Monday, 18 August 2014
347. Saddle Silly (1941)
Release date: November 08, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Dispatcher / Express Rider).
Animation: Phil DeLara.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Trivia: The cartoon centers on a Pony Express rider who is assigned to fight his way through the Indian county in order to deliver mail across the area.
At trying to achieve better comedy and timing, Chuck had attempted several times but the results were mainly hit-and-miss if you look at the likes of Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur or Elmer's Pet Rabbit.
At this stage of his career, Chuck has abandoned on directing several Sniffles or Curious dogs shorts, and at least shows attempts at pursuing better pacing to the standards of Clampett, Freleng and Tex Avery. This short, in terms of design and execution, shows the potential of being an all-round cartoon, but the down side is it contains a lot of Chuck's quirky tastes such as long-paced sequences that begin to drag, as well as gags that feel somewhat forced.
The opening sequence featuring the delivery boy who is taking a call to a radio transmitter features a charming little forth-wall gag that's passable.
With his cap covering his eyes and visibility, he records towards the transmission data information which would be received if he were on a plane, such as the "no visibility" comment. The dispatcher responds with a forth wall comment replying, "Put your hat off your eyes, you big jerk!", and the take following afterwards is a charming send off. After the delivery boy is arriving at a pony express station, the dispatcher dispatches another horse to continue his part of the journey.
Another striking example of Chuck's wackier deliveries in animation standards, in other words, Chuck becoming more liberals with the animation rules: would be some of the climatical scenes of the Moe Hican (get it?) injun riding after the Pony Express rider. Watch the final scene of the injun as he skids his horse to a halt. The skid, which is as common as what you'd expect from Warners and other studios, grounds to a heavy halt that the horse ends up digging up a lot of soil from the ground to the point where his skid has stopped deep enough. Though the gag may be formulaic, watching the pacing as well as comical outcome: this is as worthy as how Clampett or Friz would've done it.
The Express rider and his horse are pretty deep from their end, and the express rider shouts out from underwater, but the outcome shows only bubbles flowing out of his mouth.
The following shot, focusing on the surface shows the large bubbles from his mouth rising upwards which burst out with the Express rider's voice bellowing "GIDDYAP!". The first take on the bubble gag was inventive as well as amusing from the Blanc rant, as well as coming down to execution. The following scene shows the Express rider and his pony riding through the river underwater, but as they reach the surface, they fall at another edge, resulting in bigger bubbles which burst out with splash effects, and the execution of the bubble gag in that scene was a lot more incoherent and flimsy.
Other aspects where Chuck's sense of timing and climax build-up are in the right place also centers around the climax involving the injun Moe Hican who is on the run. The characteristic walk of the injun and the horse's gallop features some charming pieces of animation which makes the climax all-round mostly enjoyable.
It does drag, however, to avoid lack of criticism, though the scenes where it drags will be discussed shortly after. Cases where the climax itself is enjoyable is not only by the use of comic deliveries or timing, such as the exaggerated skid gag: but also Chuck's own comedic style adds to the bag.
Jones, infamous for his use of his exaggerated, expressions he gives to his characters that make him somewhat human, adds that great effect in a scene around the climax. After the Express rider attempts to hide behind the horse, both the rider and Moe Hican come staring at each other face-to-face.
The staging is dynamic, but it progresses further is a brilliant sheepish grin which Jones would've drawn from layouts. The sheepish grin may be another device used frequently by Warner directors, but Chuck without doubt was the master of such expressions that may seen uncharacteristic of a character, but the audience empathise with them. Scenes focused on the little Moe Hican character also express charming little personality traits such as his small height, and he has to use a stepladder to help climb up his horse.
As he waits outside, he starts off with a couple of stretches, to prepare himself for what would be a long journey. Treg Brown adds to the touch to make the back sound effects comical, but its the animation that centers between each stretches that really drags the sequences down, that it makes the stretches just seem like a pointless execution.
Other scenes which does drag on, is also the climatic chase with the injun rider. The Pony Express rider has found himself cornered as he is prevented by a WPA (Works Progress Association) sign from crossing the cliff, due to "warpath under construction". This, of course, would be another early reference of the U.S. preparing for World War II.
As he is blocked from crossing, he attempts to corner himself from behind the horse, and the horse unwilling to shield consistently exchanges positions with the rider boy that they quarrel over who is shielding. Not to mention, this is all done through pantomime, like the most of the entire cartoon, this makes the sequence drag for the sequence is barely amusing or comical enough to show for its purpose.
The use of camera pans to show off the canyon work is also evident, too. Chuck doesn't experiment too much with the use of camera angles in the short, but the high angle shot of the Injun's back watching the express rider is a wonderful piece of staging, as well as a great staging of the scenery.
Each recurring gag becomes more climatic than the other: first he starts off with the simple hitchhiker's thumb, to indicate he wants a lift. The rider zips past the hitchhiker unnoticeably.
The following gag, he holds a small sign attached to his coat reading: "How about a lift bud?". The signs are typical of Chuck Jones, and its the perfect excuse for written communication in a pantomime cartoon. The following gag features the same hitchhiker but attempts to deliver the message with a billboard. This all ends up in the final shot of the cartoon, where the hitchhiker making it to his destination, unknowingly discovers the hitchhiker made it into the rider's bag. He walks out with a sign reading: "Thanks for the ride, bud." This is a great way to pay-off the recurring gag as well as how each recurring gag would be presented: with every gag peaking higher than the other.
And so, concluding the review of Saddle Silly, this is more of a transition short, where you could say Chuck is on a "journey" of exploring and seeking further talents he hadn't yet recognised. A lot of his talents he's known for are combined in this short: such as the unique use of expressions for his characters or the use of signs for pantomiming purposes, this is all inventive ideas from Chuck and it works well in the short. The timing of the cartoon is a lot more slicker, as well the animation becoming more liberal and less tight from Chuck's layouts. Despite all the greatness that does appear in the short, Chuck hadn't yet got a writer or even the writing standards to produce an all-round great, comedic short. Rich Hogan, who was Chuck's regular writer in this period, left Warners for MGM in 1941, and for a couple of shorts afterwards Chuck was left with no writer, with the likely possibility that Chuck wrote the cartoons himself, hence why the shorts are still flat in terms of plot and gag consequences. Overall, the short still shows potential, as well as a good bracer for what's to come.