Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tangled Travels

There was never a more misnamed cartoon studio than Screen Gems. It rarely put any on the screen. The biggest laugh Columbia’s studio of the ‘40s can muster is over the audaciousness in which it ripped off Warner Bros. cartoons, right down to cat and duck character designs.

But Columbia never had any idea what made the Warners cartoons funny. A really good example is the wretched travelogue “Tangled Travels” (1944). When Tex Avery made travelogues at Warners, he was making fun of travelogues and corny gags. When Al Geiss made a travelogue at Columbia, he treated the corny gags like they were really funny. And “Tangled Travels” has the added bonus of narration in an annoying and inappropriate Greek dialect by Dave Barry.

Highlights are few. The studio gets points for using photos for backgrounds. There’s a nice bit of perspective animation of a horse going over a waterfall (there’s actually some pretty good animation in the later Columbias, probably by Grant Simmons). But the best part comes when the cartoon’s over—in more ways than one.

The narrator delivers the travelogue we’ve been watching to the Surprise Pictures studio. Cut to a scene of a silhouette of a yokel-looking narrator and a chubby film studio boss (voiced by John McLeish). It turns out we haven’t really been watching a travelogue. We’ve been watching a travelogue being screened for the film studio guy. The camera pans over to a screen with a shot matching the one we’ve just been watching. The narrator asks how the film boss likes it (his lips don’t even move during the dialogue) and gets shot, with the smoke from the gun forming the words THE END.







The credited animators are Volus Jones, formerly with Disney, and George Grandpré, formerly with Lantz. I believe this was Grandpré’s last cartoon at Columbia before moving on to John Sutherland and then to Warners.

Columbia knew it was making unfunny cartoons. A deal in February 1944 to bring in Bob Clampett to oversee the creative end of the studio fell through (the studio had fired Dave Fleischer and replaced him with musician Paul Worth, who had no experience in making films). So management went with Plan B: to hire Webb Smith, ex-Disney and MGM (Avery unit), as a story writer because its directors didn’t understand “true comedy gags” as one member of the executive clan put it, and then hope for the best. Clampett, by the way, ended up at Columbia a couple of years later in an uncredited story capacity after yet another management change. (My thanks to Thad Komorowski for background on this).

And, no, I can’t find a movie named “The Devil’s Doorway” that was released around the time this cartoon came out.

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