Monday, 16 February 2015

368. Nutty News (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 367.
Release date: May 23, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Arthur Q. Bryan (Narrator), Mel Blanc (Various Voices).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag cartoon centring on the news which explores the latest inventions or anything unusual.

Judging by the original titles of the cartoon; one would expect this short to be a home run of Clampett's with many wacky and surprising gags along the way. The opening titles are very appealing and "nutty", as they're presented upside down--before they're switched to its right position. Not to mention, there's also wacky Treg Brown effects to add to the gag. What else could go wrong?

However, I proved to be very wrong when I judged a cartoon's titles by it's cover. This is one of Clampett's more uninspiring cartoons, and the titles really lack your expectations. It's a wonder if Clampett even devoted to this entire cartoon, due to a lot of inconsistencies in animation and design.

Not only does it lack Clampett's energy, but in several sequences, you'll find scenes which look like they were done by Freleng animators; from observing the drawing style, which looks nothing like Clampett. If anyone refers the unseen narrator as Elmer Fudd, then please do if you insist. However, I'm more willing to go along with the idea that it's just a narrator, voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan.

The cartoon itself does still contain elements of Clampett's juvenile humour. The start of the cartoon, with the moose gag is a striking example. The Arthur Q. Bryan narrator gives a report about hunting season occurring at the "Wocky Mountains". Like any spotgag, there will be a device to make a gag backfire: the device being the moose caller.

As the hunter blows into the horn, we pan to the horse who blows "Yoo-hoo" into another horn---catching the hunter's attention. The moose strikes the hunter, and stands on top of him, in a victorious posture; and impersonating the Tarzan yell.

Another sequence which features some of Clampett's charm and subtlety is featured in the painting sequence. The scene occurs in the middle of the short, where the artist is Frank Putty. In the scene, the painter is seen supposedly painting a real-life supermodel. He sticks his thumb out, as he paints, supposedly painting a supermodel who is seen in silhouette.

Though it contains some subtle humour by Clampett, the drawing and animation of the artist clearly reflects the style of a Freleng animator (unless it is purely coincidental). After completing the painting, the artist reveals the finished work on his canvas. He pulls it out, showing a painting of his own thumb. Some amusing irony in this sequence, where the suspense is paid off with a gag as innocent as Warren Foster conceived it.

Clampett also likes of the idea of cutting corners, particularly in sequences which require no animation. One sequence evident is in the science lab sequence. The narrator gives an appoint on recent scientific reports analysing the secrets of life, and we are privileged to get a sneak peek of how rabbits "multiply". As predictable and as corny gags get: the scene reveals a pair of rabbits quickly multiplying mathematical sums (two times tables). The cutting corners is evident in the animation, as only the mouths are animated. This technique is somewhat similar to Tex Avery's Speaking of the Animals series, with live-action animals and animated mouths, but instead we get the rabbits drawn in the layout.

Another sequence of Clampett limiting animation follows right after the rabbits sequence. The narrator reports about how in the East Coast, fireflies have lights. The narrator remarks: "Here we see them with their wights all wit up." The narrator repeats this again, but his statement is contradicted by unseen fireflies who shout: "QUIET! We're having a blackout!", hence why they're unseen or animated.


Like in a lot of Warner Bros. cartoons, the occasional staff caricature would go unnoticed by anyone who isn't a fan of animation. Caricatures on staff members were always used for fun, particularly on incidental characters. Henry Binder, Leon Schlesinger, and animator Ken Harris have probably been caricatured more times than anyone at Termite Terrace. Schlesinger and Harris appear in a caricature later on, portrayed as builders. Harris, has especially been caricatured more than anybody: even immortalised as the Coyote.

Henry Binder is caricatured in an entire sequence that centers on modern inventions. The narrator explains about how people get paranoid of having their coats or hats stolen while in a restaurant. A test invention happens, when a Binder caricature sits at a table, and places his hat and coat up on a rack.

At this moment, he reveals his latest invention: a rear-view mirror, so he can eat and watch potential thefts at the same time. The scene fades out to the following scene, where it is set a little later from earlier.

The man has finished his meal, and his hat and coat has remained at the rack. He remarks, "I'm too smart for 'em". As he leaves the restaurant, his shoes and trousers have been stolen, unknown to him. Perhaps one of the only few funny gags in the short, albeit a little corny.

In terms of sequences that has a good gag purpose: the baseball gag is another example. The narrator reflects on an old tale of how George Washington tossed a silver dollar across the Potomac River. The narrator reports on baseball player Carl Bubble (a take-off on player Carl Hubbell).

He is seen standing at the exact spot at Potomac River, where Washington once stood. The purpose is so he can prove anybody could throw a dollar across the river. At this moment, the player anticipates striking pose; and then he releases the silver, only to discover that the coin barely made it halfway through the river.

At this moment, a Scotty dog comments on the event, remarking a funny statement: "Well, a dollar just doesn't go as far these days, does it folks?". This is amusing satire, satirising the U.S. economy. Although the appearance of the Scotty dog is out of nowhere, Blanc's Scottish accent adds the charm.

