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Review: Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume Two, Disk 4

Greetings all!

I just got my copy of LTGC2 from Amazon last week, and I was like a little kid on Christmas morning as I tore away the shrinkwrap with my teeth.

So far I have only viewed Disc 4, but have done so three times now. I picked Disc 4 because I was anxious to see the restored and remastered What's Opera, Doc? plus the extra features.

I should state that I experienced some slight difficulty removing the disc from its plastic tray. I discovered that it's best to lay the entire package out on a flat, hard surface before attempting to depress the center spindle button. I know this may seem silly, but I usually wear white, 100% cotton gloves (not unlike the kind worn by inkers and painters to prevent smudging the animation cels) when handling my DVD's and CD's--simply because I'm something of a klutz. For some reason, DVD's are a little more susceptible to dust, fingerprints and scratches than regular audio CD's.

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1. Concerning the "animation" in the menu screen... I personally am not bothered by it. Yes, the music is chintzy and the animation is limited... but come on, they're just menus! Forget about them and get to the good stuff inside!

2. Like many reviewers on other animation pages, I went straight for the extra features before viewing the cartoons:

The spoken commentaries are, as in Volume 1, highly informative... although I must say that Listening to Greg Ford for any length of time leaves me feeling a bit exhausted. He has a lot of good things to say, but becomes easily distracted before finishing what he is saying. On the other hand, it is good that he had the acumen to include the "pre-cues" recorded by Milt Franklyn for Show Biz Bugs. It was interesting to hear how Franklyn's and Freling's conception of the "Tea For Two" and "Jeepers Creepers" evolved for the better.

Jerry Beck is, as always, direct and to the point. I didn't notice quite as many "pregnant pauses" in his commentaries this time around; as compared to the three commentaries he did in the recent Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection.

3. But it is the excerpts from the recording sessions that proved to be the most valuable. In What's Opera Doc the viewer is presented with no fewer then three different choices of audio: The original soundtrack of the cartoon; the vocal tracks, sans SFX; and the music tracks. With regard to the latter, it was a revelation to me to hear the the subtleties of Milt Franklyn's arrangement of the Wagnerian "bleeding chunks" that are usually obscured by the thunderclaps. The original session tapes also have an immediacy and presence that is unfortunately diminished in the final mixed soundtrack. I personally wish that they had remixed the original vocal and instrumental/SFX tapes into a new digitally remastered sound track... however, it is possible that not all of the approved takes that went into the soundtrack have survived. Indeed, parts of the alternate orchestral tracks that are featured have suffered from slight deterioration.

The original recordings were in mono, but have amazing fidelity. They certainly do justice to the augmented WB Studio Orchestra (some of whose first-desk men were members of the LA Philharmonic.)

In the session tapes with just the orchestra, notice that the coda in "Part 18" is markedly different in its orchestration: the ascending scales played by the first violins in the final soundtrack are absent here. Obviously Franklyn was dissatisfied with this take and rescored that portion of the music.

4. Another musical cartoon on Disc 4, Three Little Bops, deserves more than just a passing mention. I first saw this cartoon when I was only 5. I was, consequently, not sophisticated enough at the time to realize just what a great cartoon this is. Shorty Rogers' and Stan Freberg's stellar contributions notwithstanding, the real credit for this short should go to writer Warren Foster. Foster had worked primarily with the Robert Clampett unit in the early 40's, and then joined Robert McKimson after Clampett left the studio. Foster was responsible for another jazz-themed short during his time with Clampett: the still-censored and suppressed Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs.

His comic verse in both Coal Black and 3 Little Bops show him at his best, and the innate musicality of that verse is a perfect compliment to the instrumentals. Suspension of disbelief is called for here when watching the pigs perform, since a saxophone is always heard on the soundtrack but no one is ever seen actually playing one onscreen. It should also be noted that, although Treg Brown is credited as "film editor" (sound effects) on this short there are almost none of the usual canon of his "cartoony" sounds for which he is justly famous (he won an Oscar for his work on 1963's The Great Race.) In place of the usual SFX, are some brilliant musical "stings" and other effects. Notice how the first house of straw, when blown away by the wolf, is accompanied by the electric guitar.

