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!


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