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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 24, 1941
Stars: a.o. Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton, Jerry Colonna, Clark Gable, Groucho Marx
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hollywood Steps Out © Warner Bros.Caricatures of Hollywood stars have been featured in many animated cartoons since ‘Felix goes Hollywood’ (1923).

With cartoons like ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936). ‘The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos’ (1937) and ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) the caricatures even became the main attraction of the cartoon. This trend reached its climax in Tex Avery’s ‘Hollywood Steps Out’, as this is a spot gag cartoon on nothing but Hollywood stars. After this short Hollywood stars kept popping up in cartoons, but not in such abundance as in this short.

In ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ we watch the stars of the silver screen going out at the Ciro’s nightclub, which had opened in 1940. The gags are actually rather lame, but it’s a sheer joy to see all these caricatures of late 1930s Hollywood stars, some still famous, others forgotten. Among the more familiar names are Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller (as Tarzan), James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff (as Frankenstein), the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton and Jerry Colonna.

Also featured are Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger, the animators’ bosses. The cartoon contains some rotoscoped dance movements, including a rather sexy bubble dance, and a running gag about Clark Gable following a girl who turns out to be Groucho Marx.

The caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ were based on drawings by Ben Shankman, whose work was first used by Friz Freleng in ‘Malibu Beach Party’ (1940), and who clearly is a worthy successor of Joe Grant (e.g. ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’) and T. Hee (e.g. ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’). All Shankman’s caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ are pretty good to excellent. Moreover, most of them are well-animated, with the animation of James Stewart as a particular highlight. Like the otherwise very different ‘Old Glory‘ (1939) this short shows that by the turn of the decade the Warner Bros. animators could handle the human figure very well.

The voices, too, are very well done. In ‘The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons’ Keith Scott reveals they were all done by one Kent Rogers, who was not yet 18 when ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ was released. Rogers also voiced e.g. Willoughby, Beaky Buzzard, and ‘Henery Hawk’. Unfortunately, he died in World War II in 1944, cutting short a career that might have become as illustrious as Mae Questel’s or Mel Blanc’s. In a way ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ stands out as his greatest work.

Apart from a celebration of Hollywood stars, ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is also a testimony of the conga craze that took over the United States in the early forties: the irresistible conga beat sounds in the opening sequence and during the dance scene. Other examples of cartoons prominently featuring conga music are ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942), ‘Juke Box Jamboree‘ (1942) and ‘Springtime for Pluto‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two’

 

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 30, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Puttin on the Act © Max Fleischer‘Puttin on the Act’ reveals that Popeye and Olive had been a vaudeville duo once.

The short opens with Olive running to Popeye, full of joy, because she has read in the newspaper that vaudeville is coming back. This would be a surprise, as already during the 1920s vaudeville had gone into a steady decline, due to radio, film, and jazz.

But Olive and Popeye immediately revive their old routines in their own home. Most fun is Popeye doing impersonations, imitating Jimmy Durante, Stan Laurel and Groucho Marx (using some of Marx’s best quotes). Their routine ends with ‘The Adagio’, an acrobatic act that is very similar to the one by Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow and Goofy in ‘Orphan’s Benefit‘ (1935), proving this was a staple act in vaudeville. At the end of the cartoon, unfortunately, it’s revealed that Olive’s newspaper had been from 1898…

‘Puttin on the Act’ is nice piece of nostalgia. Most of the animators and story artists of the time had grown up in the vaudeville era, and this cartoon is a homage to a form of entertainment long lost since.

Watch ‘Puttin on the Act’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 86
To the previous Popeye film: Wimmin Hadn’t Oughta Drive
To the next Popeye film: Popeye Meets William Tell

‘Puttin on the Act’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

 

Director: Ben Hardaway
Release Date: April 30, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig, proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky's Hare Hunt © Warner Bros.‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ was Ben Hardaway’s last solo cartoon before he teamed up with story artist Cal Dalton to co-direct fourteen shorts.

The film is a clear attempt to duplicate Tex Avery’s ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937). Now Porky is hunting rabbits, and Daffy’s loony character is now transferred to a rabbit, which even jumps and whoo-hoos like Daffy does. However, the rabbit has got a unique, weird laugh, which at several occasions is clearly Woody Woodpecker-like. Although this rabbit appears three years before the woodpecker himself, this is no coincidence, as both this rabbit and Woody Woodpecker were conceived By Ben Hardaway, and voiced by Mel Blanc.

‘Porky’s Rabbit Hunt’ is an uneven and only moderately funny cartoon that contains a few typical Warner Bros. gags, like a sniffing gun and ‘hare remover’, which makes the rabbit disappear completely (in cartoons rabbits and hares are completely interchangeable).

More importantly, it is the first of three cartoons featuring rabbits that anticipate the coming of Bugs Bunny. This rabbit has little in common with the world famous hare: he’s far from sympathetic, even heckling Porky in the hospital. Moreover, he’s a clear loon, like Daffy, not the cool hero Bugs Bunny would become. However, this rabbit already does perform a fake death scene, something that would become a Bugs Bunny trademark, and he quotes Groucho Marx from ‘A Night at the Opera’ (1935), saying ‘Of course you know that this means war’, which would become a Bugs Bunny catchphrase.

Watch ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 39
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Five and Ten
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Injun Trouble

This is the first of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Prest-o Change-o

‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 12, 1942
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Case of the Missing Hare © Warner BrothersBugs Bunny is bullied by a large magician, leading to his catch phrase “Of course you realize this means war”. In the second part of the film Bugs Bunny wrecks the magician’s show, and finally the magician himself.

Bugs’s catch phrase was borrowed from Groucho Marx, an important inspiration on Bugs Bunny’s character anyhow. The line would become typical for Bugs as directed by Chuck Jones. Unlike Bob Clampett, Jones would treat the rabbit not as intrinsically mischievous, but as reacting to injustice placed on him.

The large magician in ‘Case of the Missing Hare’ is the first of many particularly large adversaries Jones gave to Bugs, all bullying the rabbit into action. Thus, the magician is the direct forerunner of e.g. the warehouse keeper in ‘Hare Conditioned‘ (1945), the crusher in ‘Rabbit Punch‘ (1948) and Giovanni Jones in ‘Long-Haired Hare‘ (1949).

‘Case of the Missing Hare’ shows that by the end of 1942 Chuck Jones’s mastery over material had become fully realized. The cartoon features his typical character designs, extravagant key poses, original camera angles and sense of design. The latter is exemplified by background artists Gene Fleury and John McGrew’s very unnatural backgrounds. In the first part we watch pink trees and yellow skies. In the second part they got even bolder, reducing the backgrounds to abstract forms in two colors, only.

In its typical and original design and cinematography ‘Case of the Missing Hare’ looks forward to Jones’ mature work of the late forties and fifties.

Watch ‘Case of the Missing Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 14
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Hare-Brained Hypnotist
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Tortoise Wins by a Hare

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