BOOTLEG FILES 667: “Confederate Honey” (1940 Warner Bros. animated short).
LAST SEEN: On DailyMotion.com
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On LaserDisc and in an edited DVD release.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Politically incorrect content.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not in its original uncut form.
During the past few years, there has been an uncommon degree of attention paid to the Confederate States of America, which died in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. On one side, a new wave of white racists is flying the Confederate flag at rallies where they spout their idiotic hatred. On the other side, left-wing revisionists are spending their time demanding the removal of statues of Confederate generals and the renaming of schools and streets named for the military leaders of that long-deceased secessionist nation.
While it would seem these two sides have nothing in common, one could assume they would share the common ground of hating a 1940 Warner Bros. cartoon called “Confederate Honey.” For the white racists, having any humor aimed at their beloved “lost cause” (especially from a Hollywood studio owned by a Jewish family) would be the ultimate outrage. For the statue-hating left-wingers, having a comedy depiction of the slave-owning plantation Old South would be the most egregious indignity imaginable. Yes, “Confederate Honey” seems like the ultimate lose-lose offering.
Actually, the genuine strangeness of “Confederate Honey” is having a Warner Bros. animated short designed as a parody of “Gone with the Wind,” the super-epic from rival producers David O. Selznick and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Why Warner Bros. would give any attention – even snarky notice – to the big release from another studio is a mystery.
“Confederate Honey” gets off to a dismal start, with a sight gag detailing the bluegrass country of Kentucky (two signs at the Indiana-Kentucky border point to a green field in Indiana and a blue field in Kentucky) while the narrator tells us the story takes place in the year “1861 B.C – Before Seabiscuit” (a lame reference to the champion race horse of 1940). The viewer goes to the plantation of Col. O’Hairoil, described as a “true Southern blueblood” – and depicted with blue skin.
We are then taken to the colonel’s cotton fields, which is bordered by slave quarters. A sign reading “Uncle Tom’s Bungalows – $1.50 a night and up” is in the forefront. A group of slaves drawn in the egregious racial stereotyping of the era are picking the cotton – some by hand, others by using a modified lawnmower that digs up the cotton and throws it into a large bag carried by the machine’s slave-operator. A small enslaved boy hands one ball of a cotton at a time to a lethargic elder sitting under a tree, who places it in a crate. When the boy hands the older man two cotton balls, the elder replies, “Don’t get too ambitious there, son.”
Next, we meet the colonel’s daughter, Crimson O’Hairoil, and the narrator tells us that she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth – and, of course, we see her talking with the utensil lodged in her jaws. Crimson has a slave child attendant named Topsy (who apparently was on loan from Harriet Beecher Stowe), and the coquettish daughter of the Confederacy is preparing to meet a line-up of would-be suitors. These men are quickly rejected one by one, and upon exiting each goes to an elderly black man seated behind a desk who validates their parking tickets. The narrator insists that Crimson only has eyes for that “chivalrous … hard riding, square shooting soldier of fortune, Ned Cutler.”
Ned Cutler is presented as an early version of Elmer Fudd, complete with his speech defect (albeit with a slight Dixie twang). Unlike the dimwitted hunter who played foil to Bugs Bunny, the early Elmer is a cheerful, resourceful and cute little doofus. Elmer’s Ned Cutler gives his horse to a young slave who serves a car park attendant for the steed. Ned starts to propose to Crimson, but war breaks out and he leaves her to join his “wegiment” – leaving his horse with the young parking attendant.
“Confederate Honey” then goes into a skein of non sequitur gags of a deliberately anachronistic nature: a Northern soldier marches outside of a Confederate recruiting station with a sign that reads “This Army is Unfair to the Union,” a Union commander tells his troops that the enemy is “pitching Stonewall Jackson against us today, a Southpaw,” while a Confederate bugle call turns into a jazz combo. A Southern officer resembling comic actor Hugh Herbert takes horse racing results over the telegraph while Ned’s cannon volley against the enemy results in a pinball-style “Tilted” sign behind enemy lines and Col. O’Hairoil is furious to learn via the radio that “the Yanks” won in a game at Richmond. There are also cutaways to the young parking attendant still sitting with Ned’s unclaimed horse. Crimson puts a light in her window for Ned, but the beacon is mistaken by Paul Revere as a warning for an upcoming British invasion. If you are not laughing out loud at these descriptions, I can assure you that you will not crack a guffaw watching this on the screen.
The war ends and Ned returns to Crimson, who has been waiting patiently for him. While it seems that Ned is ready to propose, he actually wants her to validate his parking ticket. She responds by banging his forehead with a “Revoked” stamp, causing his noggin to resonate like a gong.
“Confederate Honey” was the first Warner Bros. cartoon directed by Isadore “Friz” Freleng when he returned to the studio after two years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. No voice actors were given on-screen credit, but Elmer Fudd’s voice was provided by Arthur Q. Bryan, Crimson’ voice came via Bea Benaderet and Mel Blanc took the lines for the colonel, the lazy slave and the Union commander using baseball lingo.
“Confederate Honey” was not among the studio’s notorious Censored Eleven cartoons that were yanked from television broadcast due to racially insensitive content, but at the same time it was never a prominent part of the rerun culture. It was part of a LaserDisc release in the 1990s that showed the evolution of the Egghead character into Elmer Fudd, and a censored version that cut out or cropped scenes with the slave characters was a special feature on a 2005 DVD of the Errol Flynn Western “Virginia City.” A complete version can be found in an unauthorized posting on DailyMotion.com.
“Confederate Honey” has little going for it. The rat-a-tat-tat output of silly gags are not particularly amusing – and while its racial stereotyping is not as extreme as other cartoons of that distant era, the animation can still make people cringe. In today’s too-touchy environment, it is unlikely that there will be many champions seeking its complete restoration. And for those seeking a hearty laugh, it won’t be found here. Maybe it is best that this dinky cartoon rest in obscurity – it was a bad idea then and a worse idea now.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
Listen to “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, now in its third season.