Animation Trails
July 5, 2023 posted by Charles Gardner

Unpredictable as Weather (Part 13)

Stormy action from three studios on this week’s bill from 1938-39. Most weather-watching occurs at Warner Brothers. Two Columbia Color Rhapsodies also make the cut, together with a memorable landmark film from Terrytoons. Let’s get breezin’ along.

Porky In Egypt (Warner, Porky Pig, 11/5/38 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – This early Clampett effort, only distanced by one film from the production of Porky in Wackyland, comes from a prime period of Clampett’s production which I tend to call his “goofy” period, more over-the-top in gags, and full of goony-looking, more toony supporting characters than many of his productions from 1940 and up to the color period when Rod Scribner became an overwhelming influence on Clampett’s artwork.

As in Popeye’s “Ali Baba”, desert heat is the weather extreme providing the story point for analysis in this survey. Amidst the land of the fake fakirs, a tour group sets out on a sightseeing jaunt to the homes of the Mummy Stars, aboard a camel with a seemingly endless line of humps between which to seat passengers, and a trailer in tow for skunks (probably on loan from Farmer Al Falfa). Porky is a late riser, and misses the tour. Determined to see the sights, he hires a private camel – one Humpty Bumpty. Porky finds his new steed is a bit on the slow side, and urges him on: “C-c-can’t ya go any fa-f-f-fa-f-f- – -SWING IT!” But the desert sun burns without mercy, focusing its beam like a spotlight on Porky, then on the only convenient oasis to burn up its palm trees like matchsticks and dry up its water hole. Backgrounds start to spiral, as the camel hears his name called by a variety of different voices from nowhere. “The voices…..IT’S THE DESERT MADNESS!!”, the camel shouts. He randomly breaks into lines from “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, then falls at Porky’s feet, declaring them as lost, destined to become “white chalky bones”. Suddenly he envisions an endless caravan on the horizon. “We’re saved! The camels are coming!” He instantly converts this into the Scottish standard, “The Campbells are Coming”, donning a kilt and playing a bagpipe while dancing a highland fling. He disappears over a hill, leaving Porky to think he’s been abandoned – but Porky finds the camel over the next dune, appearing to bathe in a swimming pool in an oasis marked “Palm Springs”. Of course, when Porky dives in too, he finds them both to be merely submerged in dry sand. The camel breaks into random impressions of Lew Lehr (“Camels is de kraziest people”) and the Lone Ranger, until he crashes into a tree, knocking himself out of the daze. Temporarily sober, he tells Porky he’s all right now. But then, the voices are distantly heard again. “They’re coming back. Quick, let’s get outta here!” The camel races at top speed through the dunes, eventually winding his way back to the city. He takes Porky inside one of the structures as the voices appear nearly upon him, and locks four doors, shutting the voices out. “Safe at last”, Bumpty declares. “Y-y-yeah, now we’re safe”, Porky answers – then dons a Napoleon hat and breaks into a fit of his own insanity for the iris out.

Watch the cartoon HERE.

Midnight Frolics (Ub Iwerks/Columbia, Color Rhapsodies, 11/25/38 – Ub Iwerks, dir.) – Typical dark Gothic backgrounds filled with thunder, rain, wind and lightning open this Halloween spookfest in Iwerks style. Having already brought back his skeletons in Technicolor for a preceding Color Rhapsody, Iwerks this time focuses his attention on ghosts. It is notable that at this time, the image of the Hollywood cartoon ghost was in a stage of metamorphosis. Burt Gillett had made a splash in the preceding year with Disney’s most expensive cartoon to date, “Lonesome Ghosts”, for the first time depicting ghosts who were not merely sheets without noses and with holes for eyes, but who included cartoony bulb noses and wore hats, primarily derbies. This new concept in design had a profound influence on the industry for several years, and would spread in use to virtually every studio. Iwerks was among the first to “borrow” such style for his specters in this episode. Gillett would export the design to Walter Lantz the following year, for use in his own production, “A-Haunting We Will Go”. Variants would show up in Chuck Jones’ “Ghost Wanted” at Werner, multiple Terrytoons (including Gandy Goose’s “Ghost Town”), and in Paramount’s “Lulu’s Indoor Outing”. It might even be said that Gillett’s design caused the inspiration for “Spooky”, the little tough ghost from the Casper series, to eventually settle into a design of wearing a derby hat.

