NEEDLE DROP NOTES
November 10, 2020 posted by James Parten

Snafus, Hooks, and Civilian Delights

While the Private Snafu series continued in production into 1945, its musical scores began to fall into old patterns of stock cues encountered in previous studio entries, or no use of popular songs at all. As a result, this week we’ll present a hybrid – first, four select Snafus with something new musically to say – then a pair from the short lived Naval counterpart series, Seaman Hook. For good measure, a couple that went out to the civilians, also with something new in the musical mix.

Gas (June, 1944) – A bit of explanation – poison gas had been used in WWI, so the American Army was taking no chances, and erred on the side of caution in producing this instructional film as well as putting their troops through gas mask drills. As it was, neither the Germans nor Japanese chose to use the weapon this time out. In the film, the gas is portrayed in surreal anthropomorphized form, splitting into multiple personas, and giving the maskless Snafu a run for his money. A surprise cameo also appears, as Snafu finds misplaced into his equipment bag Bugs Bunny, as well as a brassiere! The only “new” song for Warner use is a classic oldie, “In the Good Old Summertime”, a favorite of barber shoppe quartets everywhere. Vintage versions included J.W. Myers and the Rambler Minstrel Company on Columbia, and Arthur Pryor’s band on Victor. A later electrical version appeared in the Columbia catalog by the Leake County Revelers. Nat Shilkret also recorded an electrical version for Victor, already giving it the “old timey” treatment. Paul Whiteman gave it a similar approach for Columbia (embed below) . A country-style electrical appeared on Velvet Tone by the Texarcana Melody Boys. Revival versions included Judy Garland on MGM, the Andrews Sisters and Dan Dailey on Decca, the Kirby Stone Four on Columbia, and Les Paul and Mary Ford in an electrically souped-up version on Capitol.


Censored (July, 1944). Snafu is trying to get a letter out to his girlfriend, but every time he tries, it gets redacted as if printed on Swiss cheese. Only the assistance of Technical Fairy offers him the hope of getting the message off the post. But we see the results of his communique, as his girl blurts out info of his mission to Bingo Bango Island, where Japanese subs lie in wait as Snafu’s unit approaches. It fortunately winds up a dream, and Snafu gets his letter back from Technical Fairy, vowing “Every man his own censor” and reducing his note to the same paper-doll style as before.

Songs: “The Toy Trumpet”, another favorite Raymond Scott composition which would become a mainstay among Stalling cues for anything military. The song had actually already seen a major use under the directorship of George Pal for Paramount, and the main underscore for the Academy-award nominated “Rhythm in the Ranks”. The Scott version appeared on Master and Brunswick, and as usual was covered for the English market by Ambrose and his orchestra on Decca. Frank Dailey and his Stop and Go Orchestra would cover it for Bluebird. Milt Herth and his Trio would perform a hot organ version for Decca. The Boston Pops would perform a later concert version for Victor. Reginald Pursglove would record a “canned music” version in England for Decca’s “Music While You Work” series – the kind of piped-in stuff that would be heard at aircraft and munitions plants. Jack Harris would also record in in England for HMV, and Scott Wood and his Six Swingers for Regal Zonophone.

Another newcomer to Warner scoring, appropriately accompanying the cutting up of Snafu’s letters, was “Paper Doll”, a signature hit for the Mills Brothers on Decca. Oddly, very few others covered the piece. Wingy Manone performed a version on Capitol. Across the pond, the Fred Bohler Quartet performed it for Columbia. Ambrose got it for British Decca. One of its last incarnations was a children’s version on Little Golden Records, with all romantic implications of the lyric rewritten for the kiddies.

Also included in the score was something definitely not in the standard Warner catalog of music: “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s smash Broadway hit “Oklahoma”. The song appeared in a cast album for Decca, and in pop versions by Frank Sinatra on Columbia, Bing Crosby on Decca, John Charles Thomas on Victor, and Nelson Eddy on Columbia Masterworks, as well as an ensemble version by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians on Decca. Ambrose gave it to the English market on Decca. A late jazz revival was cut by Erroll Garner for Columbia, and a late big band version by Ralph Marterie on RCA. Andre Kostelanatz would also include it in a medley from the show for Columbia. Speaking of Columbia, the film score also includes a reused chestnut – “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.”


