Tuesday, 5 January 2016

393. Confusions of a Nutzy Spy (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 392.
Release date: January 23, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Norm McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Missing Lynx).
Story: Don Christensen.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Constable Porky and his dog, Eggbert, are on the lookout for a German spy: Missing Lynx, who aims to blow up a railway bridge.

As competent as Norm McCabe might be in presenting stylish backgrounds with some innovative staging - he never seemed to have played an influential role as far as story goes. As often, he was lumbered with cartoons with dated wartime references and heavy propaganda - much like Confusions of a Nutzy Spy (title parodied from the 1939 film - Confessions of a Nazi Spy). Occasionally, he takes the material together and turns them into a near-masterpiece like The Ducktators. As confident and professional McCabe was in giving the right personality for Daffy Duck - Porky seemed an awkward character in the hands of McCabe, much like how Clampett would interpret him in his weakest cartoons.

The opening pan shot of the interior police station ranges from hit to miss. On the hit side, it is a astonishingly complicated piece of layout of the camera panning back, forth and through the hall of assorted things like various criminal practices and exhibits. Only a strong, experienced layout artist like Dave Hilberman could've designed and coordinated such an ambitious exercise; not forgetting the craftiness of Johnny Burton's camera department.

On the miss side, the gags on the elaborate opening shot is saddled with unfunny visual puns that Tex Avery himself, even on his bad days, would mock at.

Gags like the the finger print department lack any creativity or coherence, as they are literally printed all over the wall; with no impact or pay off whatsoever. Lest not forget exhibit A of a model of the letter "A". Ho-hum. Then, there are a few display gags which is more adult oriented. In one gag, the camera pans to a jar displaying a "sure cure for criminal tendencies" with a hangman's noose attached to it. As sadistic as the gag implies, it's worth the chortle. The wanted posters exhibit has a cheeky pay-off towards it. The camera panning on generic posters, one-by-one on criminals who are wanted for arson and fraud. Then, the camera pans to a wanted poster of an attractive woman posing in a bathing suit - with a tongue-in cheek message by the U.S. Army.

Areas where McCabe could be visionary with his timing is evident in Eggbert's establishing scene. He is snoozing on a box, with the radio on. As he snores, he breathes "z's" literally in and out his mouth - a la comic strips. It's a creative, visual gag combined with graceful timing which is hardly practiced in classic Golden Age animation.

Animation by Art Davis.
Awakened by the radio; Eggbert slowly reaches his paw to turn off the radio causing the announcer to break forth-wall within the short: "Don't touch that dial!", a likely reference to the CBS radio programme, Blondie, based on the comic strip. The paw trigger effect has an effective piece of timing. Afterwards, Eggbert grabs a mallet and smashes the radio.

McCabe's visionary timing is put into good practice in a fine scene of the "Nutzy" spy: Missing Lynx - a lame parody on the description 'missing link'. The lynx, who is voiced hilariously in Mel Blanc's Germanic dialect is discreetly watching Porky and Eggbert's moves.

McCabe takes advantage on a cliched gag of a cartoon villain peeking in and out of a tree at different direction. As the spy's peeking becomes quicker - he unknowingly splits into another pair - with one and the other at a different position of the tree. The lynx double-takes at the surreal gag and both of them collide; morphing back into one figure. It's a clever piece of reverse animation that coincides with the original - which makes an oddball of a gag work effectively. The double-take and the spontaneity of the second figure makes the gag all the more merrier.

If there are weak spots as far as characterization goes - look no further than the sequences where the Missing Lynx attempts to fool Porky. While Porky and Eggbert snoop around the woodlands; Eggbert stops at a dead end of a foot blocking way - the Lynx disguised as an elderly dog.

The sequence itself would've been more passable had the lynx been under disguise the entire time - making Porky's gullibility seem more believable. As Porky inquires, "Have you seen a spy around here?". Afterwards, the spy removes his disguises and bluffs, "Does he look like this", maintaining a strikingly similar pose as seen in the poster.

Once Porky nods, in the hope of gaining information - the lynx responds: "Nope, I have not seen him" and zips out of the scene - confusing Porky. Just in time we feature a "Hitler is a stinker" gag as Eggbert pulls a Hitler mask out the spy's suitcase during investigation - until he discreetly retrieves it.

As a sequence, it's very clumsy in its own execution and handling on Porky's personality. Being gullible is one thing, but it's incredibly out of character of Porky to fall for a trick when the spy isn't making any effort to disguise himself. For a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the scenario is different in a significant way; but since the personalities in this short are undeveloped: it flaws.

Proven the previous sequence was weak in execution - the bridge sequence is hardly better. The spy reaches his destination to plot his terrorist act: a railway bridge. Just as he's about to adjust and plant the bomb; Porky has him cornered at gunpoint.

