Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Back Alley Oproar Smears

How often is Sylvester the Cat a winner? Almost never. And that may the reason I like ‘Back Alley Oproar’ (1948). Poor Sylvester’s always losing to Tweety or Speedy Gonzales or that giant mouse. Here, he takes on a heckling persona for a change and does a great job at it.

Friz Freleng reworked his 1941 ‘Notes to You’ and came up with this cartoon, with many of the same gags but a quicker pace. The original cartoon with Porky Pig is funny but this remake is even funnier.

This cartoon also features a few smear drawings where an in-between is stretched between poses.

The first drawing is as Sylvester is conducting himself in a rowsing version of ‘Largo al factotum’ (or ‘Figaro’ as I called it as a kid). The second is when he hands his sheet music to a goofy cat (with a soprano voice) before rushing away to avoid Elmer’s baseball bat. The third is as he’s about to tap a vase with a hammer to get a bell sound to punctuate his performance of ‘Angel in Disguise.’ The fourth is when the angelic version of Elmer realises the nine lives of Sylvester are following him into the after-life.

I’ve always like Paul Julian’s attention to detail in the way he handles light in background drawings. Look at how he has a nail in the fence reflect moonlight in the first drawing.

The credited animators in this cartoon are Gerry Chiniquy, Manny Perez, Ken Champin and Virgil Ross. Virgil liked doing these kinds of drawings and Thad Komorowski tells me he did the first one. I suspect he did the last. I can’t tell you about the rest.


  1. This is probably the best-ever example of "revising and improving" a cartoon with justification, since by 1948 there was no market for B&W re-releases, even if audiences would have enjoyed a re-relesed "Notes" more than a second go-round for a 1935 color Merrie Melodie. Plus, while Friz's original cat isn't all that different from Sylvester (albeit this is the first real extended use of his slurripy voice), the cartoon works so much better with Elmer as the victim instead of Porky, because in the original you're not fully committed to rooting for the cat in the same way you are here (which in turn, allowed Friz, Mike and Tedd to blow up Elmer for the improved grand finale -- you couldn't have made that gag work in the original, becacuse you couldn't 'kill' Porky).

  2. The 2 in the middle are Gerry Chiniquy scenes.

  3. There's a smear drawing in 'A Hare Grows in Manhattan' where Virgil treats Bugs' eyes as the same as in the last one, with almost the same angle in the corner. I'll have to dig it up.

  4. The crazy smears in "Falling Hare" are done a lot by Virgil, and he's a solid animator. I guess that Ross liked a lot of smears.

    On the Looney Tunes Golden Collection set on DVD, I went on a short section where it says "Virgil Ross Pencil Tests", and paused it to find a smear. So interesting to find his smears on paper.

  5. Yes, Steven, the drawings were published in one of the Warner's books as well (Steve Schneider's?) and they're great.

  6. Also, I noticed that in that DVD set, that they seem to have made that common mistake by posting a pencil test of Bugs dancing to "Camptown Races" from "Mississippi Hare", which was in fact animated by Ken Harris, since this was a Chuck Jones cartoon, not a Friz Freleng.