Saturday, 15 May 2021

Friz vs Tex: A Study in Taxis

Streamlined Greta Green (1937) and One Cab’s Family (1952) aren’t the same cartoon but they share some of the same elements.

The first cartoon was directed by Friz Freleng. After various auto gags, the plot focuses on a little boy car named Junior who wants to be taxi, not a touring car like his dad. He goes to a soda fountain/gas station, drinks some ethel, then decides to race a train and beat it at a railway crossing.

The second cartoon was directed by Tex Avery. After various transposition gags humanising cars (a spark plug is a “first tooth”), the plot focuses on a little boy car named Junior who wants to be a hot rod, not a taxi like his dad. He goes to a gas station, drinks some ethel, then decides to race a train and beat it at a railway crossing.

They both feature a point of view shot of the train going across the crossing. Friz continues to cut to a side-by-side viewpoint after the little car beats the train. Tex just keeps the point of view shot going because his action is much, much faster. Eventually he cuts to an overhead shot.

Here’s Friz. Notice Junior’s eyes are always looking up at the train. I don’t know how his hat stays on with the speed he’s going.

Here’s Tex. Notice Junior’s eyes are always looking up at the train.

The plots get close to the climax. Out of gas. Then Junior gets smashed at the level crossing. Cut to a hospital/garage exterior. First Friz, then Tex.

There’s a large difference in the stories here. In the Freleng cartoon, Junior is joy-riding on his own at gets hit. In the Avery cartoon, Junior’s dad races to protect his son from the train. He runs out of gas on the crossing. Junior goes back to push him off the tracks to safety, and then gets ploughed by the train. A father is completely absent in the Freleng short.

In the end, both Juniors continue to rebel. Friz’s goes racing after the 515 once again and beats it at the crossing. As he gives a “nyah” to the train, a second 515 mows him down. There’s a blackout and we see the dazed car. But Friz surprises us by panning over to the train which is a complete wreck.

Avery’s car simply lifts up its hood to reveal it still has a souped-up hot rod engine. Further racing adventures no doubt await. I like Friz’s ending better.

There is no story credit on Streamlined Greta Green. The first one on a Warners cartoon wouldn’t be until later in the year—and then one of the two animation credits was taken away. This, however, was part of the era when a storyman was picked out of a pool, or maybe pitched a cartoon to a director. Rich Hogan and Roy Williams helped Tex gag One Cab’s Family.

Some footage of the 515 came from Bugs Hardaway’s 1934 cartoon Rhythm in the Bow and would be re-used by Frank Tashlin later in 1937 in Porky’s Railroad.

Avery’s cartoon reuses as a gag he put on the screen in 1938’s A Feud There Was. A chicken and a cow are blown up into the air and turn into ham and eggs (preceded by a plate) when they fall to the ground. In One Cab’s Family, the chicken and cow are run over by the little car.

Friz’s voices are supplied by Berneice Hansell (as Junior), Martha Wentworth and Mel Blanc (two lines), while Tex employs June Foray and Daws Butler (Junior is mute). There’s a neat version of the title song in the Freleng cartoon, but I don’t know who is singing it.

Is one cartoon better than the other? It’s not really fair to ask that. Avery would have made his cartoon differently in 1937, while Freleng would have made his differently in 1952. Both have enjoyable moments. Perhaps at this late date, we should just accept them as they are.


  1. Hans Christian Brando18 May 2021 at 17:35

    Is it weird to wonder whether the 1937 Junior had human buttocks like the 1952 one? (The earlier young car only gets threatened with a spanking on his rumble seat.)

  2. Of course a big difference is the trains themselves. The 1937 one has a steam locomotive with tender car pulling the train, while the 1952 one has a big modern streamlined diesel locomotive. Of course this is no doubt due to how in 1952, most real-life American railroads had largely abandoned steam locomotives in favor of the diesels. (The diesel engine here even resembles an EMD E or F-unit locomotive, which was indeed the norm for American freight and passenger trains back in 1952.)