Outpost (August, 1944) – Snafu, manning an observation post on a remote desert island, encounters a floating can of “Pickled Fish Eyes With Rice”, which Snafu tosses away as if unimportant. Only on a delayed basis does he report in on the discovery, as an example of how boring his duties have been – and inadvertently provides a vital clue to central HQ of Japanese activities in the area – the can being honoroble Imperial Navy K-rations! New number for this cartoon is another which did not belong to Warner music publishing, “I’m In the Mood for Love”, introduced by Frances Langford in the Paramount 1930’s musical Every Night at Eight (a film notable for animation buffs, as it features a full on-screen performance by Florence Gill of one of her opera arias in “Clara Cluck” chickenese). “Our Gang” fans will also remember Alfalfa croning the piece into a sinking microphone in the classic, The Pinch Singer. Frances Langford herself got to record the number commercially on Brunswick. A nice version was recorded by band vocalist Ramona with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra on Victor. Louis Armstrong would record it for Decca. Late revival versions included Billy Eckstine on National, Freddy Gardner with Peter Yorke on an imported recording which appeared here on Columbia, the Four Aces on Decca, Pauk Weston on Capitol, Errol (spelled this time with one “l”) Garner on Savoy, Ted Heath on British Decca, the Coleman Hawkins Quintet on Mercury, the King Cole Trio on Capitol, Lisa Kirk on RCA, and a surprising version performed vocally by Hollywood’s favorite midget, Billy Barty, with Spike Jones and his orchestra on RCA, performing in his best impersonation of Liberace! Returning favorites also include “The Toy Trumpet” and “The Army Air Corps”.


Pay Day (9/44) Snafu draws his pay, and is sorely tempted to blow it on immediate pleasures, until Technical Fairy warns him, “No dollars, no sense.” Several newcomers to Watner scores appear here. First, “My Blue Heaven”. One of its earliest successful recordings was by Gene Austin for Victor. Nick Lucas would cover it for Brunswick. Lewis James with Don Voorhees’ Orchestra would recird it for Columbia. Frank Ferera’s Hawaiians recorded it for Banner and the ARC dime store labels. It received concert band treatment by Paul Whiteman on Victor. A popular uptempo swing arrangement accompanied by vocal trio was recorded by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra on Decca. Glenn Miller recorded it for Bluebird. Artie Shaw on Vocalion. The Light Crust Doughboys would provide a country version on Vocalion. Frank Sinatra played it straight on Columbia. Gracie Fields would warble it in England on HMV. Fats Domino would provide a late revival on Imperial, and Oscar Peterson on RCA. Gene Austin himself would re-record the number backed by Les Paul on Universal records.

Two probable first-time uses of vintage classical pieces also appear in the film – Dukas’s “The Sorcere’s Apprentice“, and Tchaikovskt’s “Arab Dance” from the Nutcracker, as well as a return appearance of the “can can” from “Gaite Parisienne”. Final newcomer is another tune Warner probably didn’t own – Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”, introduced with little aplomb in the unsuccessful Broadway musical Jubilee. The song was recorded in 1935 by Xavier Cugat for Victor, but received little other contemporary coverage, until a virtuoso swing arrangement brought it to national attention with Artie Shaw’s hit recording for Bluebird. In the wake of the Shaw hit, Joe Loss and his Orchestra would cover it for HMV and Regal Zonophone. Bing Crosby would provide a cocal version for Decca. Les Paul would give us a non-electrified instrumental on Decca. Richard Tauber would provide a classical style vocal for Odeon and Parlophone. Eddie Heywood would perform a jazz-laced piano version on Commodore. Andre Kostelanatz would include it in an album set dedicated to Porter’s music on Columbia Masterworks. And an excellent brassy lightly swinging arrangement would issue as an album cut in stereo by Perry Como on the RCA album, “Como Swings”. The “Beguine”, by the way, is actually a Caribbean dance originated in Martinique, then introduced to Paris in 1929 where it became moderately popular. A final returning favorite in the film’s music score is “Am I Blue”.


