Celebrity caricatures galore in amusing Lantz cartoon
This Walter Lantz "Cartune Comedy," in black-and-white, fits squarely into the tradition, so popular in the 1930s, of animated cartoons filled with celebrity caricatures at a time when the national audience was expected to know (and did) the movie actors, radio performers, comedians and popular musicians of the day--and their little quirks. And this was well before television had entered any homes. "Hollywood Bowl" (1938) follows this strategy, but fits it into another popular cartoon genre, the music parody, by showing the opening night of the season for the Hollywood Bowl, a famed outdoor venue in L.A. commonly used for classical music orchestral performances. Here, famed conductor Leopold Stokowski (FANTASIA) leads a phantom orchestra of instruments played by disembodied gloves in a performance of Franz Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony." The performance ends badly when a dismayed Stokowski realizes the piece is quite literally "unfinished" (complete with a note from "Franz"), so a number of popular musicians flock to the stage to take over, including bandleader Ben Bernie, singer-pianist Fats Waller, singer/sax player Rudy Vallee, and singing bandleader Cab Calloway, with help from clarinet-playing Benny Goodman, tap-dancing Fred Astaire, violin-playing Jack Benny and scat-singing, jitterbugging Martha Raye, among others, some of whom I didn't recognize.
Meanwhile, the audience at the Hollywood Bowl is filled with movie stars and character actors, all doing the trademark bits with which impressionists have long had a field day. There's Greta Garbo telling the usher, "I vant to be alone." There's W.C. Fields trading insults with ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy. Charles Laughton goes all Captain Bligh on Clark Gable. And Katharine Hepburn gushes over Stokowski--"Re-ah-lly" she does. Also on hand are Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, Joe E. Brown, William Powell, and several comic players who are less well-known today, including Hugh Herbert (who plays cat's cradle with an unwitting Stokowski), Edna May Oliver, Ned Sparks and someone I believe is meant to be Joe Penner. Some of the voice impressions sound better than others. The one who does Sparks nails it. The Laughton and Fields voices don't sound right at all. The musical performers come off best, voice-wise, especially the ones who do Martha Raye and Cab Calloway.
It's not a great cartoon and it certainly isn't anywhere near as funny as the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies entries in this subgenre (see "Hollywood Steps Out" and "The Coo-Coo Nut Grove," among others). But it's got some clever bits and the music is fine, especially the performance of "Unfinished Symphony." Besides, it's always fun to see so many show biz greats immortalized in cartoon caricatures in one place. This cartoon is found in the Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection DVD box set.
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