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Monday, September 12, 2022

Do Cartoons Last the Longest?


Tashlin/Foster Explore Daffy's Life in Full

Frank Tashlin is thought to be underappreciated by much of a cartoon community, that is fans that came up after Tashlin and peers were gone. How studied are animators and directors of drawings? Immensely so, and by many who know or care less about movies otherwise. If You Tube is any barometer, then I’d say there has been no more ardent pursuit than that for classic cartoons. What emerges is a dedicated generation one or more down from my own, fans born in the eighties-nineties, who are all in for animation to degree none older approached then or now. This says lots about enduring appeal of cartoons, and not just ones from Warner, but what Fleischer, Iwerks, the lot, once did. Last week at Cinecon they ran Flip the Frog and rocked the house. Are cartoons in a final analysis the category of film that wears best? It is understood that we cleave closest to that which we discovered earliest, so yes, there is explanation, but also let’s agree that cartoons are a format that may well date a least of all that is old. For lush animation and gags that still work, they barely seem of such distant past. I’m informed that HBO Plus runs all of lately restored WB cartoons, HD harvest since Blu-Rays of backlog were offered. Do satellite subscribers regard these as essential to their money’s worth?

I touch upon Tashlin for stumble-over one of his best that did not even have his name on it (Nasty Quacks). This director for a long time wanted out of cartoons and into features, got the wish for gag-alacrity and notice by comedians always alert for a distinctive voice. Jack Carson, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, each came to value Frank Tashlin for fresh paints he applied. Question with live action however, is how well will it hold up? These need an audience, some will alibi, when an Artists and Models just lays there for you alone or even two more sitting in the room. We had that happen once with an IB Technicolor 35mm print, so you couldn’t blame chill on presentation. Point to ponder is maybe Tashlin cartoons stand best a test of time, his features up against walls all live action comedy must face. I know Son of Paleface roused laughs in 1952 … would it provoke half as many now? Can potion contained in cartoons please the solitary as well as the crowd? Tashlin delighted in talk of animation when fans grown up (from TV watching) sought him out and impressed the late-in-life veteran with knowledge of every short he directed way back. Tashlin cartoons are good as anybody’s from Warner, less known for his being in-out over period from early thirties to mid-forties, oft-fired for attitude. He worked a while for Van Beuren’s shop, fell out with the boss, was let go, began a comic strip called “Van Boring,” which amounted to face-manner caricature of Amadee Van Beuren, presumably too obtuse to note the smear and hire counsel to even up.

Herewith animation as baptizer of fire: Leon Schlesinger learned new hire Tashlin had his strip on the side and demanded a rake-off, to which Frank hotly said no and got sacked as result. Then as now, predator and prey. Cartoonists bounced about local employ, sometimes NY, none out of work long as so few others had skill set needed to see a cartoon through. You begin with blank sheets of paper and are expected to deliver seven minutes of comedy from mere that, plus ink, paints, capacity with gags and in-between assist. Be good at said bench and they'd forgive a blown off or cussed out supervisor(s) the week before. Tashlin drew checks for talent enough never to have to bow down. A lot of cartooning crew got fun from the uncertainties, but remember these people had to eat off plates set by bosses like Schlesinger, his milk of charity curdled by hard knocks and whatever the Crash did. And consider undoubted (double) deal Warners handed Schlesinger in 1946 when they bought out his unit. I bet he got ten cents on each dollar those interests were worth. Guys like Tashlin received no more than salary when ink was initially applied, which must have gulled when their work played tubes on endless loop. Did any animator other than Chuck Jones get into ancillary money from old cartoons, at least chunk he took for cels drawn in old age for collectors that sold in galleries and then-thriving WB stores? Jones got enriched for living long enough, and having initiative enough, to cash in. I figure him for the Great Success Story among Warner animators.

Back to Warners when they picked up pace, and quality, with Porky Pigs and (at last) shorts with three shades of color, Tashlin mingled with talents he could respect, Tex Avery his idea of greatness in the field … but did Tashlin underestimate his own abilities, which from a start were considerable? Being bouncy ball between employers robbed him of strong ID with a single shop, the second whirl at Warners brief as before. Tashlin was known restless, cartoons OK except if features beckoned, his reels tricked out with swish pans, montage, shadow-on-walls. He'd be noticed if heed were paid to cartoons, except generally it was not. Tashlin wrote feature scripts that stalled, did time with Disney and gave them grist for full-length Mickey and the Beanstalk, made as half-an-omnibus long after he left, WD forgetting Tashlin's contribution to it. There was sojourn at Columbia, maker of punk cartoons, a few he did shining brighter, but who looked for diamonds amidst roughage that was Columbia animation? Back to WB, and a run of outstanding work where Tashlin was near a best man on staff, this still not fulfillment of career goals. I put him among mighty quartet of Warner directors including Clampett, Avery, and Jones. At Tashlin summit for me stands Nasty Quacks, more than a mere Daffy, it is rather a life of Daffy as untold previous and never again, one duck’s confession of libertine lifestyle we barely suspected before or after 1944. No one did so eloquently by Daffy as Tashlin and writer Warren Foster would here.

