Friday, 7 July 2017

417. Daffy - the Commando (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 416.
Release date: November 20, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / General Von Vulture / Hitler).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Ken Champin.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Commando Daffy Duck raids enemy lines - creating trouble along the way.

By the time of the cartoon's release; Germany were already starting to lose the Second World War. Western Allied countries were still a far cry from conquering the D-Day operation, but the short's premise suggests a speckle of optimism. The premise is centred on American commandos successfully breaking into German soil. Daffy Duck is portrayed as an American commando whose mission is to infiltrate a Nazi bunker, headed by colonel Von Vulture.

Daffy Duck is a fine candidate of an animated character challenging the Axis of WW2, comedically. Already he's dealt with a Nazi billy goat in Scrap Happy Daffy - and would go on to become a messenger in the showpiece, Plane Daffy.

Friz Freleng, perhaps the funniest of the Warner Bros. directors and Michael Maltese; the wittiest of the studio's writers, produce their take on Daffy's infiltration of a Nazi zone.

Friz Freleng might not have been as visually innovative as the likes of Bob Clampett or Chuck Jones; dynamic staging and striking composition was never unheard of from Friz. Daffy - the Commando is certainly no exception. The opening establishing shot of a Nazi trench is a beautiful piece of mise en scene, with a Nazi flag waving.

The colour styling is kept intentionally dark to indicate a macabre atmosphere. It's interesting to see the locale looking more like a World War I trench - perhaps to make the identity of a trench more familiar with audiences.

A dissolve in reveals Colonel Von Vulture pacing restlessly across his bunker, muttering in German. The indistinct German language might be ambiguous a general American audience, but the character's uneasiness is well clarified. The introduction is a solid example of exposition done right.

Other beautiful uses of colour styling is evident during the blackout sequence. The layout work, likely done by Owen Fitzgerald, features objects drawn with basic outlines that has great graphic clarity. The shot of Schultz operating the searchlight is an example of that. The characters are shown entirely in silhouette - except momentarily when Schultz clumsily shines the beam across the vulture's face. An example of how the inking and painting department would have to follow timing to remove Von Vulture's silhouette form.

Animation by Gerry Chiniquy.
Friz Freleng's timing is put to entertaining uses in several elements of the cartoon. The introduction of Von Vulture's henchman, Schultz, displays some marvellous characterisation blended with Freleng's timing when he goose-steps inside the bunker. Gerry Chiniquy applies a hysterical characteristic walk of Schultz that indicates an inept personality.

Carl Stalling's cartoon touches are greatly applied through music. For Schultz's hasty walk; rapid drum beats enhances the characterisation. Schultz's stupidity is further showcased as he unintentionally kicks Von Vulture behind his rear during his uninterrupted goose-step inside the bunker.

The vulture calls him a "dumkompf", and strikes his helmet with a mallet. Despite Schultz's helmet compressed down to his feet; he still marches outside of the bunker, at one point momentarily crashing into a wall - as his busy legs does most of the action. Freleng's understanding of comic timing and personality blended together makes this little sequence a gem of its own. Not only is Schultz presented as a buffoon - but also the Nazi realm.

The blackout sequence showcases some gags that only work in animated form - with Freleng's unit pulling it off profoundly. In Daffy's opening shot, he is floating by a parachute whilst shun by a searchlight. He casually sings the British song She Was Poor but She Was Honest in a Cockney accent, before yelling "Put out that light!".

In the following shot; Schultz foolishly turns off the searchlight, until he is further abused by Von Vulture. Once again, the use of mise en scene can play a crucial role in achieving better comedy. Both characters don't appear in the shot; but Mel Blanc's delivery of "Schultz", the interpretation of sounds and imagery proves a very striking effect.

Once the searchlight reappears - Daffy Duck has some fun with the searchlight's lens to create shadow finger puppets. At first, the shadowy puppets looks like an amateurish effect - but it immediately morphs into an elaborate form of can-can dancers.

The transition from simple puppetry to the form of dancers is beautifully subtle in timing - and it reads well in animated form. After Daffy's fun; he pulls an asbestos curtain out of nowhere. Von Vulture unwinds the curtain - revealing Daffy pulling a stereotypical Japanese face and scaring the vulture off.

Animation by Gil Turner.
As far as Daffy's zany antics are concerned - it's surprisingly underwhelming in some parts. In one sequence, Daffy tricks Von Vulture in giving him a "going away present", of a clock - despite being an obvious time bomb in disguise. After Daffy's exit; Von Vulture double takes and passes the bomb over to Schultz - who flies upwards after the impact.

