Friday, May 14, 2010

064 Art Gallery

Title: Art Gallery
Studio: MGM
Date: 5/13/39
A Hugh Harmon Production
Running time (of viewed version): 8:51

Synopsis: An insane statue of Nero is intent on burning Rome, and tricks some monkeys into doing it for him.

Comments: An example outside of Columbia of the title being in cartoon in a shot instead of as a separate shot. Nice multiple planes in the opening shot (assuming the shot with Art Museum is the title shot and doesn't count). This cartoon is great, with its depictions of various art styles, and puns based on some of their names (try that now; I doubt there are any paintings in the interim that you could do that with); I'm not sure I've seen it before. Stan Laurel appears as a painting. See/Hear/Speak no evil monkeys are here; that's a a character set that was more important at the time than it is now. Interesting how these things all out of fashion. There's a gag where a statue of Apollo's feet are seen avoiding fire and apparently dancing; I wonder if this would have been a reference to the Apollo Theater in NYC? Apparently the museum is the Louvre, as it has the Venus De Milo and the Nike of Samothrace in it. Mae West-y Cleopatra. Pilgrim hat-ish painting is Ned Sparks (or maybe Fred Allen, but I think the cigar makes it Ned Sparks for sure) ; his line "don't believe in being gay" had a different meaning at the time than it's first assumed meaning would be now. The woman operatically singing in Song of the Lark is presumably someone specific, but it might be just a singing version of the novel based on the painting. It would be funniest in this blog if this was a post based on a cartoon based on an opera based on a book based on a painting tho. There are prominent shadows from the monkeys and Nero. For some reason, the Three Musketeers burn down to the Spirit of '76, featuring the Marx Brothers. Incidentally, that would make this cartoon more appropriate for a Marx Brothers DVD than Jitterbug Follies, which actually made it to the disc (this was also closer in time to the release, too). The cartoon ends with arson triumphant, and ultimately harmless. This cartoon is great, and I have no recollection of seeing it before.

This can be seen at


  1. It played quite often on TBS back in the 1980s when Turner had the pre-48/non-MGM package before his purchase of the studio's film library. My only real complaint (like the other Harman cartoons of the late 30s, early 40s that were comedy themed) is that in the wake of Tashlin's things-come-to-life triogy over at Warners in 1938, the pacing here could have been a little faster (though it does fit in with Michael Barrier's thesis about Hugh's 1939-41 comedy shorts, in that due to his desire to compete with Disney, the goal of the animation was to impress the audience as much as entertain it, and there's no question the animation here is the best-looking stuff to that point in time to ever come out of a studio not named Disney).

  2. The animation or the art is best-looking? While the animation may be technically quite skilled, it's the look of the art (as opposed to the movement within the cartoon) that I find impressive. Not that there isn't a certain melodramatic hag queen from Snow White aspect to Nero's movements, or a heightened technical requirement to smoothly move the lusher art, but to a degree the blackout gag format for subjects bound by frames limits the animation required/present. That isn't meant insultingly; I think making a big deal about "oh look, we're aaaaanimating this, and we're going to drag it out so you can see... just... how... much..." is a problem in some cartoons, and ultimately I prefer the shotgun approach. The weird thing is this feels more like a '50s MGM era Avery blackout cartoons to me than Avery's contemporary blackout cartoons, even if something like Symphony in Slang is, in terms of lushness, more akin to the WB Avery's than this this Harmon MGM outing. Maybe the studio name at the beginning of a cartoon affects the content in some way I haven't accounted for...

  3. Hugh's earliest comedy cartoons in his second MGM period (1939-41) have a better comedy touch than his latter ones, probably because Friz Freleng was still in his unit. Having staff that already had done work acceptable enough to pass for Disney ("Merbabies" and some of the final rush work on "Snow White"), both the design work and animation here to me are impressive, beyond what any other studio besides Walt's was doing at the time. And I give all the studios a pass in the late 30s and 1940 at 'overdesigning' their characters at times with too many detail lines and facial shadows, because everyone was still trying to figure out what worked best in an animated cartoon (set at night "Art Gallery" has tons of shadowing, but mainly in search of that Disney realism -- when Avery used shadows in "Thugs With Dirty Mugs" it was to set up the "You shadows stay back here" gag).

    "Art Gallery" and other early Harmon v2.0 cartoons at Metro like "The Mad Maestro" seemed like a good start towards combining the Disney lushness with the stronger comedy being developed at Warners, but MGM's straight comedy cartoons from Harmon-Ising would actually get less funny as time went on, which explained why Fred Quimby yanked Hanna-Barbera out of the Ising unit and dumped Hugh for Tex Avery when he had the chance.