Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Autograph Hound (1939)

It's been a while since I've done a mosiac.  When Hans Perk posted the animator draft for this cartoon, I knew I wanted to break it down visually.

Donald Duck has never been a favorite animated character of mine.  Where there are certain of his cartoons I admire (such as Duck Pimples), the admiration is based on things other than the character.  I know that many cartoon fans are not impressed with the Duck cartoons directed by Jack Hannah, but I actually like those the best overall, as I like Hannah's posing and timing as well as the work of animators like Al Coe.

This cartoon is attractive to me because of the caricatures of Hollywood stars of the 1930s.  Caricature is difficult to do well with still illustrations.  When you start to move caricatures, the task of holding the likeness becomes even more difficult.  The success of the caricatures varies widely in this film.

Paul Allen's Mickey Rooney is weak.  Looking at the animation single frame in order to pick stills, it's clear that Allen was intimidated by holding the likeness.  He doesn't vary Rooney's expressions much and there are some genuinely ugly drawings in there.  The film's conception of Rooney doesn't capture his range or personality well either.

Dun Roman's Henry Armetta, the short waiter, is good, though Armetta was a limited performer even in live action.  The walk is done well and that and the Italian accent probably sum up Armetta.

Bob Stokes did a very nice job on Sonja Henie.  He had to be able to hold likeness through the various angles required by her ice skating.  It's a very pleasing piece of animation both from a motion and caricature standpoint.

Ward Kimball's Ritz Brothers are a highlight of the cartoon.  The Ritz Brothers are not well remembered today and the work of theirs I've seen seems build on being frantic more than being funny.  I would compare them to Jim Carrey during the manic phase of his career.  Kimball really pushes the poses and the timing.  As the caricatures are pretty broad, he doesn't have to worry too much about holding the likenesses.

What's below is Kimball's animation slowed down to approximately 5 frames per second, instead of the standard 24 frames per second.  See how freely Kimball changes the characters' shapes.  Pay attention to the spacing between drawings.  Some of it is very broad, followed by tighter spacing to cushion in to poses. 

I think the most successful caricature, though is Shirley Temple.  I was surprised to see that the good shots weren't the work of a single animator.  Dun Roman has her introductory shot with some very nice dance animation.  He draws her with a larger head than Ray Patin, who does an extended scene with Shirley and Donald.  In terms of capturing a likeness and a personality, Patin's scenes are great.  They are also lengthy, a real challenge for sustaining any performance.  Claude Smith and Johnny Cannon have lesser scenes with Shirley, but don't ruin the illusion.  Her final scene, however, animated by Judge Whitaker, is a real failure.  It's poorly drawn and doesn't match the earlier Shirley scenes in quality.

The final montage is interesting for being so chaotic.  Montages were common in 1930s live action films and there were film makers like Slavko Vorkapitch who specialized in them and often got screen credit for them.  The montage here uses footage from Society Dog Show in spots and the layouts between background characters and the caricatures in the foreground don't match at all in size or perspective.

For the record, as many of these performers are forgotten, here's a list of who appears in the montage:
Sc 66.7 - Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.  Garbo retired in 1941 after a career in silent films and talkies playing many doomed romantic characters.  Gable was Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.
Sc 66.8 - Charlie McCarthy, the dummy operated by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen
Sc 67.4 - Stepin Fetchit, the stage name of Lincoln Perry.  Perry is a controversial figure today, with some accusing him of reinforcing racial stereotypes and others celebrating him for subverting the racial status quo of the time.
Sc 67.3 - Roland Young, who starred as Topper and can be seen in films such as Ruggles of Red Gap
Sc 67.8 - Joe E. Brown, a starring comedian of the early '30s but probably best known these days for his role in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot.
Sc 67.6 - Martha Raye, a musical comedy performer who is in Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux.
Sc 67.7 - Hugh Herbert, a supporting comedian in many '30s films at Warner Bros.
Sc 79 - Irvin S. Cobb is smoking the cigar.  An author who wrote the Judge Priest stories adapted by John Ford and who appeared in Ford's Steamboat Round the Bend.  Edward Arnold was a villain in many films,  including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe, both directed by Frank Capra.
Sc 67.5 - Left to right: Eddie Cantor, a singer and comedian whose films are infrequently shown due to his use of blackface; Katherine Hepburn, whose career spanned 50 years of movies; and Slim Summerville, a former Keystone Kop who continued to do supporting comedy roles.
Sc 67.9 - Lionel Barrymore, dramatic actor, brother of John Barrymore and great great uncle of Drew Barrymore.
Sc 68 - Bette Davis, probably best remembered for Jezebel; The Little Foxes; The Letter; Now, Voyager and All About Eve.
Sc 68.1 - Groucho Marx, star of Vaudeville, Broadway, Movies, Radio and Television.  Member of the Marx Brothers.
Sc 68.2 - Harpo Marx, pantomime comedian, brother of Groucho and the star of the same media except for radio.
Sc 71 - Micha Auer - character comedian in films like My Man Godfrey and You Can't Take it With You.
Sc 74 - Joan Crawford, star at MGM and Warner Bros. for decades in films such as Mildred Pierce.
Sc 75 - Charles Boyer, French romantic actor.


