Several old friends whom we’ve met in past journeys in this series get another crack at gallivanting around the globe this week, while yet another studio takes its own crack at travelogues – with reasonable success. And yes, the trailer has still not been forgotten.
Porky’s Movie Mystery (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 3/11/39 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – A brief portion of this film ties into this article’s theme. Porky Pig is cast in the politicaly incorrect role of Asiatic detective, Mr. Motto (takeoff on Peter Lorre’s “Mr. Moto” series for Fox). When the Warner studio lot is terrorized by “the Phantom”, live action shots of angry crowds clamor for the assistance of Mr, Motto. A newspaper item meekly apologizes, “Sorry. Motto on Vacation.” On a tropical island, Porky basks in the sunshine, while reading up in lessons on Ju Jitsu. He hears a telephone ring, and cracks open a nearby cocoanut, using one half as earphone and the other as mouthpiece. Recieving word that he is needed to catch the Phantom, Porky cuts his vacation short to hurry home. He does so by merely pulling a starter rope on an outboard motor attached to the island, and sailing the entire isle at full speed back to the mainland, crashing into a dock on which waits a private plane for the hop to Hollywood. His further exploits have previously been documented in this site’s “The Invisible Article”.
A Bully Romance (Terrytoons/Fox, Gandy Goose, 6/16/39 -Eddie Donnelly, dir.) – Gandy relates to a fellow barnyard fowl (a black duck who talks in stereotype Negro dialect) the tale of his exploits in Mexico – and his first romance. Wandering along as a tourist, Gandy spies a beautiful senorita goose dancing in traditional Mexican style. Gandy joins her in the dance, and they whirl and twirl their way into the parlor of an impressive hacienda, where Gandy gets cozy with her on the sofa. “Stop!”, cries the angry voice of her Papa. “The one who marries my daughter must be brave. He must fight the bull.” Papa pulls aside a curtain, and reveals a live bull kept in the house for just such an occasion. When Gandy exhibits reluctance, the senorita shames him. “So, you are a coward, yes no?” “Well, yes and no”, replies Gandy. But he gets her message loud and clear, and dons a waiting matador’s outfit Papa provides. Papa and the senorita retreat to an upper story balcony by way of a retractable staircase, which serves as their private box to watch the festivities within the confines of their own living room. Most of the fight sequences are rapidly timed but rather routine, with action but little to offer for plot twists. The bull’s horns are oddly detachable, and can double for throwing as daggers. Gandy merely retrieves them from the wall when they miss and tosses them back at the bull, who catches them on the ends of his head stubs. After the allotted six minutes, the bull takes a crash into a wall that seems mild compared to several walls he went through earlier – yet runs up a white flag on one horn and declares Gandy the winner. The senorita kisses Gandy, and the scene dissolves back to the present. Gandy says he wishes he could relive it all over again. Another bull sticks its head out a stable door, and the black duck says “Boss, your opportunity is here.” The bull pushes the stall door open and chases Gandy over the horizon, while the black duck laughs and says, “Some bull.”
Crackpot Cruise (Lantz/Universal, 4/18/39 – Alex Lovy, dir.) – Anything that’s good enough for Warners is good enough for Lantz. Actually at this time, practically anything that was good enough for anyone else was good enough for Lantz. Desperately in search of a new direction, the appeal of Oswald having given up the ghost, the studio was lost in a stream of constant experimentation, hoping something would click. Many concepts were launched in the guise of “series” that rarely exceeded three episodes. Among the longest-running of this period (if you can call runs long that never lasted over two seasons) were Alex Lovy’s Baby Face Mouse – sort of the early-day version of Chuck Jones’ Sniffles, and perhaps the inspiration for the Jones character), and the Gay 90’s melodramatic adventures of Nellie, reviewedv in a series of articles featured on this site a few years ago, which scored better comic success. But that wasn’t all, folks. More experiments included the stereoptypical but nevertheless interesting character of L’il Eightball (3 episodes), a handful of fairytale spoofs entitled “Nertsery Rhymes”, and the expensive one-shot flop billed as if a series that never was, “Peterkin” in Scrambled Eggs (reviewed in my previous “Happy Henfruit” series). The present article will highlight one additional three-episode miniseries that never clicked – but did produce some laughs – the “Crackpot Cruise” series – a direct successor to the Tex Avery travelogues, largely identical in presentation and style (though lower in budget). Of course, after two years of these various experiments, Lantz would find his breadwinners back-to-back – Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker.
