Bumps and Carrot Grind: More Toonified Musings

23 Feb

by Kevin Wollenweber

In further anxious anticipation of the forthcoming single disk LOONEY TOONS SUPERSTARS releases in late April or early May, I wanted to open this bit of casual observation with an acknowledgment of the fact that I sat through a late night showing, on Turner Classic Movies of course, of the Oscar-winning film, “IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT”.  Would you believe I’ve *NEVER* physically seen this film?  Pity, but there’s the unfortunate fact.

Bugs Bunny chomping on a carrotYup.  I’ve never, ever seen the famous hormone-stirring close-up on Claudette Colbert’s lovely leg that she , in character, dangled before an on-coming car, hoping to hitch a ride to where she and Clark Gable were going, but I’ve got to tell you, I absolutely love her comeback line when Gable’s character seems surprised at her unabashed bravado:  “Sometimes, the limb is mightier than the thumb!”  Hear, hear!!

So what does this have to do with BUGS BUNNY or DAFFY DUCK?  No, I wasn’t thinking of the scene in a BUGS BUNNY cartoon in which Bugs is disguised as a pretty young lady looking to “find something nice in a pair of bedroom slippers,” utilizing two shapely fake “limbs” of his own.

For those of you who don’t know, “IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT” influenced another type of body language, according to Robert Clampett and Friz Freleng in the documentary, “BUGS BUNNY, SUPERSTAR”.  At one point, Gable’s character tries to get Claudette Colbert’s character to munch on raw carrots instead of expecting a full course meal to be provided as she had grown accustomed.  As he talked to her, he munched quickly on a raw carrot stick, and, so, this became a trademark characteristic of the new look of Bugs Bunny as Freleng and others would slowly reshape him to be.  It sure is nice to get that late night history lesson, although I’m sure that Robert Osborne didn’t leap forward to point this out.  I instead thank Robert Clampett for giving us that bit of insight!

For the past week or so, I’ve been devouring every wonderful crumb and salt sweet treasure of swing music in the recently issued WARNER BROS. BIG BAND JAZZ & SWING COLLECTION set, available now from the ongoing Warner Archive series, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is indeed the most satisfying set that has been released in this fashion yet!  I highly recommend this to anyone who has often dismissed this music as being outdated or lacking in diversity.  Just when I think that this set might get a bit dull, it perks me up and even arouses me in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Ziegfeld publicity photo of Fannie BriceThere is one percolatin’ film in which an all-female jazz orchestra takes the stage and shows us all that the ladies could stoke the fires as well as the men folk.  We get to see familiar faces that have appeared in caricature in Max Fleischer cartoons, like Fannie Brice and Helen Kane, the former proving that, although Mae Questel got the inflections right in “BETTY BOOP’S RISE TO FAME”, there must have been *NOTHING* on earth that could compare early photo of fanny brice from ziegfeld dayswith seeing the real deal Miss Brice vamp it up before an adoring crowd.

It goes without saing that the grand jester of swing jazz, Mr. Cab Calloway, gives us a blistering performance or two, but he has major competition in some names that I totally fail to recognize.  I am, after all, so new to all this music that it is hard for me to do a film-by-film rundown of who we’re watching, and I apologize for that, but you would get to hear a lot of songs and jams here portrait of cab callowaythat would be later immortalized to my generation through the LOONEY TUNES cartoons regularly shown each afternoon and now in our individual DVD collections…and, boy, can these guys and gals play.  More than once, I expected my TV set, cranked to hefty volume, to blow its speakers.

Unfortunately, because the Warner Archives series does not go through any major and costly restoration, each film varies in sound quality, but even at its dullest-sounding, the films show off some of the most amazing talent.  To those who grew up at this time, the names and faces that go unannounced must be household names.  I know that my father was a huge fan of some of this music in his lifetime, although I could never, ever understand why he never retained a rabid interest in it after marriage.  I had to hear from my mother that they used to go out to see some of these types of bands live.  Hell, I’d be more than happy to share with my kids, had I any, my concert-going experiences, but no one younger than I seems to care.

We unfortunately live in a world that cares little about its history, and that is why it took the Warner Archive series to finally bring these strange and classily elaborate films to light.  A reason why they have been out of circulation for so long is that there are moments here that would now be deemed politically incorrect.  These were different times and, so, certain situations have to be discussed in certain company so that some folks can be prepped and know what to expect, but you can’t deny the talent and the versatility of each of these performers.  When the music really begins to churn up, the viewer is hooked and, if you’re not, well, let this boy tell ya that you’ve got a tin ear, pops!  Every once in a while, I had to stifle the urge to give out with a yowl or howl of sheer joy and appreciation as the band reaches its big finale.

For those of this current generation who boast of how fast thrash metal bands can spit out notes and rhythms, let me insist that you buy this set and watch each of the films in progression and see how fast some of these players tear it up!  I know that people did dance to this stuff.  After all, these were the golden ages where you would go to see your favorite band and be prepared to dance off your shoes in the frenzied interim, not just sit tight while the band did all the entertaining.