The Return of Mr. Hook (date unknown) foretells Seaman Hook’s return to the states and civilian life, using his war bond savings for the proverbial wife, family, and rose covered cottage. Includes “Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane”. Kelly Harrell recorded it electrically for Victor. Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers performed it on Columbia. Harkins and Moran would record it on the small Broadway label. Carson Robison recorded a version for English release on flexible Durium records (the British counterpart of America’s Hit of the Week), and would revive it years later on Joe Davis and MGM records. Ernest Stoneman would cover it for Banner/ARC and Okeh Truetone. Karl Radlach and his orchestra would provide a version on Conquerer. Paul Tremaine and his Orchestra would perform it both on Columbia and on early Bluebird. The Boswell Sisters would give it the swing treatment on Brunswick. Abe Lyman would give it a big band arrangement on Bluebird. And Fars waller erforms it on Hammond organ on what is likely a broadcast clip.

Also included is another number not in Warner’s standard catalog – “Happy Days are Here Again” originated in the early MGM taling picture Chasing Rainbows starring Jack Benny and Marie Dressler, among others. (Regretfully, the production number is lost, having been filmed in glorious self-deteriorating 2 strip Technicolor). Recordings abounded, including Ben Selvin on Columbia, Leo Reisman on Victor, Benny Meroff on Brunswick, and the Casa Loma Orchestra on Okeh. Annette Hanshaw performed a vocal version on Velvet Tone. In England, Jack Payne recorded it for Columbia, Ambrose om Decca, Jack Hylton on HMV, and Teddy Brown (xylophone virtuoso/bandleader, with possibly the only waistline/physique rounder than Paul Whiteman in the business) on Broadcast. Layton and Johnson also performed a vocal version on Columbia. Dick Robertson would later revive the piece in the States on Decca. Even later, the Ferko String Band would issue a single on London.


Tokyo Woes – Tokyo Rose broadcasts propaganda aimed at our soldiers in the Pacific. However, when she expresses doubt as to what war bonds will do, Hook determines to show her – the hard way. Includes the usual urgings for the sailors to buy with their $21.00 a day (once a month) rather than spending on wine, women, and song. Includes “Rum and Coca Cola”, a mock-calypso for which co-“author” Morey Amsterdam lost a plagiarism lawsuit. The hit version went to the Andrews Sisters on Decca (said to have been recorded in one take about five minutes before the Petrillo recording ban went into effect), with covers by Abe Lyman on Columbia, Vaughn Monroe on Victor, and the Porky Freeman Trio on ARA.

“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” appears with special lyrics, sung by a war bond! Also reappearing is “Oh, You Beautiful Doll”, plus one more current pop newcomer, “My Dreams are Getting Better All the Time”, recorded for Columbia by Doris Day as band vocalist with Les Brown, and covered by Johnny Long and Dick Robertson in collaboration on Decca, the Phil Moore Four on Victor, and Louis Prima on Hit. Vera Lynn alsocovered it for the British Isles on Decca, as did Joe Loss on HMV, and The Organ, the Dance Band, and Me on Parlophhone.


Back on the Civilian side, we have Daffy the Commando (11/28/43) – Oberleutenant Von Vultur gets word from his superiors “If one more commando gets through its your Ka-reer”. His adjutant Shultz comes on the scene, only to be clunked on the helmet repeatedly throughout the cartoon (all we ever see is his helmet and is feet). Daffy parachutes in as a commando, and is his usual wacky self. He ultimately is shot from a cannon, landing on the podium at a Hitler rally. and gives Adolf the same treatment Shultz got throughout the cartoon – with Adolf calling to Shultz for help on the iris out. Song: “She Was Poor But She Was Honest,” a British music hall number sung by Daffy in cockney dialect. The song was recorded in 1930 for British Regal by Billy Bennett (billed as “Almost a Gentleman”). The number was also covered by Al Tiers on Dominion. Cyril Smith (formerly of the Rudy Vallee orchestra), revived it in the 1940’s on United Artists (A U.S. label not to be confused with the movie studio)


Little Red Riding Rabbit (1/4/44) – An ungainly bobby soxer teenager Red Riding Hood strolls through the woods, brashly singing “The Five O’Clock Whistle”, and carrying Bugs in a basket for her Grandma “to have”. Bugs has a convoluted chase with the wolf of the story, finally placing the wolf in a most unsettling and uncomfortable position – straddling red hot coals while Bugs places ever increasing weights upon his back to force him down. When Red again intrudes upon the scene, Bugs says, “I’ll do it – but I’ll probably hate myself in the morning”, and switches Red into the Wolf’s predicament, while Bugs and the wolf become friends and share a carrot on the sidelines.

