Sunday, 17 February 2013

247. Believe it, Or Else! (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 246.
Release date: June 3, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies. 
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Hog caller/Buck/Major Bowes/Wishing well voice /Knife thower /ant), and Cliff Narazzo (Narrator). Danny Webb as (Egghead/Old Man in Jail/Chippofoski).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag spoof of the Believe It, or Not! franchise and events experienced by narrator. 

Funny title parody of the famous book franchises Ripley's Believe it Or Not! which is notorious for displaying and dealing with bizarre events that are so unusual readers question them. This cartoon has been censored in television for a particular small sequence where it involves a "berth of a baby". Here in this review is the uncensored version which will be reviewed. (Thanks Andrew Gilmore!).

The cartoon begins with the credits fading out but the title cartoon still standing in front of the curtains. The off-screen narrator (provided by Cliff Narazzo) then begins with a greeting and begins: 'Ladies and gentlemen, Believe It or Else! I bring you right here tonight--odd and interesting facts that I have gathered from my many trips around the world'.

At that point we find Egghead walking around with a sign reading 'I don't believe it'. The comic walk, the music cue and the gag itself is rather amusing. It could probably work as a internet meme itself. The music for the walk (I think) is the Umbrella Man.

The first sighting we find in this spot-gag cartoon is Mr. Cud - a large man that drinks a huge amount of milk, as there are a huge number of empty milk bottles and is known to have drank 50 quarts of milk a day in the past two years. The narrator then asks him, 'Mr. Cud, how do you feel?' he then responds which sounds like a roar in his mouth (not sure if its a dated radio reference - but not funny gag anyway) but still continues drinking milk. Of course - the music cue in the background is You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

The next sequence to be featured is based on the narrator's travels to India where he came upon snake charm music. It turns out we find a serpent who is playing the reed and we see a snake charmer  inside the basket and dances like a snake towards the music. The gag itself is just very corny. 

The narrator moves on to the next event (probably in India) where he describes his hobby building ship models inside bottles. But, the narrator announces the 'believe it or not' part where it is vice versa..the man inside the bottle building a ship. Just very cheap gags where the man is inside the bottle building a ship which isn't even funny. 
The next sequence that is featured shows a native from Arkansas who is notorious for being the world's largest 'hog caller'. He even has the reputation to call all the way from Arkansas all the way to the West Coast in Washington. We find him carving a stick with a pen knife. After the narration is over - he then stands up and makes a really loud call shouting 'Sweet, pe-pe-pe-pe, etc.'. 

He continues those calls really loudly and the signal is animated where it travels through the mid-Western states to Washington which is a nice visual. He view to a pig farm in Washington which is really the knack of Avery's joke - visual puns. The hogs in the mud then respond as he sing together in a barbershop quartet form, and sing Yoo Hoo. The way they even call back is just really strange as they sing with substitute lyrics of their response - but the 'hog caller' pun was certainly very humorous.

The next sequence with the narrator's typical introduction: 'Believe it or else...' where there are birds flying outside a courtyard. The narrator announces of a man who hadn't been outside for 50 years. We pan towards to an old man who discredits himself, 'I'm a bad boy' which would be a Abbott & Costello reference - I think. Gee, 50 years in prison...hope he isn't institutionalised unlike Brooks in Shawshank Redemption.

The next sequence features a basketball player who is a student at the University of California. The narrator announces (believe it or else), 'the first human basketball'. We find the 'human basketball' can bounce his own stomach like a basketball -- and so runs around the sports hall. The human basketball bounces over to the net and scores. Now that was just nuts.

The next sequence features is probably what I would consider a huge step-up in Tex's own personal humour where the film itself enters reality -- which Tex loved doing. The narrator announces of what is displayed is optical illusion, and to prove the audience that the two squares aren't the same size.

Tex and writer Monahan really does have a knack in creating a real sense of humour that is very striking and could even motivate an audience member. The narrator asks for the audience to close their left eye before closing their right.

As the screen is pitch black - one eyelid opens and the narrator buts in, 'Ah-ah-ah..somebody peeked'. Now that must've been a huge revolution of laughter in the cinema..and Tex has really taken personal humour into higher levels. Its so believable it even made me close my eyes. The next sequence we three triangles made from matchsticks. The narrator is to trick the audience that many triangles can be made from just those matchsticks. The narrator moves his hand over to change the matchsticks in different positions until then a whole lot of matchsticks is added and then its just a whole litter of matchsticks in the screen which is the gag since there is hardly a triangle there. The narrator suggests at the end, 'Try it with your friends'.

