Cartoon Brew TV #9: It’s a Grand Old Nag

(Alternate commentary-free version: This link will allow you to watch the original cartoon without audio commentary)

This week we shine a spotlight on a rarely seen Hollywood cartoon by the great Bob Clampett. It’s a Grand Old Nag (1947) is in fact Clampett’s final animated cartoon created during the golden age of Hollywood.

Clampett was one of the chief architects of the Warner Bros. school of cartoon comedy. In addition to directing dozens of classic Looney Tunes (including such titles as Porky In Wackyland, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery and Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs), Clampett created two Warner Bros. mainstays, Tweety and Beaky Buzzard. After Clampett left Warner Bros. in 1945, he spent several months punching up stories for Screen Gems (Columbia’s ill-fated cartoon unit) while setting himself up as an independent producer. He approached Republic Pictures, which did not have a cartoon division but had a need to demonstrate a new 2-color film process: TruColor (the studio owned one of the biggest film labs in Hollywood, Consolidated Film Industries).

In 1946, Clampett made a deal to produce one theatrical cartoon, budgeted for $20,000, with an option to make 35 more. Taking his cue from the kind of pictures Republic was known for–B-Westerns and rural comedies–Clampett created “Charlie Horse”, sort of a four-legged Mortimer Snerd (not unlike the personality he gave to Beaky Buzzard at Warners).

The film is filled with Clampett’s gag sensibilities, from the eye-popping double takes to the punny signs that cover the action. (I’ve Always Loathed You was a take-off of Republic’s biggest film of 1946, I’ve Always Loved You; Ciro Van Snoot being referred to as “The Horse With The Inhuman Mind”, a jab at the billing for Roy Roger’s horse, Trigger, “The Smartest Horse In the Movies”).

The cartoon even has a “joke” director credit (to “Kilroy”, the graffiti phenomenon of the 1940s), and though Don Towsley (Dumbo, Bambi, Fantasia) is credited as Supervising Animator, Clampett clearly has his fingerprints all over the film (and that’s literally his handwriting in the credits and in other lettering seen throughout the film). Bob used voice talents Dave Barry (as “Mr. Retake”) and Stan Freberg (as “Charlie” and “Ciro” – take note, this is Freberg’s first official screen credit!) both of whom had worked with Clampett at Termite Terrace. One credit noticeably missing is that of “story.” Rumor is that Clampett hired Michael Maltese to moonlight on the film. (In 1954, animator Paul J. Smith directed A Horse’s Tale for Walter Lantz. It’s a de facto remake, with a tell-tale story credit to Maltese.)

It’s a Grand Old Nag was released on December 20th, 1947. No information exists to gauge its initial success, but it was released at a turning point in Republic’s history. Financial losses due to the war and depressed revenues at the box office were forcing Republic to tighten its belt. Early in 1948 Clampett’s multi-cartoon deal was cancelled. Undeterred, Clampett threw himself into his pioneering TV puppet show Time For Beany (bringing Stan Freberg along for the ride). Clampett returned briefly to animation in the late 50s/early 60s with a series of Beany & Cecil cartoons for ABC-TV.

Charlie Horse is just a footnote in the fabulous career of Bob Clampett. One wonders what the other 35 cartoons could have been like – or where Clampett (and Republic) may have gone if things worked out differently. For now, we have this one surviving example of that alternate route – and, like the rest of Clampett’s work, it’s a refreshing blast of cartoon energy.

Jerry Beck and Mark Kausler provide audio commentary on this short. Thanks to Michael Geisler for recording the commentary track, and Randall Kaplan for his expert sound and picture editing.

Here is an original cel from the short:


  • george

    more like this please

  • Malcolm B

    Wow, I always wonder about some of the things Clampett did after WB. I never really became interested in Beanie and Cecil, but this cartoon is great!
    This is really informative.
    thanks abunch.

    Malcolm B.

  • http://weirdocorner.blogspot.com Eric Noble

    Great cartoon. I thought the colors, although on a bad print, were very good. Even when not at Warner Brothers, you can still tell it’s a Clampett cartoon. They just look like Clampett characters. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.timothyhodge.com Tim Hodge

    According to IMDb, this is the only short where Bob Clampet used the pseudonym “Kilroy”. I have no idea why.

  • Saturnome

    This is excellent! Obscure but great, and it’s Clampett! Definitively something I may have never seen otherwise. And I loved being able to see it.

  • Tom Minton

    Bob Clampett once showed a group of us youngsters the pencil test for this very cartoon, which he had in 16mm. As skilled as the animation looks in the finished print, it is astounding in pencil. Don Towsley’s shot where the cigarette is flicked o.s. is done with sheer elan and, prior to being painted, the scene following it plays a bit faster. The fact that Bob was able to put this cartoon together with what amounted to a freelance crew speaks volumes about the high standard of the 1940′s. And Curt Perkins indeed was a mainstay of Filmation’s background painting department in the late 1970′s. He liked to wear a cap and smoke a pipe, yet was built more like Bluto than Popeye.

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    I forgot to mention on the audio commentary that Charlie Horse is the ancestor of Quick Draw McGraw. Mike Maltese wrote many of the stories for the series, and like Charlie, Quick Draw shares characteristics borrowed from Red Skelton’s characters Clem Kadiddlehopper and Deadeye (Oh muh foot, I shot off much foot!). So making a cartoon star out of a horse was tried at least three times, none are remembered well today.

