Tuesday, 21 October 2014

358. Porky's Cafe (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 357.
Release date: February 21, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig).
Animation: Rudy Larriva.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky runs a cafe, which is operated with mechanical gadgets that help prepare a meal. Meanwhile, Conrad Cat finds he is in a pickle in various circumstances: such as an ant and a pancake mixer.

Still trying to create new characters who could successfully act through pantomime, Chuck Jones still attempts to make Conrad Cat work, but still hasn't make the character adaptable for a Warner Bros. short, except you could say Conrad has a little more character and emotion form the previous failure, The Bird Came C.O.D. Now, Chuck has regular characters like Porky Pig or Daffy Duck team up with Conrad, to perhaps make him appear more along the lines of a Warner Bros. character, though it doesn't meet such results.

Perhaps the most pivotal aspect of this cartoon would be Chuck Jones' timing. This isn't a criticism on his "slow pacing" which I've criticised over the past four years of Chuck's career; his timing has actually improved validly, starting from this cartoon.

Chuck appears to have at last capture the sense of speed and pace in his characters, that make his pacing sharper to the point it meets the other director's standards. From the first scene in the cartoon, Chuck appears to show security and confidence in his pacing and even gag development.

The opening scene which is set in Porky's Cafe, Conrad is seen working as a chef in his diner, and he flips the pancakes from the grill precisely in synchronisation of the popular Gavotte. A known popular melody for its time, it works itself as a gag; and Chuck's improved capability of slicker pacing has made a complete difference compared to what he attempted to accomplish previously.

Though Chuck's pacing is seen improved in many scenes of the short, I'll give another shout-out to his great timing delivery would be the sandwich scene during a communication scene between Porky and the customer, who we'll meet in further detail. He is given layers and layers of sandwich slices combined together, and he eats the whole lot. Moments later, his neck spontaneously reacts as the sandwiches are caught stuck in his throat, representing the shape of an accordion and reacting like a pair, too.

Though Porky's role in the cartoon is more predominant than normal; he is still represented as a weak character. Yes, he is presented as a loyal, hardworking employee who wants to meet the customer's expectations, but that's about it. His lack of temperament as well as a cynical attitude really lacks the spark with Porky here.

The scenes where he is first seen communicating with a customer who wears a feathered hat and a long moustache. Close enough to be considered a prototype Yosemite Sam, which I'm sure wasn't the case.

The customer himself shows more personality than what Porky presents, even though the customer's only motifs in the film is yelling for food to Porky. Despite the dictions on the character is what makes the character broader than Porky in that retrospect. Keith Scott suspects the voice of the customer is Bob Bruce, though the evidence is inconclusive. Most of the sequences with the customer is mainly a string of gags of Porky's poor service to the customer, whose services tend to lead to a circumstance, and yet this all leads up to a potential climax. This isn't a bad concept for a short, but Chuck hadn't used the right gag material to make this fulfilling as a cartoon.

With Porky issues asides, the cartoon itself still appears to function like its a pantomime short. The only real dialogue occurring in the cartoon is in scenes featuring the customer and Porky, but its not the sort of dialogue you'd be inspired by. Conrad Cat still is presented as a silent character, except for the occasional grunt, scream or even a rare speaking part in the scene. The two characters with different characteristics don't blend very well together in his cartoon, personally.

You get scenes that Chuck could have used in previous cartoons like The Bird Came C.O.D. where Conrad is looking suspicious on the missing pieces of pancakes, but takes some time to realise they're sitting on top of his chef hat. Having moments of dialogue as well as sequences where there is silence for long periods of time, especially on a particular character really makes the cartoon look inconsistent altogether. It's not that its terrible, but having Conrad and Porky together just isn't the right casting for the cartoon.

Most of the scenes featuring the customer and Porky aren't all interesting, though one that comes to mind shows some great visualisation that makes up for such a scene. The customer has requested to have soup served to him as a meal, which Porky serves to him immediately.

Forgot to mention, Porky's quick pacing from the entrance and exit doors of the kitchen really do look effective, adding depth to the sense of speed to emphasise his dedication to the job. The meal that the customer is served is alphabet soup, except Porky adds the final ingredients by typing random letters which spring to life, and then land on the customer's soup. For a wacky concept, Chuck sure made this visualisation look very appealing to watch.

