THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
March 10, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

In your opinion, what is the worst golden age cartoon? Mine is “Dumb Like a Fox” (1941)

On the Thunderbean Front:
Progress is moving forward on all sort of things. Spring break here has been all about catching up and more than touch all these projects- but crossing off things is pretty satisfying and it has been a whole week of that. Commentary tracks for Flip the Frog have been coming in and they’re a joy to listen to. As I was writing this, Milton Knight’s commentary for “Jailbirds” arrived and I’ve been smiling ever since!

I’m happy to report we are down to one film being finished for the first ‘Aesop’s Fables’ Blu-ray. I’m excited to get it out the door this month and off to replication.

Past Business Dept.
For one of my special sets, we’re trying to put together the top “Most Wanted” cartoons that we’re able to in good scans. Hold off on your suggestions for now – I’m having trouble with Google Docs in setting up a “Cartoons Most Wanted” Survey. I’ll try to have a way to get your ‘two cents’ set-up by next week. Thanks for your patience.


Now onto “ANOTHER RANDOM CARTOON” as my friend Luke says:

Usually I can find redeeming value in many not so great cartoons. In that spirit, I guess there are things about Dumb Like A Fox that are somewhat ok. Still, when you have seen a lot of Columbia cartoons, you get a pretty good idea of what the best of the studio looks like, and what really isn’t as good. That said, Dumb Like a Fox may very well be at the bottom of the list in terms of qualities.

The premise of the cartoon is simple: A nameless little hunting dog wants to catch a fox, urged on by his father (also nameless). The little guy bumps into a fox and doesn’t recognize it’s a fox. Then, the fox leads the little dog to a beaver, telling him it’s a fox. When that situation finishes (with no hilarity to be found anywhere) the fox leads the dog to a skunk. He takes the skunk home to his father, who then buries his child with dirt, leaving the fox to laugh and us to stare at what we’ve just seen in bewilderment.

What is really astonishing about Dumb Like a Fox is just how unfunny the whole film is. Not every film can be great, but what really puzzles me is how every aspect of this production is as mediocre as possible, from the overall layout of the picture to the timing of dialogue and gags. The whole effort just seems unwilling to try very much.

Mel Blanc at least livens things up a little bit with his voice performance of several characters, including a beaver that sounds a lot like the much later Marvin Martian at Warners. Perhaps the barely developed plot and limited amount of gags leads to the slowness of the whole production. Animation is hard. And hard to do well.

I haven’t been able to confirm the credits on this film (since all I have is an Official films print without credits) but I believe this cartoon has Allen Rose directing with Lou Lilly writing. The Copyright catalog lists no director.

I always think it’s pretty funny that Official Films made tons of 16mm prints of some of the least interesting of the Columbia cartoons and skipped a lot of really good ones. This scan is from a print I’ve has as long as I can remember.

Make sure to watch this less-than-classic in HD. Now, what is your worst one? Here’s mine:

Have a great week all!

45 Comments

  • There’s a Woody Woodpecker cartoon from the ’60s, also titled “Dumb Like a Fox”, that’s only marginally better. Bad as the 1941 film is, I wouldn’t count it as even the worst of Columbia’s output. “News Oddities”, for example, is an ugly newsreel parody where every single joke falls flat — and Mel Blanc’s voice work can’t save it, either.

    As for the very worst golden age cartoon, my vote goes to the 1934 Ub Iwerks ComiColor cartoon “Puss in Boots”. It’s just hideous. The Cinecolor palette is dominated by a vomit-like orange, the character designs are uniformly inept and unappealing, and the animation is uncharacteristically poor for an Iwerks cartoon. It also gets my vote for Carl Stalling’s worst musical score, based entirely upon an insipid little foxtrot with inane lyrics. I honestly can’t think of a worse cartoon — until you get into the television era, of course.

  • I’m excited to be filling out that form for the Most Wanted set.

    That cartoon was pretty bad, but I honestly don’t know if it’s the worst as there’s probably other Allen Rose classics just as bad I haven’t seen. Even Mel Blanc is left with terrible voice direction on this one

  • For Fleischer, some include “Pudgy the Watchman” from Betty Boop and that one weird stop motion outsourced Animated Antic (no relation to George Pal).