This particular dark and stormy night rattles the rafters of an old abandoned house, the winds blowing about the remnants of draperies at an open window. The ends of the drapes fall upon the keyboard of an old organ against a wall, causing a few keys to sound, arousing a mouse who makes his home inside one of the many organ pipes above the keyboard. Meanwhile, a cuckoo bird, who thinks himself quite the wise guy (voiced by Mel Blanc, who provides all but the singing voices in this film), emerges from a clock to sound the call for midnight – time for all ghosts to come out. But the skeptical bird insists there are no such things, and he’s never seen a spook in his life. That is, until one materializes right before him, sending the bird retreating into his clock in panic. The ghost indicates to the audience to remain quiet about his presence, then disappears, only to reappear again seated on the bench of the organ. Without further ado, he breaks into a performance of a theme from The Storm movement of the William Tell Overture, his notes punctuated by flashes of lightning through the windows. The mouse is roused from the dusty organ pipes once again, this time spying who is playing – and packs a traveling bag in a split second, taking a vacation in a hurry. The musical moods change from a ballet rendition of “Spring Song”, to a production number explaining the origins of the spooks that dwell here. A sextet of ghosts (who, for obvious purposes of making animation more economical, quickly merge with each other to condense to only three), proclaim in song that they are the “ghosts of the gang that danced and sang with the Floradora Girls” (referencing a turn of the century Broadway hit, “Floradora”, which featured a sextet of maidens and their men, usually remembered for a number recorded many times, “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden”). However, the spooks point out that they were all the type of boys that girls forget, and despite their passing, have never been missed.

Their number is interrupted by a knock on the door, where another ghost, who speaks in the manner and catch-phrases of Elmer Blurt from the Al Pearce radio show, tries to apply for a position to help haunt the house. He is at least honest about his own lack of technique, admitting he isn’t very good, and they probably won’t like it. The resident ghosts are entirely bored by the newcomer’s moans and chain rattling, and slam the door in his face, telling him “T’ain’t funny, McGee.” (Another radio catch-phrase, from Marian Jordan of “Fibber McGee and Molly”.) More musical interludes (including a number performed on invisible musical instruments) alternate with interruptions from the ghost outside, until the resident ghosts get fed up with the interruptions, and roll out a ghost cannon, aiming it at the front door and lighting the cannon fuse. They retreat to the opposite side of the room, covering what might be their ears – but no explosion. When they look up, the cannon is gone. A knock is heard at the door again. They open the door, to find the intrusive stranger, who asks them, “Wanna buy a cannon?” Beside him is the cannon, turned around to point right at the occupants. The ghosts are heard to shriek, as the cannon’s blast transforms the scene to black. Dawn breaks the next morning, and the cuckoo bird emerges, knowing that all ghosts should be in bed by now. He still denies what his eyes had seen, and remains resolute in disbelief in spirits. Meanwhile, the mouse has also returned to his home, and sweeps a large cloud of dust away from the organ pipes. The cloud travels across the room, transforming in shape to one which resembles the ghost of the previous evening. The cuckoo bird again reacts in fright at the sight, and disappears into the clock, which flips upside-down on the wall, its pendulum swinging above the clock frame like a metronome for the iris out.

Doomsday (Terrytoons/Fox. Gandy Goose, 12/16/38 – Connie Rasinski, dir.) – Gandy’s colorful debut to Technicolor (with a impressive original title card rediscovered from the vaults, showing Gandy dealing with an umbrella turned inside-out from the wind). Gandy was a new character at this time, having only appeared in a couple of black and white episodes prior to this, and was still in flux as to design. Black and white animators chose an odd appearance, by having Gandy designed with a white body but a black head. This first color appearance is also the first to utilize Gandy’s classic design, having his feathers white from head to toe. The visual quality of the film further suggests that Terry shelled out a decent budget to properly launch his budding star into the big time – possibly more so than the amount spent on Terry’s earlier first color production, String Bran Jack.

