Wednesday 19 November 2014

362. Saps in Chaps (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 361.
Release date: April 11, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Reid Kilpatrick (Narrator), Mel Blanc, Billy Bletcher (Various Voices).
Story: Sgt. Dave Monahan.
Animation: Manny Perez.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A spotgag parody on how the Wild West was first inhabited by civilisation.

Despite the departure of Tex Avery from the Studio, Warners still had some of his writers who were still writing out spot-gag cartoons, in the style the audience were used to seeing in the past four years. Spot gag cartoons at Warners didn't seem to die down until at least around 1944, when by that point they became less frequent, and everybody realised how unfunny they were. In this case, Freleng takes another shot at a spot-gag carton centring on the Wild West back in the pioneer days, with Dave Monahan being the writer, who is credited as "Sgt. Dave Monahan", for he became a sergeant during World War II.

The short begins with a long background displaying the journey of the pioneers going West, which is seen from the American map. An animated line coordinates the pioneer's journey. Although this shows two individual shots of each map, its a very complex job to stage and lay out, especially since the sequence will have to require visual gags.

The pioneers are travelling far, already through the Black Hills of South Dakota, in which the narrator describes: "In the ways when the west was young.."..the camera then pans to a visual gag in South Dakota of Mount Rushmore with the four presidents presented very youthful looking. The young Roosevelt caricature is very attractive.

Moving forward, the pioneers are seen travelling further (though this time wounding all the way down in Texas, crossing through Oklahoma) as they make their way through the Great Plains, then through the American Desert. More visual gags are presented along the way, such as the Rocky Mountains ('the backbone of the nation'), and so the Rockies are illustrated to look like backbones.

Some clever animation staging on the coordinate avoiding to cross the Painted Desert, Arizona as it's presented with Wet Paint signs, and the line dodges that territory. Despite a few inconsistencies with the map, it's still a well-planned sequence with some enlightening visual gags making it satisfying enough.

As for most of the cartoon, it doesn't give you much gags or wonderful sequences to offer. The rest of the short relies on a lot of uninspiring gags, which usually leads to the result of corniness and bad delivery.

One sequence focuses on a gag of a man who is seen struggling to survive in the desert as he is crawling on the ground, dehydrated and trying in vain to find water.

He even becomes a potential victim by a flying pair of vultures, with one vulture shouting out: "Hey Joe, come 'ere. I've got a bone to pick with you!". The dehydrated man then finds himself arriving at a water stand, where the water man arrives to give him a bucket of water.

He encourages him to drink steadily in order for him to survive his journey in the desert. After a guzzle from the bucket, assuming he has restored his energy, he continues his journey. Just as he continues, he immediately returns to his dehydrated state by crawling through the sand, pleading for water. This is an unfunny gag, leading to unfunny delivery, especially after all that build up it led to.

More corny sequences are released throughout the cartoon. Sequences that come in mind would be the roll-up cigarette scene. A cowboy is seen leaning beside the wagon, and is preparing to roll himself a piggy.

He takes out some rolling paper, then some tobacco; and attempts to create a rollup action by whirling his fingers. This, however, leads to no effect: except by leading his fingers in a "twisted" situation.

The hand whirl effect had a decent touch, though it's a gag that still works on its own. Then you encounter another sequence which is also trite. The scene takes us to a saloon, where a group of men are seen engaging a game of poker, and enjoying their beverages, until...A stereotypical 19th century villain walks in the saloon with two pistols pointing.

Everybody is intimidated by his appearance, except for a he-man seen leaning by the saloon. The villain fires pistols at him, only leading for the cowboy ticklish with laughter from the firing pistols. It's a incoherent gag, it's silly, but its the gist of the whole scene; to make the mucho man seem tougher than everyone's expectations. I suppose it passes as a gag.

There is some decent animated sequences which show Freleng taking his abilities to an advantage. The townsfolk scenes of the men walking down the streets in their chaps with an appealing pose as well as a decent piece of timing of their walk. The scene follows with a mouse also copying the walk, but finds however he is confronted by a cat who chases the mouse with a lasso.

Other fun sequences take place during the rodeo sequence, although in the scene I'm referring to, Friz could've exaggerated this further, to make the gag more fitting. One of the gags centers on a rodeo attempting to jump on top of his bull. His hands are holding its grip to the bull's horns, but he finds himself skidding on the ground continuous. After letting go of the bull, he finds his body has stretched out long, and his legs compressed. As a gag, the pose and exaggeration appears to be lacking, and to have him appear even more stretched would've worked better.

Dave Monahan's puns also come to great use in some sequences. Just as the pioneers have begun to settle in the Wild West, the narrator speaks metaphorically: "The towns sprang up like mushrooms". This is also another advantage to Freleng's timing as the towns plop up, indeed, like mushrooms. Treg Brown's effects also add to the appeal and wit behind the gag, adding emphasis on the growing effect. Great touch on the small gas service growing slightly.

Other great sequence in that matter, would be in the sequence featuring another rodeo performance. The cowboy is seen gripping tightly and wildly on the horse, as the narrator commentates: "He'll never throw this boy!".

