Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1 (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Feb 06, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1 (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Directed by Tex Avery, Produced by Fred Quimby

Release Date(s)

1943-1951 (February 18, 2020)

Studio(s)

MGM/Warner Archive Collection (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: N/A

Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1 (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

One of the great legends of animation in the classic Hollywood studio era, Tex Avery began his directing career in 1935 at Warner Bros, with the Looney Tunes cartoon Gold Diggers of ’49, an early B&W short. While at Warner, Avery directed over 60 shorts and was instrumental in developing many of the classic Looney Tunes characters. He certainly helped to pioneer the series’ style, which included highly elastic characters, off-kilter humor, and puns a-plenty. But after a brief stint at Paramount in 1941, Avery moved on to MGM, where he truly built his animated legacy.

The Warner Archive Collection has finally begun to release those MGM shorts on Blu-ray with Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1, and it was well worth the wait. Among the offerings on this volume are the first appearances of Droopy, Screwy Squirrel, Butch/Spike (the bulldog), George and Junior, and other of the director’s best loved creations. As you watch the shorts play out, you can see Avery continuing to push and develop his trademark style, going ever more over-the-top with it. “Screwball” is exactly the right word to describe these shorts—the humor is rapid-fire and frequently more adult, with characters that break the fourth often to make the audience feel like they’re in on the gags. (In one short, Who Killed Who?, a police detective enters a room to exclaim “Don’t nobody move!” then clubs an audience member on the head as he appears to stand and make his way across the front row of the theater.) There’s also a strong period feel to these shorts, which include references to World War II, the Great Depression, and other artifacts of the day.

The single disc BD-50 release includes 19 classic animated shorts as follows:

TEX AVERY CLASSICS

  • Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)
  • Who Killed Who? (1943)
  • What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard? (1943)
  • Batty Baseball (1944)
  • The Hick Chick (1946)
  • Bad Luck Blackie (1949)
  • Garden Gopher (1950)
  • The Peachy Cobbler (1950)
  • Symphony in Slang (1951)

SCREWY SQUIRREL

  • Screwball Squirrel (1944)
  • The Screwy Truant (1945)
  • Big Heel-Watha (1944)
  • Lonesome Lenny (1946)

GEORGE & JUNIOR

  • Hound Hunters (1947)
  • Red Hot Rangers (1947)

DROOPY

  • Dumb-Hounded (1943)
  • Wags to Riches (1949)
  • The Chump Champ (1950)
  • Daredevil Droopy (1951)

The Blu-ray opens with a disclaimer that reads: “Some of the cartoons you are about to see are a product of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros.’ view of today’s society, some of these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

I too would never dare to suggest that these prejudices and stereotypes be taken lightly, but the artistry and craft of this animation remains worth preserving. And one should always be wary of any attempt to sanitize history—even its negative aspects hold valuable lessons.

To the studio’s credit, these shorts are indeed presented uncensored and uncut. The insensitive material in this volume includes a couple of “Blackface” gags (in Garden Gopher and Daredevil Droopy) and a few sexualized depictions of women with men/wolves leering at them (scattered through the shorts). The most notable inclusion is Big Heel-Watha, rarely seen because the entire short depicts Native American stereotypes.

Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release presents all of the shorts in 1080p HD in their original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio (with black bars on either side). They’re all in color and run between 5 and 8 minutes in length (the total runtime for the disc is 138 minutes). Each was scanned from archival film elements in 4K and carefully restored as necessary—part of a larger overall restoration effort by the studio. The result is absolutely gorgeous. The image renders delicate backgrounds with lovely watercolored textures, cels with clean lines and lush painted strokes, and rich coloring at all times. There may be little specs of dust here and there, and the occasional shot that’s optically soft as originally produced, but those are all part of the medium and are never distracting. These shorts have been hard to come by here in the States, even on DVD, and I’ve certainly never seen them looking this good before. It’s just a treat to have them like this.

The original English soundtracks are available in 2.0 DTS-HA Master Audio. The audio elements have obviously been cleaned up and restored as well, though you certainly shouldn’t expect a modern level of sound quality. But dialogue, music, and foley effects are all clear and presented with good fidelity. A nice touch is that optional English SDH subtitles are available for each short.

There are no extras on this release, but this content is so rarely seen that the Blu-ray itself should probably be considered as bonus content. Note that Avery directed 67 animated shorts in all during this MGM period, which ran from 1942 to 1957. Released at this rate, the complete collection should eventually include 3-4 volumes in all.

I’ve personally lobbied for The Warner Archive Collection to release these rare Tex Avery shorts since they first began working on Blu-ray, so it fills me with joy to finally see it happening. For many years, my three holy grail titles for animation in HD were Tex Avery, the Fleischer Studios’ Superman series from the 1940s, and Batman: The Animated Series. Warner Archive has completed the latter, is now doing the former, and I’ve a very good feeling that Superman is in the offing too. We might find ourselves talking more and more these days about the decline of physical media, but I’ll tell you—there’s real treasure being released right now on Blu-ray. Fans of classic animation would be foolish not to take advantage of it. Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1 is highly recommended!

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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