Saturday, July 13, 2013

"$21 a Day (Once a Month)" - A Walter Lantz Cartoon (1941)

Just after the first peace time draft got under way, shortly before we were drawn into the Second World War, there was a plethora of movies and music which swept the land, all of which chronicled the adventures/misadventures of the new recruits. Abbott and Costello immediately come to mind with their series of movies, “In the Army” and “In the Navy.” Like all good entertainment of the time, these films featured lots of swing music and dancing. So it goes with this cartoon from 1941, produced by Walter Lantz.

With his usual deft hand, Mr. Lantz created a wonderful record of how America viewed the idea of a draft, as well as the coming war in the months before Pearl Harbor. Poking fun at the regimentation required of Army life, the cartoon lampoons the highly regimented life of the average draftee as he is pushed, prodded and prepped for battle with the enemy. The beauty of it all is that he did it using animated toys rather than real draftees. It kind of underscores the feeling unreality which usually precedes the coming of miltary conflict. The part which makes it look like fun.

This was one of the last of the cartoons concerning the war which were designed to make us laugh at ourselves. In just a few short months after the release of this cartoon the attack on Pearl Harbor would affect everything about the American way of life; even the cartoons. They, too, were casualties of the war as they became tools of propaganda, designed to inflame passions and beat the enemy.

Art can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. And it’s not always the artist who creates the evil. Sometimes, art is merely a reflection of who we are at the time. In this cartoon, we were still innocents. Wouldn't it be nice if that it were still so?

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