Steven Hartley said...

Stephin Fetchit appears to be caricatured a lot in Golden Age cartoons like at Warner Bros. I admit I don't understand his appeal. Gable has also been caricatured as well as Garbo. Interesting how Clark Gable cast as Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind" as he looks just like him in the book character's appearance by Margaret Mitchell. But that's a different story...

Emery Hawkins' animation at the end hasn't got his distinctive style that you'll find later on in the 1940s but I suppose he was just a junior animator at the time. Ken Muse is also there who did solid, on-model animation on "Tom and Jerry" - he might have been an assistant on there given some animation but I'm not sure.

Bob Stokes' animation of the skater is very solid in my opinion and my personal favourite of the short. Of course; who couldn't forget Ward Kimball; who animates good, loose movement.

Jack King in my opinion, was probably the best Donald Duck director the studio had; and I'm not too mad on Donald either; but he's WAY better than Mickey (who I find rather bland - in my humble opinion).

Steven Hartley said...

I forgot to say...Good mosaic, Mark. It certainly has been a while; I believe "Dumbo" was your last mosaic - which was about two years ago...

Thad said...

I didn't realize Emery Hawkins was at Disney's early enough to work on this cartoon, but yeah, that's his style of posing and timing in those last scenes for sure.

I loved your assessment of the success rate of the caricatures. The Mickey Rooney bit is indeed poor and the Shirley Temple scenes are very well-done. I might have to voice some dissent, though, as the Kimball scenes are a weak point for me. It's generic wackiness, but then again, he's caricaturing generic wacky personalities.

The animated Donald I find most compelling is very early on. I'm talking about Dick Lundy's scenes in ORPHAN'S BENEFIT or Dick Huemer's in THE BAND CONCERT. It was a very unique design and new kind of personality for its time done artfully. Like Mickey, Donald got blander as they refined his design, and the studio's stock company of characters became as generic as anything at Terrytoons with the heavyweights moving to the features.

David said...

"Ward Kimball's Ritz Brothers are a highlight of the cartoon ... Kimball really pushes the poses and the timing. As the caricatures are pretty broad, he doesn't have to worry too much about holding the likenesses."

Despite the 'generic wackiness' (via the Ritz Brothers) the example that Mark posted of Kimball's animation is a good reminder of the freedom of movement and change of shape that is possible with pure hand-drawn animation .

I guess because most of modern mainstream television/theatrical animation has become so devoid of entertaiment value (in the actual movement of the characters) that even this minor example of generic wackiness for wackiness sake looks good to me.

Thanks for posting the slow-mo version, Mark. It was fun to watch it .

Amid said...

In Allen's defense, the Mickey Rooney design he was working from is one of the clunkiest and most poorly constructed Disney models of all time. I don't know what Joe Grant was thinking when he approved that one. I'll send you a copy right now.

Anonymous said...

Good mosaic.
Damn...I worked on it while you posted it. But it's nothing, it's too late to grumble...

Ricardo Cantoral said...

I think the very early Donald and the 1950's Donald was the best incarnations of the character. Donald worked when he was a trouble maker or a regular joe and not just a generic duck that would loose his temper.

Anonymous said...

As of 2014, Mickey Rooney is the very last surviving entertainer caricatured in the Autograph Hound.