Canary Row

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A bit of Warners Islamophobia to balance Disney’s anti-semitism.

I bought a DVD of Porky Pig cartoons because it was only 33p, and seemed worth a punt. I didn’t recognize any of the titles. Well, I doubt Porky is anybody’s favourite Warner Bros cartoon character, and by the time Warners got around to issuing his own collection, it seems all the valuable titles were used up. The disc contained several b&w Porky titles, and a couple of colour cartoons not featuring Porky (doubtless somebody feared the kids the product was being advertised to would be disappointed with only monochrome pig action), and most strange of all, a b&w toon not featuring Porky. But this was probably the highlight of the set.

It seems like the DVD, though labeled KIDS WB, was really intended as CAIRNS WB, because I can’t imagine there are very many more people in this country who would have devoured it with more interest. The majority of the contents were directed by Frank Tashlin, sometimes credited as Frank Tash. Since most of his WB cartoons are b&w, most of them haven’t been made available, and so I haven’t been able to compare his animation with his later live action work as much as I’d like.

Several of the filmlets featured pomo/fourth wall breaking gags, including two separate altercations with some guy in the third row of the cinema in which the cartoons are putatatively being screened. So that was good. Tex Avery is the guy best known for this kind of thing, but Tash was the one who was permitted to carry it over into feature films.

We were also treated to lots of extreme angles and cinematic showing-off, including obsessive play with shadows, so you could see the filmmaker’s ambition.

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Plus — scary villains! Not so much of that in later Tashlin. There are occasional grotesque moments — one could argue that the entire oeuvre is somewhat grotesque — Lindsay Anderson felt like THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT had been photographed inside a juke box — but Jerry Lewis is much more disturbing.

Then there’s PUSS N’ BOOTY, with Tashlin credited as “Supervision” (the Director’s Guild didn’t consider these guys to be directors, and I don’t think Warners did either) and Cal Dalton as lead animator — but the whole thing feels very Chuck Jonesian, thanks to the excellent cat animation. True, the mistress of the house appears only as legs and bits of torso, like the maid in Tom and Jerry, and Tashlin shows a more salacious interest in those legs than Hanna & Barbera would at MGM, an interest which is quite typical of his later work. And the cat and canary conflict anticipates Sylvester & Tweety Pie, characters I mostly associate with Friz Freleng. But all this beautifully observed feline stuff is hugely reminiscent of Jones’ Pepe le Pew heroine.

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It’s an eye-popping cartoon — at the start, the cat has just finished off its fifth canary, and is overjoyed when its owner orders a sixth. Sylvester never got to actually kill any of Tweetie’s relatives. And the punchline is pretty remarkable too — the cat finally gets into the canary’s cage, after the expected slapstick failures. A titanic struggle. And when the mistress arrives to investigate — only the canary remains… and then it belches and the cat’s bow flies out of its mouth.

It’s unusual to find a cartoon with real killing in it, and no translucent ghost angel figure to make it unreal. I just know this one would have upset me as a kid. So I admire it greatly as an adult.

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8 Responses to “Canary Row”

  1. John Seal Says:

    Surely, sir, you underestimate Porky’s appeal. Though personally, I would rank him #2 behind Daffy…

  2. Porky makes a fine sidekick for Daffy in Duck Dodgers (“Happy a-bee-a-bee-a-birthday, you thing from another world, you!”) and Dripalong Daffy (“She’s the flower of Gower Gulch”), a role nobody else in the Warner staple would have the serenity for.

    As a lead character he’s somewhat bland, though Porky’s Preview deserves a special mention for its transcendent intertextuality.

  3. On cartoon fatalities: One Speedy Gonzales cartoon opens with a bunch of hungry Mexican miss drawing straws to see who tries to get past cheese warehouse watchcat Sylvester. Somebody offers to hold the haunted-looking “winner’s” sombrero. We see the mice cheering on their champion, then suddenly turn grim. The sombrero is tossed onto a huge pile of hats.

    Early in “Scaredy Cat”, Sylvester witness another cat being carted off to execution by evil mice. Later, a trap door lowers the sleeping Sylvester to an unseen basement; when it returns he’s a shivering wreck who’s clearly seen Unspeakable Horrors. In light of this, Sylvester’s heroic comeback is not only funny but a relief:

    “Deduce You Say” pairs Daffy and Porky as a manic Great Detective and his sensible Boswell. Always loved this one for the visuals (Maurice Noble) and the surprisingly Holmes-literate script (Michael Maltese) served up in classic Chuck Jones style. Again, Porky is the perfect calm foil to Daffy’s overwroughtness. Note Porky’s apologetic smiles to the camera:

  4. Never seen this one! “The Beastly Old Income Tax”… :)

  5. I’d be interested to know what other titles are on this disc. Porky Pig’s Feat is probably in my top ten WB cartoons (it was well colorized for a Laser disc release in the late 80s, back to B&W for the Looney Tunes collections on DVD); one of Daffy’s finest outings; Porky Pig in Egypt (not Tashlin but Clamped) would be undistinguished except for a stretch in the middle in which a camel suffers an episode of “desert madness,” and which is hilarious.

  6. “Clampett,” dammit. Effin autocorrect.

  7. I collect auto-corrected filmmaker names, Barnyard Bertolucci being my favourite.

    The list:
    The Case of the Stuttering Pig (Tashlin)
    Little Beau Porky (Tashlin)
    Now That Summer is Gone (awful colour bucolic thing)
    Porky in the North Woods (Tashlin?)
    Porky’s Railroad (Tashlin)
    Cracked Ice (colour, with WC Fields impression)
    Puss n’ Booty (Tashlin)
    I Got Plenty of Mutton (Tashlin sheep & wolf variant)
    Booby Hatched (no director/supervisor credit but IMDb says Tashlin)
    Porky’s Poultry Plant (Tashlin)

    I Got Plenty of Mutton deserves its own post, it’s as good as its title.

  8. Porky in the North Woods is Tashlin (if that’s the one that features Porky rehabilitating wildlife who have been saved but damaged by the villain’s traps. “Mutton” is indeed a lusty piece of work. Another plug for “Porky Pig’s Feat,” Tashlin at the top of his form, for those who may have missed it: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Porky+Pig%27s+Feat&view=detail&mid=589A3C51DEAC9D0F838E589A3C51DEAC9D0F838E&FORM=VIRE

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