Sunday, 7 July 2013

281. Confederate Honey (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 280.
Release date: March 30, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd), Mel Blanc (Slaves/General//Colonel O'Hairoil/Hugh Herbert General/) John Deering (Narrator) and Jim Barron (Radio Announcer).
Story: Ben Hardaway.
Animation: Cal Dalton.
Music: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Set during the American Civil War, Elmer as Rhett Butler pauses his announcement to Crimson O'Hairoil to serve for his cause while Crimson waits for his return.

After two years; Friz Freleng had already departed from the Schlesinger Studios, whereas he was contracted to help direct the new Captain and the Kids series for MGM. Agreeing on the contract, Friz took the job, where he spent roughly two years over there. Despite being perhaps, well animated, the series was proven unpopular amongst the public; and Friz was unhappy at his tenure at MGM.

However, his decision to move back to his old job for Schlesinger undoubtedly proved to be for the greater good. After Friz's departure; it was evident that he was desperately needed to help reform the humour and comic timing for the Warner cartoons...since his return in (roughly) mid 1939; his position as a director was returned, and helped bring the Studio back into shape in terms of comic humour, as well as returning a MUCH more advanced and improved director from the previous stint. Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton have their director positions taken off; where Cal Dalton returns back to animation, and reportedly is "a job he loves", whilst Ben Hardaway was put as Head of the Story Department.

Of the time the short was made; Gone with the Wind was a bestselling novel; and when it was released; it was becoming a blockbuster around the world; so the short would've been made at the right time to make a American Civil War parody, as the film was becoming hyped up all around Hollywood; and the character parodies in the film: Scarlett O'Hara (Crimson O'Hairoil), and Elmer Fudd as Rhett Butler (Nett Cutler in the short) were already obvious references.

At the same time, the 'Egghead' character which had been floating around the Schlesinger Studio for satirical shorts, had already established himself as Elmer Fudd, who was only seen (before A Wild Hare) and still is, a resemblance of Arthur Q. Bryan. Freleng used Chuck's design for Elmer which was seen previously in Elmer's Candid Camera, and the design was also used again for Hardship of Miles Standish...before going through several different models, until he has established himself completely by 1942--design-wise.

As the short opens; the place is set in the Old South; as the camera pans across the cotton agricultural fields of Kentucky. The narrator explains the story starts in "1861 B.C"--he already engages in a corny joke where "B.C." stands for "Before C-biscuit"--of course, referencing the racehorse Seabiscuit.

Across the cotton fields, the magnolia trees; is a plantation which belongs towards plantation owner Colonel O'Hairoil. Ben Hardaway, of course, is extremely key towards these corny puns used throughout the cartoons, as his writing credit certainly is evident in the opening shot.

Of course, O'Hairoil is just a bad pun of O'Hara; which was Scarlett's original surname from Gone with the Wind...and, I suppose, a parody of Gerald O'Hara. The Colonel, blue-skinned, is sitting on his porch, as he is enjoying his lemonade by the sun. For a reference amusing for its time, he sings the popular song Am I Blue? which links towards his skin. Being the owner of Rich Tobacco Mansion, the narrator asks for his input: instead he then blutters into a ad reference: Sold American--(also known as the "chant of a tobacco auctioneer" sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes). Freleng's jerky timing is rather evident for these scenes, and Blanc's delivery on the mumbling is rather a funny touch. The colonel concludes: "Sold to a nation!".

Meanwhile over at the cotton fields, we find a group of slaves as they are working their way picking some cotton out. The off-screen chorus sing Old Black Joe, and according to Keith Scott with his research: the chorus singers are Paul Taylor's Sportsman.

Then we follow through a series of gags where a slave is walking through the cotton fields with a lawn mower; as the cotton lands right into a sack containing cotton. Another gag, features a lazy slave where a child passes some cotton, and effortlessly tosses it with his hand into a basket.

The timing for the lazy hand gesture is rather amusing, even if stereotypical. It gets even more incorrect, where the gag stereotypes the slave as a "coon", and warns the child, when having two cottons in his hand: "Don't get too ambitious there, son"...implying he's too lazy to even have more than one pieces of cotton in his hand.

Meanwhile inside the plantation, we meet the Colonel's daughter...No, I don't meet the infamous heroine Scarlett O'Hara..just parodied as Crimson O'Hairoil. After watching the platelets go through the window via washing line, the narrator remarks she was born "with a silver spoon in her mouth".

The idiom is satirised rather amusingly, as we all know the idiom meaning she was born wealthy; but instead the gag is she has a silver spoon inside her mouth. Shows how Ben Hardaway could at least turn out a pun which was funny, once in a while.

The character design of Crimson O'Hairoil is rather glamorous, but the animation of the rubbery arms, may be a little, well...erratic. After taking the spoon out of her mouth, she boasts: "Hurry, hurry, today I wanna look my best!". Her servant then compliments, "Ya shore look scrumptious, missie!". Meanwhile outside the plantation, it has its own parking lot where a bunch of county fellows park their horses to visit Crimson. Many of them share their love as well as propositions, but despite their wealth, sophistication, etc. Crimson has no interest towards any other men...except for Ashley Wilkes, no sorry..Nett Cutler.

