Monday, 21 October 2013

303. Holiday Highlights (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 302.
Release date: October 12, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Tex Avery (Old College Professor), Gil Warren (Narrator); Mel Blanc and Sara Berner (Various Voices).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Charles McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag parody which centers on holiday events.

As though the truckload of spot-gag/travelogue parodies weren't enough for Tex; this time he creates another new concept: holiday events. Many popular holiday events were featured in the short, which Tex would attempt to turn them into gags.

Throughout the cartoon, Tex plans out the holiday highlights chronologically throughout the year...starting with supposedly: New Years Day 1940, and ending on New Year's Eve. Because the short was released in theatres late 1940; the timing couldn't have been more perfect the cartoon, as the year 1940 was already wrapping up for 1941.

I won't go through every painstaking event with an analysis; as I'll only analyse certain aspects of the cartoon itself and use the sequences as examples. But if you want; here are the events which appear in chronological order of the cartoon:

--January 1st (New Year)
--February 14th (Valentine's Day)
--February 22nd (Washington's Birthday)
--March 19th (Arbor Day)
--March 24th (Easter Day)
--April 1st (April Fools Day)
--May 12th (Mother's Day)
--June 1st (Graduation Day)
--October 31st (Halloween)
--November Thanksgiving!
--December 25th (Christmas Day)
--December 31st (New Years Eve)
--January 1st (New Year 1941)

Being set in time, there is no doubt that some of the gags will be featured as very dated as well as historic. A good example is seen in Graduation Day. The college professor (voiced by Tex Avery); proudly awards the diploma to the graduate, and proudly remarks: "You are now equipped to take your place in society".

Listening to that short line from the Professor's monologue; Tex uses the gag to express the dark side of American society back in 1940. After wishing him good luck with his future; the graduate marches out of the auditorium, straight towards town, and joins the bread line for the unemployed.

The gag itself is very dark in a very subtle manner, whereas it implies that the graduate himself is unemployed, and also how back then, even graduates struggled to find jobs because of the Great Depression. This shows a very dark satire of the Depression. Joining the line, and getting barged by the queue, to his surprise the college professor even joins the line, "Take it easy, McGee!". An amusing little touch which doesn't imply the professor was made redundant in a flash, but just elements of Tex's wackiness.

Speaking a little about dated gag references; not only is the 'T'Ain't Funny, McGee" title card evident; but take a look at the calendar layout for November Thanksgiving. You get a subtle prediction of what the 1940 U.S. general election results are going to be.

It appears to be that whoever contributed that gag in Tex's unit (could be Tex or Monahan) predicted for Wendell Wilkie (Republican) to win, whereas Franklin Roosevelt would win that election for a third term.

The next gag which occurs during Halloween itself features another way which appears to be celebrated on the same day as Halloween. A wicked witch rides on her broom out in a full moon, but attached is a banner which reads out: Dollar Day - Monday. Of course it isn't recognised as a national holiday but this supposed to be a dated Depression-oriented reference?

Comparing numerous styles of humour which appear to vary throughout the cartoon; the Valentine's Day is definitely a very creative sequence which has some hilarious delivery. Here it involves two kids who are standing in the shape of a love-hear, looking innocent looking, and the girl holding a Valentine card.

Tex, being the opposite of innocence, steals it away from the kids and they embrace one another lustfully and sexually--just like what you see in pictures. The delivery and the acting is just top-notch, and just shows how Warners had that creative freedom. The narrator, watching the activity, reminds them it is leap year; and so the girl embraces and caresses the boy; as it is known by tradition, that in leap year: women propose to men. The girl, acting like Hepburn then smothers him with affection and lust.

Probably the two funniest sequences of the whole cartoon would be, the April Fools Day gag; and the Mother's Day sequence, which will be broken into analysis. Just like any of the other holiday sequences being presented with a gag climax, Tex shows some great believability and motivation to fool the audience itself.

The audience, itself, are conned by the delivery of the April Fools gag, and it shows how Tex certainly created a very fresh and motivating gag out of it, even if at that point he was just recycling gags from his previous spot-gags (including the "Tain't funny, McGee" title card from the management). The narrator himself shows some great joy and acting abilities that makes the audience appear like dummies.

The following sequence then occurs on Mother's Day. An elderly mother is seen sitting on her rocking chair knitting, expressionless. According to the narrator; the mother had not seen her own son in 20 years. Just then, the door knocks and with joy; her son hadn't forgot his own mother.

