2017 Swashathon: The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950)

Directed by Chuck Jones this Looney Tunes short is another that takes place on the Warner Brothers backlot. Daffy has a meeting in faceless studio head J.L.’s office (clearly modeled after Jack L. Warner). Part of Daffy’s desire in this outlandish pitch is to break out of what he sees as typecasting and play the role of a swashbuckling hero.

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Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this short is how it deals with the concept of casting. In the framing mechanism Daffy is pitching a film to break out of the type-cast mold he feels he’s stuck in. Within the pitched story the Warner crew cast from their stable of stars to create a swashbuckling, animated version of The Scarlet Pimpernel called The Scarlet Pumpernickel.

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Daffy plays Daffy Dumas Duck, Porky Pig plays Lord High Chamberlain, Mama Bear plays a handmaiden, Henery Hawk plays a pageboy, Sylvester plays a Lord and groom-to-be, Elmer Fudd plays an innkeeper; and an obese horse not unlike the one in What’s Opera, Doc? also makes an appearance.

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This short is also a showcase for the music of Michael Maltese who is frequently the unsung hero behind the scenes of the Looney Tunes shorts.

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Aside from some visual flair like hanging off the underside of a cliff, a flood, the Pumpernickel using a parachute; it’s an absurd plot only animation could really pull off in such a short amount of time. As the commentary track on the DVD observes it packs in all the conventions of a swashbuckler with comedic effect, complete with jokes about Errol Flynn. Also, on the Golden Collection’s commentary track I learned that this was more of a showcase for Mel Blanc than usual as he voiced Elmer Fudd in this short as well though he usually didn’t.

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This is also one of the Looney Tunes shorts which has been the target of retroactive censorship and re-edits on TV. The short ends with Daffy putting a gun to his head, as his story ends with the Scarlet Pumpernickel killing himself. Daffy shoots, falls to the ground, then looks up (the bullet went through his beret) and says “It’s getting so you have to kill yourself to sell a story around here.” Edits dropped frames where the gun fired and cut straight to him on the ground. In my estimation it’s a useless edit as the implication is still there. Yes, the reality of suicide is more present in today’s world. However, the fact remains that art of the past cannot and should not be constantly altered to fit ever-changing mores and realities. They are what they are and are reflective of a time. It’s up to each successive generation to know better as the collective consciousness grows.

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As such, there’s not a moral to be learned from this short, it’s funny with jokes for audiences young and old, for people who just like animation or old Hollywood; but it’s not a morality play and an excellent quick parody of a genre.

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Swashathon: Robin Hood Daffy (1958)

Introduction

This is my contribution for the Swashathon hosted by Movies Silently.

Robin Hood Daffy (1958)

Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Warner Bros.)

This was another blogathon where I thought I would not have a title to contribute. Part of it had to do with the fact that Swashbuckling is such a niche that I didn’t think I’d have much to contribute as it’s not one I can claim any level of expertise in. I could’ve offered up for Kim but that would require a re-watch and it didn’t jibe with my schedule. That’s when on a double-check (triple-check? quadruple-check?) I noticed that Robin Hood Daffy was there and I just had to write about it. Any chance to discuss the Looney Tunes is a good one.

I know this short very well, as I know many, so it prompted me to look up the precise definition of swashbuckling as my understanding over-emphisized sword-play and I knew Daffy’s Robin Hood never had a sword.

The definition reads as follows:
—noun
1 a swaggering swordsman, soldier, or adventurer; daredevil.

Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Warner Bros.)

So there it fits.

As for the Looney rendering of the tale of Robin Hood there are some things that are worth noting without giving a blow-by-blow of a short that runs fewer than seven minutes.

Perhaps first and most importantly is the notion of cartoon casting. And by this I do not mean voice actors. For once Warner had Mel Blanc in the fold they knew they had a good thing and he was one-man show. What I mean is match the existing characters in a stable of cartoon talent as the parts in an adaptation, matching the correct types. Daffy as a hapless Robin and Porky as a jolly and sarcastic Tuck is perfect and offers a brilliant send-up of the Robin Hood tropes and story.

Another commonality this shares with other great Looney Tunes is the direction of Chuck Jones. Jones being one I so admired he was the first director whose writing I read, in Chuck Reducks.

Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Warner Bros.)

This short is also a reflection of my understanding of film progressing, or maybe it’s more proper to say it is an astute example of children’s innate ability to grasp adaptation and different renditions of similar material. What I mean is that Disney’s Robin Hood was at the time likely my favorite movie, and remains my favorite Disney film. They represent two drastically different approaches to the anthropomorphizing of the Robin Hood characters, in two different film forms, but use the same medium (animation). I loved them both growing up, much in the same way as I enjoyed the goofy 1966 Batman TV series as well as the 1989 Tim Burton film, and the new school. I later saw the Errol Flynn-starring Robin Hood in High School.

The gags are spectacular, and some are among my all time favorites such as Daffy’s minstrel song, “Ho, ho, very funny. Haha, it is to laugh”, “Yoicks! And away!”, and more.

The work is elevated to the level of genius in set-up (Tuck/Porky doesn’t believe Daffy is Hood). And then the payoff at the end. It so perfectly befits them both and should be known to children and film buffs everywhere if it isn’t already.

One Of My Favorite Cartoons Blogathon: Duck Amuck (1953)

Duck Amuck (1953) 

This is a post written as part of the One of My Favorite Cartoons Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. Firstly, I must sya that I am thankful that I didn’t have to narrow it down to just one.

Next, considering the fact that I just wrote about another Looney Tunes short that’s tangentially similar to this one it was a natural choice. That superficiality is that this short starts like its going to be another swashbuckling tale not unlike the later Robin Hood Daffy but with this one being a Musketeers tale.

However, we soon see that there is something very different afoot here as this tale starts to play with the conventions of animation as the unseen animator starts to taunt Daffy having him walk off backgrounds/sets, putting him in perpetually juxtaposed situations like having him change into ski attire to match the newly alpine environs only to have him them ski onto a Hawaiian beach.

Duck Amuck (1953, Warner Bros.)

This then escalate as he is erases faced with being muted and creating incongruous sound effects. Things continue to childish backgrounds, changing his whole physiognomy, a childish background, invasion of black to the image, doubled frames, a premature end, and then finally, the coup de grâce is that the fourth wall is demolished as we leave the world of the cell to see who it was who was animating him. This short was already meta enough it just had to add the cherry on top with a hilarious, perfect cameo.

This is one I still had bits memorized from even though I’d not seen it in years. What this blogathon prompted me to do was to listen to the commentary and watch the featurette that accompany this short on the Golden Collection DVD set, which I had not yet seen.

Much of the commentary is provided by Michael Barrier, an author who wrote about the golden age of the animated short. He documented the fact that Warners were resistant to using Bugs in such a limited role (as the invisible-until-the-end animator). The animators discuss in the featurette how it had to be him based on the dynamics of their relationship.

Duck Amuck (1953, Warner Bros.)

The idea started with the germ of the concept without an end in mind, as was frequently the way Chuck Jones did things. Aside from the struggles against the studio where they had to be defiant and use Bugs anyway there was also the internal battle between Jones and animator Ed Selzer. Daffy has an abnormally long monologue in this film (800-feet of stock). Selzer wanted to run a pencil test with synchronized sound to prove the animation he had worked with the pauses built in. Jones wasn’t sure. Warners were always budget conscious (even though these tests were never deeloped), and pencil tests were scarce. Ones with sound were unheard of. Selzer was proved correct.

Duck Amuck is definitely one of the finest Looney Tunes shorts ever. Much of that is echoed in the featurette entitled “Hard Luck Duck” that features interviews with Willi Ito, Bob Melendez, Chuck Jones, Leonard Maltin, Joe Alaskey, Jerry Beck, Noel Blanc, Art Leonardi.

Disney was frequently at its best when they let their creativity cut loose like in the Pink Elephants sequence of Dumbo, the same can be said for Warners as evidenced in Duck Amuck.

Upcoming Blogathon Participation: Swashathon! by Movies Silently

In November I’ll be contributing to Movies Silently’s Swashaton. As I did here and here, I will be contributing by writing about a short film. This time it will be about the Looney Tunes classic Robin Hood Daffy.

It may be a short but the post may not be as there is much to discuss among the swashbuckling, versions of Robin Hood, and the team lead by Chuck Jones that brought this film to its fruition.

Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Warner Bros.)

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Genremeld (Part 10 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Creepshow, Weird Science, Time Bandits, Splash, Big, Back to the Future, The Witches of Eastwick and My Stepmother is an Alien all of these films crossed genres to try and make something new and unique, and this was a staple of 80s filmmaking.


It has been said that nothing really original has been said after 1800. In film much the same conundrum exists in that there really are no new stories, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t crave films. More so than any other decade prior the 80s were expert at recombining genres and on occasion creating something new or at least different enough that everyone flocked towards it.

One of the great hits of the genremeld was Gremlins. Never before or since has there been such a perfect balance of the horrific and comedic. There’s no tongue-in-cheek here it wants you to laugh and gasp in the same breath.


Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

In the film Gremlins we have two important things occurring: first, this is one of the first films of the Spielberg School. It was written by Chris Columbus while he was attending NYU he later went on to work with Spielberg on The Goonies. It was directed by Joe Dante a former Corman protégé who later in the decade directed Innerspace and Matinee. Plot-wise this film is very important in that it’s a great example of the ’80s habit of fusing genres. Many ’80s many horror films were unintentionally funny this one is attempting to be purposely funny and succeeding. It was also quite frightening mostly to young kids because the cute, little furry things mutate into nasty, putrid beasts.


Structurally, this film is very tight. In the opening scene where the father (Hoyt Axton) buys a mogwai we are given rules, a trait common to many fantasy films, they are ‘don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight and they hate bright light.’ The breaking of these rules end up being our act breaks and/or plot points. The first act ends in one of the most clear-cut fashions I’ve ever seen. Gizmo, the mogwai, gets water spilled on him in the 25th minute of the film and we see his progeny pop right out of him.


What a lot of people fail to notice is that there was actually a new creature invented for this film under the guise of an old myth. Gremlins were supposedly little monsters placed in machinery during World War II by the Germans. This creature comes from China according to this tale. It also allows for slight social commentary when Mr. Futterman complains about foreign cars and also while drunk he professes to believe in Gremlins in the classic sense. In the 1980s foreign cars truly bothered people enough such that the phrase ‘Buy American,’ was coined. 


Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

The Spielberg School was always very big on ‘in-jokes,’ which can be readily apparent to the audience but are often missed (i.e. Rockin’ Ricky Rialto has the same billboard lettering as, and similar artwork to, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gizmo hiding behind an E.T. doll). There is also a cameo by animation director Chuck Jones. 


The characters in this film are quickly established. We see Rand Peltzer, the father, haplessly trying to pedal his invention, Billy (Zach Galligan) signing a petition, Kate (Phoebe Cates) works at a bar for free and Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) refuses to give a family more time to pay their loan. This film is funny and fun-filled and allusions to classic cinema are also play an important part in this story there is a clip from It’s a Wonderful Life and the Gremlins watch Snow White and in a hysterical turn they love it. There’s also mimicry of a popular film at the time Flashdance, and it’s great. The whole second half of this film is a wonderful mix of the hysterical and the creepy and sometimes both. Mrs. Deagle is thrown from her Stairmaster out the window to die in the snow. This shouldn’t be funny but it is. Then on the gross-out side we see a Gremlin melting in the sunlight. We also have the music of Jerry Goldsmith in this film who is wonderful composer who will turn out tunes just as hummable as Williams’s, but he specializes more in these fun types of films.

Gremlins was a big hit grossing $148 million on an $11 million dollar budget, and it’s easy to see why. It turns from a horror/comedy and there’s a lot of action thrown in. We laugh at what we shouldn’t. This is also one of the more tastefully done ‘horrors-on-Christmas’ films with a Gremlin getting chopped to bits while Burl Ives’s ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is playing. I used to be deathly afraid of this film and it took me many years to gather up the courage to see it again. I’m very glad I did see it again though because, as strange as it sounds, this film is even whimsical in the way it handles its subject matter. As an adult, I don’t know who would be truly afraid of it but it does offer its fair share of the horror currency known as the “gross-out.” It’s so well handled in that regard I think we may be in suspense for a bit waiting for something else like it.