The tale is a clever reworking of the old “Chicken Little” fable, with Gandy substituting in place of the fable’s title character. As the film opens, dimwitted Gandy is yukking it up in the barnyard, getting his share of laughs from reading what should be a somber volume judging from its title – “The End of the World”, by U.R. Dunn. As he reads, a small storm cloud gathers over his head. A handful of small raindrops trickle down around Gandy. One hits the ground fairly close to him, so Gandy shifts his position slightly to avoid whatever is coming down – and only succeeds in placing himself in line for a direct hit of one raindrop upon his noggin. “My goodness, the sky is falling”, assumes the dumb cluck goose, presumably at the suggestion pf what he has been reading. He runs around the barnyard, spreading the news of panic, with several animals taking him at his word, and becoming as excited about the disaster as he is. Gandy concludes that they must tell the king, and leads a small parade of his barnyard pals to the nearby palace of the recurring Terry lion who spoke and acted like Bert Lahr (probably suggested from word around Hollywood that Lahr had landed the role of the cowardly lion in “The Wizard of Oz”, though the film had not yet premiered). The king is unimpressed with such a preposterous story, and gets each of Gandy’s cronies to admit that they didn’t actually witness the event (including a black duck, who remarks “I don’t know from nothin’.” So Gandy is singled out for examination by a trio of royal wizards/scientists, with command that they bring a report to the king as to either the truth of the story, or whether Gandy is a fool. The wizards subject Gandy to some photographic head examination, and Gandy also finds excuse to play with some chemical fireworks in the wizards’ lab, resulting in some brightly-colored pyrotechnics. When the report is delivered, the wizards are exhausted, and Gandy himself delivers report as to his own opinion of the wizards – “They’re cuckoo.” The king has had enough, and sentences Gandy to spend a spell in a cell in the royal dungeon.

In his banquet hall, the king raises a glass in a toast to his court and the visitors from Gandy’s barnyard. “Here’s to peace and quiet.” But his wish is not to be, as a truly large storm now brews in the skies outside the castle. A jagged blast of lightning hits the castle roof, shattering boulders and shingles, which clatter down around the king and his guests. They run helter-skelter everywhere inside the castle, while the lightning continues to illuminate the castle through the hole above. “He was right. Where is he?”, shouts the king. Descending into the dungeon, the king finds Gandy, busying himself by addressing the steel ball fastened around his neck with a pool cue. “It’s happened. You knew the sky was falling. You can get us out of this”, the king pleads. “Sure. Follow me”, responds Gandy, as the king releases him from his chain. Gandy leads the king and his subjects up a spiral staircase to the roof of the palace, where Gandy emerges through a trap door. “Now do your stuff”, says the king. Gandy advances a few steps out into the raging storm, holds up one hand, and utters a single word – “STOP.” Like a miracle, the black clouds dissolve away, and the castle is bathed in brilliant sunshine, the peaceful sound of chirping birds heard on the track. The king and his subjects exchange looks of near-disbelief, then break into cheers as they emerge to hail their hero. A decoration ceremony is promptly organized on the castle roof, with a herald singing a song in Gandy’s praise, a medal placed around Gandy’s neck, kisses placed by the king upon each of Gandy’s cheeks in French military style, and the king even abdicating his crown to Gandy’s head. As the king unrolls a scroll to begin a congratulatory oration, the unexpected happens. Nearly as quickly as they disappeared, the black clouds return, and lightning flashes once again threaten the rooftop celebrants. The king points to the sky, cuing Gandy to perform his magic again. “STOP”, shouts Gandy – but his shout only magnifies the intensity of the storm. Quickly realizing Gandy’s previous deed was nothing but a fluke, the king grabs back his crown, one of the subjects takes back the medal, and a wizard delivers Gandy a parting bop on the head, before all but Gandy disappear in fright back down the trap door. As soon as they are gone, the skies begin to clear again, with one cloud lingering to form a face, which speaks to Gandy to wisen-up the dizzy goose. “The sky never falls. It’s only rain.” The cloud disappears, and the sky is lit by sunshine and a bright rainbow, while Gandy responds with his trademark silly laugh, a pause, and then a closing line to the audience – “I don’t get it.”

