Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Milt Gray On Clampett's Black and White Cartoons


In case someone wonders what I am referring to as Clampett’s “successes” in his black-and-white cartoons, I thought I might identify some of them here.

I was thinking primarily of the use of expressive animation (movement) to express a spirit of cartoon zaniness, and zany characters. Nothing like Clampett’s version of that had ever existed in any prior Warner cartoons (except in Clampett’s own animation of Daffy Duck in Avery’s “Porky’s Duck Hunt” 1937). To audiences today, being so familiar with the zany animation in so many different directors’ cartoons of the 1940s, it is easy to overlook how unusual it was in the late 1930s in Clampett’s low budget black-and-white cartoons.

Clampett Revived Early Film Creative Spirit As Animation was Drifting Towards “realism”

Back in the silent era it was routine for outlandish, impossible things to happen, even though those things usually had a dull, heavy-handed feel to them. In the early sound era, it was mainly the Fleischer studio that gave more of a spirited feel to “impossible” gags, although those generally had more of a nightmarish feeling to them. By the mid-1930s, the studios were generally following Disney’s influence in being much more realistic and literal.

From about the mid-1930s on, it was almost only at Disney’s that an effort was made to make the animation (movement) itself expressive, such as the actions of the drunk mouse in “The Country Cousin” (1936), and Goofy’s walks.

Clampett Revived Early Film Creative Spirit As Animation was Drifting Towards “realism”

The 1930s Fleischer studio did develop some eccentric walks for their Popeye cartoons,


and at Warners, Frank Tashlin invented a kind of rolling waddle-strut for his rotund version of Porky Pig, as when Porky struts confidently to Petunia’s house, or the cocky strut of the look-alike pig bank robber in “Porky’s Double Trouble” (1937). But for the most part, at the non-Disney studios in the mid-to-late-1930s, animation had become simply literal walks and runs, with no more expression of personality in the movement than that of amateur actors in a school play. (There are of course many instances of characters running around super fast in the Warner cartoons of the 1930s, but I don’t regard that as zany so much as just greatly speeded up.)

Clampett Brought Zany Movement And Expressive Animation To Warner’s

At Warners in the late 1930s, it is mainly in Clampett’s cartoons that expressive animation and zany characters appear -- and only occasionally, since Clampett was burdened with the tiniest budgets and the most beginner animators. Porky and DaffyIn fact, I would have to say that it is all the more remarkable that these things happened in Clampett’s cartoons at all, given the limitations of Clampett’s crew.



Inside Out Garage

So, specifically, what am I referring to? Here’s some examples: In almost the opening scene of Clampett’s first cartoon, “Porky’s Badtime Story” (1937), even though Clampett did not write that cartoon himself, he depicted Porky’s garage being ripped inside-out in a snappy, very rubbery action when Porky’s car roars out.

Compare that to the same gag in Tashlin’s “Porky’s Railroad”, made and released at the same time.

In Railroad, during a train race, the fast train goes through a tunnel, which looks like a tunnel commonly seen on toy train tracks, thereby closely resembling a stand-alone building like Porky’s garage, and that tunnel is pulled inside-out by the great speed of the train -- but in the most literal, unimaginative way.

This is typical of the differences I’m trying to point out between Clampett’s occasionally inspired moments and the conspicuous lack of such moments in practically all of the other 1930s Warner cartoons.

Goofy Clampett Dogs

In Clampett’s second cartoon, “Get Rich Quick Porky” (1937), is a very goofy-acting dog who typifies the kind of characters that Clampett later excelled in. Bits and pieces of this kind of thing continue to appear here and there in Clampett’s next few cartoons.

Injun Trouble

Moving down to Clampett’s eighth cartoon, “Injun Trouble” (1938), there is a very striking example -- a totally zany hillbilly kind of character who acts and moves almost identically to Scribner’s expert animation of the same character in the 1945 remake, “Wagon Heels”.

Porky’s Party

Clampett’s ninth cartoon, “Porky’s Party” (1938), has remarkable extended animation of a silly drunk dog (probably animated by Chuck Jones), and even zanier animation (probably not by Chuck) of a character called Loosey Goosey (especially in his introductory scene, coming in the front door).

