Time for some boogie-woogie jungle rhythm!
During his directorial stint at Lantz, Shamus Culhane often clashed with storyman Ben “Bugs” Hardaway. Culhane’s high standards in artistic education and Hardaway’s earthy, Mid-Western background made their methods of shaping animated films like night and day. Though the writing served its comic purposes, Hardaway’s abilities as a gagman impaired them. Culhane recollected his dismissive attitude towards suitable plotting and characterization. Hardaway felt that such necessities were “too scientific and technical.” To him, any gag worked, regardless of whether it advanced the story or not.
Jungle Jive opens with footage dedicated to sign gags related to the Sandwich Islands – a Hardaway trademark. Culhane wrote in Talking Animals and Other People: “During a production meeting, as he read the puns off the storyboard during a presentation, ’Bugs’ would laugh until the tears rolled down his cheeks.” Culhane would discern which puns to excise and augment the storyboard with his own gags, much to Hardaway’s chagrin. Static puns were cost-effective for the Lantz studio’s lower budgets, so the director often had to succumb to the lesser material.The clash between Culhane and Hardaway extended further into the production of this cartoon. Jungle Jive is noteworthy for containing the last recorded performance by jazz pianist Bob Zurke. In his memoir, Culhane recollected Hardaway’s disapproval over the boogie-woogie music. Evidently, during the recording, he stated, “There’s too many damn places where the music stops.” After a lengthy argument with musical director Darrell Calker and Zurke, the frustrated writer rejoined Culhane and Lantz in the recording booth. As Shamus remembers, Hardaway spoke: “That sum-bitch can’t even read no music, an’ he says that he already forgot what he just now played. What the hell did Calker git in a dumb guy like that for?” Zurke’s performance, used for the arrogant crab scuttling along the piano keys, serves as the highlight of the cartoon.
The animation in most of this cartoon isn’t particularly striking. The majority of it is assigned to Les Kline and Paul Smith. Their animation is straightforward, without the strengths that the other animators demonstrate in this cartoon. Pat Matthews’ scene 18 adds a nice touch, when the curious native quickly recoils his hand away from the tuning peg. Scene 42, with the crab on the piano, showcases a Matthews earmark: he often animated a character’s surprised reaction by popping from one pose to another, without in-betweens. Emery Hawkins’ animation of the crab exerting himself to exhaustion in scene 52 (with some neat dry-brush smears) is wonderfully timed to the music.
It’s fascinating to see Don Williams’ animation in the last two shots of the cartoon, since he wasn’t given any other footage. Scene 62, with the native tumbling and crashing through the instruments, has brilliant drawings and subtle nuances that can only be appreciated if the viewer freeze-frames them. Since the scene plays very quickly, here’s a clip of this sequence, slowed down for you to see:
As with the other Lantz documents, some scene numbers are missing from the draft. Different shots listed are re-shuffled; for instance, shot 17 occurs after shot 11 in the cartoon. In the draft, it indicates that the native lookout alerts the villagers before the box, carrying musical instruments, crashes onto the shore. Scene 38 is missing an animator credit, but judging from the drawing/timing of the crab, the animation is attributed to Emery Hawkins. (Likewise for shot 60A, now attributed to Paul Smith.) Shot 54 in the draft implies a fish was originally involved, replaced with an alligator later on.
Besides Hardaway’s sign gags being used as “footage eaters,” other cost-cutting measures used in Jungle Jive. Shot 17A, originally intended for Paul Smith, is instead a static shot. Since it cuts right to the curious native observing a violin, Smith presumably might’ve been assigned to animate the villagers eagerly dashing up to the instruments. There are many instances of re-used animation near the end of the cartoon — the boomerang tossing native (scs. 6 and 60), the boogie-woogie native playing the piano (scs. 45 and 47; 49 and 52), the orchestra (scs. 53 and 55) and the “jitterbug dames” seen in the opening titles (scs. 56 and 58).
Enjoy this week’s breakdown video! I won’t have a breakdown for next week – there are personal matters that need sorted out at the moment. Plus, I wouldn’t want to burn out, after all. I will be back the following week — so don’t despair.
NOTE: The light writing on the draft below makes a few scene descriptions hard to read, so I’ve listed the more faded ones here:
Sc. 11: “C.U. Box”
Sc. 28: “Boy looking at piano”
Sc. 29: “Boy sees crab”
Sc. 30: “Crab spits at boy”
Sc. 55: “Orchestra plays again”
Sc. 56: “Jitterbug dames”
Sc. 57: “Bass break”
Sc. 58: “Jitterbug dames”
(Thanks to Mark Kausler for his help.)