Wednesday, 18 February 2015

370. Hobby Horse-Laffs (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 369.
Release date: June 6, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Norm McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Mel Blanc (Various voices), Kent Rogers (Strongfort, Giggleswick, Potts). (Thanks Keith Scott!)
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Cal Dalton.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A take-off on an old radio program, Hobby Lobby, as it satirises different hobbies from different individuals.

For those who don't know, the satire on the cartoon is based on a more obscure radio programme of its time, Hobby Lobby, where guests on the show would talk in detail about their hobbies - (sounds fun). This short is loosely based on the programme except it's presented in the style of a documentary, much like a Warner Bros. travelogue parody.

Satire is used well in particular scenes that exaggerate a hobbyist's enthusiasm or collection. The opening scene of the hobbyist's huge boat collection is a fine example. It opens like a typical spotgag cartoon, with a layout shot of his vast collection of different ship designs such as a Viking ship, a yacht, etc.

The scene pans forward to reveal more of the collection of boats, and the narrator comments that the hobbyist is "crazy about boats."  The pan moves forward to the hobbyist, dressed as an admiral, sailing a small boat, and rowing the oars.

This is great satire on hobbyists who still aren't satisfied with an already large collection. To make his passion for boats seem more bizarre, he'll quote Captain Blime: "It's mutiny, Mr. Christian!" and make childish noises as he plays with his lips. Other good pieces of satire is the scene of the man who enjoys creating "biggest boons to mankind." This leads to some nutty ideas of the man dunking doughnuts into a cup of tea, and how there is always a flaw in a boon. He soaks the tea inside by opening a small device which sucks the tea inside, soaking the entire doughnut. As soon as he bites the doughnut, all the tea squirts out from different areas of the doughnut, squirting and soaking him.

Other sequences with satire that pays off is in the magician sequence, the magician being named, Giggleswick. The narrator mentions him as a performer of "amateur magic". So, Melvin Millar exaggerates the term, by making the magician seem very amateurish. It's worth to mention this, according to Joe Torcivia, who knew Don Christensen, Don said he was Melvin Millar's uncredited writing partner, and worked with him on shorts that bear only Millar's name, from '42 onwards. As this cartoon is credited to Millar, it's very likely Christensen would've contributed to the sequence, too.

Kent Rogers, who voices the character, does a pretty spot-on impersonation of Richard Haydn, who was known for his work on the Burns and Allen Show, but nowadays is more well-known as the Caterpillar in Disney's Alice in Wonderland, or Uncle Max in The Sound of Music.

The magician explains about his magic trick, by placing the cloth over the fishbowl, and with his incantations, he will make the goldfish disappear. As he shouts his incantation: "Alakazam! Alakazam! Presto!", the magic trick backfires--he vanishes himself. The invisible magician unveils the cloth from the bowl, with the magician's head caught underneath the bowl, criticising his inanimate moving clothes: "A fine magician you are!". It's a fun little sequence as it is itself surprising, and Roger's performance on the character is delightful.

McCabe shows a good understanding of timing in the scene of a "Prof. Blooper" supposedly imitating musical instruments. The performer, who imitates the violin, slap bass, piccolo, etc. provides a good opportunity for Stalling to create a musical gag into it, as well as for McCabe to achieve fun timing.

After imitating several different instruments individually, his next step is to play all of them "altogether". With this, we need to a frantic shot of the performer imitating different instruments with double-exposed shadow effects to create the comedic timing.

 McCabe's competent timing and energy leads to the performer, fatigued as he collapses; revealing a recorder hiding underneath his tuxedo. He finally admits: "I was cheating", which satirises hoaxes on talent shows. Another great sequence with funny, unpredictable timing is seen in the short scene of the hobbyist who is said to have "the largest collection of hotel towels and silverware in the entire world." At this moment, the prison bars shut; revealing the hobbyist to be in a prison cell. It's a great scene with excellent scene merely because of how deadpan and unpredictable it is, as it's suggesting he is a thief.

The spotgag also features a handful of gags that center on plants and nature. One that comes to mind is the cactus gag. This is a sequence which requires very little animation, so this is McCabe cutting corners, and yet still attempting to make a gag work. The scene is set at a home, where its private garden features nothing but cactuses.

The hobbyist, is seen in the next shot, strolling around the cactus garden. At this moment, the hobbyist, unseen, yells in pain as he gets jabbed by the cactuses, with the cactuses vibrating.

This was a unique way of making a gag work, as the cactuses moving are convincing enough to feel pain, plus Blanc's delivery on yelling sounds. Another plant gag, with also some funny punchlines is seen from the scene of the florist. He is reported to have developed a "marvellous plant food" which is said to have the ability to make plants grow. At this moment, the seed rapidly grows in the pot, transforming into a beanstalk, and driving the hobbyist from the site. He yells out in a fading cry, "It's a possibility!". Blanc adds to the great charm in that yell.

