Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Seapreme Court (1954)

The Seapreme Court (Paramount/Famous Studios, 1954) 
Dir: Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

Apparently, Little Audrey finds fishing as snooze-inducing as I do, though she is actively engaged in pursuing the, ah, craft. What I don't find snooze-inducing is this sweet little revenge story called The Seapreme Court, a Famous Studios cartoon from 1954, where the denizens of the deep attempt to exact thousands of years of bad human behavior on the person of one little girl. This actually isn't a bad idea: it would be like punishing George W. Bush for over a hundred years of non-stop oil company corruption by making him read a book without pictures in it. (It should be very easily proven that the only thing that he can read with over two syllables in it is his middle initial.)

Little Audrey has nodded off beneath a tree on the shore of some form of body of water (more on that later), when she is awakened by a tug on the line she has resting in that water. She is thrilled, but her excitement wanes when she realizes she has only pulled up an old boot with a score of tiny fishes in it. She casts her line back in, and settles against the tree again, swiftly descending back into a deep slumber. She again gets a tug, and wakes up, shouting, "Oh, boy! It's a big one!" (I, myself, have woken up that way on numerous occasions, but the wife couldn’t care less what I have.)

The "Big One" pulls her under the waves and deep down into the murky depths. There is a cry for help, and a passing sawfish cuts the line between her and the pulling fish. Well, we couldn't see Audrey's mouth, but the fish pulling her down into the deep clearly mouths the repeated "Help!" over and over again, but the childlike voice that emits from the creature is eerily reminiscent of Audrey's. So, just who is the sawfish saving?

As it turns out -- it's certainly not Audrey! She is, however, the center of attention here at the bottom of whatever body of water this happens to be. Surrounded by a host of fish, one of them yells out, "There's one of those humans now!" and another fish shouts, "Yay! We finally got one!" Audrey is arrested by one of the "carps on this beat,” with a pair of crab handcuffs placed on her wrists for good measure. Audrey protests, but there is nothing that can be done; she is brought to the Seapreme Court where she is to be put on trial for the whole of all humanity's crimes against fish-kind. The judge bangs his gavel and calls the court to order...

"The Seapreme Court is now in session,
and the trial is about to begin.
The plaintiff is the fish,
the defendant is the human.
Officer Finn, bring the jury in!"

Officer Finn (the bailiff) turns the key on a can of sardines, releasing a dozen of the smelly delights. The canned jury swear themselves in...

"We're the sardine jury both tried and true!
An "oily" verdict we promise you!"

The judge fish jumps right into the trial...

"The first witness from Fish-Land,
Willie Winkfish take the stand!"

A shy fish dressed as a schoolboy (with a voice somewhat reminiscent of Kay Kyser's original recording of Three Little Fishies) tells his tale of being lured to his near capture on a hook under false pretenses...

"While swimming on my way to school,
down where the ocean is sandy,
I nearly swallowed this fishhook,
whichI thought was peppermint candy."

Audrey yells out, "Ah, that's a fish story!" But the judge doesn't care...

"Order in the court!
Order in the court!
Let there be no interfering!
Mr. Sailfish, take the stand!

Let's continue with this hearing!"

One of the sardine jurors holds a shell up to his unseen ear in order to hear the judge better. Mr. Sailfish, who has an Irish accent, tells his tale of woe...

"I was sailin' nonchalantly,
never dreaming of attack,
when before you could say O'Houlihan,
I was mounted on a plaque!"

The camera pulls back from Mr. Sailfish's head to reveal his entire body mounted exactly as described, with the plaque held up by a stool next to the stand. Little Audrey protests, "I didn't do it! I didn't!" and she stomps down hard on one of the octopus' limbs. The octopus hops around holding his appendage, and the judge calls for order.

"Quiet! Quiet!
Let order prevail!

Call in the next witness
to unveil his tale!"

A large whale now sits on the stand, his face sullen as he towers over the jury.

"It was cold December day,
and I was below the ocean's swirls,
when I was netted by a whaling tug,
and drained of my winter oil!"

It's a much nicer account than what actually happens when oil is taken from a cetacean, but to prove his story, the whale pulls a dipstick out of his blowhole to show that his oil reads "empty". Little Audrey uses the octopus' limbs to slingshot her way up to the judge's stand, and pleads, "Judge! That's a whale of a tale!" The octopus pulls her away, and the judge continues...

"Order in the court!
Now let's examine

the testimony of
the Widow Salmon!"