From what I’ve heard of the times, the bands were certainly entertained when the girls would writhe around wildly to the speedy rhythms and this, in turn, was no doubt an influence on how the performers on the bandstand would pace their music, as if to say “let’s see how fast this audience wants it!!”  And, believe me, the audiences were no doubt up to the task and were prepared to show off and entertain the bands in turn!

As I said, there are tunes and jazz personalities, familiar and unfamiliar, throughout this collection that neatly explain what could have inspired many a LOONEY TUNES caricature, and certain familiar voices are heard and recognized as those who participated in some of the LOONEY TUNES cartoons.  Bob Clampett has claimed that the jazz musicians did play for the Termite Terrace cartoonists, so you get the idea that putting the cartoons together must also have been a lot of fun, especially when you see how enthusiastic the musicians feed off each other’s energy on all these very rare films.  So run, don’t walk, over to the computer and bring up the website, http://www.wbshop.com, and check out this enormous and thrilling collection for yourselves.  I think you’ll really appreciate the boogie ride!

Lastly, I want to give a shout out, for starters, to my co-blogger, Rachel Newstead, for doing a bang-up job on outlining some rare cartoons from Walter Lantz and for her critique of the debut episode of “THE FLINTSTONES”.  This has always been my all-time favorite season of the series, although there was never a completely dull moment throughout the remaining five seasons’ run.  The first season, however, is genuinely the best because of the interaction of the characters.  The comedy timing got a bit subdued as the series became more a staple of kid-friendly TV instead of all-generation viewing.  You’ve got to love visuals like Fred angrily walking along the big stomachs of Barney’s cave man club members lounging around in the swimming pool, angry that his neighbor is monopolizing the time spent therein, each crunching footfall accompanied by a creaking sound as Fred stomps along the neat line of Neanderthal loungers’ bellies, not even blinking or missing a beat even as one of the sun-bathers exclaims “hey, bud, you’re getting’ a little heavy!!”

And thanks to Rachel for starting her regular feature, “FREEZE FRAME FRIDAY”, where we can get to see dissections of very interesting bits of classic animation to further examine how they play tricks on our eyes in frantic motion.  It is one example of us working together as I pick my brain and try to remember some ke scenes and poses that I always liked when watching and rewatching some of these cartoons.

I also want to say “hey” to a blogger whose work I’ve read off and on, this pretty mystery woman who goes by the name of Stacia and writes a blog called SHE BLOGGED BY NIGHT.  Boy, I only can wish I had this kind of filmography knowledge.  I’d also be curious as to whether or not the black and white photo representing her *IS* really her.  I was told that she looks like a young silent film star with short, curly blond hair and eye shadow to enhance her eyelids.  Reminds me of how Joni Mitchell made herself up on the cover of her COURT AND SPARK album jacket, and that cover was an interesting shade of tan, perhaps to simulate sepiatone?  Anyway, Stacia’s long dissertations on silent films are intriguing to me because there are indeed camera tricks that started that far back in our film history, and we still cannot make films this good anymore.  I also like that she called Robert Osborne, TCM’s self-proclaimed classic film historian, out on his mispronunciation of the name of a silent film star, Marie Prevost.  I guess, however, it is a common mistake, because we all are aware of the classic Nick Lowe song that talks of the sad life of Miss Prevost and how she horribly met her end and its aftermath.  It’s a great pop tune, but, sorry, Nick, the name is *NOT* “Provost”!  Guess you made this American squirm when he found out.  And it still did feel so right (at least when we sang along)!  But I’m glad that Stacia is still around and, well, I hope she doesn’t lose her present job in a hurry, but I also hope she can continue blogging and intriguing me, even if I don’t get more of her own photos.

And, please, I don’t want angry mail from her hubby.  I’m a blind man, not a stalker!  Swing, gates, swing!!


2 Responses to “Bumps and Carrot Grind: More Toonified Musings”

  1. BapBapaDap March 5, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    Actually in Betty Boops rise to fame, they were just using old clips from Stopping the show

    where betty originally imitated Maurice cheviar, Helen kane & Fanny Brice.

    Bonnie poe actually did the voices for Rise to fame, but mae questels voice was heard in the old clips

    personally i think bonnie should have re dubbed over the voices, becuse they did that in the popeye series and mae questel dubbed over all the voices from the old clips in one special where bonnie poe had recently voiced.

  2. Stacia May 2, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Hey Kevin — looks like I missed this when you first posted it! Sorry! Sadly, that is not me in the icon you have seen me post with. It’s actually Marie Prevost-not-Provost, in a promotional still for “The Godless Girl.” Thanks for the shout-out! I get so behind on blogs that I miss a lot, but yours is one of the few I make sure I definitely check in on, even if it takes me forever.

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