  • top cat james

    I’ve been trying to see this for years! You’ve made my week, Jerry. Thanks!

  • http://inklingstudio.typepad.com/chronicles David Nethery

    This is great . Thanks for posting it and for the commentary from Jerry and Mark.

    Tom Minton wrote:

    “Bob Clampett once showed a group of us youngsters the pencil test for this very cartoon, which he had in 16mm. As skilled as the animation looks in the finished print, it is astounding in pencil. “

    Does anyone know where that pencil test reel is ? I’d love to see that , too.

  • http://invaderpetblog.blogspot.com Brandon

    4:37 Clampett cut!

  • http://rockitpack.blogspot.com :: smo ::

    Whenever I’m confronted with figures from 40′s animation, I like to run the figures to see how it compares today. We always look to 1940′s and 30′s animation as the goal but how do the conditions stack up?

    In an older post, the Brew had found a check stub of WB animator Tom McKimson from 1944 for 90 dollars. After accounting for inflation it comes to about $1050 a week in 2007.

    Then according to Tom Sito’s drawing the line book, in 1940 [and I'd assume it probably held within the range] animators were required (at WB) to do at least 23 feet a week, that’s about 15 seconds of footage.

    So then 20,000 in 1947 would come to $183,814.60 in 2007! That’s for a 7 minute cartoon though (and i think something like adult swim gives out 25k for an 11 minute episode? Not sure.) Stacking all that up we might be able to get an idea of how the costs would translate to a budget nowadays… if only we could get a hold of the payroll and knew how long they took on the thing!

    Ha! Maybe this runs into the realm of being a mite obsessive, and or a ramble…but i’ve always been really interested in trying to see what it would take to recreate similar conditions to make good animation again. Now with digital ink and paint, digital output, instant pencil tests, and fewer physical expenses to animation, i’d be interested to see how far a comparable budget goes today and for what. and possibly pose an argument against outsourcing, and FOR classical organization/process.

    Thanks much guys, I love Clampett and I always appreciate your commentary!

  • Bugsmer

    Interesting commentary, guys. Although it’s unfortunate that the video isn’t presented in its correct aspect ratio, the rarity of the film outweighs your complaints about the quality of the print. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Clampett ended with a bang. Sure, this cartoon may have been underbugeted, but it looks like fine china compared to some of the theatrical cartoons from the latest years, when such cartoons were considered much too expensive to fully animate and give detailed backgrounds to. It’s always interesting to see some of his non-Warners work. Keep up the good work.

  • http://gogopedro.com BLORT!

    Thats a great little gem of a cartoon.

    Its hard for me to thin about Clampett without Scribner but, this is a wonderful cartoon regardless.

    P

  • Shmorky

    “You’ll make lots of hay, and that aint money!” Man it feels weird to GET that joke and I’m just some guy in his mid 20s.

  • Sqweezon

    OMG! Fantastic! Even with the faded Trucolor, this cartoon IS a diamond in the rough. A brilliant piece of work. I hope somebody restores this cartoon, preferably if someone finds the original 35mm negatives still existing in a vault somewhere, so all can see Charlie Horse and Hay-de La Mare in their full original glory (Trucolor or otherwise).

    It makes me imagine what would have been if Bob Clampett made more cartoons as an independent producer/director in the 1940′s and ’50′s, even for another studio like Republic. With that said, even if it was the studio’s financial constraints that cancelled the contract, IMO, I doubt Clampett would have made cartoons for very long through Republic.

    In my opinion, and from what I have read about the man, Herbert J. Yates (the studio boss) was a man who would have made Leon Schlesinger, Eddie Selzer, and J. L. Warner look like milquetoasts when it comes to controlling a studio; especially its budgets. Considering the trouble John Ford went through when he made both “The Quiet Man” (1952) and “The Sun Shines Bright” (1953) at Republic, and the previous Warner’s cartoons penchant for making fun of the studio bosses (“J. L. will hear about this”), IMO, I don’t think Yates would have tolerated Clampett’s artistic sense of humor for too very long. IMO, Bob Clampett and his studio would have been gone, either fired or resigned, within the first year.

    I have a couple more observances.

    First, I recognized many of the sound effects used in “It’s a Grand Old Nag!” as those used in the later Fleischer Brothers, then Famous Studios, cartoons. It’s unusual to hear those effects, rather than Warner’s/Treg Brown’s, associated with a Bob Clampett cartoon.

    Second, the Musical Director was credited to Jeff Alexander. If the Internet Movie Database is correct, this is the same Jeff Alexander who would later score “The Tender Trap” (1955), “Jailhouse Rock” (1957), and other films and TV series. He is also from my neck of the woods; Seattle, Washington.

  • http://serve.castfire.com/video/31142/oldnag_commentary-mov_2008-11-10-132509.mp4 fanny

    “It’s a Grand Old Nag” (1947) is in the new DVD:Beany & Cecil Vol. 2, plus Storyboards (and a cut scene) from Bob’s 1947 Republic cartoon It’s a Grand Old Nag, AND the original pencil test…

    More info here:
    http://www.beanyandcecil.com/dvdvol2.php

  • maxeythecat

    I remember this cartoon very well! It was broadcast on local LA tv back in the early 60s when I was about 4 or 5 years old and was one of my absolute favorites. Even though I was so little, I was a bit artsy fartsy in regards to well done animation as well as a rabid horse lover…. needless to say this was the perfect combination for me. I remember trying to draw Charlie Horse a number of times and wouldja believe it I didn’t do too badly!