Friday, 8 July 2016

403. Greetings Bait (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 402.
Release date: May 15, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Jerry Colonna worm + Colonna fisherman, Dumb fish, Lusty fish).
Story: Tedd Pierce.
Animation: Manuel Perez.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A worm caricatured as Jerry Colonna, travels underwater to lure fish with his many guises - until he is confronted by a crab.

Greetings, gate. Let's observate!

Jerry Colonna's popularity as a radio figure and sidekick of Bob Hope soared around the time the Schlesinger studio started to hit their stride. He became an important source of inspiration from that era; with some referenced that maintain a timeless quality. While Colonna has become largely obscure in today's generation, some of his gags and catchphrases were forever immortalised in the classic Warner Bros. cartoons.

Some Colonna caricatures and references surfaced from other studios, but never as frequent as Warners. So much so, that the studio have devoted two cartoons on him. The first was already reviewed two years earlier on Friz Freleng's The Wacky Worm.

The caricature on the worm was portrayed well, but it wasn't enough to carry out an entire cartoon. The short warranted a sequel (which is today's review); by using the same character design. The title of the short, of course, being a parody on Colonna's popular catchphrase: "Greetings Gate!". Unlike Wacky Worm, this cartoon doesn't take advantage of the parody and caricature much at all.

It's a largely cliched cartoon formula (e.g. Disney's Goofy and Wilbur) of a bait worm going through different guises through a string of gags until he meets a threatening opponent. One of the few moments where the caricature is taken advantage of is in a sequence of the Colonna worm disguised as a mermaid. He sings Trade Winds while playing the harp in a bid to entice the fish to lure towards him. At one point, the worm stretches out a syllable to a certain length - a characteristic trait of the radio star. The parody works fine as the gag on the aroused fish pays off.

The first half of the cartoon is mainly just exposition and routine. The worm is lowered under the lake by a fishing rod - and prepares his guises and baits. Three sequences depict how the Colonna worm lures each fish based on their individual personalities. The first sequence is more straightforward as he makes a sandwich to deceive a curious fish as bait.

There's some decent subtleties in animation and timing as the Colonna worm quickly replaces the smaller fish with a larger fish sitting next to the hook. The following sequence deals with the antics of the Colonna worm attempting to lure a dim-witted fish, and creating an obstacle in the process.

The last sequence is most likely an idea conceived by Ted Pierce, as the worm uses a mermaid disguise to seduce a lusty fish. Then, as the worm is about to rise up to the surface with the lusty fish trapped - he is encountered with a more threatening and less vulnerable specie: a crab.

The Colonna worm responds to the presence of the crab in a double-take; taking the cartoon's narrative focus into a different direction. Ted Pierce primarily splits the plot structure into two elements: the first half represents a string of gags, while the second half is all action-packed. The result becomes a pretty bland structure.

The first half is overall tedious viewing, although the sequence of the Colonna worm attempting to lure the dimwitted fish is more resourceful and creative in its approach to humour. To start with, the dimwitted fish fails to respond to the worm's whistle and hint of a chase. The Colonna worm observes the personality and plots, "I shall have to resort to an ingenious ruse."

The ruse, of course, is a circus show for the dim-witted fish. The worm performs an acrobatic act as he grips his teeth onto the hook and spins in motion. Gerry Chiniquy animation on the manoeuvre is very graceful; especially for the purpose of the gag.

He pulls off the stunt divinely and deceives the dim-witted fish into giving it a try - "Don't be so reluctant...Dragon!" encourages the worm in a possible Disney reference to the 1941 film and adaptation: The Reluctant Dragon. And so, the bashful fish meets his own end.

The sequence is a clever piece of written satire in taking advantage of easily impressed dimwits. On another note; the distortion underwater scenes are a delightful effect to carry some extra quality into the cartoon. While it might be an economical effect; it's enough to create the illusion of being underwater.

A piece of character animation
very reminiscent to a Bugs Bunny
scene in The Heckling Hare.
The opening sequence, which although establishes the Jerry Colonna worm - is a little sluggish in pacing...even for a Freleng cartoon. The short opened with a yet-unidentified fisherman lowering his fishing rod into the lake. Standing on top of the hook - is the Jerry Colonna worm.

