Saturday, 23 August 2014

349. Porky's Midnight Matinee (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 348.
Release date: November 22, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig).
No story credit.
Animation: Robert Cannon.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A followup to Porky's Ant. Porky discovers the trained African pgymy ant, inside a local theatre, and attempts to retrieve the ant back in his cage.

For the reviewer: this is going to be another torturous review to write up. The cartoon is, as explained in the summary, a follow-up to a disaster Chuck Jones turned out earlier this year, Porky's Ant. Porky was poorly casted as a pantomime character, and this was just the wrong characteristics given to him.

The ant, on the other hand, has nothing more interesting to offer in the cartoon other than make Porky Pig vulnerable, with uninventive sequences and tricks towards the pig. The title of the short alone is a joke, for you'd be under the impression you'd be watching a spot-gag reel from Porky's matinee.

Under the title of various directors like Bob Clampett or Friz Freleng: you'd expect something from that concept out of that. With Chuck Jones, on the other hand, not. The cartoon begins with Porky who works as a stagehand singing You Oughta be in Pictures, as he appears to be switching off the devices in a projector room, supposedly finishing for the night.

As he is about to walk out of the room, he is distracted by a "pssst" sound, coming from none other than the African pygmy ant. After Porky foolishly allows the ant to escape from his ant cage: Porky notices the label, like the previous cartoon, that shows the priceless value of the ant. The value range is a tad higher from the previous cartoon, and thus giving an exact amount. After Porky discovers how value the ant is, he gulps "Yipe!".

Upon discovering how fortunate the pygmy ant is, Porky attempts to retrieve it: either to keep it secure in its own cage, or an attempt to gain some fortune out of the ant himself. The ant climbs on top of the rope leaving up towards one of the rafters on top of the ceiling, to conceal himself from Porky. Porky, finds that the ant is hiding on top of the rafter, either he has excellent eye sight or watched his trail.

Porky rushes after the pygmy ant, but runs into an open box which traps him momentarily as it flips around until it comes to a stop. It's a lame concept to have Porky just run towards the box, as it just sidetracks Porky's attempts to capture the ant, and slowing down the cartoon, too. Porky appears out of the box, and finds he is wearing a magician's top hat with a white rabbit sitting on top of his head. Might be a charming, cutesy little gag to some people, but it just doesn't seem to have any charming elements towards it. Not to my taste.

To make Porky's attempts at capturing the ant to appear even more impossible, the pygmy ant shows off how "trained" he is by swimming across from one rope to the next, landing on another rigger set.

This doesn't stop Porky from giving up, and he tenaciously begins to climb up the rigger set, in what would be Chuck's intriguing piece of staging showing Porky stouts to emphasise on the height and how narrow and small the set appears to be.

None of this however, changes for anything better, either in comedic terms or whether the sequence was climatic in any sense. Porky walks over to the single wire and makes an attempt at keeping himself in balance in order to cross to the other set to capture the pygmy ant to safety.

The pygmy ant, though, takes advantage of Porky's careful crossing by shaking the wire into a wobble, and thus making the crossing for Porky extremely difficult. The reaction to Porky shaking on the wire merits no comedic timing or delivery, and it is lacking in comedy itself.

The comic timing of Porky's shake isn't amusing in its own sense, and plus it goes on for a couple of more seconds than it naturally should be, making what would be intended as a comedic scene into a drag. After a while of shaking the wire, the ant has his fun by sliding down the rope and back to the floor, winning a victory against Porky.

Following forward would be the table sequence, which is a somewhat weird different scenario to take place in a theatre matinee (unless this is food for the staff, but it seems somewhat unlikely). The ant goes ahead to invade the food from the table, starting off with the sandwich.

Admittedly, and perhaps the only little instant where I thought anything in the short was charming; it would be the part where the ant jumps on top of the sandwich and the sandwich floats like waves. And so, the ant begins to eat pieces from the sandwich only to find he is caught by Porky, the next thing.

After Porky slams his hand on the sandwich, attempting to squash the ant (would he REALLY be nuts to squash the priceless ant, or has the ant driven him to insanity?). The ant, hides inside a mustard jar, which Porky attempts to catch the ant inside but only to find his hand caught inside the jar.

