THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
May 9, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

“Weapon of War” (1944)

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Welcome to the second edition of our new weekly feature, Thunderbean Thursday. Today, another wonderful discovery by Steve Stanchfield of Thunderbean Animation, from his 2012 DVD compilation More Cartoons for Victory. Weapon of War features a remarkable early use of limited graphics (the kind more associated with UPA or Saul Bass) in an animated short.

Steve says:

The short was storyboarded at the FMPU (the Army Corps’ First Motion Picture Unit), with production duties completed by the MGM animation studio. Even though it was intended as one of the ‘Few Quick Facts’ series, it appears to never have been released with that title on it. It was released both independently and as part of the Army/Navy Screen Magazine. The short is strikingly designed and executed, unafraid to sidestep ideas that are often presented in propaganda films in a more subtle way. These graphic ideas, more in common with posters from the era than the animation, prove that the MGM staff was more than capable of tackling this style beautifully.

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The DVD, which I highly recommend, contains a comparison between the finished film with the original storyboards for this short. And yes, that’s Mel Blanc doing various incidental voices (the tonic salesman and various racists). I can’t quite place the main narrator (Keith?). Here’s a real unheralded classic, with a message that is still valid today, Weapon of War:

10 Comments

  • Wow! This one is terrific! And that sounds like Kent Smith on the soundtrack (but what do I know?)

    • That’s what I thought when I first got Steve’s disc several months back. If not Smith, a dead-ringer voice-wise.

  • Brilliant, UPA style years ahead of it’s time. Even more striking than Hell-Bent for Election of the same year. Any idea who directed it? We don’t see this type of animated message these days, but at least we have Jon Stewart.

  • Wow! Steve strikes again!

    Really great, thanks! Any info, however sketchy, on who animated and/or directed?

  • This is a fantastic find! Mel did a super job with the voice work,like he always does.And the animation is unique for an American short.

  • Note that the sequence where Hitler is in armour is based on a real painting of Hitler that has been republished many times. I did find it fascinating that “negroes” were mentioned as a possible victim group, this at a time when Jim Crow was very much alive and well in a number of states overtly (and covertly in others).

  • Amazing animation! Thanks for posting! Wish I could get Thunderbean DVD’s shipped to Australia!!

  • Yes, this whole disk is that good. And this is a subject that could have many volumes. Some of the most interesting moments come from the MGM animators, and I’m guessing this from the all-too-familiar sound effects of an MGM cartoon and brassy Scott Bradley scoring. Aside from the POPEYE cartoons that we all know about, I wonder what other wartime bits of animation were done on the East Coast…Van Buren? Paul Terry?

  • I’m pretty convinced the narration WAS spoken by actor Kent Smith. He had a fine stage-trained speaking voice, and in fact Smith narrated the 1947 Oscar-winning documentary DESIGN FOR DEATH, which was written by Mr and Mrs Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Interestingly, his co-narrator on that documentary was Hans Conried. That documentary concerned Japan, and both Ted Geisel and Hans Conried were experts on Japanese culture. (Luis, I live in Australia and I get the Thunderbean DVDs from either Thunderbean itself, via the email contact on Steve’s website [if you have PayPal it's easy], or sometimes via Amazon…they’re sure worth it.)

  • Hey Keith, thanks for the info! awesome! can’t wait to get my hands on ‘em!

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