Riding towards the parking lot is Elmer Fudd, who is seem as a complete parody of Rhett Butler, and is the butt of this cartoon..considering how he resembles nothing of the sort. You must appreciate Friz' timing and posture on the horse cantering in the parking lot, as its extremely kooky and mechanical. The horse comes to a stop, as Elmer vibrates.

Elmer stops off the horse, to give it to a servant: "Here, hold ma horse, son. I'll be right back". The slave rides on the horse which then moves like a motorcar just as it is being parked.

Meanwhile inside the plantation. Elmer is seen inside the room standing face-to-face with Crimson O'Hairoil. Elmer holds onto his bowler hat as he hesitates rather nervously, as he has something very vital to announce to Crimson. Crimson, believing she is being proposed, turns a little impatient and jumpy; encouraging Elmer to just "say it"...obviously very keen for meek little Elmer. Just as Elmer continues hesitating; "Could you, could you?--". An explosion is heard off-screen, where Elmer jumps into Crimson's arms in fright. The narrator announces: "Then came the war!".

Just as Elmer and Crimson look out of the window to find out what the commotion was, they discover, to their knowledge a group of Confederate troops marching past the plantation fields, already enlisted, and I Wish I Was in Dixie is played in the background, to give the cue a more patriotic approach.

Elmer, knowing the Civil War has interrupted his nerves, immediately decides on enlisting for the cause. "My country calls, I must join the wegiment!". Just as Elmer turns to exits, Crimson responds with admiration: "My hero!".

As Elmer rushes out of the plantation entrance; to join the enlisted troops: the slave at the parking lot attempts to halt Elmer, as he shouts: "Hey mister, you forgot your horse!". Crimson waves goodbye at her window: "Goodbye, Nett. I'll be waitin' for ya. I'll burn a little light at the window!". Carl Stalling's music arrangements for the mini sequence is arranged rather neatly.

After a brief shot of picketers with union signs protesting, as well as Confederate soldiers entreating to wear their union suits. The union officer walks round inspecting and analysing all of his troops. "Men, I suppose you all know why you're here!". He then refers to Stonewall Jackson as Stoneball Jackson, more puns!

Find the Henry Binder, Tubby Millar, Ray Katz and animator Paul J. Smith Confederate troops, in the close-up shot of the troops listening. A rather cute little staff joke amongst the studio.

After the lecture from the general in hoping to win the Civil War, he shouts out: "Now I want you to get out there, and give!". The union officer then tosses his cigar to the ground tossly. At that point, a bunch of troops then crowd towards the cigar, fighting over it...some typical Ferruling timing as well as execution. Much of the music cue for the sequence plays The Battle Cry for Freedom...which shows some more patriotism scores which Stalling uses for the right touches.

The battling then begins. Cannons from different fronts fire towards each other. After a couple of shots as are meant to supposedly, show some intense drama which is meant to be rather believable. Then afterwards, Freleng steps in and uses his comic timing as a gag advantage; where a bunch of cannons fire in rhythm, and the last cannon fires out two notes.

Very well executed gag, which rhythm and comic timing is done very amusingly...and it shows how a lot of the comic timing felt missing in some aspects, during Friz's absence. A Confederate troop then blows his trumpet using the Revielle call.

The gag gets even loonier where the trumpet player breaks down into a jazz mode, and as the camera trucks back, a drummer also rocks onto o the little melody, and finishes off by crashing his trumpet like a cymbol. Another very looney gag, which only Freleng would master. Meanwhile inside the camp headquarters, we find a general whose seen as a parody of Hugh Herbert, and a wireless operator sending him news. Everytime the operator sends him bad news, Herbert remarks as: "Hoo hoo, that's good, that's good, etc. Oh no, no, that's terrible, terrible, etc.". Blanc puts on a decent Herbert impression, and its spoonerisms are rather a good touch.

Meanwhile in the Confederate front; a group of soldiers, including Elmer are standing together by a cannon, which they plan to set afire towards the Yankee front. The bearded general (General Lee ?) gives him the signal to set fire. As the cannon then sets fire towards the Yankee front...a bunch of colours sparkle out like a pinball machine, and the word 'Tilted' pops out.

Another amusing gag which works well with the timing which Friz contributes. Of course the 'tilted' gag is very common in the early Golden Age cartoons, where its a dated gag which implies its condition has tilted.

Meanwhile, back at the plantation parking lot, the same negro boy is sitting there waiting for Elmer to return, where the same horse is still sitting. Over at the porch of their plantation, Captain O'Hairoil is sitting in the porch, and of course, pisstaking the time period, listens to the results of the Civil War by listening to it through radio. The radio announcer (voiced by Jim Barron) announces the results, in the style of American football, which is culturally amusing. The Captain then grouches: "Those dat-burnt Yankees!". Of course, due to the Production Code, "Damn Yankees" couldn't have been acceptable for a 1940 theatrical release, but I love how its put rather subtlety with the help of Blanc's voice work.

