Friday 31 January 2020

Hand in the Mouth

A rattlesnake has a baby rattle on its tail. That seems to be the biggest gag in The Early Bird and the Worm, a 1936 MGM cartoon.

The snake’s tongue acts as a hand. It tells the rattle to be quiet.

After the old pepper/sneeze gag, it rubs the snake’s nose. Or maybe it’s giving the audience the finger.

Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising stick to their tried and true clich├ęs in this cartoon. There’s a chirpy female chorus. There is a boy animal (as usual, played by Berneice Hansell) that gets warned by its mother. The little animal is rescued from an evil villain and happiness abounds.

Meanwhile, back to our snake. It hypnotises the bird with eyes that turn large and red, and points with its hand, er, tongue.

Before the snake can pounce on and eat the little bird, the worm intervenes. He plays his flute and the snake sways to the music, allowing the bird to escape. Then the snake realises what’s happened (we can tell thanks to a take with realisation lines).

Now the snake hypnotises the worm, beckoning it with its tongue, er, hand. The little bird, who started the cartoon wanting to eat the worm, comes to its rescue, flying around the snake and tying it into knots.

Oh, the cartoon ends with a couple of crows that play no part of the plot but are supposed to be comic relief. One sounds like a radio actor, the other like a refugee from Amos ‘n’ Andy.

Other than Hugh and Rudy, no one gets a credit on this short.

Thursday 30 January 2020

Boney M (M for Meat)

If you like cartoons filled with skeletons, then Spooks (1932) is what you want to see. Flip the Frog ends up in an old mansion populated by...well, you know.

Here Flip runs away from a skeleton into the darkness. Slowly the scene lights and Flip skids into a...well, you know.

The skeleton invites flip to sit down in a chair that gallops toward the table, then asks him to dinner.

The dinner is a, know. Except it’s alive. Its neck bone sways back and forth across the plate until the human skeleton cuts it off.

Flip has a pretty good line after being served the neck bones. “I don’t like dark meat,” he tells his host (the bone has turned a dark colour for this part of the scene).

The opening titles say the cartoon was drawn by Ub Iwerks but by 1932, he had other people doing that for him.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Check and Compare

“So, Yowp,” you’re saying, “You’re a famous celebrity with insider connections. What’s this Tex Avery Blu-Ray disc going to look like?”

Well, dear reader, the disc is going to look something like this:

Except it’ll have writing on the label and... Are you laughing yet?

Okay, okay. Tex would have done that gag better. Anyway, Jerry Beck has passed along some screen grabs. You can guess which one is the restored version. The other comes from a dub I have of the French five-disc DVD set that came out a while ago.

Hound Hounters


Certainly there’s nothing wrong with the versions I’ve been watching (and using for posts on this blog), but it’ll be nice to see them looking better.

You can read more at the Animation Scoop site.

Forbush Franks Are Frankier Franks

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding had to make some adjustments when NBC signed them to do a 15-minute daily radio show in 1951. Their exploits on WHDH in Boston went for a half an hour. And much of it was ad-libbed so the show tended to go all over the place at times.

The NBC programme was tighter. Phoney commercials and sketches were scripted—the network’s censors would have demanded it—but reworked satiric concepts and even pieces of dialogue that Bob and Ray used in Boston. There were a couple of short, cheery musical breaks by an in-house combo, much like on WHDH.

But in 1951, the money was streaming away from radio. Television was taking ad dollars. Talent went from radio to TV. Bob and Ray did, too. They weren’t altogether successful. They were working incredibly long hours as they were still on radio, and continually shoved around to different time slots until the network gave up on them.

TV Guide profiled them after their departure from the Channel of Chimes. Its anonymous critic was like most others; (s)he appreciated Bob and Ray. The critic is right. Elliott’s Arthur Godfrey (Sturdley) was perfect; you’d almost swear it was Godfrey (Goulding’s Tony Marvin wasn’t as good. Marvin was a booming bass. Goulding couldn’t intone that low).

If you are not familiar with their radio work (though I think the writer is describing the NBC TV show), this gives you a great idea of their kind of humour. Like Jack Benny, I enjoy them better on radio than television. Unlike Benny, I don’t think they really mastered TV because their material strikes me as aural rather than visual.