    Anyways, the form doesn’t work. And I heard it wasn’t just me that it didn’t work for. It says “You need permission”.

    • It should be working now.

    • Yeah. I also could not access the form.

  • Was this short made in black and white or is this one of those Columbia cartoons where the original color version is currently lost (like Mysto Fox)?

    • Dumb Like A Fox, like all in the “Fables” series, was produced in black and white.

  • The cartoon, at some level, “reads” like a knockoff of Avery’s “Of Fox and Hounds,” which was released in December, 1940, seven months or so before “Dumb Like a Fox.” Query the opinion of others as to how much Columbia tried, then and later (in the Binder-Katz-Clampett era) to copy Warner Bros.

  • There was a “Bosko” cartoon made at MGM that sticks in my head. Instead of being a Felix esque design, they made him into an outright minstrel show child. It was Easter themed and he sang some stupid song about collecting eggs. It was simultaneously racist, bizarre, and boring

    • “Bosko’s Easter Eggs” (1937)

  • It’s funny how you look at things. I found the early Famous Studios ’40s POPEYE cartoon THE HUNGRY GOAT (c 1943) to be a total “bomb” of a cartoon – a lame attempt to copy Tex Avery and the Warner Bros. technique of a character talking directly to the “audience.” I’d run THE APE MAN (1943) with Bela Lugosi as further punishment to someone (who sorely needs it) and then throw in that OUR GANG comedy (from, I think 1938 or ’39) where Alfalfa talks directly to the screen.
    Oliver Hardy could pull it off with his pleading “camera looks.” Groucho Marx, Bob Hope – and to a certain extent, the boys from WAYNE’S WORLD – and of course Bugs or Daffy … could pull this off! But not everybody!
    Anyway, there are far worse POPEYE cartoons out there than THE HUNGRY GOAT. I just can’t think of them right now!

    • When I first saw “The Hungry Goat” I hated it – thought that the goat character was very annoying. After viewing it several times, it has grown on me. The bizarre story and unusual animation techniques (such as the still shots) make it interesting. I wonder if the quality of Famous Studios shorts would not have deteriorated so much, had Dan Gordon (and Bill Tytla) stayed with the studio.

    • I have to agree with you about “The Hungry Goat”. They must have put some pretty underexperienced folks in charge of the in-betweening and the camera operation, but understandably so, with most of their better talent serving on the frontlines at the time. And since you mention it, have you noticed the parallels between “The Hungry Goat” and Warners’ “Conrad The Sailor”? It was obvious that Fleischer was trying hard to emulate Warners’ success formula for big laughs. But the question is, why would Fleischer even bother imitating other studios’ gimmicks when the Popeye brand was already a star attraction gaining a favorable audience by then?

  • This cartoon’s dumb like an ass. This is what happens when Mel Blanc is directed poorly – it comes off more grating.

  • Hard to believe this cartoon was released the same year as Dumbo, Wabbit Twouble and the first Superman cartoon. It looks like an amateur production rather than something from a major studio. It lacks the liveliness of even the worst Terrytoons or 1950s Woody Woodpeckers. And the pup feels like an early draft for Scrappy-Doo. There’s a germ of an idea in the story – one that would be milked for all it’s worth in the first Foghorn Leghorn cartoons – but for whatever reason no one bothered to develop it further and push for better gags and character business.
    This seems to be a recurring problem in Columbia’s Screen Gems cartoons, particularly just before and after Tashlin’s stay at the studio. Decent cartoons are few and far between; the bulk of their output is made up of half-baked concepts executed in a listless manner. One that springs to mind is “Mr. Elephant Goes to Town”. The title promises lots of pachyderm hijinks, but instead the elephant stays in someone’s cellar and gets drunk on hootch. That’s it, that’s the whole cartoon. There’s not much in the way of gags and the pacing is leaden. A promising idea wasted.

