Saturday, 28 September 2013

301. Stage Fright (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 300.
Release date: September 28, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
No cast.
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Two Curious Dogs wonder around an abandoned arena; where they are fighting over a bone; but they face other problems: especially from a happy seal, and a high-wire stage.

The curious dogs; quite possibly the worst of Chuck's earliest characters, are beginning to be made a lot less, as it is evident Chuck was focusing on his new character: Sniffles...who was modestly popular. In 1939; Chuck had produced three cartoons with the dogs: Dog Gone Modern, Prest-O Change-O and The Curious Puppy. Now, up to the point of Stage Fright; they're only shown in at least one cartoon a year until Chuck finally abandoned the characters by 1943; but of course, the silent personas for the characters never died out; as he would use them much more successfully in his more established career.

Chuck really just relied on the monotonous formula; where the dogs encounter a place which is seen as odd to their point of views: it was done in a futuristic house, an abandoned magician's home, a it is being placed in a theatre.

The sequences and story construction is just the repeated formula for the dogs: they try to retrieve a long on a wire-balance display; the dogs then gets trapped by a seal in its tank, but throughout the cartoon they are being outwitted by a bird whose appearance is shown to be almighty; much similar to the Minah Bird in the Inki cartoons.

The magician's bird walks into the scene in rhythm to a Stalling cue; with a particular angry walk; giving the bone back to the dogs, before walking back into his home; and the action is all repeated throughout the short. The seal is the only character who really has the personality of a seal biologically; whereas the dogs are obviously curious; and the bird has a more disgruntled personality.

Throughout the cartoon as well as the particular encounters the dogs go through in an empty stage set...Chuck Jones appears to come up with the whole bizarre concept where the bone always ends up inside the magician's hat, and an angry bird living in the hat just walks out to toss the bone back to the dogs and walk back into the house.

Whereas Chuck is giving the bird a particular little personality, and the musical walk is the cue for the magician's bird; it really is a disadvantage in terms of the cartoon's pacing. It's the wrong sort of music cue, as well as deliverance in timing to have it somehow appear funnier when shown throughout the entire cartoon.

The action is not funny, the timing is very slow, and the action is just monotonous and its lacking any subtle touches. The bird is used for climatical sequences; whereas in the final scene of the cartoon; his threatening gestures come to a conclusion, where he slaps both bones into the dogs' mouths before walking back into the magician's hat.

Chuck had used that little experiment with minor characters, in a few cartoons: one that comes to mind is in Roughly Squeaking; where an inquisitive bird misinterprets the action, believing he is going nuts. The action, the delivery and the wild takes were all wonderfully conceived in a humorous action; whereas the bird here lacks any form of comedy, and Chuck interpreted the action wrong. It's evident that Chuck was trying to get a kick out of the recurring gag; but still could not master the challenge. The bird's design resembles a tiny fraction of Henery Hawk; except both characters are completely different to one another; whereas Henery was more established, and the bird here just merely interrupts the action of the cartoon, slowing down the entire cartoon, by ruining the pacing. All he does is walk with a threatening posture.

Beginning the cartoon; the two curious dogs are fighting over a bone by wrestling it with their chops in hoping to gain full property of it. This ends up with the small puppy winning the bone; but the big dog chases the puppy towards the streets and then into an empty stage set which is displayed for vaudeville; as shown from the poster outside. Lots of sets back been displayed; particularly scenery made from cardboards; a water tank where a wet seal lives inside; it is all presented as empty, and somewhat shallow.

Just from after the first encounter with the angry bird; the bone is no longer property of the puppy; and end up fighting over the bone; until it reaches their first problem: stuck balancing on high-wire. Chuck creates a motivating point-of-view shot of how high the bone is seen from the high-wire; though a similar angle shot is displayed and laid out more effectively in High Diving Hare.

Up onto the diving board: the first problem with collecting the bone then begins.

Carefully and impulsively stepping onto the high-wire; hoping to get some balance...the big dog's balance has a very sloppy piece of control. The vibrating, wobbly effect is presented with some missing touches.

Of course, you can see some of Chuck's attempted bit of comic timing, but it's really missing Treg Brown's touches, and the music cue by Stalling overlaps the action of the animation which doesn't take advantage of the animation; and so the action is just a little dull.

The action with the weight board is a little humorous in terms of timing, though this then creates more useless dilemmas whereas the big dog is seen caught on top of the high-wire; and the little puppy scampers off to find the bone. Though; the camera angle shots are a little intriguing which saves from the poor action of the cartoon; and that Chuck was at least trying several attempts in punching it up..when it is already flawed.

