Christopher P. Lehman
December 2, 2017 posted by Christopher Lehman

The Censored 11: “Jungle Jitters” (1938)

If you were to look at a map of Africa from February 1938, you would find a continent full of European colonies. Many of the countries identified themselves in the names of the colonies such as Belgian Congo, French West Africa, Portuguese Guinea, and Spanish Sahara. Elsewhere in Africa, Libya was an Italian colony, Nigeria and Rhodesia were British, and Angola and Mozambique were Portuguese. Meanwhile, European and American popular culture typically depicted the continent as full of dark-skinned, cannibalistic, and nearly naked natives or powerful Europeans ruling the Africa like the fictional character Tarzan. The political philosophy that Africa was the “white man’s burden” to civilize still held sway among Westerners.

In this environment emerges the fifth cartoon of the Censored Eleven: Jungle Jitters. This Technicolor episode of Warner Brothers’ “Merrie Melodies” series is yet another entry directed by Friz Freleng, and it follows his pattern of filling the first few minutes with quick gags and then a thin plot for the remainder of the film. In this case, dark-skinned and half-clothed natives star in the gags. Their jewelry serve as jump ropes and as a merry-go-round prize. The merry-go-round consists of natives sliding up and down on their spears in a circle. Concerning ethnicity specifically, the lips of a native dramatically shiver after he eats a persimmon.

After these gags is a plot full of colonialism. A dopey,canine caricature of fictional radio character Elmer Blurt arrives at the native community. He is a pale-skinned, fully clothed door-to-door salesman, and the natives immediately put him in a pot for boiling. However, when they tell their queen–a blond, pale-skinned, fully clothed anthropomorphic chicken–about the visitor, she orders them to bring him in for her to meet. She becomes infatuated at first sight and calls for an immediate wedding, and the salesman goes through with it. But when it is time to kiss the bride, the groom voluntarily jumps back in the boiling water.

What would land this cartoon in the Censored Eleven in 1968? Probably the ethnic humor and the standard design of dark-skinned characters having lips take up the bottom-third of the head made the film a target for removal from television syndication. Those characters take up a majority of time on screen in the cartoon, making it impossible to censor just those scenes and leave much of a cartoon remaining.

Also, if you were to look at a map of Africa from 1968, you would find that many of the African colonies had become independent countries. There was no more Belgian Congo or French West Africa. Libya had gained independence, and the indigenous people of Portuguese Guinea were at war with their colonizers. With European countries taking measures to decolonize Africa in some parts and the indigenous taking matters into their own hands in others, the image in Jungle Jitters of Africa as the “white chicken-woman’s burden” no longer was relevant in 1968.

32 Comments

  • When I finally saw this cartoon for myself, I remembered it having no redeeming features whatsoever. There’s no defending the caricatures, the ‘Queen’ is a rip-off of the widow character from Avery’s “I Only Have Eyes For You” of the previous year and there isn’t even a piece of catchy song or underscore that’s worth listening to.

    • Well, no, the Queen is a spoof of Tizzie Lish (read about the character here).
      Basically, if you listened to the Al Pearce Show when this cartoon came out, this cartoon was for you. It doesn’t have a lot for audiences of the 21st century who wouldn’t know Al Pearce from Al Gore. Even the “ugly dame joke” ending is old, tired and predictable now.

    • Actually the Widow character in Tex Avery’s film and The Queen in Jungle Jitters weren’t not ripoffs but were based on a popular character on Al Pearce’s radio show, broadcast on NBC and the Blue Network, named Tizzie Lish (portrayed by actor Bill Comstock). His character voiced by Ted Pierce also appeared in Porky the Hero and The Woods are Full of Cuckoos.

    • Queen was based on Tizzie Lish (Bill Comstock) on “Al Pearce’s” Gang. Coincidentally, another man would voice her as a chicken here, Tedd Pierce, who also does the dog.

      “Scooby-Doo” (can ANYONE eplain how THAT show ever came about/?>???) is a FAR worse cartoon than ANY of of Warners theatricals..

    • That character is supposed to be Tizzie Lish? I honestly had no idea that’s what they were going for, in either this cartoon or Avery’s. Wow, I guess for once the radio references were too subtle even for me.

      Thanks for the clarification, Yowp!

    • I kind of disagree with that, Scarras.

    • “Scooby-Doo” (can ANYONE eplain how THAT show ever came about/?>???)

      Marmaduke plus Dobie Gillis divided by I Love A Mystery.