    • I’m fairly fond of Mr. Elephant Goes to Town, actually. It’s one of the films that Art Davis directed and, from the looks of things, probably mostly/entirely animated and wrote himself as well (the “Animation: Sid Marcus” credit is a formality and essentially meaningless). It’s easy to imagine him sitting at his desk with his cigarette hanging out and dust collecting on his bald head just like in those caricatures that were shared here a while ago, enjoying himself (?) crafting these little films of his own while aspiring to be hired by Disney—and it’s easy to imagine one who’d fall back on managing a liquor store in between animation jobs expressing himself with a story like this. It may not work so well as an entertainment product, but I still appreciate stuff like this for the personal art it is, rather than merely looking at animation as a competition of who can make the best product (which is no different than looking at it as just an industry).

  • After watching it, I admit that “Dumb Like a Fox” is pretty awful, but my vote for worst cartoon ever goes to “Giddy Yapping,” also from the Screen Gems studio. The whole cartoon consists of conversation between a hungry horse and his owner, a window washer, who refuses to allow the horse to eat lunch. For me, it is in the “unwatchable” category.

    In my opinion, Screen Gems produced three masterpieces (“Fox and Grapes,” “The Little Match Girl,” and “Flora”) and a few pretty good cartoons (“Professor Small and Mr. Tall,” “Cinderella Goes to a Party,” the ones from the Ray Katz years when Bob Clampett was an uncredited writer, some of the Fox and Crows), but most of their stuff misses the mark.

    • The question really should be: What are the best cartoons from the Screen Gems studio in the 1940s? It’s a VERY short list. I certainly agree with FOX AND THE GRAPES and FLORA. I’d add several other Fox & Crow titles (perhaps Woodman Spare That Tree and Toll Bridge Troubles) and WILLOUGBY’S MAGIC HAT. There are cartoons I want to like more than I do (Polar Playmates, Leave Us Chase It, Song of Victory, and others). It’s a sad lot. You can just feel that the employees (including the directors) simply came to work unenthused, did their eight hours and went home with no particular pride in what they were doing. No creative point of view. Just a job.

      • The Little Match Girl is absolutely superb, and heartbreaking

      • I really enjoy the ’40s Columbia cartoons for their strangeness, but I’m struggling to think of many – other than the ones you mentioned – that really “work.” I really like PROFESSOR SMALL AND MR. TALL, and entries like THE ROCKY ROAD TO RUIN, THE HERRING MURDER CASE and UP N ATOM are so fascinatingly peculiar that the question of whether or not they’re good is almost beside the point. I saw KING MIDAS JUNIOR recently and I was impressed by it, and what still exists of HE CAN’T MAKE IT STICK is really cool. There’s a lot of good stuff in those Columbia cartoons, it just rarely all goes together.

      • I can see why Columbia decided to ditch their own animation studio when they signed the deal with UPA. I questioned how those writers qualified the story department.

        • Nic, the decision to close Screen Gems and sign with UPA were completely separate and happened 2 years apart from one another. Columbia was just interested in re-entering the cartoon market and thought UPA’s output might be promising

          • Oh, I didn’t know that. From the animation books I’ve read, it almost felt like those two events happened at the same time. Plus, the last Screen Gem shorts were released around the same time Columbia started to release the UPA shorts.

    • Yawn—much the same selection of “masterpieces” that’s been going around forever. You should consider gaining some better familiarity with the older material (especially the early- and mid-1930s stuff), instead of just going by Leonard Maltin’s opinions and “common knowledge”, and then see what you think. There’s a fair amount that I’d rank as just as good or sometimes even better in their own ways. (The Art Davis–Frank Tashlin collaboration The Great Cheese Mystery and Sid Marcus’s warped Red Riding Hood Rides Again would be a couple to consider that happen to date from almost the same time as The Fox and the Grapes, to say nothing about some of the ’30s material.)

  • Yeah, Columbia’s track record in cartoons between the death of Charles Mintz and the hiring of UPA was pretty lackluster, Frank Tashlin product not withstanding. The animation was generally acceptable, but the stories ranged from threadbare to nonexistent, and the gags often tried to aim for a Tex Avery style of surrealism, but with none of the wit, timing, or context, leading to material that was often random for the sake of being random. Thad Komorowski once posted a Cinecolor Phantasy, Kitty Caddy, which had these flaws in spades, not helped by the unnecessary running “gag” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope caricatures.

    As for the worst Golden Age cartoon I’ve ever seen, I’d have to say Walter Lantz’s Peterkin, directed by Alex Lovy. Like a lot of Lantz’s work before the arrival of Shamus Culhane, it suffers from sluggish timing and weak animation, but what really lands it on my hate list is the title character himself, such an obnoxious and repugnant little waste of ink and paint that, by the end of the short, I wanted to see the little turd get disemboweled, but this being when the Hay’s Code was in full effect, I had to make do with him being stuck doing laundry.

  • Worst: anything by Harman and Ising, and all cartoons in the 60s when the budgets went down and UPA arrived. I hate all Avery spotgag ripoffs (“Hilarious Highspots in American History”, Clampett’s “Farm Frolics”, etc…).

    • Even “Peace on Earth”?

  • For me, the worst toons are the ones with a weird tone deaf quality. The gags here are mediocre, but beyond that there’s something off about the fox character. His poses are odd, the acting is shaky, and combined with the insinuating voice a little creepy. What was his reaction to the skunk supposed to be? Surprise that the pup won? Alarm they were coming his way? Forgot his line?

    I actually remember this one from my late boomer childhood — Captain Satellite (KTVU Oakland) would show Columbias, from Scrappy and Krazy Kat through Fox and Crow. Specifically, I remember the pup saying something about a fox fur for his mom and the skunk’s line: “Ignorant, isn’t he?”

    There are plenty of bad cartoons out there — mediocre, boring, and/or poorly made. There should be a special place for toons that are technically proficient but actively unappealing. Select Baby Hueys and Herman & Katnips fall in this class, with violence more squirmingly painful than funny. Columbia’s “The Mad Hatter” and “Tangled Television” assume ugly, off-putting character designs are hilarious. And cartoons about characters starving are sometimes a bit too persuasive — especially if the hungry character is the butt of all the gags.

  • For me, the worst cartoon of all time would be Harman-Ising’s POOR LITTLE ME (1934). The animation and designs are decent…for the most part, but that’s the nicest I can say about it. The plot is rather disjointed and sort of confusing–there’s a creepy cat guy who just comes out of nowhere, solely because the story needs a villain. Oh, and did I mention this thing is 10 minutes long? 10 minutes of screechy off-key animals singing. How fun!

    I’ve always wondered if Tex Avery was inspired by this cartoon to make his hilarious LITTLE ‘TINKER (1948), because POOR LITTLE ME really just feels like a worse version of it.

    • Almost all of the Harman-Ising “Happy Harmonies” feel as though they run overlong. 10 minutes is definitely far too long to keep company with what must be some of the ugliest character designs of the 30s. “The Chinese Nightingale” springs readily to mind.

  • Any Columbia cartoon with that fake “Egghead” character.

    • I’ve seen 2 cartoons with Schmylvester (“Up ‘n’ Atom” rules) but there’s also a Schmegghead?

  • Terrible, and easily among the laziest animation I’ve ever seen out of Screen Gems, but at least it’s over quickly. The studio was in a real malaise right before Tashlin came in; drab, overly chatty stories, unimaginative gags, lazy animation and even lazier character design. The 30s are over and no one seems to know which direction to head next, least of all Allen Rose who just seems to be biding his time while wasting everyone else’s. Post-Tashlin, the studio’s identity crisis continues, but until the bitter end, even the most mediocre Phantasies and Color Rhapsodies have their moments, and some are just too damn off-kilter not to enjoy (such as “The Case of the Screaming Bishop”). And I’ll happily take a Fox and Crow cartoon over 90% of what Famous Studios was churning out at the same time. Bob Wickersham is a hugely underrated director, imo.

  • The beaver’s named Jack Beaver? That’s an amusing coincidence, considering there’s a composer of the same name.

  • If we’re diagnosing the problems with the Screen Gems cartoons of the 1940s, we should also mention Eddie Kilfeather’s music. While there’s nothing wrong with his music per se, it merely provides an all-purpose humorous background that does little to support the gags or the story, such as they are. It’s the musical equivalent of someone continually jabbing you in the ribs with his elbow and saying “Get it? Get it?”

