Saturday, February 27, 2016

An early screwball gem from Tex Avery

It's February 26th again, a day inwhich if Tex Avery had drank some kind of 'immortal live-for-ever juice' he would be celebrating his 108th birthday.  So, like I try to do every year around this time, I will once again reiterate how much of a genius Tex really was.  For this post I will do that by giving my impression of one of the first black & white Porky Pig cartoons Tex did: The Blow Out

But first I'll start with a very general definition of the screwball comedy.  Quite often the stories involve two or more impossibly ambitious characters whose individual ambitious pursuits interfere with each other.  The friction between the characters is heightened by their own rigid dedication to those pursuits and are thus blind to most anything else around them.  This causes many of them to jump to hasty conclusions based on their own quick observations and act immediately on those conclusions thus adding more chaos to the conflict.  Whether the ambitions are selfish or noble, whether the pursuits are of romance, money, glory, or even just their own safety, all screwball comedies have those same elements.

Of course, the undisputed champion of the screwball comedy is Mack Sennett:

He brought that genre almost to perfection more than 100 years ago with Charlie Chaplin coming along  bringing it to full perfection.

Tex Avery's The Blow Out is a great example of the screwball genre easily up there with anything Mack Sennet, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase, The Three Stooges or anyone else has ever done.

The cartoon starts with a newspaper headline introducing the first ambitious character.

His goal is to terrorize the city with his massive amounts of timed explosives.

It's a very lofty and vainglorious goal to say the least.

Next we are introduced to Porky Pig depicted here as a young innocent child.  His big ambition is to get an ice cream soda.

He's very excited to see that he has 5 whole pennies.  However, each ice cream soda costs 10 pennies.

At first Porky is distraught that he can't afford that thing he craves.

But when he picks up a cane for a kindly gentleman...

...he is then rewarded with a shiny new penny.

This action reinvigorates Porky's ambitiousness.  From this point on he takes every opportunity he can find to pick something up for someone in the hopes of receiving a penny in return.

So now the two characters are fully introduced with their own ambitions established.  As you can see, one ambition (Porky's) is small, noble, and innocent whist the other (the terrorist's) is grandiose, sinister, and malicious.  How this two characters will intersect in a screwball way will unfold quite soon.
But first I'd like to give a little background information about what inspired the terrorist character in this cartoon.  Since the big Communist revolution that encompassed Russia in 1917, there were bomb threats from communist anarchists all over the world.  By the 1930's, there were even threats of that nature in the USA.  So the bomb-wielding anarchist in this cartoon is not just some abstract concoction,  he was a direct spoof of a real threat to civilization.  That just shows how outrageous and daring Tex Avery and everyone at Termite Terrace was willing to be.  They even included a spoof of that threat in one of their Christmas gag reels.

The guy holding the bomb is an animator with the last name of Ignatiev I believe, here having fun making sport of his own ethnicity.  I'm not 100% sure of his identity.  If someone could help me out that would be great.

Now back to The Blow Out so you can see how their ambitions clash.  The terrorist starts to carry out his plan by planting the biggest bomb he's ever made at the steps of an important building.

Porky just happens to walk by and see this object.

Remember that Porky knows nothing about this anarchist's intentions.  All he cares about is earning enough money to get that ice cream soda.  So, to that end, Porky picks up the object and returns it to the terrorist hoping for a reward.

However, Porky is a little bit confused when the terrorist instead has more of a panicked reaction and of course no reward.

So, in true screwball tradition, Porky is relentless in his pursuit of his penny reward.  No matter where the terrorist runs to hide, Porky always shows up with the ticking bomb and politely waits for his gratuity.

They run through the street

There's Porky

He climbs a tall building

Porky's waiting for him at the top

and at the bottom

He tries to hide in a dark sewer

But Porky finds him in the darkness

He tries to trap Porky in the sewer

takes some time to address the audience through the 4th wall

Porky is willing to ride on the terrorist's coattails if necessary

The police spot him

He panics

and runs, all while Porky continues to hold on 

The cops even respect how Porky has "the nerve" to go after a villain like that

Porky even goes into the terrorist's hideout in order to achieve his goal.

This is the final straw for the terrorist as he wilfully gives himself up to the police.

But Porky is still not done.  So, he throws the bomb in the back of the paddy wagon FINALLY achieving his goal of returning the guy's property to him....

...and then politely waits for his penny.

KABOOM!!!  The villain is vanquished!

For his daring capture of this fiend, Porky receives a reward of $2000 (or 200,000 pennies).

And of course, we all know how Porky spends that money.

And that's The Blow Out, easily one of many of Tex Avery's underrated gems.

Like I've said here on this blog and in many other places, besides gags Tex Avery was also a genius at premises.  Really, gags are only as good as the premise they are in.  By themselves, gags can be nicely amusing but when placed within an ingenious premise they can easily be uplifted to many heights of hilarity.  I think that definitely happens in this case.  I love how Porky's innocent goal overpowers the terrorist's grand anarchistic goals just through sheer determination.  I can only hope to make something half as brilliant as this someday.

If you want to read more about this and other Tex Avery cartoons, I would recommend Frank Young's blog here.  He's been making posts about every cartoon Tex did at WB starting with Golddiggers of '49.  So far he's up to Land of the Midnight Fun but I'm sure there's much more posts to come.  Definitely check that out whenever you have time.

And do enjoy the full Blow Out cartoon embedded below.

Porky Pig - The Blow Out (B&W) by musicradio77

No comments:

Post a Comment