We continue with the first of many LONG seasons of Merrie Melodies to come. The Warner animators were not only creative, but prolific in output – a profitable combination of character traits, to say the least.
A Day At the Zoo (3/11/39) – Spot gags at the Kalama-Zoo, including a running gag involving a fella (Egghead) who annoys a lion with his walking stick, and gets it in the end. One of the first cartoons to take off on Lou Costello’s catch phrase, “I’m a bad boy!” (A&C were already known for their appearances on the Kate Smith radio show.) As for songs: listen carefully and you’ll hear bits of “Animal Fair”, “Mess Call”, “California, Here I Come”, “Confidentially”, and “The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish”.
Prest-O Change-O (3/25/39) – The two curious puppies find themselves in the home of Sham-pu the Magician, and find themselves as bewildered as in the House of Tomorrow in Dog-Gone Modern. Another early vehicle for Bugs’ Bunny. “The Umbrella Man” is heard on the score, a song not only popular here, but even more so in England. Here, Connee Boswell recorded it for Decca, Kay Kyser for Brunswick (below), and Johnny Messner for Bluebird. In England, versions appeared byFlanagan and Allen on Columbia, Ambrose on Decca, Nat Gonella for Parlopjone, The Organ, the Dance Band and Me (a group directed by Billy Thorburn) also on Parlophone, Billy Cotton on Rex, and the London Piano Accordion Band on Regal-Zonophone.
Bars and Stripes Forever (4/8/39) – Spot gags on prison life, making fun of the tropes of every prison picture Warners ever produced. “Warden Paws” is a reference to Warden Lewis Lawes, the warden of Sing Sing prison in New York, and who wrote the book “20,000 years in Sing Sing”, made into a Warner feature back in 1933. Songs: “Day Dreaming (All Night Long)”, with special lyrics (“I’m Going to Scram From Here”, delivered a la Jerry Colonna), recorded by Glenn Miller on Bluebird, Sammy Kaye on Victor, Bing Crosby on Decca, and Red Norvo on Brunswick (below). Also heard again, “The Umbrella Man”.
Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (4/22/39) – In Daffy’s third appearance in Technicolor, Casper Caveman (a parody of Jack Benny), decides to hunt for a duck breakfast, assisted by his trusty dinosaur Fido. Prehistoric times put no damper on Daffy’s usual early nutty antics. A long panning shot of Burma-Shave type signs leads the Caveman to a humongous pneumatic duck (a baloon, with Daffy manning the tire pump). The gag backfires when Casper attacks it with a knife – and the whole cast winds up at the pearly gates, with Daffy acknowledging “Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea after all.” Songs include “Long, Long Ago”, “Woo Woo” (for lack of a better title, to become Bugs’ Bunny’s early theme), Mendelssohn’s Spring Song”, and a five-note ending coda associated with the musical jingle of Benny’s sponsor, “J-E-L-L-O”.
Thugs With Dirty Mugs (5/6/39) – A Tex Avery sendup of the cliches of Warners’ gangster picture, starring Ed. G. Robemsome. Not only does the killer do Eddie Robinson well, but does a good Fred Allen impersonation too, until his henchmen tell him to quit showing off. It features another of Avery’s audience silhouette gags, as a patron who’s seen the picture more that once tips off the cops as to the killer’s whereabouts. “Thanks, ya little tatteletale”, replies the officer. Songs: “It Looks Like a Big Night Tonight” (below), and “Jeepers Creepers”, played in a minor key.
Naughty But Mice (5/20/39) – Title is a play on Dick Powell’s “Naughty But Nice” of the same year. Sniffles the Mouse has a cold, and sneaks into a drug store, looking for a remedy. Boy, does he find one – the “XLNT Cold Cure” – only 125% alcohol! One spoonful gets him schnockered – and harmonizing “How Dry I Am”, with a living electric shaver, who not only pucks up his cold, but a dose of the cold remedy too. A cat comes along, interested only in his next meal – a fat, juicy “pickled” mouse. Sniffles winds up trapped among the prizes of a claw digger machine, while the shaver comes to the rescue. Songs: “Deep In a Dream”, “You Go To My Head”, and “The Chase” from the William Tell Overture.
Believe It Or Else (6/3/39) – A spoof of the “Believe It Or Not” shorts, based on Robert Ripley’s comics feature collecting oddities from around the world. Egghead has a running gag as a disbeliever, carrying signs such as “It’s a Fake”. Songs: “The Umbrella Man”, “Over the Waves”, an oldie “I Hear You Calling Me”, a song from John McCormack’s repertoire on Victor, “Visions of Salome” – and another oldie “Sweet Genevieve”, which we all know from The Dover Boys.