It’s an Ill Wind (Warner, Porky Pig, 1/28.39 – Ben Hardaway/Cal Dalton, dir.) – Porky Pig, on this day dressed in a maritime outfit, travels to the docks, accompanied by the same talkative duck who previously appeared in Avery’s I Wanna Be a Sailor, to do a little fishing. As they settle with their fishing lines at the end of a pier, Porky tells the duck that for fishing, you have to be very quiet. The duck launches into a blur of words as to why he needs to be quiet. After all, he’s never seen a fish with ears, so how can a fish hear anything? The two fishermen are also followed by a puppy, whom Porky attempts to shoo away as being nothing but a pest. The dog tries to befriend him with a peace offering of a smelly old fish found on the docks, whose aromas fail to please the two fishermen. A clap of thunder, and lightning flashes in the sky, cue the three that a terrible storm is coming, and they take shelter inside a large abandoned dockside warehouse (despite the duck’s claims of not caring if it rains as in the preceding picture, and addition of the phrase “It never rains in California”). “Anyb-b-body here?”, shouts Porky as he enters the building. “No, there’s nob-b-body here:, responds an unexplained gruff voice. The wind suddenly blows the doors and shutters shut, plunging the warehouse into darkness. Porky finds a candle he spotted on a desk before the doors closed, and he and the duck proceed by candlelight carefully through the rooms and staircases of the warehouse. A mysterious knocking spooks the two as they approach a door, not realizing the dog has sneaked in too, and is merely scratching a flea on the other side. The remainder of the film is a non-stop case of mistakes, misunderstandings, and everyone-frightens-everyone-else, very similar in structure to Harman and Ising’s “The Old House, and very probably inspired by it – right down to using a room full of flying bats, a turtle with a candle misplaced upon its back, a fake fiend consisting of a bearskin rug draped over a roller chair, and a character trapped in a spooky outfit, consisting of a diving helmet and a wrapping of anchor chain. The duck is briefly blown outside when an umbrella hooks to the back of his shirt, and a storm crosswind blows through a window and shoots him outside through the chimney. He shouts for someone to get him down, and a lightning bolt obliges by sawing off the umbrella handle, dropping him back into the warehouse. Eventually, the three frightened characters collide with one another and roll out the front door onto the dock. Not admitting fear himself, the duck points to the dog and speaks to Porky, “Boy, did he scare you.” The duck then concludes, “There wasn’t anyone in there, was there?” But the dog realizes there was. He charges back into the warehouse and up the stairs, finding the turtle, with the candlestick still on his back. He bops the turtle on the head for his troubles, then blows out the candle’s light for the fade out.

Dangerous Dan McFoo (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 7/15/39 – Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.) , receives honorable mention. Avery’s first retelling of Robert W. Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” shares with the poem an atmospheric night of intense cold and driving snow, as the exploits within the “Malibu Saloon” are recounted. Dan’s “solo game” in the back room consists of launching a ball on a primitive pinball machine, in which all the holes intended to score points dodge out of the way of the rolling marble, allowing the ball to immediately fall into a hole placing it out of play. “I was wobbed”, says McFoo (speaking in what may be the first appearance of the voice that would become Elmer Fudd, provided by Arthur Q. Bryan of the “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio cast). The villainous wolf stranger enters the saloon in an early rendition of one of Avery’s trademark “door” gags, first knocking the front door off its hinges so that it lands flat on the saloon floor, then opening the same door as a trap door from the floor, revealing a staircase from the basement heretofore unseen. (Avery also uses a door pivoting in the wall, to open once again as a second doorway, in a later shot.) The wolf, voiced by Mel Blanc, speaks lines in screaming overplay that choose language deliberately simplistic and seemingly unfitting for the rantings of a villain, such as “What a pretty girl!”, and “Well, what of it?” The battle between McFoo and the wolf is full of Avery-isms, the characters’ brawling defying gravity, so that at the end of a round they return to the ground by walking down respective invisible staircases, a pause-motion sequence where the camera stops the action to show us the moments of landing each blow (with each frozen pose revealing a definite foul), and a streetcar which repeatedly enters the front door of the saloon, only for the purpose of sounding the fight bell to begin and end rounds. The narrator gets fed up waiting, says the boys are getting nowhere, and tosses onto the screen two pistols for them to get things over with. As Dan’s girl screams (an underplayed “eek”), shots ring out in the dark, and Dan is found lying on the floor. His girl engages in emotional histrionics worthy of Bugs Bunny’s later death scene in “A Wild Hare”, begging Dan repeatedly “Speak to me.” Dan abruptly awakens, utters a casual “Hewwo”, and the film irises out.

