Mel Blanc

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 First, as a historical document, it's a Hollywood cartoon mocking Hitler (before the end of the war and the extent of his atrocities became clear).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).


Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Chuck Jones)

Robin Hood Daffy is an unappealing mix of pointless, dumb and bewildering. Besides Porky beating up Daffy (Porky’s Friar Tuck, Daffy’s apparently Robin–more on that one in a bit), Jones’s gags all seem recycled from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. It’s Daffy swinging around to disastrous result.

It’s never clear if Daffy’s actually Robin Hood or just playing in the forest and pretending. One hopes the latter, as it makes Robin a little more interesting. Also interesting is Jones and writer Michael Maltese’s anti-welfare take on the redistribution of wealth. It’s just a line, but it gets the brain working more than the rest of the cartoon.

The animation’s not bad, with the grand finale somewhat impressive, but there’s no energy. Mel Blanc does exceedingly well with the voices. It’s a shame the cartoon doesn’t match his efforts.

Jones only had to fill six minutes; he fails miserably.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Abe Levitow and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / Porky Pig).


Hare Conditioned (1945, Chuck Jones)

Embarrassingly, I didn’t understand Hare Conditioned‘s title until I looked it up online. No, I won’t tell you.

The cartoon is an enthusiastic chase through a department store, with star window attraction Bugs Bunny about to be shipped off the to taxidermy department. Bugs is likable here, partially because he’s opposite a heinous villain, the store manager (voiced by Dick Nelson).

Jones and writer Tedd Pierce manage to get both characters in drag, with Bugs’s feminine persona wooing the manager. There’s just got to be a scholarly work about the use of cross-dressing as a seduction device in Warner Bros. cartoons. There’s just got to be….

Jones has some fun ideas and a lot of good gags. Occasionally his animators can’t realize them but, on a whole, Hare Conditioned is a lot more successful than not.

It’s pleasant and consistently amusing, but there’s nothing particularly distinctive about it overall.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Basil Davidovich, Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam and Robert Cannon; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny) and Dick Nelson (Store manager).


Cannery Woe (1961, Robert McKimson)

Are all Speedy Gonzales cartoons the same? Cannery Woe opens with starving Mexican mice needing Speedy to get them cheese. Sylvester is guarding the cheese. Woe does have a couple minor differences though. First, none of the mice have to whore off their sisters to Speedy. Second, he doesn’t even show up until the cartoon’s half over.

The first half of the cartoon follows a couple of the down and out local mice and they’re mildly charming. It’s not just Mel Blanc talking to himself, Tom Holland voices one of them, and it’s mildly amusing. They’re a fine comedy team.

The animation’s not bad–though the backgrounds are terrible–and Woe is occasionally thought provoking. Seriously.

The town is destitute and starving, yet the mice want to steal from the humans. These Speedy Gonzales cartoons are a sociologist’s goldmine for American characterization of Mexicans.

Shame they aren’t good cartoons.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Speedy Gonzales / Sylvester / Jose / Mayor Raton) and Tom Holland (Manuel / Mice).


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).


Wild Wife (1954, Robert McKimson)

Wild Wife is easily McKimson’s best cartoon (of those I’ve seen, anyway). I was going to start by talking about McKimson as an unlikely feminist, since Wife mostly concerns a housewife whose male chauvinist pig husband berates her for not getting enough done.

The cartoon then flashes back to show exactly how full her day has been, mostly with his little tasks. Then it sadly diverts to her being a shopaholic and a gossip, which is more what I expected.

But the ending recovers somewhat and McKimson and writer Tedd Pierce never make judgements. It’s a shocking cartoon coming from McKimson.

He’s even ambitious in his direction; though the character design lifts a lot from Blondie and the animation’s fairly bad. It also lifts a Blondie gag.

But it’s a good cartoon. Bea Benaderet (who’s uncredited as the lead, showing sexism wasn’t dead in the title card department) is great.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Herman Cohen, Phil DeLara, Charles McKimson and Rod Scribner; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Edward Selzer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bea Benaderet (Marsha / Daughter / Old Women with pennies / Beautician) and Mel Blanc (John / Son / Mailman / Bank Teller / Red Cross Nurse / Casper J. Fragile / Soda Jerk / Pedestrian / Officer).