Upon hearing the phrase, the horse questions his commentary by staring at the unseen narrator with doubt, and then tosses his rider from his back to the ground, before he sticks his tongue with cheekiness and walking away from the scene. The attitude the horse has is great as it gives a funnier setup to the gag as well as making the narrator appear foolish from saying those words.

More gags in the sequence that also tend to bare a lot of corny delivery and action would appear in the sequence of an Indian baby who is seen riding on top of his squaw pretending his Papoose is a saddle. The gag was thrown in the sequence showing little execution other than just plain corniness. I guess it fits in the sequence, as Injuns were still had civilisation in the Wild West.

Not to mention the scenes also show 'suspense-killers', too. In one scene a couple of cowboys are seen attempting to hold onto the gate of what appears to be a rough and intimidating horse attempting to break out and into the arena.

The narrator even uses superlatives to add to the horse's malice, as well as a word of caution: "You've got to be tough to ride this baby". As the horse jumps out of the arena with a tough attitude, he turns to the audience cheering, and feeling somewhat disturbed and intimidated himself. The horse reacts to this timidly, "Ooooh, people" and the horse shyly walks back into the stable, cancelling his performance at the arena. This is an amusing piece in satirising suspense, as the horse doesn't live to its superlatives.

Like many of the travelogue parodies in cartoons, you are always bound to find a recurring gag to carry on the entire cartoon. While this cartoon does feature a recurring gag, it doesn't really take much advantage of it, other than much a gag passing-by intended for possible laughs. The recurring gag features a cowboy who is attempting to hop on top of his horse and saddle, but his horse keeps on galloping, leaving for the cowboy to fail every time. The horse cycle as well as the cowboy's jump is nicely done and executed as a gag, but that's generally all you see as a recurring gag. It's mainly intended to interrupt opening and closing sequences. The ending gag is very much like that, though Friz adds a charming touch, with the cowboy and horse changing positions on galloping action, as the cartoon draws to a finish.

This short is evident that the spot-gag cartoons from Schlesinger were already growing very tiresome and uncreative. Not just because the gags were getting weaker, but because the cartoons lacked any inspiration for gag material as well as execution. Tex Avery's first few travelogue parodies were inventive at first because of some gags and satire which hadn't been explored before, but as more cartoons poured out, the gags grew tiring very fast. Despite this, Tex still maintained in creating an original gag every now and then. This cartoon features gags which are obviously outdated for Schlesinger humour, and that the Warner directors need to break out of the habit. Not to mention, the studio had already advanced with character personalities to the point where they could make more and more funny cartoons, whereas the spot-gag cartoons just get more dated in more wilder approach to humour that Warners was experimenting with.

Rating: 2/5.

Thursday 13 November 2014

My first published work...

I know this post has virtually nothing to do with Warner Bros. or even a cartoon review; but I feel the need to share to you readers, on a recent piece of work I'm most proud of.

Some of you may be aware of the most recent release of Didier Ghez's fantastic book series, Walt's People, which is a compilation book filled with interviews and other aspects of Disney history. Earlier this week his latest volume (Volume 15) has been released. Some folks may raise their eyebrows.."another book about Disney history?". True, there have been a huge number of books containing about Disney history, and less from other studios; but the more the merrier I'd say, as Disney had saved a lot of its great history.

This is a book meaning a lot for me, as I have made my first contribution towards a book about not just Disney history, but animation history too. It's a good feeling to have a piece of work published and contributing a small piece of animation history. I spent a good three years of sporadic research on pioneering Disney effects animator: Cy Young; whose work is best known on the earliest Disney classics like Snow White, Fantasia and Dumbo. It was a real learning experience on writing my 12-page essay on the animator, with a lot of information which I don't believe has ever been revealed to any historian before. I'll let you guys find out when you buy the book.

I felt that I had to share it in this blog (as I have no intentions of updating my old blog anymore); but I hope you will read my work and feel enlightened by it. There is also a lot of really good material in the volume, to which I will list in order:

Foreword: Mindy Johnson

Dave Smith: Bob Cook
John Culhane: Grim Natwick
Michael Barrier: Clair Weeks
Bob Casino: Willis Pyle
Didier Ghez: Charlene Sundblad about Helen and Hugh Hennesy
Göran Broling: Preston Blair
Cartoonist PROfiles: Preston Blair
Steven Hartley: The Life and Times of Cy Young
Michael Barrier: Lynn Karp
Autobiography of Basil Reynolds
Alberto Becattini: The Life and Times of Riley Thomson
John Culhane: Ward Kimball
John Culhane: Wilfred Jackson
Jim Korkis: Ham Luske’s children
Michael Broggie: Stormy Palmer
EMC West: Guy Williams Jr.
EMC West: Buddy Van Horn
EMC West: Suzanne Lloyd
George Sherman: Roger Broggie
Jim Korkis: Karl Bacon & Ed Morgan
Dave Smith: Bill Martin
Jay Horan: Bill Evans
John Culhane: Card Walker
Didier Ghez: Mike Peraza

The latest volume is currently available through Amazon, and if you are keen to buy a copy; then go right ahead and enjoy!