Sioux Me (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 9/9/39 – Ben Hardaway/Cal Dalton, dir.) – We’ve seen much of the ideas behind this film before, as it is essentially an excuse to remake an old classic in Technicolor – Avery’s “Porky the Rainmaker”, previously reviewed in these columns. As Porky was still, with only two exceptions, a black-and-white character, no effort was made to include the pig in this production. Direction is only competent, and this factor and the lack of Porky deprive the story of much of its original gusto. The tale is reset and transposed from midwestern farmlands to an Indian reservation in Hangnail, Oklahoma. The mercury on a thermometer rises into a glass cap at the top lifted from a coffee-pot percolator. The figures on a totem pole produce hand-held fans to cool themselves. Fields of corn transform into popcorn. The chief rings a doorbell on the teepee of J. Q. Drizzlepuss, tribal rainmaker, and orders rain produced – or else. The rainmaker performs an elaborate dance, accompanied by a chorus conducted like a cheerleading squad, but nothing happens. Spotting the chief sharpening a knife on the sole of his shoe, the rainmaker makes a hasty retreat to a platform built in a tree top, where he has been counting on the help of a small brave, who mans a water pump hooked to a barrel to create a fake shower. But the boy shrugs to indicate the situation was beyond his control, as the barrel’s contents have dried up. The rainmaker hands the boy some beads, to go into the village, and purchase a barrel of water quick. From here on, the cartoon virtually tracks the action of Avery’s original, with the boy purchasing from a medicine show the miracle box of weather-producing pills of all kinds. This version, however, skips over the effects of several of the pills from Avery’s original, only having tome for side-trips to the lightning and earthquake pills, and adding a new pill for ice, which causes a chicken to lay eggs frozen in ice cubes. (Most oddly, this same gag would appear in Avery’s own production, “Land of the Midnight Fun”, the very-next Merrie Melodie released, which must have been in concurrent production – so which director was looking over the other’s shoulder?) Instead of the rain pill being swallowed by a goose who has also swallowed the wind pill to cause the rain pill to be shot into the sky, here, a vulture swoops down to grab it in his bill, and the rainmaker merely makes a good shot with a bow ad arrow to dislodge the pill from the buzzard’s beak and hurl it into the sky. Rain covers the reservation, restoring the crops. The chief begins shaking the hand of the rainmaker, declaring him a “fine fellow” – when suddenly, the sky changes in a blink from cloudy to clear. The angered chief pulls out his knife, and stalks the rainmaker down a country road – but the sky returns to stormy as fast as it had changed to sun, ad the two Indians return to camera foreground, picking up their congratulations where they left off.

Land of the Midnight Fun (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 9/23/39 – Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.) – The earliest surviving Warner cartoon to utilize the studio’s most elaborate color scheme of rings for its title – in a red, white, and blue motif, complete with clouds within the center circle field behind the shield. It is possible this design may have been used on the preceding title, “Sioux Me”, and some assume it might have been initially designed for one-shot custom usage in the preceding season on the patriotic cartoon, Old Glory, though no prints with original opening have as yet surfaced. Another interesting note of trivia for those who enjoy attempting to restore original rings to Warner titles is that those titles of the season released in 1940 frequently if not always contain a blunder in converting the year to Roman numerals, using “MCMXXXX” instead of “MCMXL”.