Narrated by KNX newscaster and Columbia serial voice-over Knox Manning, this first installment bears the name of the series as its title, and is actually the weakest of the three – a sort-of dress rehearsal for better results that followed. First thing Lovy learns from Avery – set up the running gag – in this case, a passing tugboat with a loud whistle, which, every time announcer or passenger attempts to make a lengthy and flowery statement, sounds its whistle, blotting out everything the person said. We are invited to see the Captain’s bridge – a large set of dentures soaking in a cup of water. The captain pulls the handle on the signaling device to give orders to the boiler room for full speed (known as an engine order telegraph – see, you learn something new everyday) – but the boiler stoker below just forces the handle on his matching device back to all stop, backflipping the Captain from his handle above. The ship raises anchor – actually, a plunger stuck to the ocean floor. A few odd gags appear in mid ocean. A set of signs on buoys float by, in the style of a Burma-Shave set of sequential billboards, reading “A Tisket”, “A Tasket” “I Lost My Yellow Basket” “So What?” (Reference to a swing version of the old nursery rhyme which was high on the music charts by Ella Fitzgerald with the Chick Webb orchestra – the same piece would also provide a gag sequence for Friz Freleng’s MGM title, “The Bookworm”.) A Britisher pumping along the waves on a floating pontoon bicycle, asks the Captain for directions to America, and is told “2,000 miles straight ahead” – then exits, pulling a floating trailer in tow. The remainder of the film consists of a less than linear random series of stopovers at various destinations, ping-ponging over several continents, with many gags that misfire, sprinkled with a few corny smiles. In Italy, a shopkeeper demonstrates how to make a Venetian blind – by poking one of his fellow countrymen in the eyes. In Egypt, a WPA work crew prepares to tear the pyramids down to build bigger ones. An African sequence plays as a shorter, equally politically incorrect match to Avery’s “Pingo Pongo”, featuring a tribe of headhunters who are merely torsos looking for their heads, and a direct lift of the plate-lip as breakfast tray gag from Avery’s cartoon. Another lifted gag borrows the geyser from MGM’s Petunia Natural Park, merely spitting rather than erupting – this time without the aid of a spittoon. Finally, the ship returns to New York, where the closing words if the narrator are again drowned out by the tugboat, whose whistle also blows upward the skirts of the Statue of Liberty.
Bolo Molo Land (Lantz/Universal, 5/17/39 – Alex Lovy, dir.) – Mistitled “Bola Mola Land” on television prints. A much better episode than its predecessor. A foreward announces “Any similarity between this cruise and any other cruise is just TOO BAD!” As we leave the harbor (aboard a collapsible cruise ship that seems to have a deck for every letter of the alphabet, yet telescopes flat when crossing under bridges), our narrator (Knox Manning again) tries to draw out attention to our own scenic wonders before we leave. They can only be seen in one small patch between a repeating endless row of billboards lining the waterfront (one advertising our own ship – “Crackpot Cruise Lines – Get Nowhere Fast”) – and even that gap is immediately filled with a new billboard for Pee-Yoo Perfume. Outside the harbor, the ship drops its pilot – straight into the ocean – and also drops a floating “X”, so they can find him again on the return trip. A rare spectacle is sighted – an active volcano, which dances a hula with its smoke ring as a lei, then snaps the smoke ring to use as a jump rope, as the narrator adds, “a very active volcano.” Sailing Southward, the ship goes “around the horn” – literally sailing through the curvature of a giant tuba. A variety of “rare and uninteresting” birds are viewed, including a flock of “Corrigan Quackers” – ducks in goggles that fly backwards (a reference to the famous lost pilot of the ‘30’s, “Wrong Way” Corrigan). Additional side trips show us whispering pines (who exchange gossip about us while watching – a bit of a lift from “Petunia Natural Park”’s babbling brook), and the living alligator bags of Watcha Overcoata. The ship’s route is again anything but linear, pausing again in Venice to pick up a supply of venison, then asking directions in Siam from Siamese twins – who answer in garbled double-talk. Reaching darkest Africa, we see a glimpse of an African nudist camp – the entire screen blacked out except for eyes and lips. The narrator comments that this reminds him of their last voyage North, where they saw albino Eskimos eating vanilla ice cream at the North Pole – and in flashback the scene turns completely white instead of black. A neon sign announces our arrival at the title destination (advertising “Eat – Dine- Dance”). Of course, the entire population are cannibals, with a banner reading ‘Well fed tourists welcome”. As quickly as we arrived, the ship departs, amidst a volley of spears. The fade out does a parody on the Fitzpatrick Traveltalk “sunset” ending, with the sun lowering, then abruptly plopping into the ocean, as the “shades of night” are drawn as a series of patched asbestos theater curtains.
