon where Norm McCabe, himself sets a 'supervision' credit but shared with Bob Clampett. It's uncertain as to how much he had contributed to the cartoon, other than possibly the animation. The cartoon as a whole feels a lot like a Clampett product, as his drawing style is evident in the animation through layouts, the way he interprets gags, and also his timing. Don't state this as fact, but it's likely perhaps McCabe was being supervised by Clampett in terms of timing, animation, and that McCabe didn't become loose until Clampett took over Tex Avery's unit.

Clampett chooses gags which evidently make the cartoon appear as his own product, rather than McCabe's, whose cartoons stand out as more milder than Bob's later cartoons, and more active than his black and white shorts.

During the opening sequence, it opens with particularly lame gags in a town which lies in a desert.

An example can be seen in the poster sequence at the beginning, where the poster advertising the bullfight lists out the matadors, toreadors, picadors, as well as a 'cuspidor'; which if you translate to English, meaning a spittoon.

A rather useless play-on word for the sequence. Then cut to the town sequence, where Clampett is satirising and paying homage to the popular Hollywood diner The Brown Derby, where here it's titled The Brown Sombrero. Clampett's drawing style is evident in the scenes of the trio playing some music (song anyone?). A washerwoman is seen cleaning some long underwear, beating it with a paddle. Then the paddle forms to life, almost drowning the washerwoman in the fountain and whacking her in the rear end. Only Clampett would interpret a gag such as this, with its bizarre pantomiming, and his taste of timing. The opening sequence is really much just exposition, for what is to come, especially in the sequence featuring Porky selling hot tamales, which would become an important element in the cartoon's poor synopsis.

Now time for a bit of analysis on a gag which Clampett reused rather regularly, though it is one of his more darker and tamer gags, but done with good comic timing. Porky is seen selling how tamales in the streets of the merry village. A unsuspecting chicken approaches the scene, where it opens the box of hot tamales. Of course, the box advertises the hot tamales as 'too hot to handle'. Unnoticed of the slogan, the chicken swallows the hot tamale which then results to his fate--a roast dinner.

A very flat gag in terms of creativity and energy, but Clampett's (or McCabe's) timing couldn't have been funnier with the way it has been delivered. After those few moments of no suspense, the chicken exploding is as bizarre it's going to get. If the gag had been approached again a couple of years later, Clampett would have staged and interpret the gag differently, with possibly more edgy comic timing, and a series of takes.

The bullfight sequence shows how relying on references, and deliberate setups shows how it overlaps the action of the bullfight, and with many gag opportunities wasted. Chuck Jones would master a cartoon involving Bugs Bunny and a bullfight in Bully for Bugs, whereas Tex Avery would do so at MGM with SeƱor Droopy.

The name of the matador is 'Punchy Pancho' (perhaps a reference to the infamous outlaw Pancho Villa?); whereas the bull is named 'Slapsie Maxie Rosenbull' which is a poor pun to the infamous boxer of its time: Maxie Rosenbloom.

Throughout the fight, we get deliberate setups with some particularly unfunny one-liners from the bull, though Blanc's voice makes the right touch. He approaches the matador who is waving the red flag.

The bull approaches rather angrily, but compliments on the design of the flag: "Nice piece of material, I think it is", I suppose its amusing in a ironic sense, but Clampett obviously isn't relying on his comic genius, or his flamboyant sense of wild timing.

It appears very obvious that Clampett or McCabe clearly aren't coming up with some very creative concepts for the short, and it gets so that reused dialogue for the fish was used from The Sour Puss, and the whole delivery of it. I believe that the laugh and the caricature of the matador laughing goofily (as well as the horse) are supposed to resemble Lew Lehr to an extent. The bull charges at the matador, combining the matador and the horse together, making them looking like a centaur. I'll admit, its the only highlight of that sequence, where the timing and delivery really come to advantage, as well as being a solitary gag.

