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Monday, February 23, 2015

Warner's Last In A Library?

Book Revue (1946) Is Tour Through Mid-40's Pop Culture

Apparently the end of the line for cartoons where book covers come to life and a whole of then-popular culture gets a roasting. Book Revue was among last that Bob Clampett directed for Warners. What a shame he left, and a year before Book Revue came out, release often a wide lag from actual production. Did some of topical gags outdate within that gap? Clampett and others at WB were drunk on what came over radios and off advertising pages (wasn't everyone at the time?). Pillage of Lucky Strike's pitch for its cigarette was constant in cartoons: So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw. Generations grew up knowing the phrase, but ignorant of what it once sold. As incorporated to comedy, it was a mainstay, and continued long past Book Revue. Humphrey Bogart got laughs via recitation of it when he guested on Jack Benny's 10/25/53 TV program, not coincidentally sponsored by Lucky Strike.

Book Revue also uses Daffy Duck more or less as Danny Kaye, the latter's then-popularity great enough to subvert the cartoon duck's established personality and make Daffy the mere mimic of a white-hot comedic novelty. Was Frank Sinatra as rail thin and emaciated panic-inducer among femmes getting tired? The routine had been basis for much of WB's Swooner Crooner in 1944, Sinatra in again that year with Stage Door Cartoon, and recurring as slender enough to be sucked through a straw for 1947's Slick Hare. Book Revue may be the most barbed of Sinatra impressions, Frankie's pallor sickly as he's pushed about by a male nurse. Manic animating as in Book Revue wouldn't outlast Bob Clampett at Warners, cartoons like his not dared by directors remaining on the job. All the more reason to hold Clampett's stuff dear. Book Revue used to be hotly sought by 16mm collectors, the first title they'd ask for when a WB package jumped off back of a film truck.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great write-up, as always, John! One little factoid, though: The Bogart-Benny exchange was not at all coincidental to the fact that Lucky Strike was sponsoring. It was, in fact, the "middle commercial," as Benny's interrogation of thug Bogart veers into a discussion as to how he knows the cigarette being smoked was a Lucky Strike. One of the great joys of Benny's show is the way the sales pitch is built into the story.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I remember Sinatra as a guest on the Abbott and Costello radio show -- something about Sinatra knocking and shouting for Costello to open up, and Costello answering "Just slide yourself under the door." Must have been a widespread running gag for Frank, with even himself participating. This would have been years before MAD magazine made a running gag out of Sinatra punching photographers.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

This has always been one of my favorite Warners cartoons. Daffy's Danny Kaye routine is incredibly funny. Yet all those topical references must go straight over the head of most viewers today, who must consider them even more bizarre than they was even then,

1:20 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Bugs Bunny would do a Danny Kaye-inspired dance in Bob McKimson's "Hot Cross Bunny."

Yes, Sinatra himself would poke fun at his slenderness often on radio... I think he did the "sucking himself in a straw" gag while playing Shaky in the all-star "Dick Tracy in B Flat."

5:24 PM  
Blogger Jim Harwood said...

I had one of those sought after lowfade 16mm original prints of BOOK REVUE. Finally found one after years of searching. Then the Blu-ray comes out and blows the 16 out of the water quality-wise. It's amazing how great this short looks projected from the disc.

8:44 PM  
Blogger David Simmons said...

How 'bout Tex Avery's "Little 'Tinker"? Plenty of skinny Sinatra gags in that one, including "Frankie" being measured by an undertaker and being hooked up to an iron lung!

10:04 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I once thought cartoon characters were not prey to the vicissitudes of age. Then I saw the robust animation in these 1940s Warner Cartoons as compared to the 1950s and 1960s stuff. What happened was that the budgets were cut and then cut again so that it became more difficult to animate the films as Bob has animated BOOK REVUE. All that said, Bob Clampett brought an enthusiasm to animating his films not found in the work of anyone anywhere else in the world. For that reason I brought him to Toronto in 1979 with his wonderful wife, Sody, for a three day celebration of him and his work unlike anything done anywhere before or since. Bob was treated exactly as Dali, Picasso or Warhol would have been treated. Luckily for me every word Bob spoke was audio recorded. I had seen film makers (and artists) asked over and over again the questions they were asked 1,000 times. I felt if I introduced my audience to as much of Bob's work as I could, introduced him to them and then got the Hell out of the way I would get richer results. How many times have you sat in an audience wishing you could do the job the host was doing? The gamble paid off in spades particularly the closed door nuts and bolts session where young animators were left alone in a closed room with Bob to ask the questions THEY wanted to ask. On top of that, thanks to an ad I placed in David Mruz's MINDrot/ANIMANIA people flew in from all over the world for the event. Bob was a wonderful man quick to help where he coould. I have never met anyone more generous. Through him I met and brought to Toronto Bernard B. Brown, Friz Freleng and Grim Natwick (twice). Through Grim I met and became friends with Shamus Culhane who gave me a whole week of his life as we covered his career in animation from The Bray Studio right up to that moment. Bob also introduced me to Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. For years I had to make do with a black and white dupe of BOOK REVUE. Finally getting it on dvd and now on Blu-ray in color is something those who take these films for granted can never appreciate as can we who stumbled through poor prints looking for good ones. It took me five years to transcribe that nuts and bolts talk Bob gave. They were five profitable years as those young animators asked questions no one else has ever asked. Here's to the day Warner mans up and gives us high quality Blu-rays of COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS and the brilliant TIN PAN ALLEY CATS (which does in 6 1/2 minutes what YELLOW SUBMARINE does in 90). Great post John. Thanks.

8:10 AM  

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