Slaphappy Valley (Lantz/Universal, 8/3/39 – Alex Lovy, dir.) achieves parallels even closer to the model of the Avery original. This time, our running gag is provided by a newcomer – a little wise-guy but dimwitted character named Punchy (with a catch phrase of “That I did. That I did.”). If anything about this character – including his dress – reminds one of Egghead – then we know that person was born with eyes. While still billed as a Crackpot Cruise, for a change our conveyance this time is a streamlined train – but with as usual a completely random itinerary, illustrated on a poster as including Death Valley, Yosemite, Mt. Ranier, Glacier Park, Yellow Stone (yes, as two words), and Slaphappy Valley. Mel Blanc supplies the voice of a conductor with a chronic case of hiccups, who, like Porky Pig, can never complete a sentence without interruptions and word substitutions. Trying to call an “all aboard” naming the train’s destinations, he never fully pronounces the name of a single locale, then gives up and tosses a paper list on the train platform, finishing his sentence with “all these places.” The train takes off so fast it takes the conductor, but leaves his uniform behind (returning in a zip so he can retrieve it). The train picks up mail along the way – except at one location, it grabs the stationmaster rather than the mail sack. The narrator comments, “Uh oh, we picked up the wrong male. Better luck next time.” Our train winds through the Sierras along a track so curved it nearly ties the train in a knot.
In Death Valley, signs mark the remains of several unsuccessful crossings, reading “Desert party of” such and such year. A final marker appears atop a pile of old liquor bottles, reading “Wild party – 1939″. A prospector unsuccessfully digs for gold – continuing to wail at his hopeless quest, even as he strikes an oil well. Next stop is named inconsistently with the poster we saw at the film’s opening, as “Bricemite” National Park (mixing Bryce Canyon with Yosemite). Punchy (who missed the train at the last stop and followed us on foot) tries a dive into placid Mirror Lake, ignoring the no diving rule. On impact, the lake shatters like glass, and the narrator breaks the news to Punchy that now he will have seven years bad luck. It starts immediately, as he misses the train again. At Glacier Point, we observe a “high mountain peek”, as a snow capped mountain with a face peers around the crest of another, and says “Peek a boo. Peek a boo. I’m Pike’s Peak,. Who are You?” A large jail cell holds the bulging and thundering “Badlands – Mother Nature’s problem child.” Our final stop, Slaphappy Valley, is a winter-style resort, billed as the “Playground of the Stars”. “Just see those happy smiling faces”, says our narrator – while we look upon the ever-grumpy countenances of Ned Sparks and Edna Mae Oliver. This spot offers havens for those who wish to “be alone”, as Greta Garbo passes, using her oversized feet as skis. Punchy tries skiing, with the assist of an outboard motor, and flies right off a cliff, soaring over the horizon. The train takes off for home, and Punchy finally catches it by landing on the train’s roof – until a low tunnel leaves him with his skis planted in the stones of the tunnel’s roof for the fade out.
Comparing these efforts to other studios, Lovy eventually comes the closest to matching Avery timing and pacing, outscoring MGM’s Petunia Natural Park by a considerable country mile on chuckles and laughs. Is it any wonder Lovy would again find himself following in Avery’s footsteps in the 1950’s, when he inherited the Chilly Willy series from Avery’s reins?