This follows with some unnecessary communication between the ant and Porky, where the ant signals a hand slam on top of a Coke bottle, to emphasise that Porky needs to smash the jar which his hand is caught in. After a few attempts and freeing his own hand, he hits his hand on the table hard, and sucks his hand in pain.

The rest of the sequence is somewhat slightly cynical, at least for Porky who experiences even more bad luck. Admittedly, the expression of Porky's eyes feeling watery from his mouth sucking on the mustard is wonderfully expressed. The ant walks over to hand over what would be initially interpreted as water, which Porky guzzles. It so happens that he realises that he is drinking a bottle of turpentine. Gross.

Leading up to the last sequence in the cartoon, Porky unexpectedly returns with dialogue, though it's nothing more than Porky calling "Here, antie, antie", as he attempts to entice the ant with a piece of candy. The ant walks into the scene, replacing the piece of candy with a firecracker to represent the similar shape. The ant steals the candy anyway, making another sadistic turn for Porky.

With firecrackers and all, you'd expect a comedic sendoff for Porky, perhaps a gag to pay off the many flaws the cartoon suffers. The cartoon had many problems, but it couldn't hurt too much if it had some comedic advantages relating to the classic firecracker gag.

Porky attempts to entice the ant as he responds, "Look at the little candy I got for ya, etc", at that point you'd expect the firecracker to go off, which would have been perfect timing.

That isn't the case, however. For Chuck hadn't yet found his real comedic talents, he has Porky toss the firecracker away from him, and thus replacing the piece of candy the ant is eating, with the firecracker sitting behind him. Nothing comedic happens out of that, whatsoever, instead Porky whispers to the little ant attempting to save him. After the shit the pygmy ant has given him, you'd least expect Porky to help the guy. Well, this was before Porky fully became a vulnerable, intolerant character, which made him funny. The ant, unaware of the firecracker ignores Porky's warnings and lets the firecracker explode. Porky reacts to the explosion but to his joy, finds the explosion has landed the ant back inside his ant cage, but from the effect: in blackface. Making it a stereotype within a stereotype, for having a "pygmy ant" appear in blackface seems somewhat incoherent.

Compared to my other reviews, this one feels a lot shorter than how I usually write my reviews, but in all fairness: there isn't really much to go on in this cartoon. What's to add? All the sequences are just long and uninventive, there is nothing intriguing or fulfilling that Chuck could've offered. It's just a waste of a cartoon. This is a lot to add, but this is one of the worst Warner cartoons I've ever had to review, and one of the worst I've ever seen, which is saying an awful lot. It's completely unwatchable, it's an entirely lame concept, as well as a poor followup from a very lousy cartoon. Porky is just as bland as how Chuck made him to be when he produced earlier cartoons, making him a silent character. Probably the worst part of the cartoon, is how there is no comedic or charming moments that were put to good use. Usually, a Chuck Jones short in that slow, cutesy style, there are at least little pieces of charming moments that make it in the cartoon and yet I don't see any of that here. The firecracker sequences showed a lot of wasted gag opportunities, being an example. Overall, this is a short I'd definitely skip, and I'll caution any readers with my word who are intrigued of watching it. Nevertheless, I'll be expecting contradictions to my comments.

Rating: 0/5.


  1. Chuck's cartoons from the 1941-early 42 period are among the 'quietest' ever made -- there's pantomime, but it's slow, plodding pantomime because (as Mike Barrier noted in his book), Jones only has about 3-4 minutes of gags to fill up a seven minute short. Even Carl Stalling's music is far more restrained and sedate here, and in the other Jones shorts of the period, especially the B&W ones with Porky.

    The only time he really breaks out of it during the period is with the 'speed' sequence at the end of "Conrad the Sailor" where firing off the artillery shell forces Chuck to speed the pace up. He'd use that lesson later, with the speed of the Road Runner forcing the pace of the gags with the Coyote to be faster.

  2. Funny, how subjective reviews always are. I found this page because, at 54 years old, this one cartoon still comes to mind as my all-time favorite. My older sister and I have been saying "pssst!" to each other for 5 decades. I was an avid cartoon fan for 15 years while growing up and watched everything I could find on TV and in the theaters. I loved them all. And this still comes to mind as the funniest setup of them all.