Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster was an instant favorite with animators, appearing in droll cameos or as the story’s main menace in numerous cartoons throughout the Thirties and Forties. Karloff himself was also featured in a few cartoons, usually caricatured in gaunt deadpan. With Porky’s Road Race, in 1937, both The Monster and the celebrated actor were merged into one villainous, flat-headed character named “Borax Karoff”.
The simple story has Porky Pig driving his tiny roadster in a big race against Hollywood movie stars the likes of W.C.Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and John Barrymore. Charlie Chaplin appears wielding wrenches, Modern Times-style, and Charles Laughton is portrayed as Mutiny on the Bounty’s Captain Bligh, otherwise, most of the famous faces here are mostly forgotten today. George Arliss, anyone?
Borax Karoff is prominently featured, and he is the best-realized character in the piece with his elongated jaw, sawed-off head and Frankenstein bangs, unibrow and raccoon eyes. Borax drives a souped-up, 30-foot long, finned and streamlined speedster — Number 13, of course — with a death’s head hood ornament. He throws tacks, grease, glue and a torpedo at the competition to take the lead. On the home stretch, with every one else sidelined, Porky and Boris sprint for the finish line. Guess how it ends.
Comedy-wise, there’s not a lot going on here. There’s none of the wild creativity that we usually associate with the famous Warner Brothers “Termite Terrace” artists. This cartoon relies entirely on its star cameos for laughs that, I suspect, weren’t very loud even in 1937.
The seven-minute short was animated by Bob Bentley and Joe D’Igalo, under the direction of Frank Tashlin. Writer Allen Rose’s credits include Man of Tin, a 1940 cartoon featuring a Frankensteinian mad scientist and his robot creation.
Porky’s Road Race is distinguished for being voice master Mel Blanc’s first picture, providing Porky’s hiccups (and, I’m guessing, the “putt putt” sound of squirting oil cans). Blanc, incredibly, would go on to voice over one thousand cartoons! Borax Karoff’s sinister cackles were recorded by Billy Bletcher, a character actor and frequent cartoon voice artist. Bletcher, whose career spanned over fifty years, may be best remembered as the mad lab hunchback assistant “Gorzo” in the bizarre science fiction serial The Lost City (1935).
Porky’s Road Race is currently online here.