The bone then ends up in another part of the stage set; the water tank which it is home of a seal. This follows on with the typical mushy-paced piece of character animation of the puppy and the bone interacting. Though, it may have been animated realistically, it shows Chuck is trying too hard in terms of pacing and interactions.

The seal, therefore, has the bone. The seal, though, has the instincts of the animal but nothing else. There is no personality for him, whereas the dogs are evidently curious (as its shown in their names); the magician's bird has an annoyed attitude; whereas the seal is just a happy-like creature having fun by using the dogs as objects to perform some skills.

The seal sequence really is key to the cartoon's poor pacing; and the whole sequence almost takes up the entire cartoon: except with fillers of the angry bird approaching the big dog with angry gestures.

The big dog, somehow, makes it down the high-wire act by crossing it; but finds his companion is swimming under the water tank for an efficient bit of time. Whereas the seal appears as a mimic through the window of the tank.

This then turns into a padded sequence where the seal tosses the fish into the dog's mouth, and then the dog's bone being retrieved...oh, and the magician's angry bird approaching the dog.

Then towards the end of the cartoon; the seal uses the dog for generic tricks such as spinning them like a beach ball on the tip of its nose. Though, the airbrush effect on the swirl shows some appeal, even though the timing isn't so crisp.

No matter how slow Chuck's timing is in the cartoon, and how bland the two dogs are: one great scene shows a staggering puppy, with a dizzy spell after his activity with the seal. A great little walk; which shows some great methodical working well as a three-dimensional feel in the works. After a great little staggering walk; his confusion then leads to extra 'padding' where he barks and growls at the bare bone he is facing towards. Ho-hum. Then this ends in a fight, the bird walking past to give back the bone: snapping them, so they get the share of the bone until he walks back into his hat.

Overall, Stage Fright was a pretty terribly paced cartoon, and twice as slow as even the poorly-paced Pluto cartoon would be. I'd nominate this short as quite possibly one of Chuck's most poorly-timed and padded shorts he has ever produced; as there is very little sequences of action taking place, and the action never gets to a point. The bird really lacked any form of appeal or even its similar manner like the Mynah Bird; being almighty, and even having his music theme (anyone know if this is a Stalling cue or song?). The cartoon itself indicates that Chuck still hasn't mastered the pantomime effect on character animation, and most importantly: his timing.

Friday, 6 September 2013

300. Calling Dr. Porky (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 299.
Release date: September 21, 1940.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig/Drunk/Patient with Headache/Elephants) and Sara Berner (Receptionist).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Herman Cohen.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky works as a doctor; and one of his patients happens to have a particular symptom seeing 'pink elephants'.

When watching animated cartoons, and a particular sequence associating with 'pink elephants' appear; you'd really associate the concept to the Disney film Dumbo due to its surrealism, as well as beauty. This concept appears earlier than the film, though the pink elephants are played around as particularly humorous characters, and are almighty to the drunken man's mind.

For those who may not know; "pink elephants' is quite a well known bit of euphemism which is mainly a hallucination from when you are either delirious or drunk, but it is mostly associated with the latter. It was a very popular phrase for its time; having being referenced in the Philip Marlowe book: The Lady in the Lake, as well as Action Comics (issue 7).

Whereas the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence in Dumbo may have been particularly believable and surreal, the pink elephants in this cartoon are just gag-like characters, which shows how the Warner writers would come up with some crafty sequences to freak out the patient.

The elephants, however are particularly absolute in terms of the drunk patient's mind, their instincts are sort of similar to the Mynah bird in the Inki cartoons. Except, the minah hard was more almighty by just repeating the exact same actions without being provoked or dangered. Instead of hopping in tune to Fingal's Cave, Stalling puts the appropriate touch as they hop in sync to Stalling's own music cue which is was notoriously first heard in Mighty Hunters.

The elephants, however, have a more crafty, obnoxious personality which isn't a far cry from Daffy's early years, as well as for the newly-created Bugs Bunny. They are particularly very mocking towards him, as well as particularly off-the-wall. This is particularly evident when the drunken patient is sitting in Porky's office, and the pink elephants surround him, and attempt to treat his symptoms. They check his reflexes where one of the elephants hits him on the knee, but gets a bad vibrating alert.

When they have finished checking his symptoms and reflexes; he is then questioned on his chair by a group of pink elephants and the gag then runs like a trial. In that sequence their personalities are just presented as menaces who pester the patient's mind.

The whole sequence itself is played around like a trial, where the elephants pose as an attorney asking multiple questions: "Where do you live?  Married? Single? How old are you? Answer 'yes' or 'no'!".

The delivery and interruption makes his personality particularly amateurish by not giving the patient a second's worth to respond to his questions. The patient responds harshly, 'I object!', and which the attorney-like elephant responds 'Objection overruled'. He hiccups. 'That'll be all. Your witness!'.