West of the Pesos (1960, Robert McKimson)

West of the Pesos is a hideous cartoon, with terrible animation and McKimson ripping off Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. There’s not much to amuse oneself with during the insufferable six minute cartoon, but there are some places to try.

First is the whole Speedy Gonsalez thing. I mean, Warner produced cartoons–not expensive, but still professionally produced–for no reason other than to cap on Mexico? The terrible jokes in Pesos aren’t even inventive bigot humor. They’re just lame. McKimson’s got no wit (or subtlety).

Sadly, the only other way to pass the runtime is to marvel at the awful animation on Sylvester. It’s loose and lazy, the worst the cat’s ever looked. Given he’s just a stand-in for the coyote… maybe it doesn’t matter.

Pesos might be a new low for McKimson, at least of what I’ve seen.

At least, I hope this one’s his low.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

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


A Broken Leghorn (1959, Robert McKimson)

A Broken Leghorn never confronts its bleakness or meanness.

It opens with Foghorn Leghorn doing a good thing, tricking a presumably barren hen into thinking she laid an egg. But then it turns out to be a baby rooster, so Foghorn spends the rest of the cartoon trying to kill the adorable little rooster.

Mel Blanc’s voice characterization of the baby rooster sounds a little too much like Bugs Bunny, but it’s likable enough… and Foghorn’s a monster. Strangely, he does get his comeuppance. The cartoon ends with him caged and off, one would assume, to be slaughtered.

McKimson doesn’t seem to understand the bleakness or the meanness, which is no surprise. If he did, the cartoon might be better.

The animation’s pretty weak too. There’s no inventiveness. I suppose Broken‘s not bad, just boring.

I haven’t seen a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon since I was a kid. They haven’t improved.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Warren Foster; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Foghorn Leghorn / Junior Rooster) and June Foray (Miss Prissy / Hens).


The Last Hungry Cat (1961, Hawley Pratt and Friz Freleng)

I wonder if anyone involved in making The Last Hungry Cat ever owned a cat. The premise is (for a Freleng cartoon) quite good. Sylvester is haunted–by an Alfred Hitchcock-like narrator–after he “eats” Tweetie. There are a couple big logic problems. The major one involves cats. They don’t have remorse. It’s absurd Sylvester would feel guilty.

The second problem is Sylvester’s apartment. He has his own pad, a cat living among people. It’s strange.

Otherwise, if one forgives the lazy Freleng backgrounds, it’s not bad. Mel Blanc has a field day with Sylvester’s guilty ramblings. Ben Frommer’s good as the interfering narrator too.

It’s a simple story and Freleng tells it precisely. Hungry never goes on too long. It’s a tightly paced narrative with a great noir feel.

I’m a little surprised Freleng directed such a strong cartoon. Hungry is the best work of his I’ve seen.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Hawley Pratt and Friz Freleng; written by David Detiege and John W. Dunn; animated by Gerry Chiniquy, Lee Halpern, Art Leonardi, Bob Matz and Virgil Ross; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Sylvester / Tweety) and June Foray (Granny); narrated by Ben Frommer.


Martian Through Georgia (1962, Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble)

Martian Through Georgia has three directors and no ending. It also has nothing to do with Georgia.

It opens fairly well, with very expressionist mainstream cartooning showing life on Mars. A bored Martian then travels to Earth, which kicks off the majority of the run time. Even though the Martian’s only on Earth for a day or so.

There’s narration for the entire cartoon and the Martian never speaks. It’s sort of a character piece actually, just without a strong protagonist.

Still, it could be a lot worse. The opening is incredibly strong, it’s just the Martian’s adventures on Earth where Georgia lacks. There aren’t any gags–they’d be inappropriate–but the Martian’s experiences are simply boring. And the animation, while interestingly stylized, isn’t compelling enough to make them exciting.

The end is a complete disaster, as the narration doesn’t make any sense. The suggestion of celestial importance just confuses.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble; written by Carl Kohler and Jones; animated by Bob Bransford, Ken Harris, Tom Ray and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by William Lava; produced by John W. Burton and David H. DePatie; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Warden / Businessman / Old Man / Little Boy / Taunting Voice / Scared Citizens) and Ed Prentiss (Narrator / Policeman).


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