This was published September 25, 1953. The fuzzy pictures accompanied the article.

No Pizza Pies
Bob and Ray’s Humor is Milder, Much Milder

ONE THING can be said about the satirical team of Bob and Ray: they are hardly a household word. Possessed with a sly, tongue-in-cheek impudence and a healthy disregard for some of the more sacred items of our times, the spoofers have about the same general appeal that might be accorded a Bach fugue or a T.S. Eliot couple. As one network official explained it, “What Arthur Godfrey’s got, Bob and Ray ain’t.”
Even the hoards of star-struck bobby-soxers who can leaf through their smudged autograph books and show you signatures of the entire Aldrich family, every panelist on Juvenile Jury (including its alumni) and a few page boys to boot, will admit that two fellows named Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding have somehow escaped their attention.
Unless tipped off in advance, an uninitiated viewer watching the Bob and Ray brand of straight-face humor for the first time might just furrow his brow in bewilderment and switch channels. Other folks, who realize Bob and Ray are making exquisite fun of some of their favorite television performers, are apt to turn the dial in protest. Still others, who prefer their humor broader, don’t care for Bob and Ray for the same reason they don’t care for rutabagas.
The boys themselves realize that rating-wise they’ll probably never crash the upper atmosphere populated by the Lucys, the Berles and the other chosen ones.
Says Ray, perhaps a little too pessimistically, “I’d guess that only one person out of 80 likes us.”
The guess seems to be a bad one. Bob and Ray don’t have a tremendous following, but it is a decidedly loyal one and certainly not as sparse as Ray indicates. Most of the critics praise the boys. The trade itself considers them far more clever than most of the comics working on the TV circuit. Their fans can quote them endlessly. At first NBC was thoroughly sold on the pair, despite the fact that prospective sponsors stayed away in droves. Relations between the boys and the network “steadily worsened,” as they say in the trade, and recently they signed a contract with ABC.
Bob (he’s the shorter one) and Ray seem to derive most relish from kidding radio and television, their bread and butter. Cigaret commercials are among their pet targets. One memorable spoof was the “Forbush Frankfurter Test” in which four franks were disrobed of their castings to prove which was rounder, firmer, etc. Not only was “Forbush” a clear winner, but the makers of “Forbush Franks” debunked other frankfurter claims:
Bob (holding up a frankfurter): Frankfurter A claims to relieve gout, embolism, near-sightedness, itchiness and fleebus.
Ray: The makers of Frankfurter B claim it is kinder to the F zone—F for frank, F for further. Yet 339 out of 340 physicians testified there is no such zone. Bob: “Forbush Frankfurters” claim nothing. Proof positive that “Forbush Frankfurters” are the best made.
For over a year Bob and Ray pounded away at cigarette comparison tests. Sample:
Interviewer (Bob): I see, sir, you are knocking a chip off the old block.
Ray (in carpenter’s garb): That is correct.
Bob: Tell me, sir, have you ever seen me before or have you receive remuneration for this interview.
Ray: I have never seen you before nor have I received any remuneration for this interview.
Bob: Which chip off the old block would you like to knock off first—ours or yours?
Ray: I’ll try yours first. (He proceeds to knock a chip off the block.)
Bob: Now, will you try our block, sir. (Ray complies.) Now, sir, you have knocked an old chip off your block and off our block. Which do you prefer?
Ray (enthusiastically): Oh, yours. Your chip flew more gracefully. And its [sic] milder—much milder.
The boys have run the gamut of soap operas, so that practically no soap is safe from their ribbing. Some of the Elliott-Goulding epics have unmistakeable counterparts—Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife; Hartford Harry, Linda Lovely, Helen Harkness, Sob Sister, and Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons. Although the sponsors of the show were none too happy, the cast of “Mary Noble, Backstage Wife,” never failed to tune in the Bob and Ray parody of their show. The boys saw to it that even the plot lines were strikingly alike.
Bob and Ray’s take-offs on overstocked sales, special offers and kits for all purposes have drawn a shocking number of serious replies. Listeners have written to “I Want to Keep Up With the Joneses,” NBC, New York, to obtain a phony TV set equipped with antenna “to show off to your neighbors.” They have taken the boys up on offers of cracked phonograph records (“they were dropped just a few inches off the delivery truck.”), sweaters with the letter “O’ on them (“if your name doesn’t begin with “O” we can have it legally changed for you; sweaters come in two styles, turtle-neck or V-neck. State what kind of neck you have.”), deep freeze lockers, “deep enough to accommodate a family of four.” The Kind Hunter’s Kit was offered for “softhearted people who love to hunt but hate to kill.” It contained bullets that drop to the ground and are packed with vitamins for the animals.
In an effort to find the right spot for Bob and Ray, NBC shunted the boys around, spotting them here and there. Some of the program switches were unfortunate. The team’s initial dip into TV was stormy. When the popular Kukla, Fran and Ollie were cut to 15 minutes, Bob and Ray were given the vacated spot. Which, of course, outraged K.F.O. fans to brand the two radio comics as puppet-haters. They departed this early evening show a few months afterward. When the boys finally landed a sponsor on a late-evening program, they ran into agency trouble or sponsoritis. It seems the men who sign the paychecks didn’t dig their comedy stars and asked them to dish up a more obvious form of humor. “Throw pizza pies at each other,” was one of the suggestions. After 13 weeks, when option time rolled around, Bob and Ray left the show by mutual consent.
The team is probably best remembered for its regular guest stints on Dave Garroway’s morning show, Today. Garroway, a B. & R. fan, would solemnly introduce the two and the boys conducted interviews, with Bob generally handling the straight lines and Ray providing the answers.
Although their own ratings are modest, Bob and Ray have no qualms about spoofing some of the TV performers who boast tremendous audiences. Their favorite target is Arthur Godfrey—or, as portrayed by Bob—“Arthur Strudley [sic] and His No Talent Scouts.” Dressed in a sailor suit, a First World War aviator’s hat and strumming a ukulele, Bob gives a devastating impersonation—complete with “by gollys” and informal Godfrey-type commercials for “Metchnikoff’s Caviar Teabags.”
Their take-offs on Ed Sullivan (“We’ve flown in from the Middle East for their first American performance the only two-man Arabian drill team in the world. Let’s give the boys a warm New York welcome.”); Ed Murrow (“See It Now and Then”); Dragnet (“Fishnet”) and the Stork Club (Ray in a one-sided conversation with two store dummies), rank as unequaled television.
Like caviar and rutabagas, Bob and Ray don’t appeal to all tastes. But lots of people consider TV’s top satirists as pretty wonderful fare. Now if the Elliott-Goulding fandom can only convince the right people that ratings don’t mean a thing . . .

