Arthur Davis

Russian Rhapsody (1944, Robert Clampett)

Russian Rhapsody is a strange–and very funny–cartoon. First, as a historical document, it's a Hollywood cartoon mocking Hitler (before the end of the war and the extent of his atrocities became clear). In Rhapsody, he's an obnoxious windbag and there are a bunch of good jokes at his expense.

But once the first act is done–Hitler is going to fly a bomber himself to Moscow–Rhapsody takes a different turn. It's about the gremlins attacking the bomber. They're funny little creatures, destroying the plane in creative ways (though director Clampett never actually shows the specific effects of their sabotage) and they have a great song.

There are a lot of contemporary pop culture references; some still work, some don't. The Stalin one probably didn't work even back then if you knew anything about foreign affairs.

Until the final gag flops (it's another pop culture reference), Rhapsody is a very funny cartoon.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Clampett; written by Lou Lilly; animated by Rod Scribner, Arthur Davis, Manny Gould and Robert McKimson; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Leon Schlesinger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Adolf Hitler / Gremlin from the Kremlin).


Here Today, Gone Tamale (1959, Friz Freleng)

I hadn’t seen Here Today, Gone Tamale before, but I’ve seen Freleng’s subsequent Chili Weather. The setup is the same–these starving, but lazy, Mexican mice can’t steal any cheese from Sylvester the cat, so one of them whores out his sister to Speedy Gonzales. In Tamale, Sylvester is guarding a boat. In Chili, it’s a warehouse. But it’s the same… down to the awkward sympathy for the characters the cartoon is being racist against.

Freleng’s direction is terrible in Tamale. Some of the fault is the animators, who are alternately lazy and bad. Sylvester looks different sometimes in the same shot. There isn’t even continuity between frames.

There are a couple good gags–the best is Sylvester getting locked in a limburger cheese compartment–and the ending isn’t bad. Mel Blanc does a great job with Sylvester. He’s likable while still being dangerous.

But, otherwise, Tamale‘s pretty rotten.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis and Virgil Ross; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Speedy Gonzales / Sylvester / Mice).


Knighty Knight Bugs (1958, Friz Freleng)

Besides Mel Blanc’s voice work, there’s nothing to recommend Knighty Knight Bugs. Actually, even with his voice work, there’s nothing to recommend it. It’s just the only good thing about the cartoon.

Bugs, as a medieval jester, has to go get a sword. Yosemite Sam has the sword. Bugs gets it. The cartoon’s act structure is broken. I doubt it’s intentional, just Freleng and writer Warren Foster didn’t have any ideas. The story’s completely uninspired, but not as uninspired as Freleng’s gags. His animators don’t do a terrible job (the background artist is another matter) but there’s nothing interesting for them to animate.

The cartoon’s single saving grace is its length. At six minutes, by the time the viewer realizes nothing else is going to happen, it only has two minutes left.

So, while it’s not quite painless, its brevity reduces how painful it might get otherwise.

Knighty Knight indeed.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; written by Warren Foster; animated by Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis and Virgil Ross; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Yosemite Sam / King Arthur / Sir Osis of Liver / Sir Loin of Beef / The Dragon).


Birds Anonymous (1957, Friz Freleng)

Birds Anonymous should be really good. Its failings so how tied animation technique and writing are when it comes to a cartoon. The narrative, down to the scenic plotting, is fine. But the animation is bad so Birds flops.

The most startling problem is the backgrounds. A more generous person might call them stylishly spare. I’ll call them cheap and lacking. Sylvester never looks like he’s interacting in a setting. It’s painfully obvious he’s not.

Worse is the supporting cast. Both Sylvester and Tweety look fine, but all the rest of the cats look terrible. The plot involves Sylvester joining a twelve-step program to overcome his craving for birds. Like I said… Birds should work.

Every time Sylvester’s sponsor shows up to save him, the bad animation undoes what should be a great scene.

Mel Blanc’s voice work is fabulous. It’s too bad Freleng didn’t take Birds as seriously.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; written by Warren Foster; animated by Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis and Virgil Ross; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Sylvester / Tweety / Clarence / B.A. Cats).


Mouse and Garden (1960, Friz Freleng)

Mouse and Garden has some bad animation… shockingly bad. The cartoon’s about Sylvester and his sidekick, Sam, fighting over a mouse. The animation on Sam (an orange cat) and the mouse is awful. Freleng apparently didn’t care about appearing three dimensional.

Actually, a lot of the gags work in two dimensions, as does most of Freleng’s composition. Garden is a bore to watch.

Sylvester looks a little better, like the animators had good reference materials. Not so for the annoying Sam–the character’s weak and a terrible pair for Sylvester.

Maybe if the mouse had any personality the cartoon might work better, but Freleng sort of ignores it until the final gag. Gag might be too strong a word to describe it. Final attempt at humor.

Mel Blanc’s characterization of Sylvester is so strong it’s hard to dislike Garden entirely, but there’s nothing else good about the cartoon at all.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; animated by Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis and Virgil Ross; music by Milt Franklyn; edited by Treg Brown; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Sylvester) and Daws Butler (Sam).


By Word of Mouse (1954, Friz Freleng)

I feel like By Word of Mouse should be better. It turns out it’s a Sylvester cartoon–not without good gags–but the concept deserves more.

A German mouse heads to the U.S. to visit a relation; free market capitalism–well, American consumerism, wows him and the two cousins find a professor (also a mouse) to explain it all. The explanations for the viewer too, of course.

But this cartoon takes place in the fifties and it’s unclear if the German mouse is from the West or East (presumably West). German just doesn’t seem the right nationality for the concept to work.

Freleng’s direction is good, the style is charming, and the economics lesson is just right for a younger audience.

Still, Word doesn’t really have an ending… Sylvester ruins the mouse’s trip and he heads back. Or maybe has other adventures, it’s unclear.

It’s likable, but completely doldrum.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; written by Warren Foster; animated by Ted Bonnicksen, Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Sylvester / Hans / Uncle / Aunt / Elevator Operator / Mice Children).


Golden Yeggs (1950, Friz Freleng)

Once again, the boys at Warner Bros. have some problems with basic gender realities. Not only does Daffy Duck lay eggs (something he strongly infers in Golden Yeggs without getting graphic), neither do ganders.

That incredible plot problem aside, Yeggs is a lot of fun. It starts on Porky Pig’s farm with a gander laying a golden egg. The gander blames it on Daffy, who ends up kidnapped by the mob.

What’s so fun about Yeggs is the lack of gags. There’s a lot of story with a relatively long present action as Daffy gets kidnapped and barters with the mobsters. Then the finish, with the chases and the gags, takes place over five minutes.

The animation is fluid and enthusiastic, even if it’s a little lazy in terms of detail. Actually, Porky and the farm are weak, the mob and the city are strong.

Freleng does a great job.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Ken Champin, Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis, Emery Hawkins and Virgil Ross; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / Porky Pig / Rocky / Nick / Hotel Employee / Chickens).


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