    If we’re taking on the challenge of naming the best Screen Gems cartoons of the ’40s, well, I personally happen to be very fond of “Kongo-Roo”, about an Aboriginal hunter and his ostrich who pursue a kangaroo in what I suppose is meant to be the Australian Outback. This cartoon is packed with bizarre and unexpected gags, for example when the hunter and the ostrich are hiding in a bush: first one sticks his head out, then the other, then both at once — but their heads are attached to each other’s bodies! Of course “Kongo-Roo” will never be shown on NITV (National Indigenous Television) in Australia, but I give it credit for being fast-paced and inventive, a fresh and unique take on the hunter vs. prey genre.

    • I have to agree. The closing gag in “Kongo Roo” is hilarious and unexpected, as well as quite unlike anything being done at Warners, Lantz, or elsewhere. A shame the doors were closed before Screen Gems had an opportunity to develop that kind of vibe. “Swiss Tease” is another personal favorite, with very good gags, excellent timing, and a great “Lost Weekend” reference to cap it all off. I honestly believe Screen Gems would have eventually found its footing, but Columbia had no need to wait any longer once UPA came along.

  • One of the worst Screen Gems cartoons is “Mr. Elephant Goes to Town.” It’s got a good music score, but it’s one of the weirdest cartoons ever made. The Fox and Crow cartoons are definitely the best cartoons Screen Gems did.

  • How about an awful Charles Mintz? Anyone remember Scrappy’s “Camping Out”? I thought not. An absolute quota-filler at best, animated all with cheater repeating cycles, with no plot whatsoever, spending the entire allotted six minutes in Scrappy, Oopie, and Yippy dancing around cavorting with any animal or insect handy, for no good reason, and with virtually no gags. The most action in the entire film is Yippy getting a mosquito bite, in no unusual manner and with no notable takes to express his pain. Don’t wait like the rest of the audience for something to happen – it never does.

  • Worst “golden age” cartoon? Bugs Bonnets.

    • Not even close. I thought this was a rather quiet but clever short. Makes me wonder if Jonathon Winters ever saw this as it reminds me of his hats schtick.

  • TOKYO JOKIO and THE WEAKLY REPORTER, where the comedy lies entirely in the propaganda. The best of the war films, like RUSSIAN RHAPSODY, PLANE DAFFY, etc. hold up as entertainment divorced from their WWII context because of the directors’ skill, which was clearly lacking at Screen Gems. Even OLD GLORY, despite its’ serious intent, has enough of the Warners’ “house flavor” to be entertaining on some level.

  • The Popeye cartoon BARKING DOGS DON’T FITE – decent production values and animation in the service of total crap – would be my pick as the single worst theatrical cartoon ever made. The combo of cruelty and lack of anything remotely resembling humor makes it much worse than the weird, inept or inexplicably odd cartoons from Screen Gems, Terrytoons, etc

  • Betty Boop in BABY BE GOOD. The Color Classic TIME FOR LOVE. The Animated Antic THE WIZARD OF ARTS. Most of the Stone Age cartoons. All Fleischer.

  • Ooh! That question is pretty tough, but one that I’ll mention is ALSO from Screen Gems. It’s called “A Boy, A Gun, and Birds” from 1940, and yes, that is the title. It’s one of the WORST examples of a Golden Age studio trying to be Disney that I could think of. Not to mention, the execution of the whole ‘don’t kill birds’ message is rather poor. Not to mention the boy in the end takes the gun and burns it, WHILE he’s in a forest of birds (where’s Smokey the Bear when ya need him?)!
    I do remember watching it with my friend, Eli Copperman on a Screen Gems viewing party, and we were just flabbergasted by the whole thing.

    P.S. Yes, I do remember saying ‘Another random cartoon’ a lot when me and Eli interviewed you a long time ago.

    • After rewatching “Dumb like a Fox” again, I realized that the biggest problem with Screen Gems is that with the gags in this cartoon, they’re trying ANYTHING for a laugh, from the Pop dog yelling out “I’m going fox hunting!”, then realizing what he said, then just whispering “…Fox hunting…” to the final gag with the Skunk just saying “Ignorant, isn’t he?”.
      But I think its greatest crime compared to something like “A Boy, A Gun, and Birds”, is that “Dumb like a Fox” is just extremely boring.

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