Rhythm on the Reservation (Fleischer/Paramount, Betty Boop, 7/7/39 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Myron Waldman/Graham Place, anim.) – Betty Boop ends her theatrical career in a strange episode that hasn’t aged well due to its now politically incorrect views of Indian life. Particularly, her motivations are far from clear. While touring the American West in a large open truck full of musical instruments marked “Betty Boop’s Swing Band” (curious because there’s no one else along but her to play them all), she stops off at an Indian reservation for a little sightseeing and shopping. An old squaw nudges her much larger husband (with a thrown rock) to get busy for the prospective customer and “make-um ballyhoo”. Hubby starts beating on a small drum, and while he tries to push moccasins and such, Betty only wants to buy his “tom-tom”. Obviously smitten by Betty, the brave offers her the drum for free, but his jealous wife grabs it back and refuses to make a sale. The rest of the tribe is far from scrupulous, and swipes every instrument in Betty’s truck – even though they obviously have no idea what they’re for – as they demonstrate for the next several minutes. One tries out a trombone, inserting the mouthpiece in a small water hole, and shooting water out of it with the slide. “Make-um spring!”, he declares. Another warrior tries to start a fire by rubbing bow across violin strings. The accordion becomes a bellows for a flame to forge arrowheads, while the heads are flattened with the hi-hat cymbals from Betty’s drums. A base fiddle case becomes a canoe for a small brave. Another tries to set up a tympani as a cooking pot, until Betty demonstrates that it’s a “tom tom”. The curious thing about this script is that good natured Betty is so impressed with the fun everybody’s having, that she not only conducts them in a musical jamboree, but lets them keep the instruments! So what happened to the band? Thus, it appears that Betty ends her animated adventures not only out one truck of instruments, but out of a career. No wonder she never got another booking, and wound up as a concession girl at the Ink and Paint Club in Toontown.
Porky’s Hotel (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 9/2/39 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – Welcome to the ultimate in vacation destinations – Donut Center (what a hole). Was this the first time this gag appeared in a Warner cartoon? It certainly wasn’t the last. Porky’s hotel is the center of attention – and song, in a choral reworking of new lyrics to the old ditty, “Honeymoon Hotel”. One visitor has come to this quaint locale strictly for peace and quiet – a “Mr. Gouty” – an irritable billy goat with the named affliction in one foot, wrapped in a cast of bandages. He is wheelchair-bound, and Porky takes his luggage to his room – using an oft-used gag of ringing for what appears to be an elevator – but the door merely opens to a flight of stairs. There’s not much plot, as an endlessly-talking little duck named Gabby first pesters Mr. Gouty about his “funny looking foot”, then takes off after a pesky fly with a hammer – which you know will eventually be applied to the bandaged foot. One of the few highlights is lunchtime, where Porky tries in his stuttering way to describe the menu, constantly getting stuck for words and making substitutions, then finally giving up and saying, “Aw, try our blue plate”. Mr, Gouty does just that – but dumps all the food off into the wastebasket, and eats the plate instead. A wheelchair chase climaxes the film, with a picture of an Indian about to behead John Smith falling on Mr. Gouty and Gabby, their heads protruding as the depicted characters, and Gabby, thinking he’s about to get the axe, promises to be a good boy.