The next sequence we find an observatory at night in California, where the narrator mentions how science has really advanced a great deal..with a 200-inch telescope which can show you millions of miles of space and even life on Mars.

Of course, being a bit of a dated gag itself..the observatory have discovered that there is life on Mars. Of course..the 'Life on Mars' theory has been pondered for centuries but hard evidence hasn't been discovered until the late 20th century.

The special effects animation of space is rather serviceable but since the cartoons were did the job. As we close in on a fiery looking Mars..spaceships fly straight into the scene to show the evidence. A 'Buck Dodgers' spaceship docks on top of the red planet and we find the fictional comic book character Buck Rogers step out of his spaceship...with the parody name Buck Dodgers. Being a famous characters for spaceships, he steps out with an ignorant, dumb voice 'Hello, folks. Don't miss me in Next Sunday's funny paper. Boy, its a killer thriller' and the spaceship flies off. That was a funny voice Blanc pulled off. Afterwards - a spaceship flies in with an opinionated Egghead shouting, 'Err..I don't believe it!' which happens throughout the cartoon until it reaches its conclusion at the end of the cartoon. Danny Webb certainly does make a funny, realistic Egghead voice.

Afterwards - the telescope moves over to the moon as its been proven (believe it or else) no life resides there. However, on a long-shot of the craters we find civilians walking on the moon. The narrator is stumped, and asks; 'What are you doing here on the moon?' turns out they are caricatures of regular contestants on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour.

One of the contestants identifies him as one of the Major Bowes Unit 73, and asks to find a way to Cleveland, Ohio. The narrator remarks, 'You're on the wrong programme - but as long as you're here. Let's here your number'. The Major Bowes trio then break into a barbershop song where they sing Sweet Genevieve.

After singing for roughly 15 seconds - the narrator breaks up the act and announces, 'Hey boys - you'll have to hurry up. We're losing time'. They accept and speed up the song in a much quicker pace. Interesting when how cartoons were slow-paced at the time, and yet it feels some sort of an experiment here. Afterwards they leave. Definitely rather groundbreaking for Tex's humour in terms of breaking the forth wall - where it went to different extremes. Of course - at the time The Major Bowes Amateur Hour was a very popular talent show of the 1930s, sort of the Britain's Got Talent or the X Factor of its time...which explains the reference here, which must've been pretty hyped up when the cartoon was in theatres.

Moving over to Egypt -- the narrator explains a 'believe it or else' segment where it relates to the wishing well. Legend has it, that a wish is sure to be granted under the wishing well. An Egyptian citizen walks over to the wishing well, and bows for his wish. 'Oh wishing well! Oh wishing well. I wish I had a million dollars!'. There is a echo voice underneath the wishing well that responds: 'So do I'.

Now that is just hilarious, as it implies the wishing well can grant any wish is just a hoax...even Egghead supports that statement as he walks over in the middle of the picture with a sign reading It's a Fake.

The next sequence features a lumberjack by the name of Chippofoski who is seen cutting down a tree...who is credited as the world's fastest woodchopper. Remember this is way before the Guinness Book of Records. We find him chopping down the tree trunk extremely quick and the detail in the animation timing is really worth studying as you can certainly feel the force and weight added into. Chippofoksi leaves off a edge where the tree is about to tilt, and then shouts out 'TIMBER'. The gag is he has only cut off a real small amount that the camera trucks back to find its barely cut but the animation timing is very good. A great sequence to study animation timing which make the gag work.

Afterwards - the narrator moves on to a man who is known for being the world's most accurate knife thrower. He already has a target where he plans on throwing the knife on the subject's hat who is a beefy and dumb looking character. The tip hat is rather funny timing.  Afterwards; the knife thrower prepares to aim at his target and does so.

Afterwards the knife thrower breaks out into a wild hat take that erects. This is a great early prototype example of Tex's wild takes. The knife thrower turns to the audience, breaking the forth wall: "Is there a doctor in the house". A very dark gag but its really funny.

