15 May 2009

Not the Funniest Freleng: Krazy's Port Whines

Travel and intense research have me busy this week, so I haven't had much of a chance to post. But for your amusement (?) and edification, here now is Port Whines (1929), another of the earliest Columbia Krazy Kat shorts—and another that hasn't been seen with sound in decades.

See Jerry Beck's earlier post on Ratskin (1929) for the inside information on where the video element comes from (and why it looks the way it does). Thanks to Cole Johnson—and by extension, the Vitaphone Project—for supplying the audio. As before, I handled the editing, and while the two elements didn't always match, I did my best to stretch and splice and sync things up as they should be. The video element has British main titles, fascinating enough in and of themselves that I didn't want to put faux Columbia originals in their places.

Port Whines isn't the most exciting cartoon we'll ever see. Only a few moments of delightfully crude violence save us from a rather basic musicale. In fact, even as a song cartoon the film falls short; while Ratskin featured a lively mix of popular songs, the body of Port Whines is dominated by the public domain "Life on the Ocean Wave," "Sailing, Sailing," and "Pop Goes the Weasel."

Only the main title tune, "Me-Ow," is a licensed number—and even it would soon be replaced with Mintz's self-owned similar cue, "You Are the Kat's Meow" (first used in Kat's Meow, 1930).

Perhaps the most interesting moment comes at 3:45, where the rooster's smoke ring stunts look to be animated by none other than Friz Freleng. Freleng worked with Mintz's New York staff in 1929 while waiting for Harman and Ising to sell their Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid (1929) pilot; in Port Whines, Freleng's obviously West Coast, Oswald-inspired design style clashes with the other animators' work. By Farm Relief (1929), however—just two shorts later—the rest of the Krazy staff seems to be imitating Freleng, with various degrees of success. The trend would only continue when the studio moved west in early 1930, and more Los Angeles animators joined the relocated crew.

It's no mean tribute to Freleng, especially at this early stage of his career, that his brief sojourn at a foreign studio should have had such an influence. The formerly Fleischerian stock company of earlier Harrison and Gould, with its truly bizarre elephant and hippo characters, would never be quite the same.


J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

I'm rather fond of 'Port Whines' actually. I'm not sure I understand your last sentence - do you mean Freleng had influence on the 'formerly Fleischerian' crew of Harrison and Gould thus changing them to Frelingians? Yes, I just typed that. If so, who are the other animators at this time (1929)? Jes' wonderin'.

Anonymous said...

Hello, David----PORT WHINES is a classic example of a very early sound cartoon where all it was assumed to delight an audience was to present a series of sound-producing incidents. These didn't have to be particularly clever, or even coherent, just as long as something happened that produced music or a sound effect(playing bones like a xylophone, tap dancing, barbershop quartette singing, etc.) This replaced real wit or writing for a while. (At Van Bueren, this mindlessness seemed to go on into 1932.) ---Cole Johnson.

Anonymous said...

Well, the scenes of Krazy mopping up with the sausage dog and the evil captain jingling his teeth were enough to delight me!