Friday, 15 August 2014

346. Rookie Revue (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 345.
Release date: October 25, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Various voices), Reid Kilpatrick (Narrator), Billy Bletcher (General).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Richard Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Blackout gag short which centers on the everyday life of a military trainee.

Sports Chumpions turned out to be a passable spot-gag cartoon Friz Freleng, which had a neat combination of charming animation timing, as well as some great satire on sporting events. Perhaps confident, Freleng attempts another spot-gag short: this time its theme is set in an army training camp.

For a spot-gag cartoon, this short is full of passable gags, either with Friz's brilliant timing or just how well Monahan anticipated the gag, but the majority of the gags blended in together outcomes into a mess.

The opening scenes of the short, are at least passable and occasionally humorous when comparing the nature of the gag, as well as how well executed it was, and to an extent the short isn't interpreted as a spot-gag cartoon. The latter half of the cartoon, acts more like a typical spot-gag cartoon, with more hit-and-miss material blended in together.

Let's start with the positivity of the cartoon, from what the opening of the short has to offer: the first few minutes of the cartoon feels unlike a spot-gag. It doesn't rely on fade-outs, or just simple sequences each gag. From hearing the Reveille call, as well as the roll-call sequence: you'd get the impression it's a one-shot cartoon themed on military life, much like how Bars and Stripes Forever centred on prison life, with a main character.

From the start of the cartoon, the narrator gives the audience a taster of military life in army training camps. The opening establishing shot of the army barracks is a great scene when watching Friz's humorous nature, as well as an alternate piece of comic timing that relies on no animation, a very unusual approach to a gag. The horizontal pan scene features rows of tents of off-screen sleeping soldiers who all snore in synchronisation to You're in the Army Now.

However, was responsible for supplying the snores for the gag, (probably Treg Brown); produces the snoring effects to an amusing standard, as well as the timing to synchronisation to the traditional army song. The pan ends with the
tent identified as "BUGLER".

Another great sequence which is complex when planning the gag, but also meets with a great outcome would be the opening scene of the roll call sequence.

The scene begins with the camera focused on the soldier's legs marching, and the scene suggests they're busy training for the day. The camera pans upwards to find the sleepy soldier's resting their heads on each other's soldier, whilst marching at the same time.

It's a cleverly produced gag, showing how it was no easy picnic when laying out the scene. The march cycle of the men marching looked torturous to animate, as the scene had to be animated with the legs facing the camera, rather than the standard, and less challenging angle of a character walking sideways. The gag works in every justified way. And so, the sergeant orders "Attention!", and this builds up to another wonderful, comical scene of the character's head waking up, but hitting each other's heads one at a time like a pair of dominos. The sergeant's reaction to the bashing effects is also wonderful, as well as Treg Brown's sounds to go with it. The sour sound effect of the last head being bashed is also very funny, just because of how subtle it is. It possibly suggests the last soldier got hit in the head by an object that wasn't a human head.

Perhaps the sequence that sounds out throughout the entire cartoon would be the mess hall sequence, which occurs after the roll call scene. As the scene is established, each recruiter are positioned in a table to the ranking they're assigned to: such as "infantry", "machine gunners", etc. The gag is, that based on the army occupations they're assigned to; their position would match their alternate ways of eating.

To start off with, the "infantry" table are at first seen eating sloppily, but until they're caught on camera (great subtle scene too), they begin to eat more well-postered and eating their food politely, which again is a little lame pun but it feels somewhat suitable.

Note the men at the table are caricatures of the staff at Warners, Henry Binder is seated in the middle, Tubby Millar is a possible caricature seated on the left, and I think the caricature on the right might be animator Phil Monroe.

The next table, featuring a group of "Machine gunners" eat the meals on their plates with the action of their hands moving upwards very hastily, like the speed of a gun firing. The timing is very decent, and the double-hand effect has a great touch in terms of emphasis on the speed of their hands matching the firing gun effect. The next table, for the "bombers", comes the most cheesiest gag in the whole short, but the Treg Brown sound effect for the apple dumpling falling, as well as how it was executed, makes the gag amusing in its juvenile ways. It's a complex scene to stage, and Dick Bickenbach who animated the scene himself (its his animation style), twins a lot of the poses for each soldier on the table to make the gag consistent and straightforward, and he does a good job at doing so.

The following scene, however, is a very dark turn, compared to the previous lighthearted, soft gags. The table centers on the "suicide squad" table. The soldiers are sitting there with a melancholy expression of their faces, as they are eating hash on their plates. The atmosphere of the scene, such as Stalling's mood piece as well as the emphasis of hash being served to them.

Another cynical, dark gag occurs during the parachuting sequence, where at this point the short sort of moved into more gag-to-gag sequences. The gag itself is more subtle for the scene would need to fade-out in order to make it appropriate for viewing, especially for younger viewers, but the nature of the gag is just cold stuff.

During the parachuting sequence, a trainee jumps off the plane as he is trialling for diving. Just as he is falls from the sky, he releases the parachute, supposedly inside his bag. The bag unleashes a small banner reading "parachute" and the scene fades off-screen to the soldier supposedly falling to his death.

Sequences which feature some dated material, I'll go over some scenes. Following the great opening scene of the roll call, the sergeant orders for the group of men to count repeatedly and routinely "1, 2, 3, 4".