Like What's Opera Doc, the extras for this cartoon are invaluable. One other reviewer complained that the music-only track lasts only 3 minutes, then reverts back to the full sound track. My guess is that those 3 minutes are all that survived of the original instrumental session tapes. Greg Ford and Producer Hal Wilner deserve a great deal of credit for unearthing many of these lost session tapes, many of which formed the basis of the last three Carl Stalling Project CD's.

One thing that I noticed about the finished soundtrack for this cartoon is that the abrupt appearance of the Wolf in the House of Bricks is accompanied merely by timpani rolls and a cymbal crash. In the 3-minute music-only track, Shorty Rogers and Co. had originally interpolated the "Dragnet" motive from the TV crime drama of the same name--which in 1956 was highly popular. As Jerry Beck points out, this is one of the few WB cartoons that do not end with the standard "That's All, Folks" end credits. I'm surprised that Freling didn't opt for a jazzy version of the opening WB shield and concentric circles. It's somewhat jarring to hear the mammoth WB studio orchestra playing "Merrily We Roll Along" and then hear the Shorty Rogers Combo juxtaposed with that.

5. The remastered version of A Corny Concerto has been worth the wait. Having seen this cartoon only in faded 16mm prints, I was astounded by the subtle gradations of colors in the "Tales From the Vienna Woods" sequence. Robert Clampett was reportedly very much impressed with Disney's Fantasia and sought to emulate some of the abstract backgrounds that he had seen.

Not only does this cartoon look good (I don't remember seeing much in the way of scratches or dust), but the remastered soundtrack sounds fuller and has much more presence than I remember--with a very wide dynamic and frequency range for its vintage. One can hear the acoustic in which the orchestra was recorded to better advantage, and the recording really shows off the talents of the musicians. One can hear just what a fine ensemble the WB Studio Orchestra really was back then.

6. One drawback to Disc 4, IMHO, is the remastered cartoon Have You Got Any Castles. The Blue Ribbon opening and end titles are still there, but WHV did restore the Alexander Wolcott opening and closing monologue. From the amount of mincing the caraciture does, it is easy to see why Wolcott requested that his part be cut from the finished cartoon. There is, unfortunately, a large emulsion scratch present, which lasts about a second at the beginning of the Wolcott speech and then appears briefly again as the camera pans over to Fu Manchu, et al. I would like to think that this blemish could have been digitally removed, or at least covered up.
7. Another slight disappointment is the remastering of The Hep Cat, which was the first Looney Tune to be produced in color. Not only is the "Blue Ribbon" title card used, but also the "Merrie Melodies" music cue. It is possible that the original titles could not be located, but I wonder why they couldn't have been reconstructed from the original artwork. Surely someone at the Bob Clampett Estate must have saved it. Still, even if the artwork could be reproduced, if the original music tracks are missing or completely deteriorated it would be a moot point.
8. The material "From the Archives" is generous in Disc 4. Not only does the disc offer the complete version of So Much For So Little (which, curiously, had a different music cue--from one of Jones' "mynah bird" cartoons--during the credits in LTGC1), but also the rarity, Orange Blossoms For Violet. Admittedly, the print quality of So Much for So Little is not quite as pristine as that from the "Toonheads" special in LTGC1--there is some noticeable grit apparent. With Orange Blossoms, it is difficult to tell since the stock footage used in this short was itself quite scratchy. I would like to know just what type of film Mack Sennet had in mind when he shot this footage, since Jones and Freling do such a masterful job of weaving the disparate elements into a credible story. June Foray intills just the right amount of sweetness into the Violet character's voice without sounding too cloying.
9. You Ought To Be In Pictures is of decent enough print quality to dispel any complaints, especially since parts of it are composed of stock footage.
10. Show Biz Bugs looks and sounds splendid. The last time I saw this theatrically was in a scratchy 16mm print.

One hopes that new prints of these restored cartoons will be struck and re-released theatrically to some independent cinemas.