Although the delivery highlights the colonel's naivety; the gag itself is predictable and somewhat unambitious as a concept. The execution feels more in the style of Ted Pierce instead of Michael Maltese.

The beginning showed some comedy potential - such as Von Vulture informing Daffy Duck the time, in the style of a talking clock device. The vulture calls for Schultz who marches over to strike his helmet, for the "tone". Once Daffy Duck turns away to adjust the clock bomb - the sequence loses some of its potential and spontaneity.

Mussolini crossed out of "The Apes
of Wrath" - reflecting his 1943 defeat.
Michael Maltese's witty use of languages is put to great use for gags requiring English translation. A close up shot of a telegram features some funny usage of puns written in German dialect, such as "it's your ka-rear!!" - which can mean two different things: his career or his ass.

A sequence that best utilises some of Maltese's creativity is seen during the German speaking/translation sequence between Daffy Duck and Von Vulture by a phone booth.

During a chase sequence, Daffy hides from the vulture colonel inside a phone booth. He reappears by confronting Von Vulture in German, and holding out a card of the English translation, reading: "Can't you see this telephone is busy? Wait your turn".

Soon, the gag gets amusingly absurd as Daffy uses American slang speaking in German lingo; as indicated from the title card: "Got a nickel, bud?". Von Vulture hands over the nickel to Daffy. After a few moments, Daffy exits the booth and responding in English: "It's all yours, von Limburger!" - holding out a German translation card. The real translation is, as follows: "I'm done with the telephone, Herr von Limburger". Michael Maltese demonstrates a fun parody of translations - that's both ridiculous and funny in its portrayal.

For the cartoon's climax - both suspense and comic timing pay a key part. Daffy attempts to escape by jumping on board an unoccupied aircraft. Once he skyrockets up in the air; he is immediately trapped by a circle of Messerschmitt planes - as exclaimed by Daffy: "Messerschmitts. A whole mess of Messerschmitts." Quite a tongue twister.

Animation by Phil Monroe.
Daffy manoeuvres his plane to dive downwards - causing the Messerschmitt planes to accidentally fire at each other. After a few seconds of effects animation adorns the entire screen - the pilots find their aircrafts completely tarnished to fragments, leading to their 'downfall' - (a bad pun intended).

Once Daffy travels at full speed on his aircraft - he discovers his craft is being shot to smithereens, by Von Vulture's machine gun. Daffy continues to resist by holding onto the engine, until it sputters and becomes fatigued.

Animator Phil Monroe appears to struggle in capturing the timing of an engine malfunctioning with friction - all timed to sound. The animation isn't as crisp as it could've been. And so, Daffy Duck hides himself inside a large cannon - until he realises he's entered a dark corner; and trapped by Von Vulture.

Much of the animated cartoon serves its purpose to ridicule the Nazis in whatever crude approach. The crudeness might be lacking in contrast to shorts like Russian Rhapsody, but the mockery is still there. Not surprisingly; the Fuhrer himself is ridiculed the harshest.

In a short scene during a chase with Daffy Duck; Von Vulture momentarily halts and shouts, "Heil Hitler!"; by saluting a skunk passing through the trenches. A visual metaphor of the man, who shared such contempt from the general public.

During the cartoon's resolution; Daffy Duck is fired out of a cannon, bearing a 'human cannonball' costume. He reaches his destination at a city rally conducted by Adolf Hitler. Hitler is crudely rotoscoped for the most part during his speech - likely lifted from stock footage in newsreels. The following scene is perhaps one of the most satisfying cartoon gags surrounding the dictator; Daffy Duck striking Hitler on the head with a mallet. For the ending pay-off, Hitler yells "Schultz!" as the cartoon closes.

The locale and theme is largely a product of its time; but it remains a relatively enjoyable cartoon. Fun, but it's a relatively standard Warner Bros. cartoon. The translation sequence features is wonderfully executed in its silliness and wit - done in the fine hands of Michael Maltese. Friz Freleng doesn't have too much opportunity to showcase his abilities; but when he does it's put to memorable use - such as the humorous characterisation of Schultz. More could've been explored creatively with Daffy's infiltration of a Nazi colonel - as the bomb clock sequence is arguably the weakest element of this short, gag-wise. The ending provides a hilarious payoff for an otherwise conventional short.

Ratings: 3/5.


  1. Hitler name-dropped Friz Freleng in his Deutschlish speech... wonder if that was an ad-lib on Mel's part?

    1. The "shtunk Friz Freleng" bit was in "Russian Rhapsody", I believe, not this one.

  2. When I think of this cartoon, the first thing I think of is the ending. Truly Hilarious.