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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 19, 1938
Rating: ★★½

In ‘A Night Watchman’ a young kitten has to replace his sick father to be the night watchman in a kitchen.

The kitten soon encounters some large tough mice led by a real gangster type, and they bully him, until the kitten’s conscience gets the better of him, and makes him fighting back. Soon he clobbers all the mice one by one, and back into their hole.

‘The Night Watchman’ was the very first cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, who took over Frank Tashlin’s unit when Tashlin left Schlesinger. In his first short Jones clearly continues the rather Disneyesque style of Frank Tashlin’s Merrie Melodies. The short even contains a clear Tashlin-like montage scene.

Despite the detectable Disney-influence, ‘The Night Watchman’ is a clear Warner Bros. product, thanks to Stallings’ peppy music, Treg Brown’s idiosyncratic sound effects, and a fast gag scene in which we watch the mice eating in ridiculous ways.

Nevertheless, in true mid-1930s fashion, the kitten is cute, not funny, and the action is hold up by a catchy jazz number on the 1905 hit song ‘In the Shade of the Apple Tree’, including a vocal trio and a big band take. This number shows the Merrie Melodies’ raison d’être: to showcase songs from the Warner Bros. publicity catalog.

Jones’s earliest output is often regarded as slow and rather boring. Indeed, it’s hard to call ‘The Night Watchman’ a classic, and nowhere Jones’s signature can be detected. Moreover, when compared to contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, the short seems to belong to another world. Yet, the cartoon is nicely animated, and in fact much more enjoyable than other Disney imitations of the time, e.g. Fleischer’s Color Classics.

Watch ‘The Night Watchman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’


Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: May 14, 1938
Rating: ★★

Now That Summer Is Gone © Warner Bros.While Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were experimenting with a cartoon style totally different from Disney, Frank Tashlin made some Merrie Melodies that were still surprisingly Silly Symphonies-like.

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is one of the most conspicuous of them all, opening with autumn images of numerous squirrels collecting nuts for the winter. The industrious ways in which the squirrels collect nuts hark all the way back to early Silly Symphonies like ‘Autumn‘ (1930), ‘The Busy Beavers‘ (1931) and ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933). In any case these opening sequences feature complex scenes and lush production values.

This setting gives way to a story about a young squirrel who’s addicted to gambling. When his father orders him to collect nuts at the ‘First Nutional Bank’ he loses it all to a mustached stranger. In the end, it turns out to be the father himself, who gives the lying little brat a big spanking.

This humorless and cloying morality tale places ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ deeply in the second half of the 1930s. Nevertheless, it’s still enjoyable to watch Tashlin’s experimental cinematography at play.

Watch ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date:
 August, 1931
Stars: Foxy
Rating: ★★★½

Lady, Play Your Mandolin © Warner Bros.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’

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