"Lady, Play Your Mandolin" is a 1931 theatrical cartoon, the first of the Merrie Melodies series of short subjects, and the solo directorial debut of Rudolf "Rudy" Ising. It was intended to be the first of a series of animated music videos that Warner Bros. would use to promote its newly-acquired music library having acquired Brunswick Records and some music publishers one year earlier. They even used a high-profile dance orchestra such as the one of Abe Lyman. The short has a strong Disney influence in its animation, not surprising since Harman and Ising were former employees of Walt Disney (and would, indeed, work for him again on one occasion as independent contractors).
The fairly loose plot takes place in a desert speakeasy set during Prohibition, where the Funny Animal patrons have a massive beer party and sing "that song of sin". Mickey Mouse lookalike Foxy promptly arrives and the fun really begins! Light on plot, but heavy on gags and sheer audacity (with a dose of swinging music), Lady was a smashing debut for the Merrie Melodies, helping launch it forward as a flagship series for decades, up to its Dork Age end in 1969.
The short is in the public domain and can be viewed here, and while only a time-edited version was included on Cartoon Network's special ToonHeads: The Lost Cartoons (which can also be found as a special feature on the first volume of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set), the full, uncut version has made its way onto the Little Caesar DVD, as well as the Thunderbean DVD collection "Attack of the '30s Characters".
This film is also notable for being the first Looney Tunes cartoon that future director Bob Clampett worked on. He got his start on the series as an assistant animator on this film.
This short provides examples of:
- Alcohol Hic: Given how much booze is consumed in this short, this is a given.
- Animated Music Video: One of the earlier examples.
- Animate Inanimate Object: A hat rack, a cactus, some tables, and even the bar itself. However, they don't fit any of the three types.
- Bad-Guy Bar: Considering that they're having an illegal beer party and proudly proclaiming themselves as sinners.
- Captain Ersatz: Foxy. He's such a shameless copy of Mickey Mouse that Walt Disney quickly got wind of Foxy and asked Rudy Ising to stop using the character after two more shorts. Also, Merrie Melodies? The Disney cartoons were "Silly Symphonies" This makes Foxy the first Captain Ersatz of a Captain Ersatz of a Captain Ersatz of Charlie Chaplin.
- Funny Animals: As was pretty standard for the time.
- Have a Gay Old Time: When Foxy sings "A Gay Caballero". No relation to The Three Caballeros.
- Jerkass: Foxy's horse was about to enter the bar himself, but Foxy, with a pissed off look on his face, drags him by the tail to a nearby cactus and wraps his neck around it. The horse later frees himself and brays into the bar. Foxy, again with an angry look on his face, comes out and smashes a bottle of beer over the horse's head. So, not only was Foxy a complete ripoff of Mickey Mouse, he was also an abusive asshole.
- Looney Tunes in the '30s
- No Name Given:
- Foxy wasn't named until his next short.
- The "Lady" wouldn't actually be named Roxy until many decades later.
- Public Domain Animation
- Refuge in Audacity: Although it hardly comes across as such in the 21st century, in 1931 this was practically as edgy as South Park in its way, since, among other things, the whole premise concerns an establishment that was illegal in the States at time of publication and features comical amounts of alcohol consumption. (And then, of course, there's the racial stereotyping...)
- Rule of Funny: The entire short runs exclusively on this, not really relying that much on these ideas of "plot" or "logic".
- Shout-Out: When Foxy says "Mammy" during the climax.
- Stock Footage:
- Used five times. The first two times while the gorilla was dancing during the opening song, the third when the gorilla walks over to Foxy, and the last two times while Foxy's horse walks around the bar.
- Some footage of this cartoon would later be recycled for the Van Beuren Cubby Bear short "The Gay Gaucho" that Harman and Ising worked on.
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Roxy, the "Lady" of the title. She's basically Foxy with a skirt and long eyelashes.
- Wrap Around Background: While Foxy is singing "A Gay Caballero".