BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
August 15, 2018 posted by Devon Baxter

Bugs Bunny in “A-Lad-In His Lamp” (1948)

“Hey— look, fellas, I’m a hare-plane!” Travel with Bugs Bunny to Baghdad in this cult classic from Bob McKimson…

In a letter to author Graham Webb (The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons), Bob McKimson stated, in an air of satisfaction, that he was the first animation director to hire radio actor Jim Backus before his success as the voice of Mister Magoo for UPA. McKimson modeled the Genie, whom Bugs calls Smokey (derived from studio cameraman/projectionist Hank “Smokey” Garner) after Backus’ millionaire playboy Hubert Updike III on The Alan Young Show. When Smokey emerges from Aladdin’s lamp, he announces: “I’m here! I’m here!” similar to how Updike would make his presence known on the radio program.

Other catchphrases from the The Alan Young Show were borrowed for A-Lad in His Lamp; when Smokey introduces himself with a quip to Bugs Bunny, he remarks, “That was a witty one!” followed by a conceited, hearty laugh. In the following scene, Smokey claims “I’ve got millions!” in terms of granting wishes to Bugs, comparable to how Updike would brag about his riches. (Here is an example of the parallel between Hubert Updike III and Smokey the Genie.) The recording session between Mel Blanc and Jim Backus for A-Lad-in his Lamp occurred on October 5th, 1946. Around the same time the dialogue track was recorded, Backus appeared as a weekly regular on Mel Blanc’s own starring radio program—which aired on CBS from 1946-47—where he played the egotistical womanizer Hartley Benson.

In this cartoon, McKimson assigned two principal animators to the first half of the film, with Bugs in the woods, and the second half, set in Baghdad, to the remainder. Bob’s brother Charles McKimson animates the opening scenes of Bugs finding Aladdin’s lamp buried underground, and, as with many of his cartoons, he is given much of the tight close-ups of Bugs throughout the film. Manny Gould, the dominant animator of the film, handles the extended sequence of Bugs meeting Smokey, the “Genie with the Light Brown Hare” in perhaps his finest work for McKimson. In scene 4A, Smokey the genie appears out of the lamp, and announces his arrival, in Gould’s trademark usage of exaggerated arm flailing and hand gestures. Gould also accentuates the character acting within Bugs’ reaction—first, in awe of the mythical spirit, then grows annoyed as Smokey continues his showy introduction, and pulls on his vest to bring him closer.

The sequence further displays Gould’s strengths as an animator when Bugs is denied several wishes before he can articulate them. In the third instance, Smokey answers, “Oh, heavens to Gimbels, NO!”, another catchphrase obtained from Backus’ Hubert Updike character. Scene 8, staged in a low angle, also uses hand gestures for Bugs and foreshortens them close to the camera. He also animates Bugs throwing his two newly acquired carrots aside, as he inadvertently wishes for a journey to Baghdad, which Smokey grants by placing him inside of the lamp. In a nice comic touch, Bugs pops his head out of the lamp, with an indignant expression, before Smokey encloses the lid. Manny Gould’s animation raised the vitality of McKimson’s cartoons in the late 1940s, but it did not last long. He departed the studio for Jerry Fairbanks Productions by the fall of 1947, before the film’s release.

Phil De Lara animates the first scenes of Caliph Hassen Pheffer (to add further to the amount of rabbit-based puns in the film) reclining comfortably in his royal palace, as he smokes a hookah. De Lara continues to handle the sequence, with Bugs’ crash-landing onto the Caliph and his refusal to give him Aladdin’s lamp. When Bugs attempts to enlist Smokey to help fight the Caliph, he interrupts his bath (by Phil De Lara), his supper (by Charles McKimson) and his conquest with a female genie (by John Carey). These intrusions on Smokey the genie are strikingly equivalent to such a motif in the Fleischer Popeye two-reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (1939), though, not as uncouth; the genie in the Fleischer film is summoned in the midst of a shave, roused from his slumber and interrupted while enjoying an ice cream cone.

De Lara animates the Caliph obtaining the magic lamp from Bugs, laughing with youthful exuberance, catching his breath before rubbing it, only to face the onslaught of Smokey’s fury from being beckoned much too often. Fred Abranz is listed in the production draft for animation on the ending scenes, with Bugs’ last wish. As with all of his work for Warners, he is not credited among the other animators during the main title sequence. Recent evidence has surfaced that Abranz was promoted to a full-fledged animator in Bob Clampett’s unit by late 1944.

Layout drawing and final BG painting
(Click To Enlarge)

It is not known when the orchestration was recorded for the film, though it has been indicated that it occurred a year after the film started production in November 1947. Carl Stalling uses a mixture of Middle Eastern and Asian-flavored tunes for A-Lad-in his Lamp, mostly from the early 20th century, which no doubt stemmed from his background as a theatre organist at movie houses during the 1910s and 1920s.