As the scene pans towards a dumb, looking soldier, he struggles to figure the next number following three, a soldier attempting to give him the answer, is prevented by the sergeant who responds "No coaching please".

The whole scene is mostly nonsense, as there is a little out-of-focus reference of the game show Take it or Leave It. Once the dumb soldier figures out the next number, the sergeant asks "Would you like to try for the $32 dollar question?".

The dumb soldier is hesitant, with a supposedly off-screen audience member responding, "YOU'LL BE SOR-REE!" which was also referenced from a show, where audience members would be allowed to shout out towards contestants. Overall, it seemed a pointless sequence as there was no satire when comparing it to military life, unless this is dated satire.

Another dated reference (at least the billboard), is this time more humorous and justified would be during the soldier's march sequence. The horizontal pan as well as the staging of the layout emphasises on the painstaking journey they have to face. As the pan reaches a stop, a group of fatigued soldiers walk past a billboard reading "Next time try the train" which was an infamous billboard for its time, and notably seen in the Hal Roach adaptation of Of Mice and Men. The billboard, in this scene is rather biased which is a personification when looking down towards military soldiers, but thats the purpose of the gag.

Gags which feel rather out-of-place when looking at how the gag was performed is centered at the calvary sequence. The narrator explains in this section, "One of the most colourful sights, is the well-trained calvary...".

The sergeant, off-screen makes a roll call for the calvary to get in position when ordered to, and as the sergeant orders "Forward march" the horses then begin their march.

What was the purpose of that gag? Was it that you'd expect the horses to gallop but instead their marching? Or was it that they're marching in an odd, human-like position? It isn't well explained in this sequence. Other instances of corny-developed gags would be the cannon testing sequence. The army are testing out one of their new pieces of artillery. As they place the bullet inside the cannon, the cannon fires but a giant fork pops out of the cannon. As corny as well as anticipated the gag was, it sort of pays off well in the scene, and you've got to appreciate the timing of the build-up and the firing.

On the positive side, some of the gags in the spot-gag sequence do benefit a little. The "camouflage" scene isn't too much of a gag, as its a tad lame a pun but watching it from an animated perspective is also mind-bottling. The horse hoofs itself looks very challenging, as well as subtle when you watch it on the screen. I won't overanalyse of how I believe the scene was likely animated.

Another great little scene, which is reliant on effects animation, but its a cute little gag. The sequence focuses on war planes practicing manoeuvres for combat, and this "manoeuvre" turns into a soft gag of the planes playing naughts and crosses, with the yellow game winning the game.

The final sequence, the finale, occurs at an army headquarters base. The narrator explains and shows the audience a huge piece of artillery, which as he explains must be delicately coordinated at the army headquarters, "many miles behind the lines". The entire sequence is led up to a buildup, in order to create a big punchline to pay off a minute of meticulous working.

The general, is seen in his army headquarters, and he is busy calculating the bearings of where the giant cannon should be correctly coordinated. He reads out the instructions through a technical jargon, as he reads out the following: "Elevation: 45 degrees. Direction: 30 degrees north-by-east".

A military operator reports the following information towards the original station where the giant machine gun is based. After a series of coordinatings given from the general, they are ready to fire the cannon, but the testing backfires as the cannon fires at the "army headquarters".

Freleng timing for the cannon firing towards the headquarters is incredibly odd in how it was executed, and somewhat mysterious. After the cannon fires, it cuts to a shot of just a blank shot of the sky, and then an explosion of the army headquarters. After the army headquarters collapses in ruins, the battered general pops up from the pile of bricks as he mocks the Abbot and Costello quote, "I'm a baaaad general".

And so, in conclusion to reviewing Rookie Revue, the short feels like two different themes of military life. From the first act of the cartoon: you'd get the impression this was a one-shot parody of army training, but the latter half is merely a string of gags that range mainly hit or miss, but mostly miss. There were a couple of gags that do benefit such as the gag at the mess hall, or the horizontal pan of the tents snoring. They're all passable stuff, but it seems a somewhat confusing short as it doesn't run entirely as a spot-gag short the entire time, or at least not to my impression. It was a pretty clumsy short in terms of how it was constructed, and it was a little out of focus, but all I personally have to say.

Rating: 2/5.


  1. Eric O. Costello15 August 2014 at 18:27

    The parachute gag requires a little bit of knowledge as to the condition of the U.S. Army in 1940-1941. It was quite small, and had been small since the wind-down after World War I, and the sudden need to expand the Army after the outbreak of the war in 1939 caused many shortages of weapons and equipment. Very often, and there are photos to show this, labels would be applied to pipes calling them "artillery" and such. The gag here is that it was quite unlucky for the paratrooper to run into that particular shortage. You'll see similar gags in a number of other similar spot-gag army cartoons of the 1941-1942 era.

  2. Eric O. Costello15 August 2014 at 18:32

    As for the cavalry gag: horse cavalry was still part of the U.S. Army in 1941, and in fact the last combat horse cavalry action would be fought a few months after this cartoon's release, during the Philippine invasion. Even as late as mid-1941, experiments were run with radios for horseback riders. It's an anthropomorphic gag, since you have horses coming to attention and marching like human soldiers.