The concept was deceptively simple. Father brings home a baby duckling for daughter. She raises the pet onsite and nothing suggests Daffy having a life outside confine of a domestic sphere except for how he tells it, and how he tells it, disrupting meals with non-stop “What an evening!” recount of riotous goings-on with him at the center, “I never thought I’d see home again!” What makes this all great is Daffy as reliable witness to revelry … we believe all he tells and want more. He cites a friend “who got thirty days for kicking a cop,” parties where “the furniture was going in the door and out the window … chairs flyin’ around like rockets.” This is Daffy a most intensely verbal, backstory told in staccato rhythm, “one for the books” as the duck says. Was the Daffy of Nasty Quacks imagining a life he’d enjoy given release from suburbia? He may have spoken for millions caught in a middle-class trap, having broken out to wet his beak upon high life they could only dream of, back to enjoy comfort of a bed and fire, the family table liberally stocked (Daffy duels with Father over a pat of butter). So home is merely a place to sleep off party excess? Lots would like it that way, and here is a duck to prove it can and will work. Warren Foster was the credited writer on Nasty Quacks. His resume was virtually all cartoons, pre-Quacks from 1936 and afterward to TV’s Pixie/Dixie, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear (1964), much more. If Foster composed Daffy’s manifesto for Nasty Quacks, then there is a 1944-45 Academy Award he was robbed of. Not to be ignored is Mel Blanc voice genius we take for granted but should not. I led with paragraphs about Frank Tashlin, but how much of him went into Nasty Quacks … did someone else complete it? … Clampett … himself headed for the door? Tashlin got no director credit, gone again by time the cartoon was released, so off went his name, not cricket to be sure and I wonder if Tashlin or his Guild had something to say about that. Maybe seven minutes mattered little enough that all could dust off and go about business. I’d have put up a scrap for my name on a cartoon good as Nasty Quacks.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff also has good things to say about NASTY QUACKS:

Dear John:

Wonderful piece on an enduring Merrie Melodies short. No one but Tashlin could have created the image and character of that desperately long-suffering, doting single father. You feel for this guy, confounded by force-of-nature Daffy. We saw this theatrically many years ago at New York's old Regency; it brought down the house.

The little girl's line "You can have the little bed which my OLD duck used to use," reverberates in time.

-- Griff

9:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The Winter 1975 issue of FILM COMMENT magazine was devoted to the Hollywood Cartoon. It changed my perception of cartoons dramatically. I love listening to audiences laugh.

12:59 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

We must include a mention of Friz Freleng, king of old school slapstick and father of Yosemite Sam. His post-Termite Terrace career centered on DePatie-Freleng, which created the Pink Panther and had a slew of Saturday morning cartoons. Granted, a lot of the product was of a lower grade (especially subcontracted Looney Tune projects for Warner), but he did all right and lasted long enough to share some late-life glory.

Back to Tashlin: "The Girl Can't Help It" recently got a Criterion release with fancy bonus features. Tashlin's mocking of the music industry still plays (although the long list of name acts certainly helps). "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter" also holds up, the basics of celebrity culture and advertising still readily grasped. Likewise "Son of Paleface", relying more on evergreen western cliches and slapstick rather than timely wisecracks.

One Tashlin misfire: "The Alphabet Murders", in which Tony Randall was meant to do for Hercule Poirot what Margaret Ratherford did for Miss Marple (to Agatha Christie's distress). The film can never decide whether Poirot is a genius or a Clouseau, nor can it choose between broad gags and viable whodunit.

Hope, Martin and/or Lewis, and even non-Wilder Jack Lemmon did a lot of comedies that were never meant to have a shelf life, no matter what talent was before or behind the camera. Few aside from Disney were fretting that a topical reference wouldn't play in two years' time, or whether audience would even remember much the next day.

6:46 PM  
Blogger said...

Frank Tashlin also wrote gags for the two final Marx Brothers films, mainly for Harpo, the two were a good match for each other.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

Wonderful piece on Tashlin -- a richly deserving subject. "Porky Pig's Feat" (1943) is also worthy of consideration as Tashlin's best at Warners, with camera moves and acting seen in no other short from that era or any other. Of course, it's in black and white and misses the boost that color gives other greats like "Nasty Quacks." Also, the title "Porky Pig's Feat" is a real misnomer since Daffy shines brilliantly, and the title has virtually no connection to the "pay the hotel bill" plot.

2:49 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

NASTY QUACKS is an absolutely wonderful cartoon and it always brings me a big smile when I rememeber watching it with a friend that, until that moment, never considered it. When we were watching it, during the first laughable situation in the short, with the father having a very annoyed expression in his face during the initial moments of the breakfast, my friend began to laugh wildy loudly and that continued up until the very end of the cartoon. As film viewer, I prefer Tashlin's work on cartoons rather than on features. The features feel dated because they reflect situations that have changed a lot after so many years while the cartoons somehow manage to overcome these feelings. Still his features are funny with hilarious parodies of situations from other contemporary or earlier films.

6:04 PM  

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