The sequence of the dwarf Scottish hobbyist taming a vicious dog is a great way of adding tension and suspense to a sequence, where one would wonder if he succeeded in his task. Since Mel Blanc provides a comical Scottish accent, it's hard to take the sequence seriously. The name of the dog, Lochinvar, is a literary reference to the Walter Scott poem, Marmion, where the main character was named Lochinvar himself.

As the tamer walks inside Lochinvar's kennel, the action occurs off-screen, and as he exits the kennel, the tamer remarks: "I guess you realises who's master around here. Aye!". The following scene, in a rear shot, it's evident he's been attacked by the rock, as a piece of his trousers are missing.

The scene of the mailman is a fun sequence, albeit cynical. It starts with an old-timer postman driving, and explains about how Mr. Hutsut has a dangerous hobby of experimenting with explosives. Mr. Hutsut, of course being a reference to the Hut-Sut Song. As the mailman arrives at his letterbox, an unseen explosion occurs at the Hutsut household. At this point, it is hinted he had died in the collision as the mailman writes at the back of the postcard, "forwarding address UNKNOWN", with the Taps military piece heard in the underscore.

Nevertheless, the cartoon itself does suffer from lame gags that have either lame concepts or puns. One sequence centers on hobbyists who have a passion for flying. The scene features an instruction giving an unheard lecture on flying, and one-by-one they leave the scene, to learn to fly. As the narrator puts it: "In man's closest challenge: to the art of the birds." As the camera pans, it's revealed that the hobbyists are flying like birds, ending in a rather corny pun.

Another sequence with a corny concept is featured in another sequence that focuses on boons, the anti-hotfoot shoe. The invention is demonstrated with a hotfoot being placed on a man's shoe. At this moment, little gadgets appear from a shoe, such as a bell ringing the alert, and a water can extends from  the end of the shoe, extinguishing the flame. It hardly seems like a gag, and more of a crazy concept.

For gags which are unpredictable in delivery, a striking example occurs in the carrot eating sequence. The scene centers on a character, Herbert Strongfold, who has an unusual hobby of having  healthy diet, eating raw carrots. He presents himself with his strong physique. At this point, the narrator asks: "Is there any drawback deluding exclusively on raw carrots?. At this point, he raises his hat, revealing his rabbit ears. He is shown to be particularly unaware of his major drawback as he comments in Kent Roger's dumb voice, "Uh, no, not that I know of", and wriggles his nose as a result.

Moving forward to the final sequence in the short, we cut to a scene involving passengers on a train. One man is seen reading a newspaper, and a man behind him hogging the paper, wanting to turn over to individual pages. At this point, the bearded him announces, "My name is Potts, I got a hobby, too. I make all kinds of handy gadgets." At this point, he produces a gadget with an extended hand poking the other passenger in the eyes.

The voice of Potts, by Kent Rogers, according to Keith Scott, he is impersonating John Qualen, a movie character actor. At this moment, the narrator comments: "I'm sure everyone will be glad you've given this device to the world." At this moment, the entire passengers on the train contradict that comment, where they all have black eyes: "Everybody will be so glad, he says."

In conclusion, Hobby Horse-Laffs may be one of the more forgettable shorts in the Warner Bros. cartoon library, but in all, I'd say parts of it hold up pretty well. It's certainly a more passible cartoon than Nutty News. Several sequences show that Norm McCabe is a competent director, particularly in timing as well as his approach to humour.  Some great voice acting effort by Kent Rogers and Blanc did save the short, however, particularly Rogers who as a teenager was remarkable at impersonating celebrities professionally, especially his take on Richard Haydn. Although some of the gags fall flat, and it is a little dated in humour, it does only pass as adequate.

Rating: 2.5/5.


  1. Boat owner in first gag is imagining he is Napoleon (note the hand in jacket pose), which is a classic comic stereotype of a crazy person. You'll see this trope used ad infinitum not only in the cartoons from WB, but the other studios as well.

  2. The old-timer postman really is "The Old Timer," one of the characters from the NBC radio show "Fibber McGee and Molly" (played on that show by Bill Thompson, who also voiced Droopy for Tex Avery's MGM cartoons). Note the playing of "Lullaby of Broadway" during the last newspaper gag reading. That's a comparatively rare usage by Stalling; one of the few other usages was in the near-contemporaneous "Lights Fantastic" that you just reviewed. We'll see another Haydn type in "Super-Rabbit," too. Muscle Shoals in this case is a humorous reference to the hobbyist's real muscles, but it's also a real locale in Alabama. As for the anti-hot foot shoe, keep in mind that the administering of that prank was rife at the cartoon studio, and may well have represented something of an inside gag. For the explosives-experimenter, note that the mailman's eyes moves as he tracks the (presumably) flying hobbyist through the air, hence his address being unknown. As for the doughnut, the device he uses is essentially the same as a lever for an old-fashioned fountain pen, which worked by dunking the nib of the pen in a jar of ink, and pulling the lever, which depressed an internal rubber sac, drawing in the ink, just like the doughnut does with the coffee. A gag that's truly obscure today!

  3. Richard Haydn was the inspiration for the Clyde Crashcup character in "The Alvin Show" (voiced by Shep Menken).