J. Bodewalt Lampe’s fantasie characteristique “A Vision of Salome” plays underneath the opening main titles and is heard extensively during the establishing scenes of Baghdad. Two compositions by John W. Bratton (best known for The Teddy Bear’s Picnic) are used in the film; “In a Pagoda” plays during the first meeting between Bugs and Smokey the Genie, and a fast-tempo, rousing version of “The Star of India” is used during Bugs’ ride on a motorized flying carpet. A brief fragment from Guillaume Vargas’ “The Spirit of the Nile” can be heard when Smokey mentions his fabulous estate in Baghdad to Bugs. The cue sheet for this cartoon—approved a month later on December 23, 1947— lists another Arabian-themed cue composed by Theo Bendix, “Bluebeard and Fatima,” which plays when Bugs repeatedly tugs on the Caliph’s beard.

In examining the production draft for Bob McKimson’s A-Lad-in his Lamp, note that many scenes are excised from the final film—more so than other drafts shared on this column from the director. The cartoon may have been intended as a more elaborate production. Due to decreased budgets in the Warners cartoons, the material had to be omitted. The diminishing funds for animated short films, which affected many animation studios, occurred after the Screen Cartoonists’ Union was granted a 25% pay increase for all artists in 1946, which stemmed from grievances over lower pay wages. Bob McKimson and writer Warren Foster’s tactic to overcome these compromises, as the film transitions from Bugs’ woodland surroundings to Baghdad (spelled “Bagdad” in the cartoon), is to show several static establishing scenes of the city, with verbal sight gags—similar to writer Ben Hardaway’s pun-filled opening scenes for Walter Lantz’s cartoons—which amounts to about 55 feet (almost 40 seconds) with no animation.

Near the end of the film, astute viewers might notice a slight editing gaffe when Smokey arises from the lamp, summoned by the Caliph. Before the insert shot of Bugs shouting, “Sock im’, Smokey!”, the previous shot ends a few frames too late, when Smokey is ready to lunge and beat the Caliph “to a pulp.” The same few frames of Smokey and the Caliph repeat after the insert shot of Bugs. These two insert shots of Bugs are not listed in the draft—it might be the work of Phil De Lara, who animates the scenes with Smokey and Caliph in the same sequence. Based on the drawing/movement of Bugs in previous scenes by De Lara, his credit is inserted into the breakdown video.

Special thanks to Cartoon Research reader Ian Soden who sent us this scan of the draft (below). Note the alternate working titles, which are crossed out: “Genie’s Lite [sic] Brown Hare” and “The Fair-Haired Hare”—the latter of which became the title of a Friz Freleng cartoon released in 1951, with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam.

Enjoy! Next Week is another Silly Symphony entirely appropriate for the summer months…

(Thanks to Ian Soden, Thad Komorowski, Keith Scott, Jerry Beck and Andrew Gilmore for their help.)

27 Comments

  • Ah yes, one of my favorite Bugs cartoons directed by Robert McKimson. Three favorite moments come to mind: “What’s up, beaver puss?” – a great twist on his usual catchphrase; the scene where the genie keeps cutting off Bugs when he’s trying to think of a wish: “NOW CUT THAT OUT!”; and when Bugs angrily jabs a stick in the lamp only for the genie to grab it and whack Bugs on the noggin.

    Everyone does fine work in this short but my favorite bits of animation belong to Manny Gould and Phil de Lara. A shame Gould couldn’t have stayed with the unit longer.

    “Bluebeard and Fatima” also played in “Ali-Baba Bunny”, BTW.

  • had always assumed that the “Smokey” name reference was to the fact that the genie came out of the lamp like smoke and his bottom half remained smokey. It never occurred to me that it might be an allusion to Smokey Garner. Always enjoy your columns. Thanks for the research you put into them!

  • This is one of my favorite cartoons specifically because of Jim Backus’ hilarious voice over as the genie. There is a BUGS BUNNY cartoon in which the three little pigs try and sell him their two houses before the wolf appears in which the wolf, played by Mel Blanc, sounds a slight bit like Backus’ usual haughty characters, but that just might be coincidence.

    Sorry to hear that this film may have been shortened to economize and, believe me, it would have been so terrific if Bugs Bunny did find his way into a feature film similar to POPEYE. Lord knows there were many opportunities. Think of any of the cartoons that could have been expanded into feature length–how about that ultimate “FANTASIA” parody? Okay, so that one was too obvious, but there were one or two other times that had nothing to do with parody that might have worked. Having seen Bugs inserted into a live action film at Warner Brothers leads me to believe that the guys at Termite Terrace just might have been chomping at the bitt to take that chance, although so many of their characters were far too good at the short subject. That’s why we cherish the LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES above all other. While some of you might wince at any mention of Buddy, perhaps a feature length something-or-other with Buddy involved might have breathed new life into that character and his shorts would have garnered a little more respect.

