Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August, 1931
After twelve Looney Tunes, all starring Bosko, Harman and Ising started a new cartoon series for Warner Bros. with the clearly Silly Symphonies-inspired name ‘Merrie Melodies’.
Unlike the Looney Tunes, the Merrie Melodies would be one-off cartoons, each one promoting a different song from the Warner Bros. song catalog. Indeed, the Merrie Melodies should at least feature one complete chorus of a Warner Bros.-owned tune. This rule continued until the end of the 1930s, and rather hampered the series, for the obligate song sequence would often stop the action of the cartoon.
‘Lady Play Your Mandolin’ is the very first of the Merrie Melodies. It features the title song, which is sung twice during the cartoon. Without explanation, the cartoon features a Mexican cafe setting, which is visited by the hero, Foxy, who was to be Warner Bros.’ answer to Mickey Mouse.
Although not as blatant an imitation as Van Beuren’s Milton Mouse (see ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘), Foxy clearly is Mickey Mouse but with pointed ears and a fluffy tail. Indeed, when watching this cartoon my girlfriend thought it was an early forerunner of Mickey. Foxy never came near Mickey’s popularity, however, and was abandoned after a mere three cartoons.
‘Lady Play Your Mandolin’ is the character’s great testimony. The film is completely plotless, but simply bursts with joy. The short features a lot of flexible animation and everyone moves to Frank Marsales’s peppy music (played by Abe Lyman’s Brunswick Recording Orchestra), including the tables, the cacti, the trees and the cafe itself. There are plenty of gags all around, the most extraordinary one being Foxy’s drunken horse playing its own head as a trombone.
Foxy also started a long Warner Bros. tradition of Al Jolson imitations, when singing the main melody, while his girlfriend (Minnie Mouse but with pointed ears) boop-oop-a-doops. None of the cartoon makes any sense, but its sheer joy makes watching it a highly entertaining experience.
Watch ‘Lady, Play Your Mandolin’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Lady, Play Your Mandolin’ is available on the DVD ‘Little Caesar’