Archive for Warner Brothers

Robert R. Service with a Smile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2015 by dcairns


Start as you mean to go on — the opening shot of THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO.

I got out my French Tex Avery box set — the gift that keeps on giving — and we ran two toons, both based on the same Robert W. Service — DANGEROUS DAN MCFOO (Warner Bros, 1939) and THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO (MGM, 1945). The former features a Droopy prototype voiced by Mel Blanc to sound almost exactly like Elmer Fudd. The latter features Droopy himself, along with the wolf and the ubiquitous Red Hot Riding Hood figure, here recast as “the lady known as Lou.” Lou in the first film is a little dog styled after Bette Davis (though I still say the voice sounds more like Katherine Hepburn, a hound of a different pedigree). In the second film, Lou has a Mae West purr and a fuller figure. Plus, she’s a human, which I find helps make her attractive, though it does raise uncomfortable questions about her exact relationship with Droopy.



In a few years, Avery’s comic style had advanced markedly, with more absurd jokes and violations of filmic reality, and also much better character design. The WB films are still trying to be cute, even though Avery’s cartoon universe has only limited, and very subversive, uses for cuteness.

Both films rely heavily on puns to take the mickey out of the serious V.O. (the exact same extracts from the poem are read in both films), but the imagery this results in is far more bizarre in the MGM film. Oddly, for a wolfie movie this is fairly restrained — his reactions to Lou’s showgirl routine, apart from the initial eye-pop (“Go ‘way, boys, you bother me,” Lou tells the hovering orbs), are just about physically possible, or anyhow they’re versions of things that are physically possible. The wolf kicks himself in the head, howls, bays like a donkey, and bites chunks out of a wooden beam. The gags in RURAL RED RIDING HOOD reach far loftier heights of insanity. My favourite here is the wolf seizing his own neck and bashing his head off the tabletop — his head and neck become a long, flapping, fapping length of semi-tumescent gristle — Freudian readings are, as ever, quite redundant with Avery.


Though a lesser work on every level, the earlier film, viewed as a sort of preliminary sketch, is fascinating, and there are some good, bizarre gags. When the referee of the impromptu boxing match between the proto-wolf and proto-Droopy investigates an allegation that the bad guy has something in his glove, he shakes lose a horseshoe, then another, then another, then an entire horse. Sort of predictable, but it does yield the delightful image of a horse emerging from a glove. Freeze frame it!


You see — nothing impossible about that at all.

The boxing match (pretty sure there isn’t one in the Service poem) naturally requires a bell to signal the rounds, so Avery naturally has a trolley-car rocket into the saloon for that purpose.


On the other hand, the remake-thing has a barroom piano player say, in Jimmy Durante voice, “What a repulsive way to make a living!” which is inexplicably the best thing ever. And it has this ~


And this ~


And this ~


Five Little Dancing Fingers

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2014 by dcairns


Getting in the mood for Halloween. It had been years since I saw THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS — I remembered it being slightly disappointing, and Fiona didn’t remember it at all. The heart sinks slightly at Curt Siodmak’s script credit, yet his scenario isn’t in any way laughable. It does have dull stretches, though. Director Robert Florey seems to come awake in fits, thrusting wildly canted angles or serried rows of faces at us, then falling back into soporific busywork. But from the time of the first death, the good scenes start to slowly outnumber the dull ones, and there’s always Peter Lorre…



It’s surprisingly brutal for its time, with the severed hand scuttling about like it owns the place, flashing its stump brazenly. There’s a wet, meaty back view complete with wrist bones, apparently painted trompe-l’oeil fashion on the hand actor’s wrist, while the rest of his arm is blacked out. Apart from the various stranglings, it’s the hand who suffers most of the violence, crucified and burned by the neurasthenic Lorre (playing a character called Hillary, a mild-mannered name that doesn’t seem to quite suit him).

