Monday, January 19, 2009

Gag me...with an Anvil

I title the blog entry as such because I simply wanted to write a little about the gag's and jokes often used in the cartoons that used a lot more visual humor, than verbal. Also, as a child of the 1980's and half of the 1990's, the phrase "gag me with a spoon" was often used in the 1980's that it stuck with me...I don't use the phrase but I figured i'd base the title of this blog on that slang expression, since this entry is about cartoon gag's, and so "Gag me...with an Anvil" fits rather nicely I think...even though I'm writing about more than just the anvil.

The picture of me reacting to the outrageous design of the Wolf going to pieces at the site of Droopy was taken awhile ago...I wish I had a picture of me reacting to an anvil gag but I don't. The cartoons that spring to mind for me that incorporate the use of anvils are the ones from Warner Brothers and quite a bit from MGM, namely the cartoons from Tex Avery, the early Droopy cartoons. However, it's the Warner Brothers cartoons that popularized the gag of anvil drops to the best of my knowledge...mostly seen in the Chuck Jones series about the Road Runner and Coyote. Several gag's were used where the Coyote uses an anvil, often in a pulley scenario where an anvil would be used as a weight with rope tied around it while the rest of the rope would go up and into a pulley and back down to the Coyote's hands...the Coyote of course would let go of the rope, with the anvil dangling high up in the air, laughing to himself as he thinks the anvil's dropping and smashing the Road Runner as the bird is eating the ever-famous "free bird seed" offering.

However, something always goes wrong with the Coyote's attempts and so the Road Runner has quickly eaten the bird seed and goes "beep beep" and speeds off. The Coyote, for example, is standing in the spot where the anvil's suppose to fall and nothing happens. He looks annoyed and then looks up and see's the anvil dangling there...so he looks back at the camera and then looks back up at the anvil...and in an example of timing, just as he's decided the trap failed, he turns to walk away and WHAM down falls the anvil on his head...squashing him a few inches or so...as he makes his way behind a boulder or a cliff as the scene fades to black.

Anvils also played a part in several of the more looney Daffy Duck cartoons...in a particular Porky Pig cartoon he and Sylvester are spending the night in a haunted house that Porky mistakes for a hotel. The place is "haunted" by a couple of mice, actually...playing tricks on Sylvester. In one scene where Sylvester is trying to dismantle one of the mice's traps, Porky wakes up and see's what's happening and he rolls up his sleeves and says: "A-a-a-nd just wh-wh-what were going to do with th-th-that anvil??".

The anvil was the most-used prop for gags...the second most-used prop was the dynamite stick. Countless cartoon characters always had a stash of dynamite handy...even innocent characters like Tweety could pull sticks of dynamite out of his imaginary pocket, light it, and toss it at Sylvester. The MGM Tom and Jerry series made extensive use of dynamite and anvils to some degree...their gags were centered mostly around household appliances or tools one could find outside, like a push mower for example or a more famously the garden rake that Tom never failed to step onto and have it swing up and slam into his face, causing him to shatter. Tom or Jerry equally could pull dynamite out of nowhere if they needed it. In several scenes the dynamite was endless...Tom once crammed the entire living room with dynamite sticks, dynamite drums...all sorts of explosives...the point isn't where did he get all those explosives...the point was watching him fill the place with dynamite in his desire to destroy Jerry. Jerry on the other hand often gave Tom a hot foot with matches and sometimes would substitute candles on a cake with dynamite sticks, something a lot of cartoons used. In some of the Droopy cartoons, hand grenades were used...the grenades would often backfire on the Wolf or the dog, depending on which villain was using one. Spike the bulldog in a classic scene pulled the pin out of grenade and he had the pin clinched in his teeth getting ready to throw the grenade...well, as he's counting, another grenade comes sailing into the scene and it explodes...then the grenade Spike's holding explodes.

The third most-used prop for gags was the mallet...where characters would pull a mallet out of nowhere, often thin air, and hit their antagonist on the head with it. In Tex Avery cartoons a character could get hit with a mallet and the character would split into various pieces and crumble...also, depending on how the mallet was struck onto the character, it could squash the character and cause multiple smaller characters to emerge, all of them waddling around like clowns popping out from a small car at a circus. Sometimes, getting hit with a mallet would cause a character to stop, twirl around a bit, get that dazed, disoriented look on their face, before ultimately falling backward or face forward...shattering into a thousand pieces in the process.

Funny, funny visual slapstick cartoons. The Tom and Jerry cartoons, especially, rate up at the top when it comes to visual humor because the two main characters never spoke except for when Tom would give out with a loud holler. The cartoonish violence in the cartoons of course has long been held in contempt by a society who just doesn't get the point of slapstick humor in my opinion. The cartoons as they're shown on TV have been edited and toned down...if one is inclined to see many of these cartoons in their original form, they're all available on DVD collections.

A lot of little gags that use violent pay-off's or social comedy of the time period have all been edited out for TV broadcast so watching a familiar Tom and Jerry for example on an un-cut DVD presentation, fans who may have seen the same episode a hundred times on TV, will see several gags that may appear out of place at first but were actually part of the original presentation in theaters during the 1940's and 1950's that TV censor boards had long since edited out.

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