Other backfire gags which appear is the duckling sequence. The narrator comments on how newly-hatched ducklings love to swim in the water once they're born. These leads to an assembly line of ducklings marching to the lake, with a baby chick following them. Each duckling lands on top of the lake safely, except for the chicken who falls underneath. The mother duck swims into scene, correcting: "You shouldn't have jumped in that water. You're a chicken. Chickens can't swim." Underneath, an annoyed chicken drums his fingers, replying: "Meh, now he tells me!" (Reference anyone?). A bit of a predictable gag, lacking effort and thought.

The fox-hunting scene feels a lot more Clampett-esque than the rest of the cartoon. His timing, his cartoonic style as well as humour is all compiled in that scene. Clampett has a taste for timing in scenes of the dogs barking in rhythm to the horn calling. The use of silhouette from the hounds moving is also dynamic and appealing.

As the hunt begins, the lead hound ascends first; followed by the rest of the hounds. We watch the hounds hunting foxes in silhouette--with a cute little puppy last in the chase. Cuteness and youth is also another common trait for Clampett.

As the hounds continue to run back and forth, the narrator comments: "Those dogs seem confused! I wonder where that wead dog went to?" The scene pans towards a bush where the head hound and vixen are seen having a romantic moment together. The dog giggles, "Give me a kiss, or I'll tell the other dogs where you are." This is a great little sequence, which is typical in Clampett's pacing as well as killing the suspense and build ups for the scene.


Wartime references were also guaranteed to appear in spot-gag shorts. An example appears in the barber shop sequence, although the reference is hardly vague. The scene begins with a barbershop attempting to cut a reluctant boy's air; who constantly squirms and moves (animation-wise, it has a Freleng look to it).

The narrator points out that latest inventions have solved the problem. A jack-in-the-box appears at the sight of the barbershop. The scene continues onwards, the barber attempts to cut the boy's hair, with the boy behaving contrary and reluctant. At this moment, the jack-in-the-box opens with a scary Hitler face growling.

The boy screams, raising his hair upwards. The barber cuts the boy's hair easily, as the boy remains scared stiff. Politically incorrect, yes - but it's a lot more entertaining than anything else in the short. Reaching towards the final gag in, the short, the final gag feels such a rush of an ending. The gag features a list of navy liners at sea. We get an order of navy ships lined up, underneath the pouring rain. First we meet the U.S.S. Conneticut, U.S.S. Mississippi, lastly we meet the U.S.S. California, which is seen shining underneath a lovely sky. It's a piss-poor way of ending, as it lacks closure as well as a climax.

To conclude this review, it is overall a pretty weak effort from Bob Clampett. Some of the jokes fall very flat, whereas there are some which are witty and humorous, like the silver dollar gag as well as the Hitler jack-in-the-box scene. Then there's others like the multiplying gags or the navy liners which don't serve much of a purpose. From watching the short, the promises of great comedy and wacky humour fades from the moment the opening titles fade to the short. To say the opening titles were the highlight of the short must be pretty bad..

However, one would question whether Clampett directed the overall majority of the cartoon? A very inconclusive theory, but I've questioned whether or not this was originally directed by Friz Freleng, and Clampett took it over? For the reasons I've explained, there are sequences which bear animation styles that strongly resemble Freleng's animation style from his animators, and some sequences don't seem to match Clampett's trademarks: as it lacks in energy. Also, notice that there appears to be an absence of top-notch animators like Bob McKimson and Rod Scribner, though McKimson's work is seen the fox hunting sequence. It's possible that perhaps the cartoon was produced before Horton Hatches the Egg, and Clampett took it over for Friz. OR, that Clampett was borrowing animators off his unit (after all, he had Gerry Chiniquy animate Bugs' introduction to the animated wartime song sequence Any Bonds Today?). Or, it could be merely coincidental, which had nothing to do with Friz and Clampett did a lazy job working on the short. I'll leave it to the historians and experts to suggest other theories. No disrespect towards Freleng at all, but both directors don't match in terms of style.

Ratings: 2/5.

4 comments:

  1. One thing I think to keep in mind is that the 1941-1942 period represented a transition, from when Avery left the studio, to Clampett's succession. A number of Avery's animators (e.g. Sid Sutherland) carried on for a while, and some of the last Avery projects were still being released. Bob McKimson came over from Avery's unit as well. The fox-hunting scene I suspect used some animation and backgrounds from one of Avery's later '41 cartoons ("Of Fox and Hounds").

    I think this really was a sort of clean-up cartoon, meant to clear the decks before Clampett went full steam ahead, and Norm McCabe went full tilt on Clampett's old unit.

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  2. If anyone directed part of this cartoon and wasn't Bob Clampett, I'd say it would be Tex Avery instead of Friz.

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  3. I believe the Scottish Terrier is alluding to FDR's dog, Fala. There's also the stereotype of the thrifty Scot that would fit in with the context of the gag.

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  4. That "multiply" joke was already used in A Day At The Zoo (1939).

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