    Anyway, “A-LAD-IN HIS LAMP” is one of those cartoons that I wish had made the GOLDEN or PLATINUM COLLECTION sets. It would have demanded a commentary as good as the one here. Thanks, Devon, Jerry, Thad and whoever else for this great post.

    • It’s known that Leon Schlesinger was averse to making an animated feature. In fact, every time the subject came up he responded with an obscene remark. His successor Eddie Seltzer, I imagine, had similar views; why risk competing with Disney in the feature film arena when the shorts are so successful on a fraction of the budget.

    • Of course in 1964 Warner Bros.DID release a feature with its central character turned into an animated porpoise, played by Don Knotts (his first onscreen role since “The Andy Griffith Show”):
      “The Incredible Mr.Limpet.”
      NO bugs there.

      I would have loved WB to have not used their classics in the forties and just create new or adapt characters for any feature film had they done this. Only Mr.Magoo at Columbia/UPA starred in a feature.

  • Another great post, Devon – I’ve always enjoyed McKimson’s cartoons and IMO- next to HILLBILLY HARE- this is probably his best Bugs Bunny short.

  • A superlative post. Thank YOU!!! Heavens to Gimbles, YESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!

  • I think the scene cuts were made to bring the picture in at a reasonable length. McKimson also cut footage from scenes already assigned a length, and those are noted to the right of the footage total column (sc’s 2, 6, 7, 8A, 9A, 12, 13, 18A, 22, 27). It looks like extra footage cuts were needed beyond the scene cuts.

    And the ending may have been a superfluous gag and worth cutting.

    • I’m still of the mind this cartoon was intended to be more elaborate but was a victim of the front office keeping costs down. We kind of get tricked because the Manny Gould-and-Jim Backus team-up on Smokey is indeed one of the highlights of ’40s character animation… but really, what happens after that buildup in this cartoon? 40 seconds of backgrounds and Bugs runs into a generic sultan. Bugs isn’t given a hell of a lot to do either.

      I’m in the vast minority, but considering all of this, it’s kind of a dud. “Heavens to gimbles, no!”

  • Ah, the 40s.

    A wonderful era wherein one could address another as Beaver-Puss.

    Thanks Devon.

  • Does anyone know who got these 64 drafts and if they are going to share them with Baxter’s Breakdowns? 🙂 https://comics.ha.com/itm/memorabilia/comic-related/robert-mckimson-bugs-bunny-and-friends-director-s-lead-sheets-group-of-64-warner-brothers-c-1950s-60s-total-64-items-/a/7148-97405.s

  • As with his Foghorn Leghorn efforts of the same period, McKimson takes advantage of Backus’ broad character to show off a ton of wild hand gestures here, though having Jean Blancard’s ‘chubby Bugs’ design here is a little bit of a demerit (it’s interesting how all the units would adopt Bob’s main character designs when he was working with the Clampett unit, but when it came to his late 40s decisions as director to fatten up Bugs and put a bigger nozzle and nose of Sylvester, Friz and Chuck balked and eventually the McKimson unit move closer to the body types those two units were using).

    • I don’t know why the character designs had to converge. Nothing wrong with a little freedom in draughtsmanship.

    • The contrast was in the 1942-45 period, the goal was to get every unit’s Bugs to look as close as possible to the Bugs drawn by Robert McKimson (Friz’s unit still had some holdouts in a couple of scenes all the way until 1945’s “Hare Trigger”). But the other units didn’t go where Bob went in the late 1940s with his evolution of the character, and by the time we get to “What’s Up Doc?” his unit’s design of the rabbit’s body has moved back towards what Jones and Freleng never stopped using..

  • Interesting that the draft doesn’t include A.C. Gamer, who is credited for effects animation. Perhaps his job began after the draft when all the character animation was done.

    • I suppose that was considered another department on a need to be done basis. A.C. Gamer’s work can be seen throughout mainly with all of the detailed airbrushing he was famous for. Airbrushing on cel is extremely difficult and Gamer’s work was stunning all the time, and especially when there were long scenes employing the technique. The black smoke emanating from the rear end of Colonel Shuffle in “Mississippi Hare” immediately comes to mind as a Gamer tour de force. I am also highly impressed with his work on the spaceship in “Haredevil Hare”, in which I believe his airbrushing is augmented with some camera over-exposures. I have come to the opinion that in some cases the scenes would be shot as normal, and then the camera rolled back and only the airbrush effects exposed on black card once more to brighten them up just a bit. I learned that Maurice Noble employed that technique in the film “Chariots of Fur” in 1994, not with airbrush art, but just cel painted white lightning bolts. It was very effective and delicate looking.

