Friday, February 03, 2006

MAMA'S NEW HAT (1939)

How to please Der Mama on Mother's Day? Perhaps purchasing her a swell new hat will be just the right amount of suck-up needed to win her favor. This is what Hans und Fritz reason at the beginning of Mama's New Hat, the 15th and last of MGM's The Captain and the Kids series, which ended unceremoniously and abruptly in the spring of 1939, apparently due to both growing unease at home over pop cultural portrayals of the suddenly evil-seeming Germans, and also with the studio's dissatisfaction with the series' performance as a whole. Whatever the reason, the series certainly went out with a muted bang, as there is great style and animated complexity, but only marginal humor, to the family's final cinematic adventure.

The boys purchase a fine hat for Der Mama, but after tripping over a brick, they find themselves kneeling in a puddle of mud. And Der Mama's fine new chapeau? Coated in muck. A laughing horse nearby, proudly sporting a neat hat of its own, catches the boys' attention with its mocking guffaw, and they devise a plan to steal the horse's hat to replace Der Mama's ruined one. Switching the hats without the nag noticing right away, they abscond with the replacement, but the horse gives furious chase to the lads. The horse swiftly loses the trail and tries to pick up their scent by sniffing about the street.

Meanwhile, Hans und Fritz have made it back home to present the hat to their loving Mama. She bestows kisses upon the heads of her "little angels"; to accomplish this, she has to the halos that have magically appeared over their noggins when she pronounced them as such. She tries the hat on in the mirror, and her reflection bounces back to her with an image of Greta Garbo, slim and svelte in a way in which Der Mama was probably never close but in her fantasies. The happy Mama takes to the streets to strut about and show off her present. Unfortunately, she almost immediately catches the angry eye of the burglarized horse, who makes several chomps and stabs at stealing its own hat back, but Mama is too quick and makes it back to the house with the horse fast at her heels. The horse barges through the door after her, but runs through the entire house, the camera following the unseen from the outside of the abode, until the horse crashes through an upstairs window, lands on the roof opposite the house, slides down the shingles towards the ground below, and ends up sprawled in Der Mama's basement.

The horse begans to stalk through the house searching for Der Mama, and when it finds her, it again begins to chase her. They run in circles in and out of two doors, but through the door in the middle come Hans und Fritz. They trip the horse and drag it into their room, leaving Der Mama to continue running in circles on her own. The boys are wearing fake mustaches, speak with outrageous French accents and pretend to run a millinery. The horse not only buys the act, trying on an endless variety of caps and headgear (including a football helmet), but it also walks out of the place wearing heels, a girdle, stockings, feather boa and thickly applied lipstick. The horse trips and falls into the bathtub where Der Captain is happily scrubbing himself. The horse bolts from the bathroom and falls back into step with Der Mama who is still running in circles. It snatches the hat from her head and tries to escape through the laundry chute, but ends up in a heap in the basement. Through the circumstances of its crash, the horse ends up with first glue on its rear, then a fan glued to its rear, then getting an electrical shock which starts the fan turning furiously and sends the horse flying back up through the laundry chute, stuck in a sideboard and taking to the air like an airplane. The horse-plane scoops up the entire family in succession, and flies out the window, its continued flight pulling all of the wiring out of the house, and eventually pulling the wiring off of the power poles and finally destroying the electrical plant on the other side of town. The horse and family end up wrapped up in the clotheslines, where a final charge of power get the fan spinning again, and the whole thing turns into a carousel. The Captain and the Kids ride out their theatrical career in fun but only mildly electric fashion.

After watching and reviewing three straight cartoons with Der Mama, I feel that I began this turn with somewhat hostile opinions regarding the lady. (I even went so far as to call her a harridan two days ago.) While her reputation as a loving mother I never questioned, her behavior towards the buffoonish and relatively harmless antics of her lover Der Captain always struck me as overly harsh, but I now feel that I have behaved the same way towards her. As I have stated before, I have read precious few of the daily installments of either The Katzenjammer Kids or The Captain and the Kids, but the image that I took away of her is of a frying-pan wielding, drawerful-of-silverware throwing shrieking harpy (though with a much lower tone of voice) who keeps Der Captain, lazy good-for-nothing slouch that he is, in a constant state of fear over her possible swift reprisal of household warfare.

No doubt my image of Der Mama has also been piled on and fueled by countless other images of distaff cartoon harbingers of domestic doom such as Maggie (Maggie & Jiggs) or Flo (Andy Capp), to name but two, and even have probably fused some of both the fussbudget Lucy Van Pelt (Peanuts) and the decidely non-domestic but violent The Fat Broad (B.C.) into this monstrously chauvinistic conglomeration in my media-suffused brain. Thus, when I have been confronted with cartoons of Der Mama in the past, my immediate reaction to her behavior is one of a steely disgust and loathing, even if she is doing nothing, but simply because she seems to represent unthinking and unwarranted authority, even when confronted with Der Captain's idiocy. (Der Captain is not even her husband, but whether he is actually her lover, the father of her boys, or simply a boarder in her home, I believe, has never been resolved.) Regardless of whether or not Der Captain deserves a bonk on the head, no one should have to live their life according to their fear of the wrath of another.

But, I find Der Mama that I am confronted with in the MGM cartoons to be a different breed of cat altogether; she is not so much the bullying hausfrau. I find her as being rather sweet, if not still the slightly stern authority figure that the other characters both adore and fear. There are moments when she is incongruously dainty (given her size) in her motions, and it seems that the animators were having a good deal of fun with her sections of the films. And I believe that I have been very wrong about my image of her.

At least, my image of her in the cartoons. I still don't know about Der Mama in the comics. She might hit me a rolling pin for talking bad about her behind her back.

Mama's New Hat (MGM, 1939) Dir: No director listed on credits
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

No comments: