Random semiconscious musings

Monday, May 14, 2007

Confusions of a Nutzy Spy

There's this preposterous notion that Norman McCabe was one of the weakest directors at the Warner brothers studio. It has been suggested that he directed unfunny cartoons.

Well, every director had hits and misses- and since directors were given a script and story idea and had to run with it, they were kind of at the mercy of the writers and gagmen. Considering what he had at his disposal, Mr. McCabe did produce some fine-looking cartoons. Too bad his output was so limited that the bad examples stack up directly with his good examples. It would have been interesting to see what he'd have done if he were allowed to make Merrie Melodies in colour.... but alas, he was stuck with the old B&W venues through Looney Tunes. If you're interested, you can read a bit about Corporal McCabe here.

It's important to focus on the positive aspects when studying history, and without a doubt he made some of the best WWII cartoons for Warner's- one of which I'd like to present in this week's blog: Confusions of a Nutzy Spy.

A bit of trivia, the title is a play on words of the first blatantly anti-Nazi film from Warners in 1939 entitled, "Confessions of A Nazi Spy" starring Edward G. Robinson and Francis Lederer (and incidently, also featured Grace Stafford, who you may recognize the name as being the future wife of Walter Lantz and the later voice of Woody Woodpecker).

There's some great sight gags to open this cartoon, and because of the poor film print quality I've listed some of them: clever plays on words and accompanying images which I'll bet had the theatre chuckling as the cartoon opened:

  • (An opening shot of the Municipal office where Constable Porky Pig is employed with a sign outside:) "Ye Town Cooler - 20% cooler inside.
  • (Inside the building on the wall:) "We creep while you sleep." (this is incidently hung up beside the famous Minuteman poster).
  • "This week only- two crimes solved for the price of one."
  • (on the label of a glass bottle containing a deadman's noose:) "Sure cure for criminal tendencies- apply with a jerk." (we need this product much more nowadays....) ;) What a great joke!

I've taken my best shot at breaking down this cartoon by animator but there's a couple of scenes which I can't figure out, as they don't resemble any other artists' styles that I'm familiar with. The most obvious ones of course include Izzy Ellis, whose style I find rather middle-of-the-road and generic, but well drawn and has nice movement; Arthur Davis, whose rending has a certain smoothness, fluidity and follow-thru, which we know he adapted into a crazy-looking, almost push-pull stretchiness in a few years; Vive Risto, who always was the most adept at handling the cutest and most on-model renditions of each character; Cal Dalton, who in my opinion has the weakest-looking animation, always adding at least twenty pounds to every character he drew; and John Carey, one of Clampett's best animators from the early 40s, with a style that quasi-emulated the same look that Rod Scribner would make so recognizable in the later 40s, but without the wild action.

It's a funny cartoon, really. Not at all for kids, epecially due to the sight gags at the beginning. I apologize for the poor quality of my cheap Super8mm print, but it's the best I can come up with for now....Enjoy!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Back from the dead with "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood"

HOLY ABSENCE, BATMAN!! What the heck happened to this blog???

Never mind that Robin, the important thing is that IT'S ALIIIIIVVVVEEEE!!!

I apologize everyone, (or anyone who cares to visit), for the absence in postings. The truth is, that since last post I been on one f**k of a ride- jobwise, interpersonally, relocating, you name it. Good thing that I'm like a cat, and have several lives. (wonder how many I have left.... hmmm, better not entertain that right now, I may be on the last one... eeeekkkk). The good news is, I'm back and planning to keep this thing up to date with at least one blog per week.

Now onto business.

With the release of Disney's most magnificent DVD collections in the past few years, the public has been treated to some absolute masterpieces of animation that were in danger of being long forgotten in the slowly disintegrating vaults of history. As a result, it is possible now to see exactly what real entertainment is about and maybe to understand how the industry managed to be appreciated by many people- imagine, cartoons without farting and burping jokes that are still funny? Who'd have thought of it?

I'm pointing in particular to one offering, Disney's fantastic cartoon "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" which can be found on the Silly Symphony Collection Vol. 2. If you haven't picked this up, I urge you to GO BUY IT... NOW!!! I'll wait. Got it? OK, let's go on....

This is my favourite Disney short hands down, and is an excellent example of how animation was geared towards adults as well as children. Although it has the Mother Goose nursery rhyme spin which no doubt appealed to the kiddies, it is chock full of appearances of popular entertainers presented in an amusing way.

One thing I want to point out is how celebrities were presented then, in opposition to the way they are parodied today. It is clear that as an entertainment venue, our world has become nothing but a sarcastic farce which jab the famous personalities who are in the public eye. However in MGGH, they are displayed in a much more endearing and welcoming manner. They have been celebrated- because they truly were talented individuals who gave their all for what they love to do- entertain, unlike many of the superficial talentless Hollywood fabrications we are subjected to these days. Whether it was through screen appearances, singing, dancing, comedy, the public embraced them and their craft in an appreciative manner as opposed to our times, where nothing is sacred, and are the focus of crude jokes about their marital status or personal foibles and made ridicule of- but hey- ridicule is funny until it's directed at the 'ridiculer'.... but I digress....

Anyway, the main focus of this post is to showcase the artistic talent throughout this cartoon, and to familiarize everyone with the characters in this film. I was certainly inspired by Mark Mayerson's and Thad Komorowski's wonderful posts on the cartoon. So I'd like to take it a bit further, and draw attention to the great talent that went into caricaturizing the celebrities within.

Enjoy my gallery of the Hollywood personalities from "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" in order of appearance.

Katherine Hepburn

Hugh Herbert

The Marx Brothers:




Ned Sparks

Joe Penner

Charles Laughton

Spencer Tracy

Freddie Bartholemew

W.C. Fields

Charlie McCarthy

Stan Laurel

Oliver Hardy

Greta Garbo

Edward G. Robinson

Eddie Cantor

Wallace Beery

Edna Mae Oliver

Joan Blondell

Zazu Pitts

George Arliss

Clark Gable

Thomas "Fats" Waller

Fred Astaire

Lincoln Perry, a.k.a. "Stepin Fetchit"

Cab Calloway

Joe E. Brown

Martha Raye

If you might be interested in learning more about these talented entertainers, I highly urge you to search out some of their best films on Google and seek the DVDs at your local video store.... it's worth the time.