  • Another fine job Devon, thank you. Again makes me hope these breakdowns (at least the Warner ones) could be a fine book one day. McKimson was one of the directors most willing to give radio people a cartoon gig before others did, as with Backus here, Sheldon Leonard (SOCK A DOODLE DO and the two Dosworth entries), Pat Patrick in CORN PLASTERED and others. He knew some stories would need a distinctive counterpoint to Blanc, and other times he simply gave a cartoon a fresh sounding character voice. He was an appreciator of radio’s comic voices, and as I mentioned in my old orgins of Foghorn piece, he was almost going to hire a nightclub comic to do the first Foghorn Leghorn (although we are all very glad that role went to Mel !).

    • And it was him who fin ally gave Jack Benny and some of his gang a (credited!) cartoon role in “The Mouse that Jack Built!”

  • Haven’t seen this one since at least the last 15 years, probably as a result of 9/11; should have been on those boxed sets.

  • “Cut it out! You’ll wrinkle the ma-teeer-i-aaaal!”
    That line (and the similar “Mmmm, nice piece of material!”) show up in a lot of places. Too corny to be anything but a radio catch-phrase – but from where? (Miss those Radio Round-Up columns.)

    • Sounds like a Joe Besser reference to me. Warren Foster was prone to referring to Besser’s character traits and routines, as in “Hollywood Canine Canteen”. I have no idea what radio work Besser did as I have been more familiar with him caricatured in cartoons, being one of “The Three Stooges” and recently having seen him in a recurring role in “The Joey Bishop Show” running on Antenna TV.

  • Honest, my wife and I, along with several family members, always pronounce it
    “SAAHH-sitive” thanks to this cartoon. An all time favorite.

    The Alan Young Show also introduced Kenny Delmar’s Senator Claghorn character as a regular.

  • Heavens to Aahh-nt Martha! I meant to spell it “SAAHHNN-sitive!”

  • 1) John Carey mostly is given wide shots. He seems to give Bugs smaller and wider spaced eyes than the other animators, similar to how Don Williams drew him in “Acrobatty Bunny” and “Bowery Bugs” (I believe the only two times he animated the character?)

    2) Towards the end of the cartoon, everyone gets a shot at animating the Genie (unless some scenes were reassigned after the draft was written) but they all use the same broad gestures that Manny Gould did in the first half. Were they deliberately following Gould’s lead, or were they part of McKimson’s direction that Gould just did more effectively than the others?

    3) If Fred Abranz had previously animated for Bob Clampett’s, it would appear that, like Rod Scribner, he switched to the McKimson unit when Art Davis inherited Clampett’s. (Also, what is this “new evidence” that has recently come to light? 🙂 Will it be featured in a future post?)

    4) How do you know Abranz animated the final shot? It’s not indicated on the draft.

  • I am not quite sure what you mean by the “editing gaffe” at the end, despite watching it several times. Would you mind explaining that a bit? What I do notice, and noticed years ago, is that there appears to have been a line of dialogue of the Caliph edited out. One can hear the tail end of something said resultant from the forced sound edit. As for the all the talk about reducing costs, none of the gags that involved still pictures have ever struck me as being out of the ordinary in a Warner Bros. cartoon. They wouldn’t have been any funnier with animation. On the reducing costs idea, I find the timing of this all very counter-intuitive. It has always appeared to me that McKimson’s cartoons only got more elaborate in terms of their animation in the late 1940’s. McKimson’s efforts to cut costs, based on his level of experience as an animator and director, are seen mainly in the early 1950’s. Many have noted his use of “jump cuts” (for instance in “Of Rice and Hen”) and I believe have perceived these as strange or sloppy directorial decisions of his. I believe what McKimson was doing was avoiding animation having to be put on 1’s. In the cartoon I mentioned, McKimson would cut from a long shot of Foghorn, to a medium shot in the same layout, thus cutting off a view of his legs and feet. Then Foghorn would walk with only the need to pan the background thus not necessitating putting the character on 1’s. It was common practice at Warner Bros. Cartoons (up until the early 1960’s) to shift to 1’s whenever there was seen foot contact with a background pan. Even in the latter day period, animators such as Ken Harris would still shift to 1’s on such occasions (even on “The Bugs Bunny Show” sequences), leaving less experienced animators such as Bob Bransford, for instance, to do animation on 2’s with a background pan. I am thinking specifically of the film “Louvre Come Back To Me”.

    • I added an extra sentence to make clear about the editing gaffe. Hope it helps a little!

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