Sunday, December 26, 2010

Department of Things I Should Remember But Don't

Does anybody recall which Warner Brothers cartoons used the song "A Gal in Calico" on the soundtrack? I know at least one of them did -- I even remember the arrangement -- but the name of the cartoon I heard it in escapes me for the moment.

The song, by Arthur Schwartz (music) and Leo Robin (lyrics) was the biggest hit from Warners' 1946 musical The Time, the Place and the Girl (another successful song, "A Rainy Night In Rio," was famously sung by Bugs Bunny in "Long-Haired Hare"). Warner Brothers tended to have rather good original songs in its musicals -- think of Schwartz and Frank Loesser's terrific score for Thank Your Lucky Stars, or the batch of fine Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn songs in Doris Day's star-making Romance on the High Seas -- though they were weaker than most of the other studios when it came to staging musical numbers; after Busby Berkeley left, they rarely had directors and choreographers who could do more than just make the number look like a replica of a middling stage play that never existed.

The movie is also a reminder that Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan were the studio's big musical stars until Day came along. Which is another sign of a studio that doesn't quite have the roster it needs to put together top-flight musicals: Morgan and Carson were pleasant personalities, but not really above-the-title stars on the level of the people the other studios could offer. It seems that until they started investing heavily in stage musical adaptations (see below) Warners didn't really put a high premium on the production of musicals after Berkeley left (and with occasional exceptions like Yankee Doodle Dandy and the Gershwin and Porter biopics); stars who were good musical performers, like Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman and James Cagney, were (mostly) kept away from musicals. (Carson and Morgan were in non-musicals too, but in non-musicals it was made clear that they were not major stars.) Things were different at Fox, which would star an actor in both musicals and non-musicals if he could sing (Don Ameche) and even if he couldn't (Tyrone Power).

Update: I guess posting this was what I needed to jog my memory, because now I remember the cartoon that used this song: "Slick Hare," which came out less than a year after the movie did. It might have been one of those cases where Stalling was tipped off about a potential hit song from a movie that hadn't actually been released (or maybe even finished) yet.

I'm sorry about the idiotic captions the uploader has inserted into the cartoon (just as "A Gal In Calico" starts to play, yet) but it was the only upload I could find on YouTube.


John V. said...

It also plays over the opening credits of Davis' "Catch As Cats Can" (available at

J Lee said...

Since the audio for the cartoons was done on-lot, and the music during breaks when the orchestra was recording for regular feature film, Stalling was probably well-versed in what songs were soon going to be coming out from the studio (though I'd assume J.L. wouldn't want the cartoon score to have the song playing before the feature arrived in theaters).

Overall though, for a studio whose cartoon department had both the best comedy and the best musical scores, Warner Brothers' features were pretty weak in both categories during the 1930s-40s. If you wanted comedy, go to Paramount or Universal. Music? Head to Fox or MGM.

Where they meshed was in Warners' huge stable of starring and supporting characters and the main studio's huge stable of memorable stars and supporting actors (who, in many case, would provide the studio's best comedy moments, albeit many of those came in the middle of one of Warners' fast-action dramatic pictures).

Aaron Long said...

Slick Hare is definitely one of my Top 10 Freleng cartoons. Something (or rather, everything) about the Bogart caricature is absolutely hysterical, and there's some other great stuff in the short as well.