Sunday, March 12, 2017

Loony Tunes Classics, 1936-1938

All of these cartoons can be Googled and found intact on Daily Motion.

Page Miss Glory
This first Warner Bros cartoon takes its name from a movie released the previous year about a country woman who dreams about becoming a starlet, and gets her chance to play a starlet, which becomes real.  In this cartoon, we see a page dreaming of serving a starlet in a fancy hotel, although he is in a small town.  It is interesting that there are a lot of references to alcohol here, as prohibition just ended a few years before, so people are pretty giddy at the opportunity to partake openly. 

As an early cartoon, it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have lasting power.  I also don’t think it was intended to.  Warner Bros. cartoons were more successful when they tapped into a lasting myth (e.g. the rabbit and the hunter reversing roles), but many of the cartoons were simply reflections of the culture at the time of the cartoon.  That works for newsreels, but not necessarily for later generations.

I Love to Singa
This cartoon is based on the Warner Bros. movie, The Singing Kid, starring Al Jolson, which has the song “I Love to Singa”, played three times in the film.  The tune is repeated a number of times in the cartoon as well.  The main characters are owls so they can have the joke, “Owl Jolson”.  Note that Chuck Jones is a main animator here.

I remember seeing this one as a kid on television.  It is more successful than Paging Miss Glory because it reflects the trope of the child who is naturally opposite to his parents.  At this point the trope is overused, but the cartoon still has it’s fans.  I love the reference to Jack Benny (a bunny) and the old amateur hours that was similar to American Idol today. An interesting point is that Mel Blanc was on the old Jack Benny radio show, as well as the Warner Bros. cartoons.    This is as much about radio as it is a movie, and the popularity of it.  Overall, fun.

Wholly Smoke
Porky Pig was introduced in cartoons in 1935 in the film “I Haven’t Got a Hat”.  He was originally voiced by Joe Dougherty, who had a severe stutter.  In fact, the stutter was so severe that production costs were too high to keep him as the voice, so Mel Blanc took over as the voice of the popular Porky Pig in 1937.

There are a couple places that seem influential on Disney—the position and look of the “bad kid” on Lampwick in Pinocchio, and the chaotic end of the dream sequence on Dumbo.  The original was black and white, but it was colorized later on.  The song “Little Boys Shouldn’t Smoke” is based on the song “Mysterious Mose”, which was used to better effect in a Betty Boop cartoon in 1930.

I like a good sermon, but this one just seems dumb—a repetition of “children shouldn’t smoke” and a weird dream sequence.  The cameos work better—the Three Stooges, Bing Crosby and many puns based on different cigars/cigarettes.

Okay, but I’m not impressed.  

Porky in Wackyland
I remember much of this, but I wonder if I didn’t see a colorized version of this film called Dough for the Do-Do from 1948, which cut some of the scenes, added a couple others and tried to avoid most of the racial stereotypes by giving the “African” characters skin of primary colors.

Honestly, I think that the imagination and animation quality are excellent here.  The Dali/Seussian landscapes and the number of unique creatures are fascinating and fun.  This is basically a “hunt daffy duck” cartoon, but the insanity of those early cartoons really work with the unique insanity of this one.  It also has a great punchline at the end.

It isn’t laugh out loud funny, but there’s a lot to see and be interested in, even today.  Quite surrealistic and fun.   

The animation is really smooth, unlike most of the cartoons at this time.  It doesn’t have any fuzzy edges but is perfectly clear.  Even Porky Pig’s voice is clearer.  They worked hard at this one and it shows.

Porky in Egypt
The introduction of “Egypt” containing not only Arabic, but black and East Indian stereotypes is pathetic, but expected.  The film really gets on when Porky and his camel  Humpty Dumpy goes into the desert.

My favorite part is the camel’s speech about “desert madness”.  It must be based on some speech, but I can’t find out what.  Very well done.  The depiction of madness devolves into the desert mirage joke and Daffy Duck imitations, but there are some good sections here.

Still, I probably wouldn’t recommend it apart from the middle section with the sun hammering down and Humpty going crazy.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hangover Square 1945

We can tell by the opening setting that this is a noir.  Dark, shadowy, haunting... but it takes place in London, 1899.  Odd setting for a noir.  Then we see a old Jewish man murdered before our eyes and a fire set.  Oh yes.  It's noir, all right.  

Then we follow our murderer to find out that he is a composer, on the cusp of success, loved by his fellow musicians and admired by a beautiful woman.  And he has fits of amnesia, and he is worried, deeply worried about what he does during these fits.  What does one do in this situation, go visit George Saunders.  That's what I would do.

What we end up with is a curious mix of Jekyll/Hyde, Hitchcock and Phantom of the Opera.  While not especially clever or mysterious, it is emotionally evocative and compelling.

There are two things I am still considering about this film.  First: will any American studio ever be able to present a believable Britain? The accents are a mess, they are all explaining Guy Fawkes Day to each other, and it all sounds more like Oliver! than Kes.   I guess Fox wanted to repeat their success of the previous year, The Lodger, so imprinted that film on this script.

The second is a connection between the response to the murderer and modern misogynists (mild spoilers).  The murder is acknowledged as dangerous and mentally unstable.  He has killed and it has been proven that he is completely unstable. This is related to his psycho-sexual needs being unmet.  The response of the police is, "You are dangerous, but we know it's not your fault. We'll take it easy on you."  Is this because they appreciate his standing as a white male, as a person of means who can spend his time composing music that hasn't been heard?  If he were poor or a woman, he would hang immediately.  It's all very believable.  Perhaps a bit too believable.

But the film is great.  Fantastic music, especially in the concerto scene, by Bernard Hermann, who also did the music for Citizen Kane, and the cinematography was beautiful, in classic noir style.  Highly recommended.