Monday, 26 May 2014
332. The Wacky Worm (1941)
Release date: June 21, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Jerry Colonna Worm / Crow).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Cal Dalton.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A crow is in the search for a worm, but catches its attention on a Jerry Colonna-like worm.
In this short, this is one of the many formula shorts he directs, though it's an early take for Friz.
This short features a crow attempting to tackle a worm, but to give the worm more of a identity, the worm is shown as a caricature of Jerry Colonna, hence the moustache and Italian accent, performed excellently by Mel Blanc. Colonna was a popular radio personality of that era, well known for his phrase "Greetings gate!", and did Colonna actually speak in rhyme during comedic shows? Being a popular celebrity reference for many Warner Bros. shorts in the early 1940s; this short quite possibly tops the other shorts in terms of impersonating Colonna, being a star of the short.
After being spotted by the crow, the worm responds: "My word, a bird". Afterwards, this then results in the term being chased by the crow and follows by a string of gags. That is pretty much it in terms of how far the story goes to.
The story feels rather unfocused at that point, as it appears to have no tone. The string of gags that just immediately follow just run don together in a monotonous sense. The gags that appear are at times rather amusing in terms of timing and delivery, but it just isn't paced out evenly well, and going from one scene to another feels rather rushed. The story does appear to at least go to several point at least later on in the short, but in-between let's speak about the decent parts of those sequences.
Another highlight in terms of Freleng's timing is during the toothpaste sequence.
The Jerry Colonna worm goes to hide away from the crow by hiding inside an abandoned toothpaste in a junkyard. The crow, who attempts to unscrew the lid and remove it, is struggling to set it loose as the worm is still attached to the lid.
This is rather great timing which once again Stalling takes advantage of the timing in terms of music beats. The animation of the worm crawling inside the toothpaste is also surreal to a extent making the crawl look rather believable.
The crow, believing that the apple moving has the worm inside, then the crow tiptoe towards the right whistling innocently. The wackiest part of that sequence, then spontaneously shows the entire group of apples scattering around--perhaps suggesting there are other worms in there, or just a gag for the hell of it to confuse the crow further. This wacky and surreal gag really pays off the sequence, and thus making Warners jut different in their approach to humour, which is very original.
Feeling unable to walk and adjust properly, the worm then approaches the crow with intoxicated confidence. Note the Henry Binder reference to the can (which the worm hits his head during his hiccup).
The worm, who attempts to challenge the crow then orders by speaking in rhyme: "Listen crow, you better go!". The worm then attempts to face the crow into a fight, but then goes on to suggest, "I dare ya to strike me first".
This is a great little sequence, as this finally gives writer Dave Monahan the chance to use satire on the Jerry Colonna caricature. Prior to the short, during the chase and action scenes, the worm was very much underplayed during these scenes. I feel that Monahan doesn't completely take advantage of the caricature and impersonation, though he does use it in several scenes: it could have made some of the comical-timed gags appear funnier in terms of delivery.
And so, the crow begins his time consuming task of eating all the apples that are scattered under the ground. After eating so much apples later, the crow then begins to feel very ill from eating too many apples.
The animation is very believable of the suffocated crow who is tired from eating al these apples. It really captures and persuades the viewer to not eat many apples. Stalling also captures the torture of eating too many apples with the music from Melancholy Mood. Discovering the worm is hiding in the last apple available, it just so happens by bad-luck a woodpecker pecks on the tree, with a number of apples falling from the tree. From the grief and suffering he is going through, he finally quits his target on the worm, "Who wants a worm anyhow?" before he faints.
Overall, this short feels more of a missed opportunity in terms of its parody as well as story construction. For a short where the main character is a parody of Jerry Colonna, this short managed to pull it off well, except I wish they could have explored with the parody further, especially in the scenes where the worm was underplayed. The sequences and the pacing in-between felt rather unfocused and rushed, and thus they just run altogether. Freleng's timing is certainly at the top of his game, and he continues to surprise the audience with each cartoon he turns out. This was a rather average short which could have been better, and could have explored the satire a lot more. The Colonna worm was amusing, but personally I don't believe the short was good enough to warrant a sequel: Greetings Bait. I suppose the short was popular amongst its audience, and probably was the reason for giving the worm one last appearance.