The Hobo Gadget Band (6/17/39) – Life in a hobo jungle, among the derlicts who sometimes used to refer to themselves as the “Knights of Rest”, with a dog voiced by Pinto Colvig as their de facto leader. After being shaken off a train by the engineer’s “Hobo Eradicator”, the tramps find there’s a musical audition at “the powerful little 5-watter in Rosedale”, a reference to the “EZRA” radio program of the day. Using instruments constructed from bric-a-brac, the hoboes easily win the prize, and are about to be signed up for fame and fortune – but the whistle of an outbound train raises their love of the open road, and they board for parts unknown – after tearing up the contract. Songs: “Deep In a Dream”, “The Old Apple Tree”, “Carolina In the Morning”, and an original number, “The Junktown Gadget Band”, probably written for the cartoon. One wonders if this film was inspiredby groups such as the Hoosier Hot Shots or the (New) Dixie Demons on Decca.
Old Glory (7/1/39) – Warner had for several years developed a sub-genre of Technicolor historical shorts, even earning an Oscar or two for the series. Somehow, the Schlesinger team was convinced to get into the act by producing the first patriotic animated cartoon, released just in time for the Glorious Fourth. Little boy Porky Pig (in his first appearance in 3-strip Technicolor) wonders why he has to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance (the original version, minus the words “Under God”, which weren’t added until the 1950’s). Porky is confronted by no less a figure than Uncle Sam himself, who lays a little American History on him. Songs: old standard favorites and patriotic numbers, including “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”, “The Girl I Left Behind Me”, “Yankee Doodle”, “Assembly”, “Oh Susanna” and concluding with “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.
Dangerous Dan McFoo (7/15/39) – One of Warners’ “Northwesterns”, set in the land of ice and snow and based on the “serviceable” poem of Robert W. Service. Around this time, Warner was doing serveal toons set in the snowy regions, including Porky’s “Polar Pals” previously reviewed, and the next cartoon discussed below. This may mark Arthur Q. Bryan’s first voice work for Warner – predating Elmer Fudd. The battle between McFoo and a burly sourdough features many prize-fighting tropes – including a referee giving them instructions before the bout, and a running gag with a trolley car entering the saloon to start each round with its bell. McFoo is also fond of a primitive pinball game – bagatelle style, without flippers or “Tilt”. Songs: “Der Erlkonig” (The Elf King) from German lieder, a go to number for anything with a certain degree of drama to it, and The Old Gray Mare.
Snowman’s Land (7/29/39) – Another North-Western spoof, taking off on popular images of the Northwest Mounted Police. Pinto Colvig plays the hapless mountie sent out to bring in Dirty Pierre. The mountie and Pierre wind up trapped in a rolling snowball, which rolls straight into Mountie headquarters. But Pierre escapes when he appears covered in snow, looking like a living abominable snowman, scaring the Mounties back into the drifts. The featured song is “Song of The Mounted Police”, a mountie march written for the two reel Technicolor musical short, Romance Road (1938). It would receive later use, including for Bugs and Elmer.
Hare-Um Scare-Um (8/12/39) – Another Technicolor vehicle for Bugs’ Bunny – somewhat of a reimagining of “Porky’s Hare Hunt”, with a more distateful protagonist – John Sourpuss, who decides to go rabbit hunting when meat prices go through the roof. (A newspaper headline reads “Meat Prices Soar. Consumers Also Sore.”) Bugs’ Bunny is at his looniest, due to the admitted influence of Looney Tunes cartoons (plugged with Porky Pig billboard). Most prints end abruptly with an edited ending (“I can whip you and your whole family” – responded to by an endless supply of rabbits). However, the uncut version was recently discovered and released – ending a bit similarly to “Daffy Duck and Egghead” with John Sourpuss going crazy. Songs: “Corn Pickin’”, a Johnny Mercer/Harry Warren number from Dick Powell’s Naughty But Nice, recorded on Victor by Maxine Sullivan and on transcription by Jimmy Walsh and his orchestra and by Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol on Vocalion; “A Hunting We Will Go”; and “Woo Woo” with a specialty lyric as Bugs’ unofficial theme song. (He would later revisit the same tune with new specialty lyrics in Easter Yeggs in the 1940’s.)
Detouring America (8/26/39) – Warners would make a regular thing from here on of spoofing travelogues. A running gag about a human fly climbing the empire State Building frameworks this spot-gag reel, including the almost inevitable dogs and trees gag – this time performed by prairie dogs. Nominated for an Academy Award. Songs: “California, Here I Come”, “Yankee Doodle”, “Carry Me Back To Old Virginny”, “Dixie”, “America (My Country Tis Of Thee)” “The Umbrella Man”, “Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone”, “Oh Susanna, and “Brahms’ Lullaby”.
Next Time: Back to Looney Tunes.