Just then, the son walks into the house from his mother's front porch. Dressed as an unshaven and tatty fellow; he mumbles, 'Hi ma'; with the mother responding 'Hi son', and not looking at the son or showing any affection for a reunion. The son then proceeds to leave, 'Bye ma', with the mother responding back: 'Bye son'. A very low-key climax for the sequence, but it shows great satire for what you may find in the typical reunion sequences.

Of course; there will be holiday events to celebrate historical points in the United States. One of them celebrates the day of George Washington's birthdate. This date then occurs at a flashback where legend has it that George Washington cut down his father's favourite cherry tree. The cherry tree, being tiny and easily removable is already satirised by Tex to that extent. His father, hearing the loud bang from the small tree, then rushes over to ask whether he had chopped down his favourite cherry tree. George Washington, replies smugly but quotes Mr. Kitzel, "Mmm, couldst be".

Also, probably the nation's most celebrated event which isn't international, Thanksgiving Day. Of course, tradition it is where the family would gather around the dining hall enjoying a piece of turkey. The family are seated at the dining table where they say grace. A turkey at the end, also says grace, until the mention of 'turkey': "And thank you for this lovely turkey!" Then the turkey double-takes, "Turkey?! What am I saying?!" and he flies off with his feathers following him. A great example of how a double-take should be displayed and constructed, and wonderful animation timing of the feathers following the escaped turkey.

 And of course, there are also some recycled and continuous gags which are seen in many Tex Avery spot-gag cartoons. One particular element is seen which involves dogs. That's right, Tex appeared to have a weird affliction when it came to gags about dogs; and not to mention, trees. We've seen examples in Believe It Or Else or Cross Country Detours.

At the end sequence which the parade; the parade then celebrates the Big Trees of California being a popular crowd for dogs. The dogs then crowd around the trees, with such desire to take a whizz.

Another example for some reused elements is the character reversal personas. In the Easter sequences; the narrator focuses on the cute bunny giving out Easter eggs in grassy areas for the children. Then the suspense builds up, a fierce, hard-looking fox approaches the scene. He crawls slyly and carefully towards the bunny rabbit and we believe the rabbit will meet his fate. Just as he corners the rabbit behind him, he immediately turns into a cretinous, silly little fox: "Hey, uh, Mr. Easter bunny, have you got one for me?". The Easter bunny immediately zips out of scene. You'd expect the setup to be the fox breaking down shouting "I can't do it!"; but instead the cretinous personality shows some comical acting by Mel Blanc and the animator.

Overall, Holiday Highlights may be just "one of those things" which Tex was turning out; but at times he definitely comes up with some very fresh gags and situations. The narrator isn't the usual, albeit very talented Robert C. Bruce--but instead it is Gil Warren, who is just as talented. Tex manages to slide by some of his very own personal humour; like the Valentine sequence, as well as his satire. Being not just the typical spot-gag cartoon; it also doesn't feature a recurring sequence of a particular character whose activity is seen as mysterious but with the gag revealed in the conclusion of the cartoon. The events which flow through the whole cartoon are a solid bit of construction, especially since it is shown as a cycle starting at New Years Day and ending at New Years Day. His animation timing, which he would be very infamous for, is becoming only a little noticeable at this period. The turkey bird who flies out of the scene, is a subtle example but this wouldn't be at least another two years until Tex would go on to be one of greatest comic-timing directors who ever lived.


  1. Dollar Days were a Depression-era promotion with many hard-hit business districts. A dollar was a substantial amount of money, back then, for many, it was half-a-day's wages. But during dollar days, many items that were usually sold for multiples of $1 were on sale. Today's equivalent would be a Grand Opening event at a 'Dollar' store, where the first 100 visitors could get a big-screen TV or other high-ticket items for a dollar. People would camp out in front of the store, sometimes for days before, to satisfy there need for material possessions they normally could not afford to have.

  2. I'd sure like to know who the Warner caricatures are in this cartoon.

    1. Wasn't the caricature featured in the 'Arbor Day' sequence? Sorry, those caricatures did not cross my mind when watching the short.

    2. The college student looks like a caricature of someone.
      Here's the background behind the Thanksgiving gag:

  3. Eric O. Costello22 October 2013 at 16:04

    During the 1930s, there was a move to bring the celebration of Thanksgiving one week earlier than was traditional, in order to lengthen the shopping season. Republicans generally regarded this skeptically, as tinkering with a long-standing holiday for not a particularly good reason. Hence why the Republicans are celebrating on the 28th, and the Democrats on the 21st. It had nothing to do, directly, with the election.

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