Virgil Ross

Uncle Tom’s Bungalow (1937, Tex Avery)

Uncle Tom's Bungalow manages to be both appallingly racist and a little progressive. Director Avery turning the slave trader into the devil, poking a little fun at the angelic white girl, general mocking of Southern cultural all around….

But Bungalow just isn't a good cartoon. Ben Harrison's script–with Tedd Pierce obnoxiously narrating–doesn't even include a bungalow. It's just for the title. The first two or three minutes is setting up the characters and setting up the characters is the cartoon being both racist (with the black characters) and condescending (of the Southerners). The wrap-up even has the cartoon taking inexplicable pot shots at social security, which make it more significant historically than anything else about it.

The gags are trite and predictable. The slave trader turning into a snake and getting electrocuted felt way too familiar.

I kept expecting it to be worse, but it could never be any better.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tex Avery; written by Ben Harrison; animated by Virgil Ross and Sidney Sutherland; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Leon Schlesinger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tex Avery (Uncle Tom), Mel Blanc (Hound), Billy Bletcher (Simon Simon Legree), Bernice Hansen (Little Eva) and Lillian Randolph (Topsy / Eliza); narrated by Tedd Pierce.


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).


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.


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).


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).


Chili Weather (1963, Friz Freleng)

I’m missing why Speedy Gonzales is the good guy in Chili Weather. He’s trying to steal food (the theory being the factory has food so it should give food to his friends) and he tortures the guard cat.

If one got really creative, he or she could interpret Weather as commentary on the Mexican government starving its citizens while producing cheap goods for the United States. I’d love to read that interpretation, actually.

Speedy’s a bunch of stereotypes and whatnot, but he’s also an annoying jerk. Sylvester, as the guard cat, isn’t even a bad guy in Weather. He’s literally just doing his job.

It doesn’t help the animation is boring and Freleng’s one okay gag–Sylvester hopping on an ice block and melting it after soaking in Tabasco sauce–isn’t even original.

The plot doesn’t arc either, making Weather an abbreviated chase cartoon.

It’s fairly awful, except Blanc’s Sylvester.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Friz Freleng; written by John W. Dunn; animated by Gerry Chiniquy, Lee Halpern, Art Leonardi, Bob Matz and Virgil Ross; edited by Lee Gunther; music by William Lava; produced by David H. DePatie; released by Warner Bros.

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


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