From the start of the customer's dilemma gag, it seems a little aggravating to watch. The gag centers on the customer attempting to blow the steam off his soup, but only for the steam to return directly to the bowl, preventing himself from eating in fear of burning his tongue. Its a gag parallel enough to Elmer attempting to extinguish a candle in Good Night, Elmer. As that gag itself was incoherent and poorly conceived, the steam gag in the short is more exaggerated visually, on how it would be interpreted in real life.

 In reality, the steam returns from the bowl in an attempt to blow the evaporation away from a hot meal, and a lot of folks would get the general feeling. Chuck Jones not only beautifully visualises it into a gag, but gives the evaporating steam a little bit of personality too. After the customer supposedly blows the steam away, the steam is seen hiding around jars in the table; it then returns unnoticed to the bowl. This leads to a great take from the customer who sips with the steam surrounding him. He quickly places his hat under the bowl with great disturbance.

A sequence that will probably stick to the minds of others who have viewed the cartoon before would the mechanical gadgets who are seen baking a fried egg and preparing toast. The assembly line begins with a rooster who is seen nesting, but gets grabbed by the neck from a robotic hand and the outcome leads to an egg being hatched.

And so, this leads to some more assembly line business involving conveyer belts as well as mechanical hands doing the work, such as putting the toaster on or scraping the crusts off a piece of toast with a knife. Would've have been a more effective sequence had Stalling used Raymond Scott's infamous Powerhouse, even though it didn't become a cue by Stalling until late 1943.

It's a little straightforward in terms of gag approach. You've seen it in other motion pictures before, and in terms of an idea its cliched. But animation wise it was very complex to stage, and Chuck Jones as well as Warner's camera department knew how to handle such complicated staging without going too costly.

Conrad, in the short's subplot is mainly seen dealing with an invading ant who has entered the kitchen area, and becoming a clear distraction to Conrad's work. The ant at first hides inside a bowl full of cream, and as Conrad pours the cream in the grill to form a pancake; the ant is seen alive, and thus making the pancake walk.

It's a great little sequence when viewing character animation, as well as Chuck's sharp posing and the volume of his glorious facial expressions. Conrad fails at stopping the pancake from moving, at first placing the hand on top of the grill (causing his hand to burn), and continues to stop at nothing.

Watch Conrad in close-up as he is seen counting furiously to ten. The inner feelings of the character are greatly expressed and can be sympathised with. Bobe Cannon animation? Chuck Jones' timing is also pretty slick too, once more, especially in the fast-paced action of Conrad attempting to splatter the pancake with his spatula. The scene with Conrad swinging his spatula intensely that it causes his body to swirl like fireworks is very surreal itself in gag approach and timing. Beautifully crafted.

After a series of struggles from the kitchen, Conrad chases after the 'pancake-ant', leading into a chase sequence. Reading to the cartoon's climax, Porky is seen carrying a huge cake with several layers standing; and the climax only reaches its peak when Porky finds he is slippery around the cafe, crashing through tables, breaking china, etc. And at that point, Porky crashes towards the customer's table leading to an ultimate crash amongst Claude Cat and the ant.

The final scene, Porky is presented as a gag; for he's laid out in the style of a suckling pig; the customer and Claude are both trapped inside the cake. As for the ant, the ant has proved victorious towards Claude; for he ironically stands next to the bride figurine on top of the cake, kicking the husband away. From my point of view, the ant has a striking resemblance to the pygmy ant Porky faced in two truly terrible shorts: Porky's Ant and Porky's Midnight Matinee. Mmm, this doesn't sound like a good sign..

In all fairness, this short is no worse than Bird Came C.O.D., which is the truth. Chuck Jones' comic timing has a much more slicker and more appealing approach compared to previous cartoons where he is trying to be as successful with timing compared to the competence from Friz Freleng or Bob Clampett. Chuck's nailed it here, but from creating an all-round entertaining cartoon: he's not there yet. Chuck still isn't yet comfortable from breaking out from poor habits such as sequences that tend to drag, or incoherent gags; and also a heavy reliant on pantomime when it isn't really connecting. It's a starter for Chuck, but with a touch of comedy, a competent writer, and good characters: Chuck would be the great director we all would worship.

Rating: 2/5.

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