Tuesday, 23 August 2016

410. Porky Pig's Feat (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 409.
Release date: July 17, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Daffy Duck / Hotel Manager / Bugs Bunny).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Phil Monroe.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky and Daffy attempts to escape from paying a huge hotel bill is thwarted by the hotel manager.

Frank "Tish Tash" Tashlin
In September 1942, not only had the Schlesinger studio finally achieved an identity for their innovative style of humour in their cartoons; but it also marked the return of another influential force at the Schlesinger studio. Arguably one of the greatest and most diverse cartoon directors, Frank Tashlin returns to the studio for the third time, as a story director - after a four year stint at Disney and Columbia's Screen Gems.

Frank Tashlin, as witnessed previously in this blog during his first tenure as director, was best known for his cinematic style to animated cartoons. Not only had he achieved sharper timing within the studio; but gave his cartoons a streamline design. Tashlin, like Chuck Jones, loved to experiment and did so to his full extent. His experiments would pay off, as he still maintained the spirit and energy that the studio's reputation prided with.

Not long afterwards, Frank Tashlin would return to his former directing position by succeeding Norm McCabe's black-and-white unit. Since his last directorial effort at Warners in 1938; the Warner Bros. animation studio had enhanced significantly in style and pace. Since his return, Frank Tashlin shows no struggles of adapting to the change, although felt he lost a lot of seniority by then, as recollected in Michael Barrier's interview: "I had to come up from the cellar again". In the wake of his four-and-a-half year absence, his first released short Porky Pig's Feat provides an excellent comeback for the director.

If there was a layout artist with the ability to meet with the complex demands of Tashlin's directing; Dave Hilberman is the right candidate. Layout is relied upon heavily throughout the cartoon, and Hilberman's pivotal work on the short is sublime. Like Tashlin, Hilberman was an innovator; and his avant-garde approach to layout and designs create a fitting match for the maestro.

Melvin "Tubby" Millar's narrative is kept simple and to the point: Porky and Daffy attempt to avoid payment on a huge bill, and pull off various escape attempts from a tenacious hotel manager, who stops at nothing, to ensure their bill is paid. Millar splits the narrative structure.

The first half of the short is all exposition, as seen in the opening scenes. After Porky observes an unfair hotel bill (for which he and Daffy are charged for every luxury including breathing and goodwill), the following scene dissolves to Daffy Duck gambling away during a game of craps in the elevator.

The sequence is beautiful not only in direction, but in suspense and atmosphere. Tashlin utilises his cinematic techniques in making the craps game ambiguous - only Daffy's silhouetted hand and cry for luck inform the audience of the situation. Once Daffy rolls the dice, an unseen croupier (impersonating Eddie Anderson) shouts, "Uh-oh. Snake eyes. Too bad! You is a dead duck, duck!". The elevator door slides open revealing a dejected Daffy walking away in sombre, after blowing his entire money on gambling; meaning there's no other alternative to paying the bill. Daffy's pose is beautifully staged in capturing the melancholy mood, and Carl Stalling's use of Blues in the Night underplayed fits the locale effectively.

An interrogation so intense, in a
few frames, Daffy's mouth appears
Offended by the manager's sceptical response concerning Daffy Duck, he busts in on his face, glaring and dominating him threateningly. Another marvellous Tashlin trait was his ability to pose characters in exaggerated positions, and enforce the poses far longer than the other directors would anticipate. This is largely showcased in the scene as described. Daffy presses the manager's face the point his face sinks inside; in unparalleled Art Davis animation.

He interrogates him in an unforgettable speech written by Tubby Millar: "Insulting my integrity, eh, fatso? Insinuating I'd flee this flea-bitten dump, eh, fatso?" Intimating I'd abscond with your financial remunerations, eh fatso?". Once he's finished, Daffy slides his head away from the manager's squished face. Amused by the outcome, he remarks: "Hey, look! A Dick Tracy character. Pruneface!". It's a remarkable piece of staging that indicates Tashlin's fearlessness as a director - by attempting what other directors wouldn't try, and all for a marvellous effect. After exchanging some violent outbursts from each other; Porky and Daffy begin their greatest escape plan had they succeeded.

While Frank Tashlin relied heavily on filmmaking techniques in his approach to cartoon directing; a lot of his camera work was used for comedic purposes. After Daffy's little altercation with the hotel manager; he prepares to slap Daffy with his glove. A close-up of Daffy Duck ready to anticipate his slap; and then camera pans over to Porky. As the slap is interpreted by Porky's reaction, the camera pans back to Daffy Duck, revealing a severe sting on his face from the glove. It works effectively in depicting cartoon violence in a satirical way, and to some extent, it pokes fun at the Production Code's restrictions on violence portrayed in film.