Tuesday 28 January 2020

The Old Pepper Gag

So what if Tex Avery borrowed from himself? He’s still funny.

The Legend of Rockabye Point (Lantz, 1955) uses the same structure as Rock-a-bye Bear and Deputy Droopy that Avery made earlier at MGM. One character tries to get another character to make noise and disturb a third character; the other character runs outside to a distant hill to make the noise and not disturb anyone.

I still like Rockabye Point. The gag variations are inventive, Avery moves things along at a brisk pace and Mike Maltese, who got a rap for not being strong at story structure, puts together a very tidy tale.

Here’s the old pepper/sneeze gag. Chilly Willy tries to get the polar bear to wake the guard dog. The shapes on the bear are fun.

The bear gallops up the hill. Clarence Wheeler plays a familiar bar from “The William Tell Overture.”

The sneeze. Avery has some of the drawings on ones, others on twos. I like the stretch in-between.

With a nice look of satisfaction as he turns, the bear rushes back to the ship for another round with Willy.

Don Patterson, Ray Abrams (who was in his unit at MGM at the start) and La Verne Harding receive the animation credits. Dal McKennon is the uncredited sneezing voice actor.

Monday 27 January 2020

Little Red Riding Claws

Red Riding Hood is the evil one—as the wolf tells it in court, anyways—in The Trial of Mr. Wolf, a 1941 cartoon from the Friz Freleng unit written by Mike Maltese.

Red has a wonderful evil look. Besides a bit of dry-brush, I love her claw-like fingers.

Dick Bickenbach is the only animator who gets credit but Gil Turner animated the wolf’s childish ballet (Devon Baxter ID). Herman Cohen and Manny Perez were also in the unit at the time. Freleng directed some terrific cartoons when Yosemite Sam was invented later in the ‘40s but this one is just as funny.