A salmon wearing a bonnet and pushing a baby carriage rolls up to the stand. There is a tear in her eye as she reveals a goldfish bowl underneath a blanket with about forty small salmon fry swimming about in it.

"My children and I were once happy,
and life altogether was grand.
But now I'm a poor lonely widow.
You see, judge, my husband was canned!"

She holds up the can as evidence, and the sardine jurors (themselves working out of a can) start crying and dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. The judge closes the testimony (without allowing Audrey a defense, mind you -- are there such things as kangaroo fish? Because it seems this is that sort of court)...

"There you are, sardines of the jury!
The evidence is crystal clear.
Make haste in reaching your verdict;
it's late, and my suppertime's here!"

The jury is rolled up back into their can while they deliberate; this takes them exactly 1.23 seconds. It unrolls again and the unsurprising verdict of "We find the human... GUILTY!" is shouted by all twelve of them. The judge turns to Audrey to lay down her sentence for the crimes of humanity...

"The Fish-Land trial is over.
It was just and fair.
And now here is your sentence...
a seat in the EEL-LECTRIC CHAIR!!!"

The camera pans to the left to show eight electric eels formed into the shape of a normal chair, only with the adding threat of their natural body impulses. They light up briefly a few times to show what is in store for Little Audrey, who screams and fights with the octopus to escape. She ties all eight of his limbs together and makes a break for it, running out of the court and onto the ocean floor. Every type of sea creature in the audience swims after her in hot pursuit.

A cry of "Calling All Carps" goes out, and mountie carps head out after her riding atop of seahorses. Audrey runs into the open mouth of the whale, who happily swallows her, but she climbs up and out of his blowhole. A giant clam swallows her next when the whale's tail flicks her into it, but she tickles the clam's mouth open with a feather, sending the huge mollusk into hysterics. She is next cornered by a swordfish who engages her in a fierce duel, but as Audrey is armed only with a piece of wood from a wrecked ship, the battle is easily won by the fish, but Audrey tricks the swordfish into catching his snout in the side of a shipwreck, and she escapes once again.

Finally, other swordfish build a cage around her by sticking their weaponry in the sand and she is brought back to the court. Placed into the Eel-Lectric Chair, it begins to surge... and suddenly Little Audrey wakes up safe and sound on the shore of the water. She then notices a tug on her line, and a small cute fish leaps from the water. Feeling bad about her careless fishing ways, she frees the creature and puts it back into the water, swearing off fishing. At the last second, the fish hops back out and pins a medal on Audrey. It reads "OfFISHial Pardon", and the fish kisses Audrey on the cheek and heads back home.

The Seapreme Court is simple but clever, with the underwater scenes almost entirely done in a rhyming verse. Audrey does apparently have some confusion about the status of whales as fish (though whales have just as much to complain about humans as fish do, maybe more); I'm longing to see an episode where she fell asleep in a biology class while she should have been learning about taxonomy. (I'd like to see the ghost of Linnaeus pursuing the girl through Science Fair Land while singing a swing tune called "You Gots to Learn Yo' Orders or Else!") Also, for a stubbornly rambunctious girl who doesn't think twice when doing anything in her waking life, she certainly has a head full of guilt; this guilty conscience apparently delights in torturing her nearly to death in dream after dream in this series.

As for that body of water, she is clearly fishing by a lake, but nearly every creature in her dream is specifically an ocean-going animal (included a pair of sharks, who only get in on the final chase action, but sadly, only peripherally). I'm sure, like most kids, Little Audrey makes very little distinction made between the animals in freshwater and the animals in saltwater. Hell, we have a world that is convinced that penguins live at the North Pole with polar bears, and that the whole lot share Coca-Colas with each other. Even as an adult, though I fully knew better, I have always, when in lakes, with a large amount of respect for the sharks that must surely inhabit their waters. (I also knew too well of the isolated incidents where sharks actually were in lakes, and had attacked people, such as in Nicaragua.) I knew that I was completely safe, at least from killer sharks, but it was still scary and fun to imagine.

Of course, there are still all of those lake monsters to worry about. Growing up in Alaska, where rumors have always abounded about the creatures living in certain remote lakes such as Iliamna, that was always a very real concern. And don't even get me started on Sasquatch...



And in case you haven't seen it...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

as an official member of the Alaska Court System, I think that the fact that the lake was full of ocean creatures is the least of the un-realistic aspects of the cartoon! My beef is with the Eel-Lectric Chair's use so soon after sentencing. A death row sequence would have been a nice edition. christine