A Tex Avery travelogue, focusing on a sea voyage to the frozen arctic north. We sail aboard the ocean liner, S.S. Wrecks, from New York harbor. The usual barrage of spot gags abounds along the way. The ship follows the coastline by curving around every bay and rocky point. A castaway on a raft is thrown a life preserver, but throws it back, as the raft is really a hideaway for him to be alone with his girl. A storm at sea tosses the ship about in impossible ways, including vertically-balanced on its stern, while the passengers are referred to as making the trip “by rail”, as they dangle their heads over the ship’s railing, to spew out whatever they may on the unseen side of the ship. A passing iceberg includes a passenger – a good humor ice cream man attempting to solicit us to purchase his wares. An ice breaker is powered by a single crew member extending his arm out a forward porthole with an ice pick. The ship parallel-parks at the docks in Nome, Alaska (“There’s No Place Like Nome”), drops anchor into the bay (without any chain connected), and lowers the gangplank short of the pier, letting passengers disembark directly into the icy water. Spot gags on Eskimo igloos, nose rubbing, and sled dog teams follow (the dogs of course stopping whenever a telephone pole is encountered). Avery entirely forgets which pole he is at, by including one sequence featuring a penguin! Avery also makes an appearance vocally in his husky basso laugh, as a “timber” wolf who spends all his time going about shouting “Timber”, taking a breather between laughs to aside to the audience at how silly this is. (Was this bit remembered by Chuck Jones over 60 years later as inspiration for the “Timberwolf” shorts for Warner’s website?) Some time is filled with a excursion to an Eskimo night spot, the “Brass Monkey Club”, with a musical number of fugure skating performed by an Eskimo maiden with a Sonja Henie smile, in animation either rotoscoped or closely following live-action reference footage. (The studio had indeed become familiar with rotoscoping in its prior production of “Old Glory”, though this film is more careful to compensate with some degree of freehand detail so as not to give the sequence a “mechanical” smoothness.) A clock on the wall (tracking the six-month night by months instead of hours) tells us it’s time to leave. The passengers re-board the ship from the watery gangplank, and the anchor returns to the ship without a chain pull, simply defying gravity to rise to its position on the ship’s bow. The ship hits a thick blanket of fog as it approaches New York harbor, obscuring all but the ship’s lights from camera view – then announces that it has reached its destination. As the fog clears, we find the ship not in the harbor, but precariously teetering in the air atop the pinpoint of the towering Trylon and Perisphere structures that were the centerpiece of the 1938-39 New York World’s Fair! This gag, dating the film, no doubt ensured Warner’s decision not to reissue it as a Blue Ribbon title.

Dreams On Ice (Columbia, Color Rhapsody, 10/20/39 – Sid Marcus, dir.) – How fortunate that this film still survives – but such a pity that no one has discovered an extant print in color. It is one of the best of the short string of cartoons featuring a little boy who became somehow known as “Sparky”, though never seeming to have been called by name in the films themselves. It may also include the best animation of the character, in a design that removes those signature reflective cheeks that plagued “The Little Match Girl”. The film opens at what appears to be an Ice Carnival, as we watch a junior figure skater whose recognizable smile is a caricature of Sonja Henie, in child form. The camera pulls back, revealing that what we have been watching is merely the imagination of Sparky, staring at a still photograph of such a carnival in a magazine. Sparky and his puppy hatch an idea. Since it is the dead of winter outside, why not flood the bedroom, open the window, and let the water freeze, forming an instant ice skating rink? (After all, it worked for Jerry Mouse years later, with the help of wires from the refrigerator.) Sparky grabs a pail, turns on the tap in the tub in the bathroom, and begins filling bucket after bucket, making slow progress in dumping out the water on his bedroom floor. His task becomes quicker when the tub itself fills and overflows, eliminating need for the bucket. When the water is about two feet deep, Sparky opens the window, letting the cold air inside, then wades over to his bed (now floating), and jumps in under the covers. Sparky’s dog joins him there, though initially not wanting to go to sleep, as he is too excited about the thought of figure skating. He practices his skating moves atop the blanket, until Sparky picks him up, and stuffs him under the covers. The two seem to nod off to sleep, but Sparky suddenly rises, asking the pup if the water is frozen yet. The pup reaches a paw down off the bed, but only comes up with wet, soggy fur. Resigned to the fact that this process may take a while, the two doze off into a deeper sleep.