Land of the Midnight Fun (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 9/25/39 – Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.) – Tex Avery returns to the travelogue, taking us on another exotic ocean voyage. This time, instead of the Southern tropics, we venture North. Our sturdy vessel (the S.S. Wrecks) leaves New York harbor, raising anchor which catches in the ship’s bow and crumples it upwards as it rises. The censors let one get past, as a “Fairy” boat passes, tooting an effeminate “woo woo.” The ship hugs the coastline, bending like a snake to mirror every curve. A seemingly shipwrecked sailor on a raft is thrown a life preserver – but he tosses it right back, as he’s got a girl aboard, and merely was out for some peace and seclusion. Choppy seas cause many passengers to “travel by rail” from mal de mer. An iceberg floats past – with an ice cream truck aboard ringing its bell to attract patrons. An icebreaker clears a path for our liner, using only one working part – a man’s arm protruding from a hole in the bow, wielding an ice pick. We arrive at our destination, where a sign reads, “There’s no place like Nome”. The ship docks by parallel parking, and drops anchor (with no connecting chain). Various Eskimo gags are featured – lovers rubbing noses (the girl applying lipstick to her shnozzola), and a dog team (which stops behind an ice formation to sniff a telephone pole). A timberwolf is shown (voiced by Avery himself), endlessly yelling “Timber” like a lumberjack, then pausing to tell the audience, “Gee, this is silly.” A production number at the Brass Monkey night club (where the nights are six months long) presents an Eskimo version of Sonja Henie, in a sequence likely rotoscoped. Finally, the ship s ready to sail home. The anchor rises from the briny without the need for chain, and we’re off. A thick fog completely obscures view as we approach New York harbor, and when the fog lifts, the ship is precariously balanced upon the pointed pinnacle of the Trylon and Perisphere theme structures of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
The Hitch Hiker (Terrytoons/Fox, Gandy Goose, 12/1/39 – Eddie Donnelly, dir.) – Gandy plays the title character, in an unusual situation. He has bought a trailer, but apparently can’t afford a car. So he waits by the road, thumbing it, in hopes of finding someone to hitch up his rig to. In these, the formative years of the series, the regular cast of Terry characters had not yet been fully set – so Gandy encounters a dog with appropriate vehicle, rather than the expected Sourpuss. Don’t feel disappointed – the dog speaks in Sourpuss’s voice, so it’s the same difference. Even Gandy isn’t quite himself in this one, being drawn in a new unusual model with shorter bill that makes him look more like a duck than a goose. Anyway, Gandy hitches up, and the dog almost drives away without him. Gandy catches the trailer, then asks if the dog wants coffee. Inside the trailer, Gandy pushes a button – and in the tradition of Terry trailers, his cot flips over to become a griddle for coffee pots and pans. Another button push, and mechanical hands emerge from the wall and begin pouring flapjack batter on the griddle, then turning them with a spatula. Gandy rings a dinner bell for the dog, who at least has more sense than Goofy, and parks the car for the night. Gandy leaves a spread of food for the dog on a table, then bids him good night. The dog samples the pancakes, remarking, “Not bad!” But he spies a button on the wall, and can’t resist pushing it. The table splits in the middle, with the dishes descending inside, shakes violently, then shoots out the dishes, cups and saucers neatly stacked and clean as a whistle – with all the food gone. “Who washed them dishes?”, the dog shouts angrily at Gandy. But Gandy is sound asleep on the cot. The dog crawls in under the covers beside him. Outside, a mosquito appears (shades of Mickey Mouse’s Camping Out again), and calmly pushes upward the trailer’s mosquito netting as it he were opening a normal window. He tunes his long nose to rigid attention as if he were a guitar, then settles on the dog’s forehead, using his nose as a drill.
The dog lifts the mosquito off, and places him on Gandy’s head instead – but Gandy merely reverses the effort, putting him back of the dog. A swat from the dog’s hand misses, and the dog resorts to firearms, puling out a pistol. His shot misses, hitting one of the trailer’s buttons. Suddenly, the robotic hands are pouring hot coffee all over Gandy and the dog. Of course, this being a Terrytoon, the animators can’t resist resorting to borrowed shots. More buttons, and the whole “stack of dishes” gag from Farmer Al Falfa’s “Trailer Life”. reviewed in part 2 of this series, is repeated. From here, the film goes downhill fast. After some mishaps trying to catch the mosquito within a teakettle, a lucky swat downs the first mosquito. Gandy boots it out the door, but the dog does the same to Gandy. However, a swarm of mosquitoes arrives on the scene to give chase to the dog. The dog runs outside, and holds Gandy above his head as mosquito bait, then tosses Gandy back inside the trailer with the mosquitoes following. The dog has had enough of his nuisance partner, unhitches the trailer, and speeds off in the car. We now lift two gags straight from “Camping Out”. The mosquitoes start drilling their noses into the trailer roof. Inside, Gandy hammers at their stingers to bend them as they poke through. The trapped mosquitoes fly upwards, carrying the trailer with them (same gag as Horace Horsecollar’s umbrella), and proceed down the road with it after the car. Eventually they catch up, bumping the car from the rear and causing it to crash into a tree, a total wreck. Gandy returns to the roadside to “thumb” for his next hitch. The dog creeps up on him with the flyswatter, but misses his aim, hitting a button on the outside of the trailer. Out comes the coffee pot again to pour hot coffee on him, while Gandy breaks into a fit of his usual goofy laughter.
