Sunday, February 25, 2007

little pancho vanilla (tashlin, 1938)

Tashlin is not the most mad of all the Warner directors (that was Clampett) but his films are frequently the most emotionally grounded, as mad films often are. They may or may not pause for very long to reflect on things like romantic ecstasy, pathos, or terror, but these moments are striking, strangely moving, and have the power to restructure the rest of the surrounding narrative in perspective. Examples include: the pitiful woodland creatures in Porky in the North Woods; declarations of love between Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It; the narrative-arresting musical numbers in the same film; the distraught, suicidal girl in The Disorderly Orderly; the gamut of emotions (from abject terror to indifference to proud showmanship) exhibited by Early Porky Pig in Little Beau Porky and The Case of the Stuttering Pig, among others.

Tashlin will frequently bend or break his film in order to follow a train of thought, an idea (or a herd of ideas), or a simple whim. One of my favorite examples is the ridiculous interruption of Little Pancho Vanilla with a trio of fruit-bearing, diminutive singing ladies who then proceed to swoon over a poster of a Clark Gable look-alike (as only Tashlin could imagine him). Prior to their arrival, Vanilla affects something like pastoral realism - or what passes for it, in Looney-land - in its depiction of a provincial Mejican village; afterwards, every absurdity is acceptable, peaking with a speaking bull's transformation of a disparate crew of matadors into identical billiard balls.

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