Today, we present what Robert McKimson recalled as one of the most “cleverest” stories he directed at Warners—The Hole Idea.
The Hole Idea marks a transitional period, in 1953, with Bob McKimson’s films for Warner Bros.’ animation department. By early March, dialogue track sessions were recorded with Robert C. Bruce and Bea Benaderet. As the cartoon was ready to be assigned animators, McKimson’s unit shut down, due to operation-wide cutbacks from the studio by April of that year. Left without animators, he handled the entire film by himself. Richard H. Thomas performed double duty. He is credited for layout and backgrounds for the cartoon, since Bob Givens, McKimson’s regular layout artist, left the studio to pursue work on industrial films and commercials.
In later years, McKimson remembered how unique The Hole Idea, with its story by veteran animator/director Sid Marcus, seemed; he noted it as “strictly a stylized thing” in an interview with Mike Barrier. The film is unlike other Warners cartoons, in that it maintains a core in its story and graphic elements, suggestive of UPA’s influence. Professor Calvin Q. Calculus’ invention of the portable hole is shown to have beneficial properties, but it is also dangerous if fallen into the wrong hands. By the end, the timid professor finds its true purpose in his own home. The opening scenes, establishing mankind’s grasp on invention in prehistoric times, are established in bold shades of red—in both characters and backgrounds. Later in the film, the police officers run as a bunched unit as they open fire on the mysterious thief.
Another similarity to UPA lies in the treatment Professor Calculus endures from his wife; the 1953 adaptation of James Thurber’s The Unicorn in the Garden also features a dysfunctional relationship between a timid man and his spouse. The shrewish Gertrude, who belittles her inventive husband in The Hole Idea, is more rooted in vaudeville, silent and sound film comedy—Laurel and Hardy’s wives are prime examples—whereas the UPA film appears almost too cruel. To avoid his wife’s tirade, the Professor takes his hat and briefcase, carrying the portable holes to exploit to the masses. (Of course, the sanctity of marriage is ridiculed another way—in the newsreel footage, one of the useful aspects for the invention is for a husband to escape kitchen chores.)
Before entering in animation, musical director Milt Franklyn toured the country as an orchestra bandleader, musical director and emcee throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Compared to Carl Stalling, Franklyn’s early scores in the Warners films, such as The Hole Idea, relied more on softer arrangements with woodwind and string instruments, utilizing other musical families depending on the scene. For instance, a jazzy rendition of “King Chanticleer” underscores the scene of the thief kidnapping a chorus girl from a burlesque venue. After Stalling retired in 1958, Franklyn took over as musical director for the cartoons. Franklyn passed away in 1962, during production of the Tweety/Sylvester film The Jet Cage.
The Hole Idea was released to theaters in April 1955. Although producer Eddie Selzer refused to submit the film to the Academy for an Oscar consideration, fellow directors Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng praised McKimson’s film. The film won an award from the University of Wisconsin as among the ten best short subjects of the year. The Hole Idea was the only animated entry in that category.
Since McKimson is the sole animator on this film, it seems unnecessary to prepare a breakdown video for this installment. This copy is sourced from a video server—should the server be shut down at any point, it will be updated with a new source. (A lesser quality version is embed below for those not picky about quality).
(Thanks to Jerry Beck and Keith Scott for their help.)