Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 5, 2004
Veteran journeyman animator who played a long-running role at Warner Brothers, directing there for a while in the 1940s. Davis originally came to the studio with Frank Tashlin when the latter took over from Norm McCabe. Davis had previously been at Columbia Screen Gems, where he co-directed The Little Match Girl (1937) and worked on the long-running series of cartoons starring Scrappy. Davis’ first work at Schleisinger’s was on a number of Tashlin cartoons. Scrap Happy Daffy (1943) and Brother Brat (1944) are two of the cartoons for which Davis received animation credit.
When Robert Clampett left Warner Brothers in 1945, Davis took over his unit, completing a few cartoons which were already in production -- most notably The Goofy Gophers (1947), for which Clampett had already recorded the dialogue.
Although most of his cartoons lack the polished appearance of some of his colleagues’ contemporaneous efforts, Arthur Davis succeeded in turning out a good number of very solidly funny cartoons. He was greatly assisted in this by writers Bill Scott and Lloyd Turner.
The Davis cartoons featuring Daffy Duck were particularly good. The closing gag of What Makes Daffy Duck? (1948) features sign-switching for the changing hunting seasons, and may have inspired the later so-called “Hunter’s Trilogy“ of Chuck Jones. Davis’ sole Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bowery Bugs (1949), takes place in Davis’s home town of New York, and manages to have Bugs come across very nicely as a rascally con-artist, duping Steve Brodie and eventually forcing him to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge. Brodie, who had been a saloon keeper, was a real-life character of gaslight-era New York who supposedly jumped from the Bridge in one of the most vivid legends of that city, a legend with which Davis would certainly have been familiar.
Davis, alas, fell victim to the cost-cutting that wracked Hollywood after the so-called “Paramount Decrees” which broke up the close integration between production, distribution, and exhibition that large studios like Warner Brothers had depended upon. Davis, as the junior man of the four-director rotation, lost his unit, which was broken up. Davis emerged later as one of top animators in the Freleng unit throughout the 1950s, and animated for many of the classic Sylvester-Tweety battles.
With the coming of the 1960s, and the gradual spreading of director jobs to top unit men, Davis got to direct one last cartoon at Warner Brothers, Quackodile Tears (1962). After the closure of the Warner Brothers cartoon studio, Davis did some work with Sid Marcus, with whom he had worked at Screen Gems and Warner Brothers, as well as on some of the later Woody Woodpecker cartoons for the Lantz studio.
Along with Warren Foster, Davis received story credit for Sandy Claws (Freleng, 1955). Solomon, in discussing Bob McKimson, mentions the relative lack of study given to his cartoons, noting that only Davis is studied less. Too bad -- those who do not study the cartoons of Arthur Davis are missing out on some of the most consistently funny and underrated cartoons ever made at the studio.