The next sequence which is suppressed in many TV prints (but not here) is where the narrator announces 'the berth of the baby' to be seen on screen. We find some black stewards that open up the curtains where we find a baby in a basket in the berth section of the train. Of course, it would've been cut for stereotypical reasons as 'berth' is a stereotypical African-African dialect of pronouncing 'birth'.

The next 'believe it or else' event then appears where we find an ant next where ants are crawling around...and there is an invention of a 'super-sensitive microphone' where you can hear the sounds of ants for the first time. On close up we find a particular ant that is looking around and the audience are waiting for the ant to make a sound. The ant shouts out really loudly 'Hey Mabel!'.

The sound and tone is a very funny effect which explains about the super-sensitive microphone. After the iris-out we focus on another 'believe it or else' event where a magician is about to perform the usual saw-in-half routine. Egghead walks into the scene and rudely interrupts, 'It's done with mirrors. I don't believe it'.

The narrator then responds, 'Alright man, if you don't believe it, just step inside the box there'. Egghead enters the box and the magician closes the door. He then saws the lower part of the crate, and opens up afterwards. Afterwards Egghead still responds rudely, 'Hah-hah. I STILL don't believe it'. Afterwards; his legs walk out of the scene on itself with Egghead's upper half still standing. Egghead makes a take as he realises and chases after his lower half with the magician still standing. The curtain closes as the cartoon ends.

Overall comments: Very funny parody title of the 'Believe It or Not' franchise as I've already mentioned. What I like about it is here the parody title its demanding you to believe it, whilst the original title gives you a choice of what you believe. It may be seen as just a typical spot-gag cartoon - but watching the cartoon, as a does feel like Tex Avery is taking completely different steps in terms of gags. We've all seen him go through levels of humour in cartoons: from breaking the forth wall to silhouetted audiences - or even theatre managements title cards. Here he is trying to keep the audience motivated through he cartoon - particularly in the sequence where the narrator asks for everyone to close their eyelids for a trick; which is a really useful gag. Some of the gags of the overall cartoon though did have its weaknesses, particularly early on in the cartoon with just corny and basic gags; but most of the time he is attempting to pull off new gag ideas which are essential to this cartoon.

The Egghead scenes that pop in from time-to-time in the cartoon are a way to interrupt the continuous sequences so it probably wouldn't bore an audience member of spot-gag after spot-gag. Even though the cartoon did have its good and even fine moments; the cartoon does clock in too long: at 8 minutes at 40 seconds; where Tex slightly overdid himself in the cartoon. Egghead is rather fun in the cartoon as he is the butt of the cartoon, who doesn't believe in these events and is used for satire and even in-and-out scenes in Tex's cartoons (examples like Isle of Pingo Pongo, Little Red Walking Hood and A Day at the Zoo). If anything; Tex sure knew how to make a dark sequence or dark setting even feel rather humorous with his humorous takes as well as corny catchphrases. Tex's main 1930s style is still visible throughout much of the cartoon, but at some elements or scenes; it feels more realistic looking before he finally converted into a different style later on in 1939.


  1. Mr. Cud is emitting a MOO after all his milk consumption.

    A berth is a shelf-like sleeping space as on a ship or railroad car. The gag is that "birth" and "berth" sound alike (a homonym).

  2. Buck Rogers is acting in a homosexual (what today would be "gay") way as his manner implies.

    "Umbrella Man" is Eggy's theme this time. The pigs, well, baby, and Buck Dogers gags were among those that made this near 9 minutyes sitting through. Believe it.. or else! Major Bowes was the 1930s version of today's USA America's Gopt Talent, American Idol, and so forth.Steve

  3. Steven,

    Thank for the Cliff Navarro identification as narrator!

    After the narration is over - he then stands up and makes a really loud call shouting 'Sweet, pe-pe-pe-pe, etc.'.

    Native Arkansan here: It's "Soo-ie! Pig! Pig! Pig! Pig! Soo-ie! Pig! Pig! Pig!". Our state college team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, has the team call 'Woooo, pig! Soo-ie!".

  4. By the end of the 1930's, Major Edward Bowes, the impresario of radio's "MAJOR BOWES AND HIS ORIGINAL AMATEUR HOUR", would often send previous winners out on tour in "packaged" shows across the country. There were several "Units" of these traveling performers appearing in different areas; hence, the gag about "Unit #73" on their way to their next engagement in Cleveland.