11. That brings me to a discussion of Rhapsody Rabbit. This restoration just begs to be shown on a big screen in the correct aspect ratio. The backgrounds by Terry Lind have never looked more vibrant. One qualm I have , however, is that the audio commentary does not discuss the controversy surrounding this short and Cat Concerto, which was released by MGM the same year. There are many different versions of this story, but the one that seems most plausible is this one:

By some coincidence, WB and MGM were each producing their own cartoon that had their starring character(s) performing Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" at a formal piano recital. Footage of Bugs Bunny at the keyboard was mistakenly delivered to MGM by the Technicolor Corporation. When Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera relized that their competitor was producing a cartoon with a storyline almost identical to theirs, they rushed The Cat Concerto into completion. At the Academy Awards ceremony for 1946, all nominees were screened alphabetically by title. Thus the Hanna-Barbera production was screened first, to tumultuous laughter then applause. two other nominees were screened, and then Rhapsody Rabbit went next. When Bugs Bunny appeared in white tie and tails, sat down at the piano and began playing the Liszt, there was a lot of laughter (and apparently some heckling.) Many people reportedly thought the whole thing was a joke, and Friz Freling is said to have vehemently denied ever plagerizing the MGM cartoon. Some accounts of the story accuse someone from MGM sneaking into the Warner Bros. Studio and stealing their idea. Viewers should refer to the T & J Spotlight Collection's Interview with Joseph Barbera for his version of the story.

12. Katnip Kollege Of all the WB cartoons released in 1938, this one has the most straightforward musical scores ever composed by Carl Stalling. It is impressive, nevertheless. There are certainly none of the mysterioso viola "slides" that permeate such other cartoons as Bob Clampett's The Daffy Doc. The titles here are also of the "Blue Ribbon" variety. The print quality is decent but not outstanding.
13. Book Revue Now this made me sit up and take notice. Those of us not yet old enough to have seen the original release of this short can now see the restored original titles. One thing I should mention about the opening shot of the bookstore in this short... I believe that it is not a background painting, per se, but rather a black and white photograph that has been retouched with oils. It is just too realistic-looking.

I had a lot of fun freeze-framing this cartoon. Look carefully at the book, entitled " Notable Quotations". It is slightly obscured, no doubt to escape the ever-vigilant censors, but one quote clearly says "Go to hell"! This particular volume can be spotted to the immediate right as Daffy Duck walks off the Looney Tunes cover towards the "Saratoga Trunk"

14. The extra features that accompany One Froggy Evening are not quite as generous as those for What's Opera, Doc? But they are relevatory, nonetheless. Listening to the music-only track is a delight because one hears the humorous touches that Milt Franklyn employs in the score. For example, a contrabassoon actually doubles the frog's croaks on the final soundtrack, giving them an added deep resonance. BTW, it is Franklyn's voice that you hear announcing the various takes on the session tapes. He always conducted the orchestra during recording sessions, even when Stalling was in charge (Franklyn was Stalling's orchestrator for many years before taking over as Musical Director.)
15. I Love To Singa This short also has original titles and cues restored. The visual quality is nothing to write home about, but the cartoon is notable as being one of three cartoons in this set not scored by Stalling or Franklyn. The other two being Three Little Bops and Harman-Ising's Sinkin' In The Bathtub (the very first Looney Tune.)

Trivia: The voice of "Owl Jolson" is provided by Tommy "Butch" Bond from the original "Our Gang" shorts produced by Hal Roach Studios.

16. Hollywood Steps Out Apparently no original titles could be found for this cartoon, either; which is a shame. No matter, the remastered version looks somewhat better than what I had become used to seeing on broadcast television. About seven years ago I saw a truncated version of this on the WB Network. In this version, all references to smoking were deemed inappropriate for young viewers (for whom these cartoons were never originally intended) and, thus, the early exchange between Cary Grant and Greta Garbo was cut out. The audio commentary gives some insight into the caricaturist who was hired to render the celebrities portrayed here. There is no mention, however, of who provided the voices. Mel Blanc may have possibly done some, like that of Jerry Colona. The Clark Gable and Bing Crosby imitations, in particular, are quite convincing.

That's it for my appraisal of Disc Four. I hope to post my review of the other 3 discs, plus my overall evaluation of the entire set as a whole by the end of this week.

A review by Zavkram
First Published on November 16, 2004

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