Song score includes “They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old”, the most popular tune to spring from Warner’s all star all-out for the war effort, Thank Your Lucky Stars, performed in the picture musically by, of all people, Bette Davis. The song was nominated for an academy award. Its most popular recorded version was by Jimmy Dorsey with Kitty Kallen on Decca. A cover version was issued by Jan Garber on Hit. Hildegarde performed it as a vocal on Decca. Tommy Tucker recorded it for V-Disc. A “working” version for factory background music was recorded by Phil Green and the “Studio Orchestra” for London records’ private “Music Library” series. The tune would make at least one more appearance in a Warner cartoon, in notable conjunction with the story line, in “Duck Soup To Nuts” (1944), accompanying Daffy’s pay-off of a gang of fellow ducks posing as his wife and three oddly-named offspring. Also appearing in the score is a duet between Bugs and the Wolf of “Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet”.

Next Time: A bevy of favorites from 1944-45.

8 Comments

  • Aside from Paramount’s George Pal Puppetoons sharing Raymond Scott’s music with Warners, we also get Carl Stalling borrowing Sammy Timberg’s opening bars of the Superman fanfare from the Fleischer Studio, for 1944’s “Snafuperman”. I’d guess as a cartoon done for the government with no plans for non-military audiences to see it, Paramount’s Famous Music had fewer qualms about letting Warners borrow a couple of seconds of their song (especially since the Superman series had run its course by the time the Snafu entry arrived).

  • This was an accidental find recently: in GAS with Snafu, this piece of silent film music plays when the gas takes on anthropomorphized form (voiced by Billy Bletcher). It’s called “Creepy Creeps”, a composition by Gaston Borch (1871-1926) – just Stalling tapping into his days as a silent film organist in his Kansas City days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbaNe1njHZI

  • Speaking of Carl Stalling, today is what would’ve been his 129th birthday!!

  • IIRC, the anthropomorphic “GAS” was designed by Dr. Seuss…

  • Since the Snafu shorts were property of the US government they were never copyrighted. Likewise their musical cues weren’t registered to the ASCAP. The use of copyrighted music from other music publishers would require paying licensing fees if the publisher even accepts licensing it to a competing studio, but in classified shorts not shown to any civilian audience – that likely no one at Famous even saw in the first place – there’s no such worry and there’s no licensing fee to pay.

  • That’s not the can-can in “Pay Day”. It’s a passage from the final section of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” from his opera “La Gioconda”, which, like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the “Danse Arabe”, had been previously used in Walt Disney’s Fantasia — not a “first-time” use for any of them, unless you’re speaking specifically of Warner Bros. cartoons.

    “Pay Day” also contains an excerpt from “Espana” by Emmanuel Chabrier, a charming little orchestral piece that I don’t recall having heard in a cartoon before.

    The “ungainly bobby soxer teenager” in “Little Red Riding Rabbit” is a rather unkind caricature of singer and comedian Cass Daley (but she probably laughed harder than anyone). She appeared in a number of wartime musicals like “The Fleet’s In”, starring Dorothy Lamour, and was a frequent performer on Armed Forces Radio. After the war she starred in her own radio show. She was very popular with the GIs in spite of her buck teeth and goofy personality, or perhaps, ironically, because of them. I think her depiction in the cartoon can be best described by the Japanese word “gurokawaii” — grotesque, but in a cute way.

  • Does anybody know who voiced Seaman Hook? IMDB says it was Arthur ‘Dagwood’ Lake but you know how reliable they can be….

  • MJM – It certainly sounds like Arthur Lake.

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