Turning Point: Wackyland

The next two cartoons, “Porky and Daffy” and

“Porky in Wackyland” (1938), are to me amazing (for their time) in the intensity of their comic business. The next cartoon, “Porky’s Naughty Nephew” (1938), has very excellent character personality acting -- not particularly by 1940s standards, but compared to almost anything else at Warners in 1938.

This walk that Porky's nephew does is hilarious and highly skilled. It's a caricature of sickly sweet Disney cuteness and makes the story even funnier. Clampett, more than any other director tailored the animation in his cartoons, to not merely be professional and smooth but to emphasize the story points and make each bit as entertaining as can be. - JK

Porky In Egypt

Now we come to some real breakout cartoons. “Porky in Egypt” (1938) is hilarious, in gags and execution, with the hysterical camel going completely crazy in the desert heat.
This scene is particularly funny, not because it's "zany" but because it is so realistic in such a crazy cartoon. You would never expect this kind of thing in a cartoon, which makes Clampett such a unique character - jk

Porky’s Tire Trouble

And just a couple titles later, “Porky’s Tire Trouble” (1939), is another masterpiece (for its day), with the crazy antics of a dog gone all rubbery (having swallowed too much “rubberizing solution” in a tire factory).

And this just brings us up to early 1939; other highlights beyond include “Africa Squeaks” (1940), “A Coy Decoy” (1941), “We the Animals Squeak” (1941) and “The Henpecked Duck” (1941).
Cartoons are Up and Down

Admittedly there are some misfires here and there in between the winners. I am not enthusiastic about all of Clampett’s black-and-white cartoons -- too often the animation is quite poor -- but as I’ve already stated, he had only the beginner animators -- and too often the business and gags are very pedestrian -- but as Clampett himself admitted, “How could I do much else, when I didn’t have animators that were capable of better acting?” But once Clampett was given a color unit with better animators, no excuses were necessary -- his cartoons set an all-time high average.


John’s Response

Hi Milt

I don't disagree with all the points you made about the black and white cartoons in your article, but I think it leaves out many of the less obvious skills and innovations he had.

Your article, if I remember right, focused on how zany the animation is, and I don't think anyone needs to be convinced of that. "Zany" is all any of the critics will give Clampett.

What I think is less understood by animation fans and writers is how important his contributions to the characters, stories, acting and what is very hard to define or explain - the sheer character magnetism and screen presence his characters instantly have.

In no one else's cartoons at that time (excluding maybe the Fleischer Popeyes) does anyone have characters that seem motivated from within. While Tashlin and Avery contributed their own innovations to the Warner's style, it seemed completely up to Clampett to make the characters seem alive, motivated and charismatic.

Porky, in both Avery and Tashlin's cartoons is just this animated thing that shit happens to. You don't care about him at all. He's merely the focus of the story. In Clampett's cartoons the characters cause the story and what happens always seems spontaneous and immediate - and as a result, unpredictable. It is happening now, unplanned by a tyrannical director who merely needs characters to plug into his plot and gag structure. Clampett's unique talent is to make it appear that you are watching something in real time; animation that is shot live.

He was also handicapped in this by having been forced to star Porky in every single cartoon. He did the best Porky, but Porky is basically a straight man, so Clampett had to create tons of other characters who could carry more comedy. There are some cartoons that star Porky only in name, because he got tired of ONLY directing Porky cartoons and wanted to try something different. But my point is, that only in his cartoons at the time did any of the characters seem like they were causing the action, rather than the writer and director causing the action and just plopping any old characters into the storyline.

It would take some more careful study of the cartoons to find words to describe what techniques he is using to make this happen, but I think that is something even more astonishing than how zany his cartoons are. Everyone assumes being zany is easy and irresponsible. I don't know why they think that. I think your article does a lot to show that being successfully zany is an amazing skill in itself, and we need that.

One point you made I do disagree with. You said much of the animation is primitive. Maybe you are talking more about the drawings, not the motion. To me the motion in his early cartoons is amazing and full of innovation and impulsive inventions. It's non-stop innovation.

