Malibu Beach Party (Warner Bros., 1940)
Dir: Friz Freleng
TC4P Rating: 7/9
As I stated in the previous post, I am not necessarily a fan of cartoons features scores of celebrity cameos and/or caricatures. Malibu Beach Party is one of the handful of exceptions to that rule. While no great shakes as either a jokefest or even as a cartoon, it is a film filled from start to finish with good fun, if a little bit mean at times to the celebs being roasted, though, from all accounts that I have encountered, such portrayals were considered flattering across the board. I can't imagine that Garbo enjoyed all of the jabs at her shoe size, but she did have a good sense of humor, so maybe she enjoyed it after all.
The prime focus of my interest in this cartoon is the starring portrayal of Jack Benny, er, Bunny. They nail the great cheapskate, both by including Mary Livingston (Benny's wife) and Eddie Anderson (Rochester, here called Winchester) in the proceedings, but also through a series of gags playing off of the comedian's gimmick of possessing an incredibly tight wallet. Guests to Bunny's beach party are sent an invite that says "This coupon and 50 cents entitles the bearer to a free 25 cent blue plate lunch." It then reads "DANCING SWIMMING," two free activities, in large type, and then "DINING" in a much smaller font. He doesn't even want to spend money to make money. When Winchester is asked to fill the guests' glasses, he tells Bunny that "Half a pint isn't going to be enough!" as he uses an eyedropper to set a single drop of liquid in each martini.
This cartoon is loaded with star cameos, with even the peripheral figures turning out to be based on someone famous (such as Cagney, just lying by the pool). My personal favorite scene involves Ned Sparks, the famous crab, being called an "old crab" by an actual old crab, and then having to deal with Baby Snooks (whose rendering seems to remind me of the pinheads from Freaks), who begs to bury him in sand so obsessively (even crying to get her way) that Ned finally relents. She then drives a dump truck up to him and drops a ton of the stuff on his head. The animation of Sparks' face, in combination with his cigarette smoking, is beautifully done, and to me is the high point of the picture.
Also fun is John Barrymore coming to bury Cesar Romero, both in speech and with sand; Clark Gable swims past with his ears as flippers, but is outdone by a surfing (or water skiing) Greta Garbo using, what else, but her enormous feet to propel herself over the waves. Spencer Tracy, in his Stanley garb, says to Mary, "Mrs. Livingstone, I presume?," and enters the soiree. George Raft, of course, hangs out by the rafts, flipping his ubiquitous coin; when Deanna Durbin sings, she throws a rose in Mickey Rooney's direction, but because of his minute size, the rose goes over his head into Cary Grant's waiting hand; and, in a marvelously done bit of animation, Astaire and Rogers do a straight dance sequence on the furniture on Bunny's patio. Bunny then busts up the party with his amateurish scrawling on violin (naturally), and when Winchester tries to make his escape, Jack sits on his back to make sure that someone listens to his number.
I like the way that the heads on all of the celebrities are just slightly too large for the bodies that they are positioned on; it gives them almost a bobblehead feel. And I get the feeling that I really did attend a beach party at Jack Benny's, er, Bunny's house, which I feel is the major triumph of this fun film. I never did get to that "50 cents for a 25 cent" dinner, but I didn't walk away malnourished either.
[Editor's note: The text and photos for this article were updated on 10/30/2015.]