A Year in Shorts Day 155: "Swooner Crooner"
Of all the Looney Tunes characters out there, few get as little respect as Porky Pig. (In the real world, that is. In the animated world, Daffy Duck gets no respect). Despite being the first Looney Tune to really make it big, Porky has more or less been pushed to the wayside, mostly remembered as a one joke character and the guy who lets us know that the cartoon is over. Maybe that’s why so many people dislike him these days; when he says “That’s all, folks!”, we know that we’ve reached the end of our Looney Tunes excitement. Whatever the reason may be, it can’t be denied that Porky has been overshadowed by more colorful characters over the years. But at least he managed to get himself an Oscar nomination for 1944’s Swooner Crooner.
Swooner Crooner was directed by Frank Tashlin, a man who (like Porky) seems to have been mostly forgotten in the annals of Looney Tunes history. Everyone remembers Chuck Jones, most people know Tex Avery and Friz Freleng is pretty damn popular too. Poor Frank Tashlin often gets overlooked, which is a shame, as he's had a pretty interesting career! After his time with the Looney Tunes, Tashlin went on to become a gag writer for some of the Marx Brothers' later films as well as directing several Jerry Lewis movies. (I said it was an interesting career; your mileage may vary on whether or not it was a good one). None of which has much to do with today's short, but I thought some fun trivia might be interesting. Certainly more interesting than Swooner Crooner.
I suppose one point of interest might be that Swooner Crooner is technically a World War II film. You see, Porky owns a farm where hens are laying eggs as part of the war effort. But the arrival of a handsome, singing rooster named Frankie distracts the hens from the task at hand (at wing?), and Porky needs to find a solution. So I suppose it's also interesting that Porky owns a farm where sentient hens are laying eggs for mass consumption. At least the hens are portrayed as employees so we don't have a Chicken Run situation on our hands. Incidentally, Chicken Run was released one year before the category for Best Animated Feature was introduced, but it did (remarkably) receive a nomination for Best Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical.
Sorry, I keep getting sidetracked. But can you blame me? There's really not a lot to talk about with this short. As a Porky short, it's hardly worth mentioning (he's really just there to react to the plot of the film; it's a role that could have been played by anyone), and most of the runtime is dedicated to animals singing popular songs. As I've made clear before, that's a really lousy premise for a short, and it's certainly not very funny. So what's left to talk about? Well, I guess we could discuss the fact that it's pretty fucking racist.
(via The Internet Animation Database)
I had a hard time finding this short online, eventually having to resort to a really bad and washed out version on Dailymotion. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why that was; it's a Looney Tune, it should be on HBO Max! Then we got to the montage of Porky auditioning new roosters to get the hens laying eggs (a premise which makes absolutely no sense; Frankie was keeping them from laying eggs, how exactly would a new rooster fix that?) and it all made sense. Most the musicians auditioned are caricatures of Black artists, presented with about as much dignity as a minstrel show. Because apparently Cab Calloway is an inferior musician to some average crooner, right? Fuck you movie! In fact, the only non-Black artist parodied is Al Jolson, the so-called "King of Blackface"! Did you know they made two Oscar-nominated biopics about that guy? He was so popular that his biopic got a sequel!
In our Year in Shorts, I have been somewhat lenient (some may argue too lenient) in regards to these things in old cartoons. Racist jokes and blackface gags are terrible, yes, but I do think it's important to take a look at a film as a whole, and not just paint everything with the same brush. (Or maybe it's just because Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite films and I don't want to look like a hypocrite). But in those cases, I have done so in order to judge the short by its other merits. But for a film like Swooner Crooner, what other merits are there? It's an unfunny, subpar cartoon and it's really not worth thinking about.
Aside from the scene at the end where Porky starts randomly laying eggs. That's just too weird to ignore.
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