Monday, 18 August 2014

347. Saddle Silly (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 346.
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.

Perhaps from this point onwards in Chuck's directing career, you tend to notice that his cartoons are gradually beginning to build up at at a steadier, as well as edgier pace in terms of timing and speed his cartoons are travelling at. He finally made it with The Draft Horse, in terms of brilliant timing and humour executed together brilliantly.

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.

From watching the opening of the cartoon, the short shows some potential of a satisfying all-round cartoon. The gist of the entire plot centers on a Pony Express rider who is delivering a package to the next station. And so, you'd expect some great gags along the way. Maybe not great, but at least giving Chuck credit of trying to create some inventive gag ideas.

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.

As for Chuck's pacing going at a steadier pace, it is evident throughout the cartoon during the scenes of the Pony Express rider riding through the desert. Note the use of dry brush effects, which would become standard for a lot of the 1940s Warner shorts. Even though it had been experimented beforehand, it's fitting to see Chuck used the effect in order to get a more satisfactory pace to the speed of their journey, and thus this does outcome some comical situations, such as the force they are travelling with junk succumbed to the speed.

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.

Instances where Chuck expresses a lot of animation potential, not only in timing but also for inattentive gag ideas too. As the Pony Express rider rides falls from the cliff rapidly, with no sense of coordination and focus, he drops down a river and the camera pans downwards from a large, canyon area.

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 for scenes that do drag for several periods of time, unnecessary time speaking, the Disney-like timing you'd expect out of Pluto hasn't yet died away from a formula Chuck had used consistently for the past three years. One sequence of slow, unnecessary timing centers on the horse who rides outside from the pony express station, waiting to take over riding from the other pony.

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.

From other aspects of Chuck's artistic standpoints, he does allow the audience to have a taster of enjoying and believing the Western environment in order to make the cartoon appear more adventurous. The opening establishing shot of the rider crossing from cliff to cliff is a little formulaic from how it was executed, though the background and layout work by John McGrew makes the scenery stand out more than the animation.

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.

Last but not least to mention in the review would be the recurring gag that is also focused in scenes here and there in the cartoon. The scene features an isolated hitchhiker who is dressed fully in a coat, and hat and he attempts to hitchhike a ride from the Pony Express rider, directly.

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.

Rating: 2.5/5.


  1. Depending on how long it took this cartoon to be made, Hogan would still have been on staff at Warners. He was officially hired at MGM in June 1942 after buying out his contract with Schlesinger.
    Avery didn't arrive at MGM until September 1941 and I don't believe Hogan got there until after Avery.

  2. The horses in this cartoon and "Porky's Prize Pony" are sort of precursors to the draft-crazy farm horse in "The Draft Horse".

  3. Eric O. Costello22 August 2014 at 16:59

    Actually, WPA is Works Progress Administration, and by the time this cartoon was released, it was winding down. It was one of the signature programmes of the "New Deal" of Franklin Roosevelt, and involved a number of high-profile public works projects. It was very high-profile, hence why audiences would have recognized it. Similar to the number of "F.H.A." (Federal Housing Administration) jokes seen in WB cartoons. The WPA was wound down not long after this cartoon was released, since non-essential work was deferred in favour of war-work.