A grandfather’s clock chimes three a.m. The camera pulls back, and it appears that not only have the winter winds done their job, but magic has brought all of the toys in Sparky’s room to life, who are also enjoying the novelty of an indoor ice rink, skating merrily every which way upon the frozen surface. Even a pair of goldfish enjoy a graceful slide upon a small floating ice floe which has developed upon the surface of the water in their goldfish bowl. Sparky puts on his skates, but finds he has not yet developed his “ice legs”, and upon hitting the surface slips and slides until his feet fly out from under him, landing in a heap. His pup, however, glides like a pro, on skates that appear from nowhere just his size. A toy ringmaster announces an ice carnival, and Sparky and the pup are towed along by the toys to ringside seats. A typica; Mintz toy parade is staged, with one interesting gag involving a toy elephant whose reflection on the ice moves along faster than he does. He jumps to plant his feet upon the prodigal reflection, but instead crashes through the ice, becoming wedged in it around his waist. Sparky’s pup also tries to see what is below the ice, and punctures a hole in it with a cork popgun, then reels in the cprk line to retrieve a fish, who spits water in Sparky’s face. Artificial snow is provided by a toy doll using an electric shaver to carve away paper flakes from the pages of a telephone book. The dolls perform precision group formations in various shapes, in the style of a Busby Berkeley musical, then Sparky and the pup take center stage, performing matching routines on either side of the arena, but blowing their last move by colliding with one another, Sparky hitting the ice chin-first, cracking through the surface and burying the two of them beneath a blanket of ice shards. A camera dissolve transforms the blanket of ice into blankets of cloth, and we find Sparky back in his own room, with the bed still floating and nothing changed. Mom knocks outside the door, then enters to find the mess. She asks Sparky if he did it, and Sparky dodges responsibility for the deed, pointing instead to his dog. Mom takes the dog over her knee and gives him a not-too-severe paddy-whacking, while Sparky asks the pup once again, “Is it frozen yet?” The pup gets his paw wet again, and shakes his head no, leaving the frustrated Sparky drumming his fingers, for a twin iris out.

NEXT: More from ‘39, and into a new decade.


  • It’s funny that Dan McFoo’s girlfriend Sue talks like Katharine Hepburn, yet the villain envisions her as a glamour photo of Bette Davis. I suppose that’s because Davis was under contract to Warner Bros., and Hepburn wasn’t.

    Evidently there were people in Hollywood who had trouble with Roman numerals. At least MCMXXXX in place of 1940 isn’t too bad; I always assumed it was a legitimate alternative, like those cuckoo clocks that have IIII in the 4 o’clock position instead of IV. But sometimes an error in the Roman numeral can affect the copyright status of a production; the first few episodes of the sitcom “My Favorite Martian” have a copyright date of MCMXLIII (1943) instead of MCMLXIII (1963). Worse, the Rankin/Bass Christmas special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” bears a copyright date of MCLXIV or 1164, implying that it was made sometime during the Crusades.

    I wouldn’t be too hard on Tex Avery for putting penguins in the Arctic in “Land of the Midnight Fun”. A year earlier he had penguins and walruses attending the same polar nightclub in “The Penguin Parade”, a great cartoon and one of Avery’s few musical revues. For that matter, there’s hardly a cartoon of the 1930s, from any studio, with an Arctic setting that doesn’t have at least a few penguins in it.

    • A few of the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons made by Halas and Batchelor have a copyright date of MCMXL–1940!–instead of MCMLX.

  • “Porky in Egypt” is one of the all-time greats.

  • “Playful Polar Bears” (Fleischer Color Classics, 28/10/38 — Dave Fleischer, dir.; Myron Waldman and Graham Place, anim.) concerns a group of, well, playful polar bears cavorting on the Arctic pack ice — that is, until a couple of hunters disembark from their schooner and begin blasting away. The bears run for cover amid a flurry of speed lines. None of the bullets hit their mark, but one of them strikes an icicle that falls and hits a cub on the head, knocking it unconscious. The mother bear tries to revive it by rubbing a dead fish in its face, and when that fails she assumes the worst. The assembled bears wail a lugubrious dirge for a full minute and a half before the cub finally wakes up, as we in the audience knew it would do all along.

    And what about the hunters? They turn around and leave without their quarry because — seriously — it starts to snow! “Snow? In the Arctic? Who would have thought? We didn’t prepare for this! I thought we’d be hunting grizzlies in New Mexico! I knew we should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque! Well, guess we better vamoose!” And they sail off into the midnight sun as the polar bears celebrate the cub’s recovery.

    The absolutely worst of the Color Classics, as far as I’m concerned, even though Hunky and Spunky give the Playful Polar Bears a run for their money.

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