Videos for the Classroom: “Jerky Turkey” (1945)

The days before a holiday tend to be perfect fodder for videos, at least for killing time.  Yet today’s video combines two things I love: Thanksgiving and the war years in America.

Perhaps the most unsung genius in American animation was Tex Avery.  Starting in Warner Brothers in the 1930s, he moved cartoons away from the sappy, childlike airs of Walt Disney into the mature, sophisticated humor of adults.  He introduced characters like Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, characters with real foibles and charm (and just as thoroughly marketable as Mickey Mouse) as well as fast-paced, rapid-fire dialogue and gags that played to the fears and stresses of adult life.

Avery’s greatest achievements occurred when he moved to MGM in the 1940s.  Through the forties and fifties, Avery produced some of the most groundbreaking, sophisticated and hilarious cartoon shorts in history.  His innovative use of language, sight gags, and modern sensibility created a body of work that still leaves people in stitches–more so adults than children.

Since it is Thanksgiving, the Neighborhood is presenting Tex Avery’s 1945 classic “Jerky Turkey.” In this comic send-up of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth in 1621, an unnamed Pilgrim attempts to shoot a wisecracking turkey that bears an uncanny resemblance to Jimmy Durante.

“Jerky Turkey” is packed with discussion points for the social studies classroom.  World War II, and Franksgiving, are deeply referenced throughout the film.  The Mayflower (complete with a gas ration stamp), for example, is shown built by wartime supplier Henry Kaiser and accompanied by a US Naval Squadron.  Plymouth is divided between Democrats and  Republicans, a nod to the Thanksgiving debacle of years past.  Ration lines for cigarettes, billboards warning against unnecessary travel–even the obligatory offensive Native American caricature is included.

(This particular showing is the full version, which has a quite offensive use of the term “Half-breed” that is edited out of TBS and Cartoon Network showings.)

Besides being a hilarious film, “Jerky Turkey” shows how Hollywood used the harsh realities of war in a humorous way, especially during the holidays.  Enjoy!

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