Immediately, the apparent master of disguises slips into a Porky Pig disguise. He interrogates: "Vell, I'm-a not so sure that you're Porky Pig either!" and furthermore mocks his stutter. He moves Porky away from the railway, causing him to ponder: "I'm really gettin' suspicious of that guy!"

This is most likely the weakest spot of the entire cartoon. Porky's personality is incredibly underplayed as he has nothing more to do than feel suspicious and getting interrogated by the spy. It's a completely ridiculous concept at attempting to bluff Porky Pig by disguising as his own self! So many missed opportunities run together.

On a positive note, the bridge scene has some very choice, dynamic staging as well as some rich point-of-view shots which adds to McCabe's reputation as a stylish director. In Missing Lynx's POV shot, he holds out the bomb from his suitcase; and sets the time on it accordingly. For a description of action so simple; the work on the hands is incredibly rich in detail; with an amazing use of perspective.

As far as Eggbert's role plays in this short; his role is mainly used for recurring gags and little of personality. The recurring gag is focused on Eggbert's violent sneezing habits which appear frequently. Some of the gags pay off wonderfully. During their investigation in the park, the dog almost experiences an episode - but spontaneously the spy's arm holds his nose whilst hiding in a tree. The unpredictability of the gag alone, is hilarious.

Other areas the sneezing gags build up tension and suspense; such as when Porky and Eggbert find themselves barely dangling from a root attached to the edge of a cliff. It appears story man Don Christensen intended to use the gag as a plot device; which supposedly becomes key to the flaw in Missing Lynx's terrorist plan.

The recurring gag itself hardly has much pay off at all; as his sneeze only plays a main role when his sneezes forces the spy out from the cave. Not a complete waste of a concept; it could've worked so better as well as a much better payoff which is somewhat lacking for a potential cartoon finale. Once again, another missed opportunity.

Although the action sequences might be the usual standards for a Warner Bros. short; some shots have some outlandish. The lynx's double take upon discovering the bomb-in-a-briefcase has been retrieved by Eggbert has some effective use of smear animation which captures the panic episode he is facing.

The cave sequence is in the style of McCabe's innovative sense of mise-en-scene. Capturing the complete darkness of the cave; only the eyes are seen luminously. A typical style for animated cartoons, McCabe takes the opportunity to plan the action with the panic depicted by their eyes.

Both characters believing they are safe from the bomb-in-a-briefcase; they take at the sound of a ticking noise. Porky lights the match which reveals Eggbert has followed them, retrieving the briefcase again - Porky shouts "Yipe!" creating another panic situation as the characters run frantically around the cave in complete darkness.

Despite moments of weaknesses evident in the short - Christensen finishes the cartoon with a sense of cruel irony. At the cartoon's climax, the cornered Nutzy is quivering scaredly as he awaits the moment for the bomb to detonate. As depicted in a close-up shot, the bomb distinguishes; creating no effect whatsoever.

Enraged, the spy complains: "I knew it! I knew it! Oh, this goldarn imitation ersatz ding. It never vorks!". He bangs the bomb to the ground with frustration, when at the wrong moment: it explodes.

A lot about the final shot is depicted with cruel irony. The Nutzy is dancing happily around the clouds of heaven, under the impression his plan had worked after all - and without realizing he is dead. And another thing, it seems very ironic for a terrorist spy to spend eternally in heaven. The cartoon draws to a fade as the spy salutes, "Sieg Hiel" and faints onto the clouds.

For a director who proved capable of turning out some occasionally very good cartoons; this short ranges in the 'hit-and-miss' category. McCabe seemed uncomfortable in giving further character personality on Porky Pig; which Chuck Jones achieved brilliantly in My Favourite Duck. Instead, he is given the persona of a clueless idiot who is gullible and vulnerable, which seems a no brainer to that effect. While this short is war-themed; it surprisingly holds very little wartime references; excluding the Nazi parody and the Hitler mask reference - and instead functions like a generic Porky short. Had McCabe continued to direct after the end of the war, it's almost impossible to determine whether he could've really established himself as "one of the greats".

Rating: 2.5/5.


  1. It's always Porky who seems to be the most problem with the directors (Clampett, to me, seemed to be the one person who could at least make up his short with a lively musical number if he had no recognizable supporting characters. Jones seemed pretty fine with him).

  2. There's just something about putting Porky in a Keystone Cops-style uniform that turns him from a naive character into an idiot. Friz Freleng and Irv Spector would do the same thing 20-plus years later with "Corn on the Cop" (in both cases, Porky doesn't get hurt by his own idiocy, but you just expect the character to operate at a slightly higher level of brain power than Elmer Fudd, so the dumbness comes off as annoying).

  3. Did Dave Hilberman do the layouts on this? Layouts are generally the best thing any McCabe cartoon has going for it.

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