As you likely have heard, the Warner Archive Collection will release Tex Avery Screwball Classics Vol. 3 on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5th. All three volumes of Avery had a long circuitous route to being produced. Volume 3 had a few more and different bumps than usual, and I think we need to give you some additional information in advance of its street date. (The “we” in this case refers to George Feltenstein and myself who put this baby together).
First things first – the thing you really want to know – the contents of the collection:
THE EARLY BIRD DOOD IT
ONE HAM’S FAMILY
HAPPY GO NUTTY
THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGOO
SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA
WILD AND WOLFY
NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE
SLAP HAPPY LION
KING SIZE CANARY
WHAT PRICE FLEADOM
LITTLE JOHNNY JET
and a bonus cartoon not from Tex’s MGM tenure, but from his days prior at Warner Bros., THE CRACKPOT QUAIL (with its original 1941 soundtrack).
We began assembling the elements for this collection late last year, engaging artist Stephen DeStefano to render cover illustrations, writing package text, and scouring Warner vaults (worldwide), and several external film archives including the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Library of Congress in order to find the best possible film elements to work from, all of which would be scanned in 4K. Virtually all the MGM cartoons and short films which had Nitrate negatives were sadly destroyed in a well-known archive vault fire over 40 years ago. Before the tragic fire, MGM had prepared 2 35mm CRIs of each cartoon in the early 1970s for “preservation”, but further excavation of the Warner vaults yielded (in certain fortunate circumstances) separation masters made from the nitrate originals which yield superior results.
In the 1980s, while assembling information for my book Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies (1989), I was able to screen an original nitrate print of The Crackpot Quail (1941) – and noted then, in print, that the original track featured a continued – and hilarious – “raspberry” sound from the quail, emitting during the entire film. As we all know, an annoying “whistle” is used to blow the quails topknot on all prints ever seen since (for reference, listen to the version posted on HBO-Max). I assume the raspberry was replaced after its initial release due to the fact that the offensive “raspberry” sound (aka ‘passing gas’) was a Hays Code no-no. (As Cats-tello says in Clampett’ 1942 A Tale Of Two Kitties: “If the Hays office would only let me, I’d give him the bird, all right!”). I also wonder if Avery’s use of the raspberry was another straw that broke Leon’s back, leading to Avery’s suspension in the summer of 1941.
I’d always hoped to get around to restoring that track for one of the Looney Tunes Golden Collections but it just never happened – However, now was the perfect time. We began the process – meticulously instructing the staff to pull the nitrate print specifically – as the original soundtrack element only contained the (annoying) whistle. I’m delighted to report The Crackpot Quail is now restored to its original sound. And my personal evaluation of this cartoon has gone way up – the original track is better, and quite hilarious, as Avery intended. You’ll now be able to own this cartoon, exclusively on this collection, and nowhere else. I think you will agree with my reassessment.
We had hoped to add an informational title card to introduce that cartoon; We had also hoped to add a transfer of a rare nitrate release print (courtesy of animator Mark Kausler) of The Shooting of Dan McGoo, that contained gags later removed from the subsequent rerelease; We had ideas for a bonus documentary about the differences of the original titles and gags from the original 1940s release versions and the 1950s re-releases… but the whole Avery 3 project was off limits due to changes within WarnerMedia during 2021. George Feltenstein was impacted by massive company layoffs which led to his departure from the company earlier in the year. George did not know if the release would be completed and prepared as we had set forth – or not. Fortunately, George was able to return to the company last month, and amidst his other duties, has resumed his oversight of the Warner Archive Collection.
One of the first things on his plate upon his return was reviewing work done while he was away. Tex Avery vol. 3 was prepared for an October release during that time. Despite leaving intricate notes, there was a six month period without his oversight. One of the shorts we were most concerned about was Blitz Wolf. There is only one surviving 35mm element on this cartoon in the company’s vault. It is a 2nd generation CRI (color reversal internegative), but the first almost-two minutes of this “best element” must have been damaged in prior years somehow, and was replaced by an inferior dupe internegative that (while properly cleaned of film dirt and scratches without harming the animation) is by nature soft and lacking in the vibrant color that was originally there. A thorough search via archives both in the U.S. and abroad turned up nothing better to work from.
Consumers may notice an unusual bump up in quality in the print used here for Blitz Wolf – after the first minute and 52 seconds (1:52). In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen this film look so good. Razor sharp focus, crystal clear sound and great color. However – and we would have caught this – the master CRI material pulled from the MGM vault uses a dupe element for that first minute and fifty-two seconds not up to WAC standards. This is indeed the same element used on the 2008 Academy Award Winners and Nominees set – where that DVD, being standard definition, didn’t reveal the degree of difference between the dupe footage and the improved quality in the balance of the cartoon. We would have added a card to explain this unfortunate set of circumstances, had we been there to supervise.
All this said, the collection is pretty great as is. Will there be a volume 4? All I can say is: Hang onto your blu-ray players. George is back, and we are already compiling and restoring some things you’ll want to own – and they won’t be available from any other source.
Below, a gallery of screenshots taken from the blu-ray, as well as Stephen DeStefano’s ink drawings for the box art – and me, holding finished set. (click to enlarge):