  • The weakest cartoon of what was the studio’s breakout 1937-38 season, when overall it finally found it’s identity in making funny non-Disney cartoons. ‘Funny’ is not a word to describe “Jungle Jitters” though — it feels like Friz had one foot out the door headed to MGM when he turned this one in to Leon. All the characters are annoying, and with no musical score of any note to offset a little of the racial stereotypes as with some of the other “Censored 11” efforts, it’s probably the most irritating of the bunch (though we haven’t gotten to “Angel Puss” yet…)

  • I have never heard of “Elmer Blurt.” I always thought the character was a bad ripoff of Goofy.

    • A terrible cartoon, no matter how you slice it.

    • I had read that the character’s original name was Elmer Blurp, but it changed over time to Blurt… which was easier to “blurt” out.

    • I too thought of Goofy when I first saw this and once thought, had this beeen made a year later they couldve had Pinto Colvig voice the salesman (like the mountie in SNOW MAN’S LAND). But I figured Friz’s idea was Al Pearce in Africa, which has made the short even more dated.

      Interesting that the European colonization was mentioned. Tashlin’s THE MAJOR LIED TIL DAWN (1938), a non censored 11 short with minor native African stereotypes, (but otherwise an overall much better short than JUNGLE JITTERS) had more direct references to British colonization, which could be why its also seldomly seen.

  • I Recall that Jungle Jitters was still broadcasting tv in LATAM Spanish on XHGC TV 5 in Mexico City in the 1990’s and I found a copy of Jungle Jitters as part of a series of vintage cartoons that are now Public Domain DVDs that were sold in LATAM Spanish at Walmart for $1. Unusual how one of Censored 11 could still survive into the late 20th Century after it was banned from tv broadcast in 1968.

    • LS 82 TV Canal 7 (now, using the pseudonym Teleivisión Pública Argentina), used to run this cartoon up until at least 1989, with the typical Mexican dubbed version. (LS86 TV Canal 2, pseudonym America TV, also aired it from 1989 to 1992 in a series that also incorporated domestically dub cartoons pretending to have Mexican voices when in many cases were actually recorded at the time in Buenos Aires… Adolfo Stambulsky, who was involved in the Argentine dubbings, attempted to upload a few of them to YouTube, but they were immediately removed by Warners.)

    • It wouldn’t surprise me if some countries didn’t always get the memo when it came to these 11 cartoons. Jungle Jitters also popped up on a lot of Public Domain VHS releases stateside as well during the 80’s and 90’s.

    • What “memo” was this? And why would “other countries” get a memo from a company that only had distribution rights for television in the United States?

    • Earlier this year, ALL THIS AND RABBITS STEW aired on Italy’s national television

    • It was a figure of speech I’ve used to to explain how these foreign channels simply don’t follow what we’re doing back home.

    • Earlier this year, ALL THIS AND RABBITS STEW aired on Italy’s national television

      It shows how far the “Censored 11” goes as far as the way we assume it’s banned globally when it’s really just our continent.

  • I actually enjoy it, but more for the “Al Pearce Gang” spoofs..the dog seems toi have his ears tucked under his hat (we hopoem we hope)., I’ll be in the big time minority and just say that I enjoy the mai characters. The infatuation involved imaginaing our doggy as Clark Gable (!!) and Robert Taylor (!!!!), a gag that Tex Avery reused next year in Arthur Q.Bryan;’s first WB cartoon, and a pre-Elmer Fudd first time use of the Elmer radio voice (Fudd, not Blurt), in “Dangerous Dan McFoo”. (The villianous dog imagining the female dog “known as Lou” as Bette Davis deespite her talking lie Kate Hepburn).

  • One of three Censored 11 cartoons in the public domain (the other two being “Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land” and “All This and Rabbit Stew”), which unfortunately means it was released on many cheapo cartoon collections aimed at kids during the 80s and early 90s. One such tape was actually shown at my elementary school when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, as part of a class movie day where the movie we had intended to watch couldn’t be played due to a problem with the tape, so instead we watched a “Parents Approved” tape someone found in a closet that happened to contain this cartoon (the other shorts on the tape were “An Itch in Time,” “Sport Chumpions,” and… Van Beuren’s “It’s a Greek Life” for some reason). Surprisingly, from what I can remember, there were no objections or complaints from anyone in the room, nor did any teachers step in at any point to yank the tape out of the VCR – the cartoon, and the rest of the tape, was screened in its entirety with no interruptions. Looking back, I have to seriously wonder what those teachers were thinking to allow such a cartoon to be screened to an audience of elementary school kids without proper introduction or context (to say nothing of the cat shooting itself at the end of “Itch,” which directly preceded this cartoon on the tape).

    • I wonder if they even thought that much about it other than something to keep the kids quiet. Such notions were widespread for years and it’s fascinating to notice those attitudes in my family a lot.

