Tuesday, 27 May 2014

333. Meet John Doughboy (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 332.
Release date: July 5, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Reel Narrator/Citizen Sugar Cane), Mel Blanc (Porky Pig/Most voices), Jack Lescoulie (Jack Benny).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Vive Risto.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky Pig presents a mockumentary on the productivity going on in the U.S. military, as well as the draft serial numbers.

Clampett's idea of making a spot-gag mockumentary was produced with appropriate timing around the time the short was released. The U.S. military had already begun preparations for World War II, even though troops did not join the war until December that year, during the attack on Pearl Harbour.

It was clear that Clampett wanted to make a short which at that point was very much up to date in terms of military affairs, and preparations--satirising newsreels which at the time would show some footage of the military preparations and the inventions they were turning out.

The military had already been in production in inventing new machinery as well as testing out artillery, which was what was needed during the war. Though, despite being very head of its time, the mockery and gag deliveries are still rather dated in Warners' standards. The nervousness from the public of an American invasion is perhaps evident during the short's closure. The newspaper headline reads: "Can American Be Invaded???" which emphasises on a worried country, who are aware of the nation likely to enlist in the war.

Porky's appearance, is as usual a lot more limited than what Clampett would allow him. His appearance feels also, somewhat unneeded. The title bears no indication that Porky is the character, and Clampett was allowed to produce one-shot shorts for the first time. Since the whole story is mainly focusing on spot-gags on the military effort, and hell, the narrator is performed by Robert C. Bruce; Porky really didn't need to appear in such a wasted role.

It's a no-brainer to have Porky appear in a small role, when he deserves a lot more opportunities than what Clampett or the other directors are giving him. Though, the "Porky Pig presents" title is a amusing satire the RKO Radios Picture logo of a radar signal, and thus Mel Blanc adds the perfect charm by performing his infamous, wacky 'rubber band' noise.

For a spot-gag being set of its time, it still doesn't exude the short from still being bombarded with very lame puns that don't pay off well, and the results are downright corny. A perfect example occurs during the military productions on the factory.

The narrator narrates: "The need for all types of planes has every American factory humming". Of course, we know the narrator is using the word 'humming' as a metaphor to emphasise the factories are kept busy in terms of military preparations.

Clampett turns this into an unappealing pun which doesn't have much purpose. The factory windows and gates transform into a smile where the factory is humming cheerily to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. Another gag in the same sequence follows where the narrator explains about the various types of aircraft being invented in the air force. An example being the Spitfire, which Clampett transforms it to a poor pun of the aircraft spitting out flames. It's a gag wholly predictable and lacking intelligence.

However, there are some gags that do pay off rather well. A great example, would be the sequence involving the latest military invention, known as a "land destroyer", and, according to the words of the narrator: "a 100 times faster and more effective than a tank". Clampett, of course, uses rather quick timing to give the weapon a very effective sense of speed.

Once the narrator asks for the 'weapon' to slow down so the audience can identify the weapon: it turns out to be Jack Benny and Rochester riding a Maxwell.  The gag is that Jack Benny did in fact owned a Maxwell, and it was a well known running gag from his radio shows.

Another amusing one which pays off quite well would be the conflict between two soldiers who are being drafted. Both of them with polar opposite heights: tall and short.

The tall man mocks, "They'll take a little runt like you". The following short immediately contradicts that remark, where the little man indeed makes it in the army, but talking in stilts. He responds back, having the last laugh "You and your education" which is an amusing pay-off, as well as perhaps a moral to never contradict little people as not eligible to enlist, even if the solution is to walk in stilts. Another great one, which is a personal favourite, would be in the mess hall scene. The narrator comments on the strong appetite a soldier would need, as quoted by Napoleon: "An army travels with its stomach!". The metaphor is therefore taken into a great visualised gag where the soldiers are crawling outside the mess hall from their stomachs.

For those who appear to have trouble understanding some of the references that are dated in today's standards, perhaps I can answer some questions. One of the main dated gags that appears in the short, would be during the antitank gun sequence. The narrator explains about this new invention that can easily destruct any tank.

From a great point of view shot, a silhouetted tank is seen moving towards its intended destination, but the soldiers in charge of the cannon aren't firing. Frustratring the narrator, the problem is solved.

One of the soldiers is distracted as he looks at two different sized cigarettes and chuckles "Mine's longer than yours". The gag is that it is referring to an ad from Pall Mall cigarettes, and the ad features two soldiers who are both comparing the size of their cigarettes.

Note the reference at the beginning where Porky is identified from an announcement as "Draft no. 158 3/4". The reference is that "158" was in fact the number that the government first conducted for its first peacetime draft in 1940.

Note the Citizen Kane reference which is quite possibly one of the very earliest references to appear in the well-known and beloved film. Around the time of the short's release, Citizen Kane was only released a few months prior in the cinemas, but it gained notoriety as the main character: Charles Foster Kane was loosely based on American newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who threatened to ban the film from distribution. Here, the character is referenced as another lame pun: "Citizen Sugar Kane".

However, you can give credit towards Clampett for making this spot-gag very visually appealing, as much of the layout and style of the short is very unique in its own taste. A striking example is shown at the beginning, where you see an exterior of the factories: the effects animation of the smoke and steam is simple but effective, bold animation. The montages that follow afterwards are also effective in terms of mood and pacing.

Clampett is also rather artistic in his staging, as well as his choice of mood and colour. During the agricultural military work sequence, the animals are foreshadowed through silhouettes.

The narrator explains about the plough horses' origins being "South America", in which their identity is recognised as they dance to the conga beat.

These are great, unique visuals from Clampett as well as background artist Bob Thomas (who was Clampett's layout man then?), in which he tries to make the sequences look rather artistically fulfilling, as well as capturing the silhouette and cinematic effect of newsreel documentaries.

The final sequence, is a focus of the U.S. president who orders out "defense strength" in testing out their aircraft as well as other use of crafts such as navy ships.

This follows through a series of montage scenes of aircrafts taking off, and a navy ship sailing past (the infamous reused animation from Buddy the Gob). As explained from earlier, the newspaper headline shows the nation's concerns of the country being possibly invaded.

The final scene, which you could say foreshadows the Pearl Harbour events, indicates a couple of enemies aircrafts who are seen flying at a completely different target: New York City. In the final shot, the planes are seen flying with no military bases planning on any revolt on these aircrafts. As the narrator frantically asks for any assistance, the gag then reveals that the Statue of Liberty transforms to life and uses a gas spray to stop the planes. This then leaves to a sudden cut, ending the film. It feels that there is certain footage missing that could precede afterwards, but there is no evidence of such.

In conclusion, this was just a hit-and-miss mockumentary short. Some of the gags relating to military production are pulled off in a amusing sense, whilst others just backfire. Porky's appearance in this short felt very much wasted, and not necessarily needed. If Porky were to appear in the short properly, the very best Clampett could have done was at least make Porky the narrator of the reel, and not the lesser role of a distributor. Clampett is without doubt trying to compete with several of his artists when comparing it to artistic levels, and his choice of scenario and mood to represent the scenes are at times on par with Chuck Jones' artistic scenery and unique staging. Overall, this was a average in terms of the spot-gag formula, and not a bad attempt, featuring the Tex Avery influence.

Rating: 2/5.


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