Not only does Tashlin pay homage to the use of mise en scene for filmmaking; he also pulls off complex camera techniques only effectively in cartoons. While Schlesinger stalwarts like Friz Freleng and Tex Avery were masters in fulfilling difficult camera actions successfully; Tashlin takes the feat beyond.

A striking example occurs in Daffy and Porky's first attempt in escaping from the elevator. The camera trucks in to the elevator clock sliding, and then damaged on impact. The elevator door arises to find Porky and Daffy backing away from a menacing hotel manager (with flypaper still attached to his face from earlier), and end up back where they originally started. And so, the angry manager protests: "And you don't get out until you pay up!"

It's a remarkably complex piece of work, requiring the effort of Hilberman's layouts and Johnny Burton's department. The staging and planning is incredibly inventive and outlandish in depicting a failed attempt of escaping down an elevator. On a plus note, the grimace expressions on the manager (as well as Porky and Daffy's awkward poses) are priceless and intimidating.

Animation by Cal Dalton.
Tashlin's filmmaking approach is incredibly diverse in the cartoon; not just in camera techniques or timing, but also in composition and scale. For the hotel manager; Tashlin exploits the character's size to make him appear larger than normal. It's utilised effectively in the opening scene; where he daunts Porky about the bill, "You will, of course, pay the bill now before you leave, no?".

The camera pans down to an intimidated Porky who bluffs, "My partner Daffy Duck will be right back. He's out cashing a check!". The size of the manager works effectively to carry out an intimidating appearance.

Frank Tashlin's love for cinematic camera angles doesn't go missed in this cartoon. For the sequence where Porky and Daffy attempt to slide down the hotel building from a rope made from bed sheets; he uses the camera angles for timing purposes.

Tashlin uses low-angle shots of Porky Pig at the ground, stuttering and yelling, "Hurry up, Daffy, don't dilly-dally! Time's a wastin'!". Little does Porky realise as he's standing on top of a drain cover; that the manager is hiding underneath the sewer, and planting matchsticks underneath Porky's feet to give him the ol' hotfoot.

The depiction of only featuring the manager's hands enhances the suspense of the action further; and it's paid off as Porky zips upwards, as he reacts to the hotfoot. Also, Tashlin still remains true to the spirit of the Warners humour; as Daffy lustfully whistles at an open hotel window, implying he's staring at an attractive woman undressing. The next shot reveals, however, an illustration of a female model in a magazine.

Perhaps the most memorable technique Tashlin employed in this short is the elaborate seqeunce of the hotel manager falling down the staircase. In the sequence, Porky and Daffy lock themselves in their hotel room, and the manager tries to break down the door. And so, Porky and Daffy pull down the rug; causing the manager to crash and bump down the spiral staircase.

The camera pans down to reveal the complex layout work; seen as a simulated tilt shot. Hilberman's genius layout technique emphasises the infinite journey the manager has to endure, along with Mel Blanc's delivery on the yells. In the following scenes; extreme close-ups of Porky and Daffy's eyes watch the manager stumbling down the stairs. The manager's bumps are reflections from their pupils. Speaking of reflections, Tashlin uses it in the short sporadically; particularly in the shot of Daffy Duck's reflection seen through the hotel manager's monocle, as he's about to give Daffy "the field of honour."

Frank Tashlin also experiments and makes effective use of his timing skills. For fast-paced scenes like Porky's reaction to the hot-pot; he uses streaks and fast cutting (which he used primarily on earlier efforts like Porky in the North Woods and Porky's Romance) to depict the action. To create impact and weight in animation action; Tashlin's timing works effectively for scenes like Daffy yanking the flypaper off the manager's face - portrayed with a controlled and yet exaggerated use of squash and stretch.

While the pacing is quintessential of Tashlin's work, he also uses elements of subtlety that portrays humorous situations beautifully; particularly evident in the sequence ready for discussion. Once Porky and Daffy's plan of causing the manager to stumble down the stairs has supposedly worked; a recovered manager zips up the stairs in a flash; causing the pair to lock themselves in their rooms once more and pull off the stunt once more.

However, the manager has learnt from his mistakes and deceives Porky and Daffy into thinking he's fallen by imitating the agonising yells outside their door. The pair step outside to listen out for the yells; without realising he's right beside them. His yells turn calmer, causing Porky to double-take and crack Daffy's neck forward. The cracking action is a beautiful, subtle piece of timing - excelled from Phil Monroe's character animation and Treg Brown's virtuoso sound effects.

