Updated: May 11, 2020
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Droopy gets his man in 1943’s “Dumb Hounded.”
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“TEX AVERY SCREWBALL CLASSICS VOLUME 1”
Blu-ray, 1943-51, not rated
Best extra: There are none.
IF YOUR eyes lit up when you saw “Tex Avery” in the title of this new addition to the Warner Archive Collection, feel free to skip this next part. If they didn’t, here’s why they should:
Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery was one of the pioneers of the Golden Age of Animation, right up there with Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, his fellow tenants in Termite Terrace, the beat-up Burbank, Calif., bungalow that housed Warner Bros.’ original animation studio and gave the world Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Avery created Daffy Duck and Cecil Turtle and was instrumental in the evolution of Bugs Bunny (he coined Bugs’ greatest sound bite, “What’s up, Doc?”), Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd.
He once said, “Let’s make some funny pictures,” and that’s what he did—and then some. Avery was an anarchist in the best sense: His characters weren’t Disney-cuddly, they were a collective panic, especially when they broke the “fourth wall.” His gags were outrageous and his timing was razor-sharp.
Anyway, after a falling-out with his boss, producer Leon Schlesinger, over the editing of Bugs’ “Heckling Hare,” Avery landed at MGM, where he ran the animation unit from 1942-54.
Which brings us to “Screwball Classics.”
Hats off to Warner for not only getting these 19 choice shorts on the shelf, but for treating them with kid gloves. All of Avery’s nitrate negatives were lost in a vault fire years ago, so a variety of sources were tapped for this collection then given a 4K scan. You’d never know it—the transfers are consistently sharp with plenty of natural film grain and the rainbow of colors practically pops off the screen.
Remember the “Popeye” cartoons that Warner remastered and released starting in 2007? These are that good.
Here’s just a handful of highlights:
“Red Hot Riding Hood” (1943)
Forget everything you know about “Little Red Riding Hood.” Avery didn’t just revise the fairy tale, he turned it inside out.
“Screwball Squirrel” (1944)
Bugs meets Daffy. Like “Red Hot,” it begins innocently enough, until Screwy decides to provoke a slow-witted birddog named Meathead into chasing him.
“The Screwy Truant” (1945)
Because you can’t have enough Screwy. He torments another dog, a truant officer who thinks Screwy shouldn’t skip school to go fishing.
“Dumb Hounded” (1943)
The first of 18 Droopy shorts. When a wolf escapes the slam, a pack of bloodhounds is soon in pursuit. Guess who brings him in.
“Wags to Riches” (1949)
Spike the bulldog was the unflappable Droopy’s nemesis in several side-splitting cartoons. In this one, they compete for the inheritance of their millionaire guardian. They meet again in “The Chump Champ” (1950) and “Daredevil Droopy” (1951).
“What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard” (1943)
A couple of very hungry turkey vultures, one of whom sounds a lot like Jimmy Durante, resort to desperate measures and at each other’s expense.
“Who Killed Who?” (1943)
Gags and frights? What’s not to like? Avery turns the haunted-house murder-mystery playbook on its ear in this fast-paced “whodunit.”
“Bad Luck Blackie” (1949) – Tom and Jerry get a run for their money in this outlandishly violent, slapstick outing in which Spike taunts a little kitten. Does he pay? Does he ever.
“Garden Gopher” (1950) – Another appearance by Spike. Here, he tussles with a determined gopher over a backyard garden.
“Symphony in Slang” (1951) – A man trying to get into the Pearly Gates tells his tale to Noah Webster when St. Peter can’t make heads or tails out of it. Buckle up: The visual puns fly fast.
“Hound Hunters” (1947) – George and Junior, a couple of bears inspired by “Of Mice and Men’s” George and Lennie, try to bring in one runt of a dog. They starred in four shorts.
There aren’t any extras, but that’s no problem. Besides, the title also reads “Volume 1.” Yes!
– Craig Shapiro