    • In all likelihood, probably not. I can only assume none of them were actually looking at the screen while the cartoon was on, or they saw the “Parents Approved” label on the cover and assumed it must be true or else they wouldn’t say it. (To give a rough idea of what my teachers considered inappropriate for kids, I remember another time I brought in a tape of the Nickelodeon show CatDog, and a teacher complained when a character said the word “butt.”)

  • Racial stereotypes aside, this cartoon is just a stinker right from the start – I think Friz knew this one would be a stinker given George Manuell provided the so-called story. I agree with J Lee re Friz’s attitude re this short – in a way, knowing he was heading to MGM (for two, long, regrettable years), this clunker was Friz’s way of sticking it to Mr. Schlesinger prior to his departure.

  • The characters on the AL PEARCE AND HIS GANG show were considered easy fodder for comic animated representations due to the program’s national status, and radio’s tendency to use instantly recognized catchphrases. Comstock had been doing his Tizzie eccentric female on local LA stations before joining Pearce, and the Elmer Blurt salesman (I hope, I hope I hope) was imitated by thousands of amateur water cooler mimics each week, just like the regular supporting characters on FIBBER McGEE, BENNY and other shows…all these radio stooges ended up in cartoon versions, either just as a distinct voice or as characters like the Blurt lead seen in JUNGLE JITTERS. By the time Pearce settled in LA and aired his show weekly from Hollywood in 1939, he hired many cartoon actors as his weekly stooges: Mel Blanc, Elvia Allman, Blanche Stewart, Phil Kramer, Cliff Nazarro, Elmore Vincent, the Sportsmen Quartet and others. Various of his skits, like Joe Penner’s, resembled a cartoon minus the picture.

  • The main problem I had with this cartoon is that the main character’s voice was awful. Why couldn’t they get their then new voice talent Mel Blanc to voice the main character?

    • Or even better-the actual actor, AL PEARCE..(And BILL COMSTOCK for the hen…) as a cartoon, cartoon dog and just plain dog lover..I think the “Elmer” dog is funny..maybe just being a dog and cartoon fanatic helps…but yeah, there WAS room for improvement….I hope I hope…..SC

  • So, this cartoon has a stereotypical African native do an impression of a stereotypical Asian? So…. a racist caricature on top of a racist caricature?

    Overall, the cartoon is a long walk to a bad joke.

  • “Jungle Jitters” was a complete waste of nearly 8-minutes of prime 1930s Merrie Melodies space. From its juvenile dialogue and lackluster background music to its weak blackout gags and typical stereotypical African characters, the short is at best a bottom drawer B-toon that Schlesinger should have stamped “REJECTED!!!” with ginormous, red-colored capital letters. I doubt that even the hardcore racist element of that era who viewed this woefully unfunny film was able to muster a chuckle or two.

    I appreciate that you offered some context to the short by briefly brushing against a little bit of world history in regards to the European colonization of Africa, which for decades was a horrific pestilence that plagued nearly the entire continent save for Ethiopia and Liberia. As it was white males who embraced and ran buck wild with the colonialism, arrogance, and notion of white supremacy that is the essence of the so-called White Man’s Burden, you caused me to LOL when you wrote that the “image in Jungle Jitters of Africa as the ‘white chicken-woman’s burden’ no longer was relevant in 1968.”

    I think it is safe to say that you can recycle 50% of the text of your current article and use it in your upcoming critique of “The isle of Pingo Pongo” as both were produced in 1938 and include the same types of degrading ethnic caricatures and weak gags. Just add a dash of Egghead and sprinkle in some info about Tex Avery and his travelogue spoofs. If there is anything of interest about “The Isle of Pingo Pongo” that is worth writing about, it would be the music.

    Note: I’ve used a lot of colorful descriptors to express how black folks were negatively portrayed in a plethora of Golden Age cartoons, but you have to let me borrow your line: “dark-skinned characters having lips take up the bottom-third of the head”). Dang!

    • Thank you for the feedback, Rock. And you’re welcome to use that line.

  • Out of all the censorable cartoons from Warner Brothers, I think this might have been the only title to show up occasionally on local TV. It was only during the age of thorough animation festivals in the 1980’s that I recall being introduced to these cartoons and made aware of their existence through extensive books on the toon filmographies. Thanks for the historical and geographical background, though. It did seem that early animation or animation of the golden age was littered with cartoons about cannibal tribes in jungles.

  • Oh man this was awful. Yes I’ve seen some of these before and I knew what was coming, but wow. That was…just…Terrible. Freleng shoulda known better. Maybe not? Everything from Black Mammy to Stepin Fetchit to that whole carousel bit….I am thinking we missed NOTHING by this being yanked back when. It deserves to go back there.

    I appreciated the write up about it though.

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