THE BOOTLEG FILES: INJUN TROUBLE

BOOTLEG FILES 429: “Injun Trouble” (1969 animated short produced by Warner Bros.)

LAST SEEN: The film is on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A very rare cartoon that is not commercially available in the U.S.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.

You are familiar with the expression “All good things must come to an end,” yes? Well, for the Merrie Melodies series of animated shorts produced and released by Warner Bros., the end came in 1969 with a cartoon called “Injun Trouble.” If that title doesn’t ring the proverbial bell, that is because it is among the least-seen of the 1,000-plus productions to come out of the celebrated Termite Terrace.

During the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, Warner Bros. began to cut the budgets on their animated shorts. As a result, the output of this era looked cheaper and was considerably less imaginative than the classic cartoons of the previous decades. Even Mel Blanc, the legendary voice performer behind the beloved Warner Bros. characters, openly complained about the “shoddiness” of these cartoons, noting that many of the directors and writers that made the series so successful had defected to other companies.

In 1963, the studio decided to shut down its animation output and outsource its cartoon production to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, an independent company created by former studio employees David DePatie and Friz Freleng. In 1967, however, Seven Arts acquired Warner Bros. and, for no clear reason, decided to bring its animation production back into the studio. The studio only kept two of the classic cartoon characters – Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales, who were paired in a series of painfully unfunny misadventures – and decided to introduce some new characters. Thus, audiences were subjected to the likes of Merlin the Magic Mouse and Second Banana, Bunny and Claude, and Cool Cat. By 1969, however, the dismal audience reaction to the new cartoons coupled by the near-complete evaporation of the short subject market required the studio to permanently cease its theatrical production.

“Injun Trouble” focused almost entirely on politically incorrect racial humor. In this case, American Indian stereotypes were trotted out in a hoary series of sight gags, puns and absurdist humor. In a weird way, this last cartoon seemed to complete Warner Bros.’ circle of racial insensitivity – the studio’s animated production began in the early 1930s with the character Bosko, an African American minstrel show stereotype.

The character at the center of “Injun Trouble” is Cool Cat, a hipster tiger who wears a green necktie and speaks in a soft, slightly ironic beatnik rhythm. Larry Storch did the voice for the character – it is not clear why Mel Blanc was not given the job. In several of the Cool Cat cartoons, the British hunter Colonel Rimfire pursues him. This time, however, the blustery colonel is absent from the scene.

“Injun Trouble” opens with Cool Cat driving his dune buggy across a Southwestern landscape. He is snapping his fingers as he motors along, and his hand action recalls the finger snapping of the Jets in the “West Side Story” opening number.  However, Indian warriors on horseback disrupt his trip. One of the Indians screams out a war cry, but then looks at the camera and announces, “Injuns always shout like they when they’re mad!”

The breaking of the fourth wall continues throughout the cartoon. Sometimes, it is amusing – when Cool Cat is surprised that he is conversing with a talking horse, the snarky horse looks directly at the viewer and sneers, “Look who’s talking!” But after a while, the effect wears off and it becomes dull.

There is no plot to “Injun Trouble,” except for Cool Cat running into weird situations with his new tribal adversaries. One Indian dumps an overweight woman into his dune buggy and says, “Me give ’em you squaw.” Cool Cat, stuck under the bulk of this hefty prize, yells out in anger, “Indian giver!”

Elsewhere, an Indian paints a face on a bucket, then puts it over his head and proclaims, “Me pail-face!” Cool Cat grabs a bow, shoots an arrow skyward, and recites, “I shot an arrow into the air – it fell to earth, I know not where.” At which point, a muscular brave with an arrow piercing the top of his skull appears and slugs Cool Cat while grumbling, “Well, me know!”

Eventually, the Indian jokes disappear as Cool Cat arrives in the town of Hotfoot. There, he spies two horses playing a version of horse shoes with human shoes, while an office sign for a “horse doctor” reveals a bipedal equine wearing a physician’s white jacket and a stethoscope. In a surprisingly racy joke, a sign that promises “Topless Saloon” excites Cool Cat – only to discover the uncovered torso belongs to a beefy male bartender.

At this point, a cowboy named Gower Gulch arrives in the saloon. He remarks that he’s a cowpuncher, and he gives a sample of his work by banging Cool Cat square in the nose. Gower and Cool Cat then engage in a card game – Cool Cat shows a hand with four aces, while Gower shows two aces and his oversized six-shooter.

Cool Cat then takes out scissors, cuts away at the area around his body, and produces a hole from which he disappears. He then reappears and tells the viewer, “So cool it now, ya hear?”

With its casual racism, incoherent humor and third-rate animation, “Injun Trouble” was a sorry way for the Merrie Melodies theatrical series to close. Fortunately for Warner Bros., endless TV reruns of the classic cartoons helped to bring the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies productions to new generations, and the popularity of these cartoons became so great that the studio was emboldened to produce new TV specials and feature film compilations of the old favorites – and it would even venture back into original theatrical animated shorts in 1987 with “The Duxorcist.”

But what happened to “Injun Trouble”? The website Misce-Looney-Ous says that the cartoon was part of Warner Bros.’ syndicated TV package of animation during the early 1970s, but it has not been seen on U.S. television since then. (I might beg to differ – I was an avid Warner Bros. cartoon fan in my 1970s childhood and I never saw the film on the small screen.) When the Nickelodeon channel licensed the studio’s cartoons for broadcast, it chose not to air “Injun Trouble” because of its unflattering racial content. Cartoon Network France broadcast the film in 2004, but the U.S. version of Cartoon Network has yet to air it.

Indeed, the film was considered one of the rarest Warner Bros. cartoon for many years, and one Internet denizen was so baffled by its disappearance that he asked Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research website in 2004 whether the film was intentionally destroyed. However, at least one bootleg copy was in circulation among collectors – albeit a slightly blurry second-generation dupe with an annoying time code on the screen’s bottom. However, a clean copy has also turned up and it can be found on YouTube.

While not part of the infamous “Censored Eleven” of race-baiting cartoons, Warner Bros. has opted not to put  “Injun Trouble” into a commercial DVD release. From an artistic standpoint, its absence from view is no great loss. However, it is significant as the final offering from one of the most influential animation sources in film history, and it seems a bit odd that this shaky piece of cinema history remains such an elusive commodity.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on May 25, 2012 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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