The other elephant, however, is much more broader and is capricious in his delivery and spontaneous, personal questions: "Who was that woman you were with last night?", "Who did you vote for?". etc. Wonderful Warners-like humour which shows how Freleng and Jack Miller really did lead the Warners humour and personalities into a clearer daylight. They mock him when he cries, "Now take it easy fellas, I'm a sick man!" with the prosecuting elephant mocking him. Demanding many orders; the drunken patient is driven to chaos as he is about to banish at the door.

Jack Miller's story construction is really particularly satisfying when its climax has reached its breaking point. The patient attempts to escape Porky's office, but Dr. Porky approaches him and cures him with a drink to help sober him up. After guzzling; he's all cured and thanks patient. "I feel better. They're gone, etc!". Just as he proceeds to walk outside; he spots a parade of real elephants walking; though the pink elephants, turning out to be a reality, then join in the parade. Amazed at the immense size of the pachyderms; the patient spots the elephants again, rushing back to the hospital believing he isn't cured. Jumping back onto the patient's bed, he is tossed off by the pink elephants; who continue to hide.

It's a particularly very incoherent ending but it has a very funny charm which you would expect in a typical Warner cartoon; and you can tell the type of formula in a cartoon story is already kicking in around just this era; which is certainly a breakthrough from the monotonous spot-gags; as well as particularly out-dated plot cycles; which involve battle climax. The conclusion to the short as well as the story itself is one of the key moments which shows how Freleng's return really did get the cartoons back on track.

Porky, again, doesn't particularly play a big role other than those supporting roles where Freleng treats him as a character who's supposed to be there. It's also particularly disappointing to find that he is also particularly used for very weak spots of the film, which is evident when he deals with a patient with 'dizzy spells' with his head spinning continuously which is in reality a lame pun.

However, in some scenes he is particularly used in some of Freleng's best comic timing in THIS cartoon. Watch the particular scene where he hears the knock on the door. He approaches towards it, and all of a sudden, the drunken patient slams the door hitting Porky to the door all in about 13 frames which is less than one feet of animation.

Friz's timing was really put to great use, where you can feel the energy for the panic-stricken patient, even even bringing on the pain for poor Porky. It's all so sudden, so fast, and paced in such a hilarious form that Friz is really the master of timing.

The patient then breaks up into a couple of over-dramatic breakdowns about pink elephants following him. Whilst it was possibly intended to be funnier; Porky being slammed on the door really does steal the sequence because of how it occurs as quick as a flash.

Friz also plans out some particularly very funny comic performances such as the reflex scene, as well as one particular scene; which was quite a common use of comic timing for the Warner shorts of the 40s. The patient rushes back into the hospital; stampeding Porky. Porky turns around, and discovers that dust is fading away and the sliding doors are moving from his rush. It makes the staging a lot more complex to design, and his timing is a great bracer for what will become of much later. Treg Brown and Carl Stalling also contribute to great timing; particularly when Stalling syncs his music cue for the pink elephant's walk cycle; and Treg Brown, once again, creates such cartoony and wonderful effects during when the pink elephants are treating the patient.

Mel Blanc, however, puts on a superb performance of the drunken patient who is seeing pink elephants. He creates such frustrated emotions into the character, and yet put a comic touch into it; which is why Mel is the go-to guy to put on a great performance. He also contributes to some of the funnier voices of the Pink Elephants, though it was sped up.

One of the Pink Elephants voice, however in particular, I'm unsure of is the one that acts as an attorney towards the patient, and has a childlike voice.

I'm not certain whether it was a different voice actor/actress; or just sped up to a great extent...but either way, it is a particularly convincing performance. Sara Berner, however, contributes to a small voice towards the hospital receptionist towards the beginning. Though she contributions much smaller than Blanc' dominant characters; as always; she knows how to put on a show with whatever voice she is given..of course, the receptionist nurse slips out a 'Dr. Kildare' reference when working on the operator.

To conclude, Calling Dr. Porky is a cartoon where you can see the Warner humour really about to kick off into such greater use. This is a key short to where the stories are in fact improving a great deal, the climaxes are a lot more broader and exciting, and it's definitely a notch away from the average-at-best cartoons the Warner directors were mostly used to producing. The story climax is very convincing and enjoyable which is when the patient is cured, but 'double-takes' when the pink elephants turn out to be real. The looney humour is real evident in the writing. The 'pink elephants' characters are particular concepts similar to the personalties what Bugs Bunny as given, though I'd say they were just particularly more loonier and menacing, even though they are almighty to the patient's mind.

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.