Saturday, March 04, 2006

THE STUPIDSTITIOUS CAT (1947)

Superstitions... BAH! Never had much use for them. Through most of my life, I have taken the stance that most of the little weird cliched beliefs that people use to run their lives are silliness of the highest order. By this, I don't mean morals or laws... no, not even close. Any society needs a certain set of standards by which to maintain the peace, so I'm not suggesting anything like that for a second. What I mean are the oddball ideas that people adopt in order to corral that notorious fiend called Luck.

Myself, I have walked under several ladders, reacted to a spilled salt shaker numerous times with mere shrugs and a swift cleanup, and have knocked on wood or crossed my fingers only when in the company of others and when the use of such a cliche was a good conversation ender (and usually it was used in an openly mocking tone). I openly embrace the company of any black cat whose path I happen to cross; to me, they are just like any other kitties. And, boy, have I stepped on a lot of cracks on the sidewalk; my mother's back has always been fine, and at the pace that I walk, you can't let such little stupid things slow you down. And, just how often does one run across a horseshoe these days?

I do, however, have superstitions of my own that I used to incorporate into my life at various points, or that I have flirted with following over the years. A few examples:
  1. In my youth, as a devoted follower of the Cincinnati Reds and the awesome Johnny Bench, I got it into my head that if I didn't read the Sunday Funnies from front to back without skipping a single comic strip, even the crappy ones that I hated, then the Reds would have a losing week on the ballfield. How I came upon this notion I will never know; it just became ingrained in my head and I followed it for several years without exception. Every Sunday morning, I would lie on the ground pouring through first Peanuts on the front page and then all the way to the last page through Doonesbury, all the while chanting to myself that "the Reds will win this week... the Reds will win this week..." Truthfully, I didn't keep a chart to see if this was actually working (which is odd, since my small obsessions would seem to merit that I do such a thing...)
  2. My buddy Wayne and I would always lift our legs, cross our arms, and have to touch the window nearest ourselves anytime that we would drive over a railroad track, most memorably in both the Bluesmobile and the Kobayashi Horizontal Coozy, two of Wayne's early vehicles. I pretty sure that it was a Wayne superstition from his youth, and it was goofy and fun to do, and were I to drive around with the boy again in the future, I'm sure we would do it everytime that we crossed a track.
  3. Four-leaf clovers have always been a pleasure in my life. Not so much for the luck factor, but for zen-like pleasure in sitting in a patch of clover and casually trying to smoke one of the little buggers out. It's like getting a 3000-piece crossword puzzle and deciding to start with one certain piece that has a slight variant over the other 2,999 pieces, only that piece may or may not have been packed inside the box during manufacturing. (Of course, there might be extra versions of that piece packed inside, too.) When I was a kid, my dad had (and might still have) a nature field guide that he would place the four-leaf clovers that we found inside to press them, and that tradition kind of stuck with me.
But I have never fully endorsed the Luck lifestyle. I figure things happen because they do, and no amount of wishing, praying, pleading, hoping or hopping on one foot wearing only a kilt while reciting the third verse to Jabberwocky (a new tradition I just made up) is going to make it happen. But try and tell that to the idiot cat that we meet at the beginning of Famous Studios' first Buzzy the Crow cartoon from 1947, The Stupidstitious Cat. This cat wakes up under a Good Luck sign (with horseshoe) with every part of his body that he can cross, well, crossed. Limbs, fingers, toes, even eyes come undone upon his rising from slumber. He is stopped from getting out on the wrong side of bed by two signs pointing the direction to the proper side. He opens up what looks like a snuff box, but inside are lucky wishbones for him to break, and he breaks one for just that purpose. He seems pleased that his right hand has ended up with the large end, never really picking up on the fact that his left hand possesses the short end. (It is a failure of the film that this isn't pointed out better to the audience. Seymour Kneitel and crew do it a tad too subtle, if, indeed, they mean it at all.) He then decides that a bird breakfast would be a terrific way to start out the day.

Cue the bird for breakfast. The cat's ears are brought to attention by some sweet whistling from a nearby birdhouse. From out of the front door comes a whistling fat little crow with a straw hat, Buzzy the Crow by name and introduction as a new Famous stable character, who then launches into a version of "Listen to the Mockingbird". Only the voice coming from him doesn't quite match the sweet whistling we just heard; this voice is raspy and rough, and is a gloss on Eddie Anderson's "Rochester" voice from The Jack Benny Show. It is only at this point that one realizes that the cat's voice itself is a poor imitation of Jack Benny, with his slow whine repeating the rules of Luck suddenly becoming a tad more amusing (though not by much). He continues to sing the song as he dives off the edge of the house platform into a birdbath below, and then through his scrubbing in the tub. At the end, he flashes a big gold tooth at the audience. (This rendition of the song is the funniest part of the film to me, and really, by a longshot. I'd put odds on it...)

The hungry superstitious cat attempts to catch Buzzy, who mutters that he had better "Straighten Up and Fly Right". Eventually, the cat catches him under a net, and then prepares Buzzy for his meal. Unfortunately, in a series of misfortunes all resulting from the cat's rigid following of the Rules of Luck, which Buzzy picks up on rather quickly (no dope is he!), the cat's plan becomes undone. He tricks the cat into spilling the salt, going under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors, lighting three cigars on one match, and finally throwing a chair through a mirror. Now stuck with 7 years of bad luck, the cat is then splashed in the face with ink by Buzzy, and then the cat sees himself in the broken mirror as "A Black Cat!" The cat then runs straight through the wall and then off and out of the picture. Buzzy is victorious -- until he realizes from a calendar that it is Friday the 13th -- and then Buzzy immediately begins following all of the superstitions that the cat did before!

Buzzy's voice was provided by Jackson Beck, who made a career out of portraying the voice of Popeye's nemesis Bluto in a tremendous amount of cartoons. His Buzzy voice, as I sort of stated earlier with my positive reaction to the song, is my favorite part of the film, and Buzzy has a pluckiness and roughness that I like quite a lot. That the films he starred in fail him, by and large, is not his fault; he is merely a pawn in some notoriously ho-hum hands. I really dislike the design of the cat in this picture; I find him too rubbery, and just a tad too confident for someone who has thrown his lot in with the Rules of Luck and for someone who has a Jack Benny voice. I would have liked him to be a little more nervous (not nervy). Benny, of course, was not nervous per se; he had confidence, but only the confidence of one who is blissfully unaware of how disruptive his personality tics could be. The cat here seems to be extremely careful about what he does, until he sees the bird and he acts like a normal cat. I would have rather seen him use the rules of luck to first capture Buzzy, and then we see his plan come undone by his own rigidity to the rules.

I, too, have a tradition involving Friday the 13th: I love it. I often take the day off from work, as I have done for years and years, and go to the movies and do some shopping, or sit at home and watch my own horror movie marathons, sometimes with friends, sometimes not, and never have I met with a single bad incident or accident.

Of course, there is always the next time. So, to prevent any misfortunes, I will try hopping on one foot while wearing a kilt and reciting the third verse to Jabberwocky:

"And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame
came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
and burbled as it came."

Here's hoping it works...(I had better cross my fingers)...

The Stupidstitious Cat (Famous Studios/Paramount, 1947) Dir: Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

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