Sniffles Takes a Trip (Warner, Merrie Melodies (Sniffles the Mouse), 5/11/40 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) – I guess this title had to come up sooner or later – my candidate for Jones’s slowest paced, most plotless episode of all time. After a few clever and entertaining starts with the Disneyesque rodent, Jones and crew seemed to hit a brief writing roadblock in 1940 in search of new situations for him. While one would think that a roadtrip might allow the mild mannered mouse to encounter any number of interesting adversaries – or at least, a cat – it seems that any concept of menace or peril to our hero exists only in his own imagination – and virtually nothing happens to him wharsoever. No, this is not something rising to the psychological brain-games of a Hubie and Bertie episode – it’s just eight minutes of time spent wasted, looking at a few pretty pictures. In fact, a good deal of footage is exactly that – pretty pictures in still form – without any animation whatsoever, as Sniffles either views the sights of Peaceful Meadows, or the spooky shadows it leaves at night. The only “action” is in the middle sequences, where Sniffles tries to sling a hammock from a tree vibrated by a woodpecker, and then from another pair of “trees” that actually turn out to be the legs of a stork. Finally, the imagined threat of the fearsome night shadows sends our hero scurrying homeward along the railroad tracks to the big city – just a direction reversal of the closing shot of Disney’s The Country Cousin (1936). Yawn, if you can find the energy.
Donald’s Vacation (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 8/9/40 – Jack King, dir.) – For the first time, Donald leaves behind all his old buddies (nephews included) and faces nature solo – with a little help from modern inventors. We open on a shot of Donald playing ukelele as he sails up a woodland stream in a one-man canoe. He reaches a small sand bar, and we discover his canoe is rather unconventional – his feet protrude out the bottom, and the boat is merely an inflatable around his waist. He continues around and through a few waterfalls, then over the edge of a steep one, landing below with the inflatable craft inverted on his torso, making him resemble a turtle as he crawls onto land. Finding a peaceful clearing, Donald pulls a lever on his canoe. Hatches open in its sides, dumping out scads of camping equipment and supplies, obviously five times the size of the canoe’s volume. Ducking inside the canoe, a few stretches of material here and there convert the boat into an instant tent – complete with the extras of a flag, a zippered doorway, and a small flight of stairs to the entrance.
Now Donald breaks out his next “latest thing” in camping equipment. The “Comfy Vacation chair – EZ Folding Model”. It folds, all right – just not in the ways that would normally result in the shape of a chair. In fact, Donald soon looks like a colonial settler locked in the community stocks. After several minutes of uncomfortable-looking transformations, Donald pounces on the chair, jumping up and down on it with all his weight, shouting, “So you will be obstinate!” With one last bounce, the chair finally succumbs, springing into perfect position to match its factory photograph. Donald admits to the audience, “Am I a surprised duck!” Donald finally relaxes and dozes off, while a community of chipmunks (pre-Chip ‘n’ Dale) develop eyes for his food supply. A parade of foodstuffs is slowly carried away under Donald’s nose – until a chipmunk carrying a pineapple spears Donald’s rear end with one of its pointy green fronds. The chair reverts to form, trapping Donald again, as he gives chase by propelling its wooden legs from within. A handy shade umbrella attached to the chair traps Donald’s face, abruptly stopping the pursuit, while one of the chipmunks doesn’t watch where he’s rolling Donald’s food, briefly disappearing in and back out of the mouth of a sleeping bear (that same furry nemesis Donald met in “Good Scouts”). The bear is aroused, and sees Donald’s food pile. By the time Donald frees himself of the umbrella and attacks the invaders in his food pile, he grabs the nose of the bear instead of a chipmunk. Donald climbs a tree for safety, but the bear peels the bark off the trunk, leaving Donald sliding down the tree’s slippery core. When the duck reaches bottom, the bear takes a swipe at him with one paw – carving a huge wooden paw print twice Donald’s size out of the trunk, to which Donald’s still blindly clings. Donald is finally chased back to his camp, where he switches his tent back to canoe at super speed, leaves holes in the shape of his silhouette through three waterfalls, and paddles straight up another waterfall to exit the forest for the iris out.
Into the ‘40’s for more action next time. (Is this trip really necessary?)