To create definitive cartoon timing and comedy; Carl Stalling is the reliable candidate in enhancing the effect. Infamous for his usage of Raymond Scott's Powerhouse, Stalling takes advantage of the frantic, episodic music by turning it into an innovative cue for wild cartoony action - like the hotel manager frantically ramming at the door in frustration.

While Scott's piece has been heard previously for the climatic sequence in the Snafu short, Gripes, this is the first usage of the piece in a Warner Bros. cartoon - as well as the start of a great legacy.

As far as gags and humour goes; Tashlin was not much different compared to Bob Clampett or Tex Avery, as the standard Termite Terrace humour remained intact in his shorts. A gag popularised by Tex Avery is borrowed in this short; but used in an unpredictable, spontaneous fashion. The hotel manager crashes into a hotel door; flattening door. Once he's recovered; he opens the door, but finds another door. He continuously opens an endless number of doors, until he finds one with a sign attached, reading: "Monotonous, isn't it?"

After one final attempt of escaping the crutches of the hotel manager; Porky and Daffy swing across the rope to another building; only to be cornered once again by the manager. The manager wins the battle and imprisons the pair in a hotel room for evading their bill.

Months past, Porky and Daffy are still imprisoned and full of despair. Bugs hopelessly stutters, "Gosh, if Bugs Bunny were only here". The following sequence is fitting reference to the character; as Porky and Daffy represent the majority of people who admire his mischievous antics - and the pair reminisce a scene from a non-existent cartoon. Porky's fourth wall crack, "I saw him in a Leon Schlesinger cartoon once" must've been an amusing reaction from Schlesinger's viewing of the short.

Feeling hopeful and optimistic of escaping the macabre hotel room, Daffy advances towards the telephone box to call Bugs Bunny. For the first time in Warner Bros. cartoon filmography; Daffy Duck converses with Bugs Bunny. Not as an enemy as how he's been immortalised and marketed today; but as an ally.

"What's up, duck?" Animation by
Izzy Ellis.
Daffy explains the predicament of his and Porky's situation, and consults Bugs on the phone on some pointers of escaping. Bugs suggested all the stunts they attempted earlier in the cartoon: like the elevator, throwing the manager down the stairs, using the sheets to swing across on the rope.

A sample of the abrupt "jump cut"
technique, popularised in Goddard's
Breathless (1959).
For Daffy's phone call to Bugs; Tashlin establishes a technique that was almost unheard of in Hollywood filmmaking. Tashlin uses jump cuts to bring the camera closer and closer to Daffy's face. It's used ironically to create dynamics and suspense in an otherwise casual phone call.

Animation by Phil Monroe.
The" jump cut" technique wasn't used extensively until Jean-Luc Goddard's French New Wave film Breathless (1959) (a sample of the technique can be viewed here). From a film history perspective; it's fascinating to see how ahead of his time Frank Tashlin was, and the liberties he took during Hollywood's studio system era.

And so, Daffy comes to the point in the phone call: "We've tried all those ways". Then, a door to the next room opens up to reveal Bugs Bunny (in his only black-and-white appearance in a Warner cartoon), also in the same situation as Porky and Daffy, with shackles attached to his legs. He munches on a carrot and remarks, "Ehh, don't work, do they?". It's a hilarious piece of tragedy that exemplifies the hopelessness of escaping a hotel bill, and from the hotel manager.

Although Frank Tashlin would go on to produce a handful more funny, memorable cartoons at the studio, Porky Pig's Feat is perhaps, his cartoon masterpiece and one of my all-time favourite Warner Bros. shorts. Tashlin adjusts to the changes of the studio's style of filmmaking from his departure in 1938 effortlessly, and invests a lot of his talent and abilities into one cartoon flawlessly. Tashlin's cinematic, avant-garde approach to cartoon directing gives the cartoon's action more excitement and fulfilment for the viewer. Humour-wise, Tashlin keeps true to the spirit of the Warner style, as well as understanding characterisation. While Frank Tashlin's 1930s cartoons were mostly hit-and-miss, perhaps due to the material he was given, there's no denying he's returned an improved director. Although one might argue the techniques might've been overused in the cartoon, most importantly - Tashlin never loses sight of the narrative and the importance of keeping the audience motivated; a huge "feat" indeed!

Rating: 5/5.


  1. I would agree. This is one of the best cartoons Tashlin did, and one of the best the studio did, and if I were picking representative samples of directorial work, this would be one of them.

  2. Me,too. Compared to how Daffy and Bugs were rivals over a decade later forevermore, the final scene is a relief today.:)

  3. Thank you. I just happened to go looking for this cartoon episode that I remembered from my childhood, and this site came up! Good work man, really! And its quite a coicidence that you got to episode #410, only 2 months ago, and its the exact one i was looking for.

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