The source novel surely owes a debt to Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Hand, which likewise plays with the idea of a disembodied hand strangling victims from beyond the grave, only to offer a not-quite-reassuring rational explanation. But we can go further back and credit the inspiration to Algernon Swinburne — when Maupassant saved the poet from drowning, he rewarded his rescuer with an ashtray made from a human hand. As you do. I have to presume that the young writer, sat at his desk, Gauloise in hand, casting around for inspiration, seized upon the first interesting thing to catch his eye. A good thing for French literature he didn’t alight upon his waste-paper basket made from a human arse, or his paperweight made from a fossilised spleen. In fact, Maupassant’s study was decorated with the disassembled parts of an entire human being, gifted to him by Swinburne. Possibly they were the parts of Swinburne himself. But astute readers will have realized I stopped telling the truth here some time ago, though they may be surprised to learn how late in the paragraph the fantasy takes over.


A very good bit — Lorre hears scuttling, and the previous astrology books on his shelves start to nudge outwards in a creeping series — the hand is crawling behind them! Swiping the volumes to the floor, Lorre searches out the stray extremity, and Florey tracks along INSIDE the bookshelf, behind the books, until the wriggling thing is discovered, cornered, and Lorre smiles with genuine pleasure at catching it. He then hammers a nail through it, seals it in the safe, and reports to Robert Alda, “I locked it up.” But Fiona misheard this, owing to Lorre’s thick accent, as “I looked it up,” and imagined that he had somehow tracked it down on the bookshelf under H for Hand, or possibly B for Beast. It’s a nice idea — why has there not been a remake to exploit this possibility? One thinks, of course, of the very good “A Farewell to Arms” gag in EVIL DEAD II…

Bosko Does Not Believe in Tears

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2012 by dcairns

Bosko, star of early Looney Tunes, underwent a mysterious transformation. Here’s Bosko in his best-known form —

I take him to be a little monkey, don’t you? Everybody else is an animal, and he has those cute ears. Surely he’s a chimp or monkey. Of course, there’s also the obvious fact that he’s a thinly disguised rip-off of Mickey Mouse, shorn of the nose-dot and vast, black spherical ears (people assume they’re discs, but they never vary their appearance whatever way MM faces). He even has a Pluto-like dog, Bruno, and a girlfriend who looks just like Bosko in drag, called Honey.

And there’s also the suspicion that he’s a minstrel-like caricature of an African-American. In fact, from 1929, here’s Bosko’s first talkie —

Different voice, and very obviously an Amos ‘n’ Andy style ethnic caricature. But that side of the character recedes as he adopts the eunuchoid falsetto of Disney’s famous mouse. Cartoonist Rudolf Ising denied that Bosko was of any ethnic type, characterizing him as “an inkspot type thing,” but the view of Hugh Harman, who actually dreamed Bosko up, is apparently not recorded.

Then Bosko is acquired by MGM, when Harman & Ising (Harman-Ising well together!) switched studios, and he goes into Technicolor, becoming a little more sugary in the process.

The bratty kid dresses in Mickey Mouse’s red shorts, and the animation is a bit more three-dimensional, the comedy more domestic and less surreal/grotesque. The MGM effect creeping in.

Then this happens —

Bosko has become fully human, or almost, and he’s certainly African-American now. Curiously, the caricature isn’t particularly offensive (to me, anyway, but I wouldn’t presume to speak for everybody). I wonder how audiences reacted to his transformation? At any rate, the character was quickly retired. The more realistic Bosko became, the less fun his adventures seemed. The final phase, though technically the most elegant, is the least pleasurable to watch.

Bosko’s strange evolutionary leap from inkspot/minstrel/monkey to “real boy” is paralleled over at the Fleischer studio by Betty Boop’s transition from poodle to flapper, which is arguably as insulting in its implications. Very oddly, even after her floppy ears had turned into earrings, and her muzzle modified into the low, chinless mouth we know and lust for, Betty continued to go out with Bimbo, a dog. The implications of which are best left unexplored.


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