Sunday, June 3, 2012
The Autograph Hound (1939)
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.