Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Dancing Warden

“Cellbound” was Tex Avery’s last cartoon for M-G-M, released (November 1955) more than two years after his unit was disbanded (March 1953). It contains one of those juxtapositions that Avery liked using—the monotone, stiff prison warden suddenly breaks into a wild dance at the sound of Dixieland music being played on TV. Here are some of the poses.

Meanwhile, the music is being played by an escaped inmate trying to avoid detection inside the TV set by acting out all the shows the warden is watching. So he’s a one-man band.

Ed Benedict laid out the cartoon and designed the characters, while co-director Mike Lah handled the animation along with H-B unit members Ken Muse, Irv Spence and Ed Barge. M-G-M didn’t get a second unit again until an expansion in summer 1955. Less than two years later, the cartoon studio closed. Avery was making commercials for Cascade by then.


  1. It's a shame Avery left theatrical animation just as the UPA influence was beginning to dominate, since you can go all the way back to 1951's "Symphony In Slang" and see that he understood how to milk comedy out of the restrictions of very limited animation.

    Like Chuck Jones with his raising eyebrows and twitching nostrils, Avery uses the motion contrasts as a source of comedy -- the wildly hyperbolic warden is funny not just because of the poses, but because he's been emotionlessly Jack Webb-ing his performance through the entire cartoon (other than the Mutley snicker at his own joke at the start of the short). Benedict's stylized design allows for even goofier looks than normal because it's no longer required that the face and body hew closely to a real human's anatomy.

    UPA may have pioneered the style, but Avery and others did a far better job of finding comedic ways to use it (of course, this assumes the staff at UPA actually wanted to be make funny films like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones, which at least by 1954 no longer seems to be the point of their cartoons).

  2. There was another cartoon with the same prison warden dancing with the tv and the music: Play some rock and roll and go man go. I wish I could find that.