Many animators were looking for rules and formulas at the time, and Clampett had the sheer creative talent and fortitude to ignore all that and just make a ton of stuff up like a custom tailor. No pre-set pattern. he would invent an action out of nowhere that just totally suited the needs of the gag, characterization or scene.

I wish to God I had animators like that today to work with. I could provide the drawings and ideas. All I want is that beautiful motion and sense of comedy those guys had.

Clampett also did some of the first real "stories" - the kind Mike Barrier and his ilk love to praise. The ones with a clear clean beginning, middle and end. "Rover's Rival" is one of those. It's a crazy cartoon, has all the earmarks of a Clampett cartoon, zaniness, great personality, beautiful animation and it has a totally crisp tight story with a morally satisfactory conclusion. It should be at the top of Barrier's and Solomon's perfect cartoon list.

I could go on forever about Bob! But when I make these kinds of statements, I feel more comfortable when I have the evidence in scene clips and stills to back them up, because so many people are prejudiced against Clampett and only want to give him "zany" as his one natural talent.



PCUnfunny said...

What amazes me most about Clampett's early cartoons is how he made such conventional stories so much fun. "Porky's Badtime Story" has a boring standard "I need to get sleep" story but it turns out to be such a riot. Any other director would had stuck with real-life distractions from getting to sleep and would go no further. Instead, we have gags like the moon actually shifting positions to piss off Porky and a leaky ceiling turing to Niagra Falls. Also it's amazing we see some specific acting this early in Clampett's career. Porky and Gabby's boss starts out very sarcastically about how they should have stayed home from work then builds into a rage. This scene was breif but it was also revolutionary for cartoons.

Thornhill said...

There's some great stuff in this period (1937-39), sure, but Milt's giving Clampett too much credit for stuff he just didn't pioneer. Nearly everything he cites as an innovation is predated in some form or another in a Fleischer cartoon, which aren't given enough credit for influencing Clampett's style (even the character designs look like something from a Fleischer cartoon).

Saying that the animators were weak or untrained is no excuse for the overall mediocrity in Clampett's 1940-41 shorts (not in the actual animation). This brick wall hit is Clampett's failing and his alone. Tashlin, Avery, and Culhane rose standards with 'lesser' animators and rose the bar at their respective studios (Columbia, MGM, and Lantz). Clampett was bored with his surroundings at that point and it shows, badly (the Norm McCabe directed shorts are definitely better than what Clampett was doing with the same unit).

But he got the 'kick' he needed with the color Avery unit and helped raise the bar, making more of the best cartoons ever, so it all worked out in the end.

Mahhcus said...

Hi John,

Marcus Wesson here, the Art Director at DDB. Just wanted to show you how the Stroyent website we talked about turned out. Note the opening animation. www.stroyent.com

Hopefully we can work together one of these days!

Mitch K said...

Fantastic post! I love how Clampett can squeeze so much into so little time. A lot happens, but it happens at an understandable pace. There's a particular charm that is held by his black and white cartoons. Some of them were my favorite as a kid. When I was really little, like 3 or 4, I only had access to black and white cartoons, so that's what I watched. I still remember seeing some of those Clampett cartoons for the first time (especially Porky's Tire Trouble!) Clampett's characters were always made of rubber -- that's why their movements are so fun!

Again, fantastic post! Thanks John and Milt for sharing!

JohnK said...

This looks like a pretty damn good average to me. What brick wall?

# Porky's Pooch (1941)

# The Henpecked Duck (1941)
# We, the Animals - Squeak! (1941)
# Meet John Doughboy (1941)
# A Coy Decoy (1941)
# Farm Frolics (1941)
# The Timid Toreador (1940)
# The Sour Puss (1940)
# Prehistoric Porky (1940)
# Patient Porky (1940)
# The Chewin' Bruin (1940)
# Porky's Poor Fish (1940)
# Slap Happy Pappy (1940)
# Pilgrim Porky (1940)
# Ali-Baba Bound (1940)
# Africa Squeaks (1940)
# Porky's Last Stand (1940)

(I left out a couple of the Avery style documentaries which are not that inspired)

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

John, you've outdone yourself. A MILLION thank-you's!

