We’re shaking things up this time with a very popular Walter Lantz Swing Symphony!
Director Shamus Culhane’s keen sense of design, cutting, timing and characterization at the Lantz studio gave their output a large step in quality, far ahead of what Alex Lovy and Walter himself achieved when they directed during the early forties. The Swing Symphonies – a more contemporary pastiche on Disney’s Silly Symphonies – was Culhane’s chance to give it his all, presenting a quick, energetic style to the Lantz product.
Although he considered the music to be “junk,” Culhane was prepared to receive an education about jazz from Lantz’s musical composer, the overlooked Darrell Calker. Like Fleischer’s Betty Boop and Screen Songs, the Swing Symphonies often showcased popular jazz performers, such as trombonist Jack Teagarden (Pied Piper of Basin Street) and pianist Bob Zurke (Jungle Jive) whom Calker knew personally.
Animators Grim Natwick, Les Kline, Verne Harding, Paul Smith, Don Williams, Emery Hawkins, and Pat Matthews, among others who didn’t participate in this cartoon, were part of the sole unit of artists. Other West Coast studios had several units, since they had more than one or two directors. Dick Lundy became a director later on, beginning with the last Swing Symphony, Sliphorn King of Polaroo (also featuring Jack Teagarden). All Lantz animators mentioned received credit for their work, albeit on a rotating credit system, so there are not any “unknown” animators in this cartoon.
Culhane’s Abou Ben Boogie is a successor to his earlier Middle Eastern Swing Symphony The Greatest Man in Siam. Both were clearly derivative of Tex Avery’s colossal M-G-M hit Red Hot Riding Hood. Genuine “sexy gal” animation is long gone, but it’s nice to witness Natwick and Matthews’ mastery of natural feminine movement without the aid of rotoscope or live-action reference for “Miss X” (whose singing voice was provided by radio/nightclub singer Patricia Kay). The timing of Don Williams’ waiter and Matthews’ jazzy camel ballet are also brilliant in their execution.
Alas, the Lantz studio was not without its weaknesses. The animation’s clean-up work is not very careful. Note the close-up of the hat check girl (animated by Natwick); her features tend to slide away from her face. In scene 17, Miss X’s lips float around under her nose (reused from an earlier shot).
The draft is confusing in terms of scene numbering and artist assignments. Curiously, most of the scene numbers are not listed as individual shots, but as whole sequences (i.e. scenes 3, 8 and 16). That being said, the quick shots that take place before scene 17A – the “thermometer” and “melting” gags – seem to have been added after the draft had been worked out, presumably to accentuate Miss X’s sex appeal.
Notice that some artists have their names crossed off from different scenes. For instance, Verne Harding is credited for the close-up of the camel singing (scene 20). This was originally bestowed to the great Emery Hawkins. However, the scene fits more into Hawkins’ timing than it does Harding’s. Scene 23, with Abou and Miss X’s first meeting, is credited to both Les Kline and Pat Matthews. Once they start to jitterbug, it seems to switch to Matthews, as the work does not match Kline’s drawing of Abou.
When comparing the film to the draft (below) you’ll note it deviates from the draft at times, given how it is planned, but offers an idea of the Lantz artists’ capability under Culhane’s skillful direction.
First – here’s the film with animators identified with their scene:
Second – here’s the original draft:
Thanks to Mark Kausler, Chase Pritchard, Keith Scott, Jerry Beck and Frank Young for assistance.