Once again Porky is portrayed as a minor character, who has at least some stardom in the cartoon's climax sequence. He is seen as a seller who is selling hot tamales, whose chanting the words in rhythm to La Cucaracha.

He walks in the middle of the ring as he is busy selling hot tamales to attendees watching the bullfight. With the matador screaming out of the scene like a baby, Porky is the next victim. Standing behind the angry bull, Porky turns, but after a double-take rushes frantically out of the way.

So, Porky decides to antagonise the bull as he grabs out a blade, but the blade slides down loose, causing Porky to timidly smile at the bull, with that expression which very much belongs to Warners.
Just then, as Porky is caught up with the cartoon's action scenes, Porky being the subplot of the cartoon, uses his hot tamales as a weapon to defeat the ball. The hot tamales become a justified symbol to the bull's ruin, where the bull sniffs the scent of the peppers. The bull, after sniffing, remarks: "Hot tamales. Hot? (chuckles) who's afraid of hot?", and then takes the whole lot down. The reaction from the bull isn't very integral of what you would expect out of Clampett, as the reaction stands out as rather mild, apart from crashing outside the stadium and knocking the village buildings around.

After the crowd decide to cheer on Porky's impulsive finale of the bullfight; a rain of sombreros and hats fly on top of Porky. The cartoon concludes with quite possibly the most hypnagogic gag featured in the cartoon, where a derby hat lands on Porky, transforming his face into Laurel Hardy, with his music cue backgrounded in the score. It is, itself, very much an out-of-nowhere gag which you would expect from alcoholic gagmen (not implying Clampett); but the caricature is a decent touch, and it blends in neatly.

Now, to turn over to the readers: how do you knew The Timid Toreador: a Clampett product or a McCabe product? Well, it is pretty evident that this was largely Clampett's own, rather than McCabes even though it is unknown as to how much he contributed to the cartoon. Clampett still would have done character layouts due to his drawing style dominating the entire cartoon. His poor gag sense and no motivation with the story is also evident, whereas McCabe had a different style compared to Clampett's black and white cartoons. Despite McCabe's cartoons having lived in the darklight like some of Clampett's cartoons--McCabe at least showed some effort artistically as well as creatively. Why would Norm McCabe be co-directing with Clampett that early since Clampett hadn't yet left the Katz unit even at the time this cartoon was released, and Tex hadn't yet left the Studios. The cartoon, itself overall adds up as Clampett's own cartoon, with possibly McCabe's assistance, even though not relying too much on the credits. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. That's Oliver Hardy, not Laurel Hardy.

    Welcome back.

  3. This was about the time Leon Schlesinger decided that all four units would now do both color Merrie Melodies and black & white Looney Tunes. But where the LT shorts were more casual about story structure, by the end of 1940 the MM efforts were very tight on their structure, even in the spot gag cartoons. Which is true for Clampett's first effort, "Goofy Groceries", which came out three months after this short.

    That might explain the Clampett-McCabe co-credit here, and on the ensuing "Porky's Snooze Reel", as Bob may have turned over part of the directing duties to Norm in order to focus on his color cartoon debut (and after 3 1/2 years of nothing but B&W Porky cartoons, Bob was probably doing Daffy Duck "Woo Woo" bounces around the officer when Leon told him he was finally going to be free of Porky and able to work in color).

  4. Interestingly, Frank Young's page on Tex Avery/Warner Bros. cartoons, titled Supervised by Fred Avery, just reviewed Tex's own bullfighting pig short and the one that Mel Blanc would start his career at WB in:"Picador Porky". I remember Joe Adamson's "Tex Avery: King of Cartoons" got "Picador Porky" mixed up, storywise, with "Timid Toreador", with reference to the tamale ending.Steve.:)

  5. PS Steve, sorry if my comments haver bugged you, but you haven't blocked anyone (or for that matter, attacked anyone else, all of whom would defend me)....please explain in which way I have annoyed you..I think you're doing a great blog and, heck, it's the best that has ever been done. Take care, SC.