Monday, July 13, 2009

Mountain Greenery and Bill Lava

I was watching "Woolen Under Where," the last Wolf/Sheepdog short (Chuck Jones wrote it, and his animators Phil Monroe and Richard Thompson directed it after he was fired). One thing I find surprising about the short is the main title music, which does not sound at all like the kind of thing Bill Lava usually did. It's an old-fashioned song-quotation cue: the music is an arrangement of "Mountain Greenery," the classic Rodgers and Hart song. It's surprising coming from Lava, who liked to do inappropriately ominous main-title cues and rarely quoted popular songs (Bugs does sing "It's Magic" in "Transylvania 6-500," but that cartoon was storyboarded before Lava even joined the cartoon department -- the board is visible in an episode of The Bugs Bunny Show.)

And the arrangement doesn't really sound like Lava either, especially the ending. I wonder if this is one of the cues that Milt Franklyn composed and/or recorded before he died, or if someone else besides Lava did the main title? The score of the cartoon proper certainly sounds like Lava (I think it's one of his better scores), but not those first 15 seconds.

Update: Of course, Lava was a bandleader as well as a composer, so this arrangement of "Mountain Greenery" might reflect the way he arranged classic songs; I don't know. What's even stranger here is that WB would probably have had to pay to use "Mountain Greenery"; though its music publisher, Harms, was owned by Warners, it doesn't appear to have been in the category of songs that WB composers could use for free (had a Richard Rodgers song ever been used in a WB cartoon before?). Perhaps Thompson and/or Monroe asked for the song to be used over the titles. Hard to tell.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the identification of that title card. Would've never guessed.

Woolen Under Where is definitely one of Lava's better scores, title card included. There are still some bits of dissonance, but I love the music during the knight armor and unicycle/helmet scenes, as well as the bit at the end when all the weapons are set up for some reason. Those get me to laugh simply by how the music is played, nevermind the gags to go with them. The music when Ralph checks in is sweet, and the ending music is refreshingly serene, a rarity for the time when most scores ended with a loud note hold (always the same chord, for some reason).

I don't think the music was started by Franklyn; Lava was certainly capable of title cards like this (look at "The Million Hare', or some of his '40s-50s stuff like the "So You Want To..." shorts), it's just that he didn't go for it around this time.

J Lee said...

IIRC, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore did "Mountain Greenery" as part of one of those writers-put-on-a-show episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" from the 1962-63 season. Probably no connection there, but the show did come on just about the time Lava was settling in as Franklyn's replacement (and I don't believe Lava did any scores for Desilu or the companies that produced their shows on their lot).

Overall, and even moreso than Stalling, Lava doesn't hide when he's bored with a cartoon -- the best of his scores almost perfectly coincide with the handful of good cartoons Warners released in the 1962-64 period. If the director, writer and animators gave him nothing much to work with, Lava gave them nothing right back (I think Jerry Beck in his book noted that Stalling would bide his time with scores in the weaker 1930s cartoons, but at least Carl melodically bided his time -- when Lava did that, that was when the clangs, dings and screetches really dominated the musical score).

esahC said...

Few thing still bugs me about the credits. First off, what happen to Phil? He last credit at the studio was in "Beep Beep", but here he is, 11 years later, back as a director on this and "The Iceman Ducketh". How did that happen? And for that matter, how come this was the only cartoon Richard Thompson directed on?

Second, wasn't there a rule that once you leave Warner Brothers, your name was gone (Avery and Clampett)? In that case, if Chuck was fired during the production of this cartoon, how come he still gets the story credit in this one?

Either way, good cartoon. Like Speedy said, definitely one of the highlights of Lava's career with Warner Brothers.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I think the rule about credits was no longer in effect at WB; starting in the late '50s, the credits regime got a little looser (Jones and Freleng were allowed to bill themselves by their nicknames). Long after he'd left to work for Hanna-Barbera, Mike Maltese continued to receive credits on WB cartoons that he had written before his defection.

Yowp said...

Chase Backwards, Monroe ended up at John Sutherland for awhile. He did Inside Cackle Corners there in 1951, for example.