After the frustration of those outside the war, back at the front, we find Nett Cutler (Elmer) sitting outside in the dark by the fire where he is reading a letter by Crimson, as he long misses her, and rather fed up that his announcement towards her would have to wait longer than normal.

Meanwhile, a firework then shoots straight towards the sky and explodes with a message which reads; as it is shown on the screenshot towards your right.

Instead of the typical Eat at Joe's gag; the story guys for a slight different flavour, whereas being set in the Old South, and in the American Civil War, Mammy's Shack would've been a lot more broader. Back at the plantation at night, the narrator remarks how Crimson never forget her promise to Nett, by burning a "little light through the window". Of course, "little" being the opposite word, where the candle burning turns out to be a huge beam coming from the plantation. A very Avery-ish gag, which I believe the animation of the beam, was taken from I Wanna Be a Sailor. The next sequence features reused footage from Old Glory where a troop rides on his horse shouting "The British are coming! To arms, to arms!". In contrast to the other short; here it's just more humorously with Blanc supplying the panicky voice. As the sequence fades out, a voice remarks "..with a bang bang".

From much of what we've saw during the American Civil War sequences; it turns out we have already watched the very beginning. During the montage sequence; a series of calendar slip outs appear, where originally it only started off in April 1862; but as time passes on...we find montages of repeated animation from earlier: soldiers marching, trumpeter, cannons firing, etc.

Back at the plantation, we find the same Negro boy still waiting for Nett to return the horse; and already there are roots growing on the tarmac of the parking lot. Just in time, April 19, 1865 has arrived: the end of the war!

A lot of the end of the war atmosphere is exaggerated a bit, well, at least shown less dramatic. You see birds flying around to resemble peace around the fronts. The soldiers marching back home, looking completely spotless, whereas in real life: they're suits would've been tattered, and their bodies fatigued.

Back home at the plantation, (after so many candles drawn up); we find Crimson O'Hairoil still sitting in the same couch, waiting impatiently for the arrival of Nett Cutler. She taps her foot impatiently, paces around the room waiting for any response.

Then a knock on the door arrives, where it turns out to be Elmer. Back to the same position of what it was four years ago, we find the same Elmer about to announce towards Crimson, though very meekly. Again, Crimson, after waiting all these years, begs for Elmer to spit it out. Afterwards, what would have intended to be a huge announcement: Elmer just grabs out a parking ticket where he asks: "Would you validate my ticket?". Crimson stamps on Elmer's forehead in disgust which reads "revoked". With "revoked" stamped on his forehead: the cartoon fades out. A rather amusingly setup in terms of story, where we expected a marriage proposal, but all backfires when his request was extremely petty.

Overall comments: Being Freleng's return, you know by watching the cartoon that Friz had no regrets of leaving MGM, and going back towards his old Warner job. Even if his salary at MGM might have been higher, evidently Friz loved the job a whole lot more than what he was paid for. It may not be a complete step towards humour, where the gags may be a similar approach towards many of the Warner cartoons of the late 1930s and in this era, but you can see the comic timing has slightly improved a notch. Examples can be seen where Freleng uses timing for humorous occasions, particularly with the cannon exploding, as well as the comic walk of Elmer's horse as he rides. Prior that, much of the cartoons had gags mainly inspired by Tex Avery, where timing wasn't the main touch for the overall gag.

Friz's return is shown as a big advantage where all the other directors would feel inspired by his approach towards timing and would slowly restore themselves...i.e. Clampett. Being the story as it is, its  really already seen as a typical Warners story, which Tex Avery would've picked up from earlier, where Egghead would be its star. There are also celebrity references, such as Hugh Herbert, which was very typical of Warner cartoons. The short also has a knack for bad, unfunny puns which are mainly used in the character's names, and of course--that explains Ben Hardaway's story credit on the short who carries that reputation. Of course, the short is well-known for mostly for its distribution suppressed (though not part of the Censored 11 canon), particularly with the slaves at the beginning, which I just consider much more humorous, than offensive. Whilst the short as a whole isn't as spectacular, Crimson O'Hairoil's animation design, I'll admit, has some appeal towards it, but unfortunately doesn't move well in terms of animation. Again, it's difference in comparison to a single drawing and moving it at 24 fps.


  1. The “Sold American” IS indeed a song, but is best known for being part of an advertisement for Lucky Strike Cigarettes. The auctioneer would do his auction spiel, always ending with “sold, American!” or just “American”.

  2. Who was Crimson voiced by (I'm guessin' Sara Berner.) Never hears of John Barron...didn't know that John Deering was on this as well..first heard his name years ago as connected to "Old GLory" as Uncle Sam.ELmer Fudd was very funny in this. Crimson was, er, crimson hot..heh heh heh (Elmer Fudd-ese).Steve

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  4. I like the way Crimson was animated. Her movements are very lively and entertaining.

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