I only wish there was something I could do to return the favour.

Yr. buddy,

- trevor.

Kevin Langley said...

Those screen shots from "Porky In Egypt" are hilarious. I've gotta go back and watch that one again. Any idea who animated that scene?

HemlockMan said...

My pals and I used to argue endlessly over who was the finer animator: Clampett or Avery. I always preferred Tex Avery, despite his massive use of racist humor. But of course I've never inspected either animator's work as lavishly as the folk at this board.

And, of course, I'm not sure who animated the most racist cartoon I ever tried to watch: COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS. That one is so offensive that when someone got me to watch it, it actually made me nauseous. I couldn't take it and got up and walked away.

PCUnfunny said...



A. Blackman

Bob said...

Porky is an extraordinary character. I was reading Martha Siglar's book, "Looney Tunes: Life outside the line," title could be wrong, but anyways she mentioned that when Warner Brothers was starting they were looking for a new character after Harmen and Isling left because they took their character Bosko with them to MGM. She later states that out of the blue Clampett suggested the character Porky, a fat stuttering pig, that has the innocence of a child and a cat named Beans. The studio loved the idea of porky and beans made him into a cartoon. Beans didn't make it but PORKY was the first warner brothers hit character. When I watch the old Clampett porky's I feel that he relates to the character the most out of any of the directors at WB. His porky may have an innocent appeal, but he still has an outlandish asshole charm that casually sneaks out in some scenes and to me that asshole charisma made WB stand out from the rest of the cartoons I've witnessed at that time. I love these Milt articles they really make me realize how incredible of an animator Clampett was. Before reading your site the only way I would describe a clampett cartoon was zany, but now I am researching his characters more and realizing new things. For instance I read in an interview with clampett that in Porky's Duck hunt, tex gave bob the liberty to animate a scene that involved daffy "simply" leaving the scene. Of course Bob realized that this was his opportunity to shine and he made daffy leave by having daffy jump on his head and than bounce on his butt, screaming WOO WOO until he left the scene. That's cartoon magic, nothing like that was even attempted before clampett and if you pitch that idea in words it sounds preposterous, BUT CLAMPETT DID IT VISUALLY AND IT'S AMAZING AND HILARIOUS. Anyways John I was wondering if the scene from Porky in Egypt, the one in which the schizophrenic camel has a panic attack, inspired the scene of the yak going crazy in your cartoon the royal canadian kilted yaksmen because I re-watched that cartoon after watching porky in egypt and it amazed me how similar the scene was to clampetts.

Adam T said...

And, of course, I'm not sure who animated the most racist cartoon I ever tried to watch: COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS.

Mentally healthy, non-racist, people don't see goofy characters who happen to be black as representative of every black person in America. If that's all you see when watching it you need to work out your own issues.

Guy said...

Hemlockman demonstrates the amazing effect of big lips on some people.

JohnK said...

Hi Bob

good points!

And yes, we stole the idea for the crazy yaks from Porky in Egypt, but Bob did it better.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

You tell 'em, Ricardo... uh, I mean... PC!

Funniest non-racist cartoon: COAL BLACK.

Point to one thing in that cartoon that singles out an entire race of people, and I'll point to the one thing in that cartoon that lacks imagination and fun and we'll see where we are.... nowhere.

- trevor.

PCUnfunny said...

Trvoer: Other then one attack at the Japanese, there is nothing rascist about that cartoon. Especially NOT towards black people.

As for Porky, Clampett made him funnier then any other Director. He would put Porky in an innocent atmopshere yet slipped in dirty stuff like in "Porky's Party" when he is given a silk worm that sews woman's underwear. Porky is also great reaction character like Elmer Fudd.

The Butcher said...

I said it before and I'll say it again, Clampett is God.

Tony said...

It sounds like you were born in the wrong decade John.

Sven Hoek said...