 The character animation of the worm placing the swimming cap on top of his head and warming himself up for ascending underwater feels delayed and unwanted.

With problems asides, Mel Blanc delivers some amusing voice effects for a shivering worm dipping his toe into cold water - and captures the charm of Jerry Colonna's characteristics but it's the sluggish pacing that drags the opening scene down. The Eat at Joe's in-joke which appear as neon signs underwater is a nutty addition.

Nevertheless, Freleng's area of expertise is put too good use in individual scenes and sequences. Exceptions include the chase sequence around the surface of the water. The gag seems to be borrowed from the Avery short The Heckling Hare. The effects of the bubbles travelling around the lake are timed well to Freleng's action and Stalling's music cliches. The timing is paid off with a vibrant effect as the crab strikes a rock.

His genius use of timing is showcased better in the scene of the Colonna worm disguising himself in the proportions as a seahorse and joins the procession by copying their characteristic moves to avoid unwanted attention from the crab.

Freleng and Stalling keep the music rhythm aligned with the procession action which is beautifully timed to the Light Calvary Overture. It's a meticulous piece of animation with strong accents to support the rhythm of the timing.

As far as dynamics and "mise en scene" goes, Friz Freleng conceives some innovative and unprecedented POV shots. A striking example occurs in the treasure chest sequence. The crab stretches both his eyes on both sides of the chest - to corner the Colonna worm. The following shot reaveals a split-screen point-of-view shot of the crab watching the worm run at opposite angles.

And so, the quick-witted Colonna worm devises a quick plan by frantically tying both his long eyes into a single knot gripped around the treasure chest. The following scene features another visionary point-of-view shot of the crab in and the layout in an unclear perspective.

Freleng also uses the point-of-view crab shots for gag purposes - like the staggering effect after he struck a rock; or as a scope set-up when the crab is attempting to target the worm. The POV shots are incredibly effective and yet unexplored as far as filmmaking goes. It's a perfect example that showcases Freleng's overlooked abilities at composition and dynamics, and how he's fearless when it comes to experimenting with such a feat. This shows the true working of a genius laid bare.

For the cartoon's finale - Ted Pierce and Friz Freleng conceive a clever depiction of an unseen final showdown.

The Colonna worm skids to a halt during a chase and protests to the crab, "You wouldn't be so brave, knave  if you weren't wearing that shell to protect you." In preparation for the final battle; Ted Pierce pokes fun over Hollywood censorship that the worm announces:

"Ladies and a'gentlemen! The following scenes will be so brutal and a-horrifying, that for the benefit of those with a-faint hearts, weak stomachs and 4-F ratings; we will return you to the surface". The 4-F ratings crack must've been guaranteed a laugh upon its release (or offence).

The camera pans vertically upwards to the surface where the violent is interpreted from the splash effects and the vigorous thrusts from the fishing line. It's an entertaining alternative to make the unseen fight more suspenseful and unpredictable. After the fight, the hook rises to the surface and the fisherman's hands open the tureen to reveal the injured worm.

The worm remarks "I could be wrong, y'know" in response to his promise to defeat the crab. The camera pans vertically upwards to reveal the fisherman is Jerry Colonna, himself who delivers the final punchline: "Ah yes! Embarrassing, isn't it?".

In conclusion, the cartoon still sits in the "hit and miss" category. In some sequences, the timing and gags are enhanced further than compared to The Wacky Worm. Both cartoons are relatively flawed in its own areas, although the Colonna caricature is used much better in the former short. What both shorts have proven is a short devoted entirely to a Jerry Colonna caricature works less effectively and comedically than the occasional reference in a cartoon...otherwise, it'll date the cartoon fast. Overall, it's a pretty stale output from Freleng - except for moments of a genius at work. Freleng's excellent use of experimentation in composition and layout reveals a director who is more than just a "master of comedic timing". The short's narrative is relatively thin and formula-driven, although Ted Pierce has his moments of funny dialogue.

Ratings: 2.5/5.

No comments:

Post a Comment