Those Clampett classics are so memorable. Just looking at a couple of screenshots and I can recall the whole cartoon. If you showed me a screenshot from any cartoon made in the last few decades (except John's stuff) and I probably couldnt tell you much about the episode (and I watch a lot of cartoons!) because the drawings are all the same these days. It's boring to watch.

These old cartoons had so many original drawings that you can easily tell which cartoon it is and other gags from that episode. I think that is why they stand the test of time and can be watched over and over.

I just watched Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen (great title and idea by the way) and I LOVE the yak going crazy scene. Just watch the climax of the rant and you see the slobber dripping from his mouth is the most amazing way.

Brian said...

# Prehistoric Porky (1940)
# Ali-Baba Bound (1940)

Two of my favorites from Clampett!

When I was a kid, I always loved watching the black and white Porky cartoons and almost none of the color ones. It makes sense that Clampett was responsible.

paul etcheverry said...

Thanks, Milt and John! The black and white cartoon is its own art form - and the Termite Terrace boys really it gave a shot in the arm. Clampett directed more black and white Looney Tunes than anyone.

And speaking of a shot in the arm, I'd be curious to hear your comments on "Porky's Hero Agency", one of Clampett's earliest directorial efforts. I personally find this "Porky Pig meets Greek mythology" cartoon striking, imaginative and memorable.

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Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Congratulations to Milt and John! So many important points were made here, including the fact that Clampett's characters, even in the black and white cartoons, scored so high on the charisma scale.

This is a hard subject to write about because no one can define charisma adequately, but you know it when you see it, and Clampett characters radiate it.

Nico said...

It also super annoys me when Clampett is credited, and basically his entire life is summed up, as the "zany director."

thanks Milt and Johnny for getting the real words for Clampett out!!

benj said...

Great post!
Thanks to both of you.
see ya,

Anonymous said...

That scene from "Porky in Egypt" seems like an inspiration for that hysterical yak in "The Canadian Kilted Yaksmen" in Ren and Stimpy, and some of the facial expressions remind me of a not-so-detailed Mr. Horse. Just my observation.
And, as always, Clampett's art for all these is great.

Jim Rockford said...


"Coal Black" IS a Clampett cartoon!
and a great one!
Clampett actually went to black jazz clubs to absorb the music scene and applied it to "coal black"

I personally dont find it even slightly offensive,it merely reflects the era in which it was made.
back then you could still honestly have fun and embelish peoples characteristics.
Humor wasnt put through a political correctness filter like today,it was much more honest and reflected life.
Today you can turn on any crappy modern sitcom or "comedy" skit show like MadTV,Family guy,etc and see blatant racial humor which is just as "offensive" if not more so than that of the past. but it isnt banned.
People need to develope a sense of humor about life instead of banning funny old cartoons just because they personally dont have a sense of humor.
I hate seeing edited versions of classic cartoons.stop trying to re-write history.
the Amos 'n Andy Tv show is an excellent example a classic show that got a bad rap.
It was a very funny show,(the first with an all black cast) it had the same writers (Conelly & Mosher)as "leave it to Beaver" and "the munsters".
yet it was banned all in the name of "political correctness" in the sixties and branded as "racist"

complete B.S.

That show didnt make black people look stupid any more than the three stooges made white guys look like morons.
Its just a show,laugh at it and have fun for Gods sake!

Stop trying to re-write history and idiot proof everything out of fear that it might offend one humorless person somewhere....if they dont like it,they dont have to watch!
simple huh?

ChrisL said...

Man, I remember loving every single one of those cartoons when Nickelodeon would rerun them. "Porky's Tire Trouble" sticks out in my mind particularly because the dog, Flat Foot Fooky, struck me as slightly unnerving. I'm not sure what disturbed me about it now, something about a dog wearing shoes, maybe.

Ah to be a confused, cartoon obsessed kid again. (I remember getting angry when they made a big to-do about not rerunning the older black and whites. Especially when they emphasized, "Sorry, Bosko." )

Fuzzy Duck said...

You make a great point, John: The Camel in "Porky in Egypt" is hilarious not because he's zany, but because his reaction is disturbingly realistic in an already established zany world. It's an amazing sequence, and everyone I know laughs while watching it.