Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Two-Lip Time (1926)

Two-Lip Time (Pat Sullivan, 1926, silent) 
Dir.: Otto Messmer
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9

My cat Buster Keaton Ghidorah doesn't think. At least, he doesn't think like Felix the Cat. He doesn't pace back and forth, hands clenched together behind his lower back, scowling as if to scare that elusive strand of thought out from under the cupboard in his brain. My cat also doesn't have a tail that detaches from his body and forms a big black question mark whenever he sees something that draws his curiosity, or that can turn into any number of helpful tools whenever he needs a way out of a pinch. He also doesn't walk in a bipedal fashion like Felix, which would prove to be an unnerving sight if he were actually able to do that for even a stretch of three feet.

Lastly, he is not silent like Felix: he talks and talks and talks... and loudly! I remember a few years back where there was a glorious run of about two days after he was trapped out of the house (due to his own quick bolt as I was leaving; he was an outdoor cat, so I didn't think anything of it)... and couldn't meow, couldn't purr, couldn't squeak... for a blessedly low-key and pin-dropping quiet and sweet two days after my return. He would do his normal routine, but either something scared him or whatever, but he was my little quiet Felix for two wonderful days. When he did return to his boisterous yowling, demanding ways, it was in small increments, and so, the entire week was nearly silent in that regard.

Buster still didn't think like Felix either, even after that wake up call, though someone did plan and pull off the Great Post-Thanksgiving Refrigerator Robbery of 2001, in which every leftover given to me from three different households ended up down the gullets of both my cat and my equally sized dog, Blip Ignatz Mice. Either they worked in tandem to get that door open, or one of them had been planning that caper, but perhaps it was the delicious smell of all of that wonderful turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing that drove them to do such a crime. (I know that I'm that way about mashed potatoes too.) So, maybe he did pace back and forth on his hind legs, slouched and scowling, tail shaping into a lightbulb of discovery, and then finally unleashing his master break-in of the fridge.

Felix is definitely hungry at the start of Two-Lip Time, one of his adventures from 1926, but he is not seen thinking his way through the problem. Instead he is on a dock in a harbor, hot on the trail of his potential dinner victim: a tiny mouse. The mouse runs off on a rope leading to a massive ocean liner, and Felix follows suit. The problem comes when a sailor undoes the rope just after the pair run into the ship, and the liner takes to the open sea. Felix doesn't notice until the mouse disappears down a hole in the floor, and suddenly our hero realizes where he is: two portholes show the sloshing waves of the sea and the tilt of the ship's axis, and poor Felix slowly becomes seasick. He tries to concentrate on catching the now unseen mouse, but his stomach yearns for something else, and eventually he can no longer keep what few contents reside within intact anymore. He runs to the porthole, hangs his head out and throws up into the ocean. (We don’t actually see him throw up, of course; it is implied by the heaving of his body out of the porthole.)

A title card tells us that Felix is suddenly "IN DUTCH", and sure enough, the boat pulls into a port in Holland, with a horizon dotted with windmills, and with a couple dozen of the citizenry there to greet the unseen passengers on the liner. Felix takes in the strange surroundings, and then espies a cute little Dutch girl, complete with the stereotypical clogs, and swiftly forgets his stomach hunger and starts a new kind of craving. He instantly falls in love with the girl, and leaps from the porthole to join the girl on the ground. He asks if she would walk with him, and she agrees in kind. As they walk, Felix flirts with her and eventually kisses her. Unfortunately for the Cat, she has a little Dutch suitor, who shows his jealousy by confronting Felix and attacking him. Felix runs to a nearby car and retrieves a tire pump from it. He runs back to the boy and pumps air into his pants, turning the boy's bottom half into a balloon that rises into the clouds and carries Felix's rival away.

Felix then pulls out a banjo and makes to serenade his new beloved, but his strangled mewling wakes up a man who is asleep on the porch nearby house. The man is most decidedly not happy about this, and his wooden shoe at the Cat. As the man threatens to give chase to Felix, our hero uses the shoe as a boat, taking to a nearby river and turning an exclamation point over his head into a makeshift paddle. Felix stops rowing and looks back to check the man's progress, but the boat continues on without him, and he has to run on the air to catch up with it. He eventually finds safety on the other shore, swearing off the whole situation, including, apparently, his love for the girl.

In a nearby yard, Felix comes across a bottle of gin sitting on a table. He smells the liquor and finds it not to his liking, but then spies a bottle of milk enticing him from the sill of the house adjacent to him. After Felix makes an unsuccessful attempt to steal the milk, a man appears in the window, and Felix begs for the bottle. The man tells him that if Felix would water the flowers in the garden (tulips, naturally), then Felix will get the bottle of milk. The man departs, and Felix tips the table backwards so that the gin in the bottle pours into a conveniently placed water-can. He then profusely "waters" the tulips, and the little buds come to life instantly. One tulip even drinks the gin that forms into a pool on the ground; then all of the now besotted flowers beg for more of the precious "water". Felix then pours the gin onto the base of a tree, which instantly begins to act drunkenly, and then staggers and stumbles its way offscreen.

The man, meanwhile, has caught on to Felix's antics, and chases the cat through the countryside. They first spin round and round on one windmill, and then the man chases Felix to a second one. Here, Felix climbs to the very top, and then detaches his tail to use it as a hand-crank. He spins the blades of the windmill ever faster, until the entire thing is spinning like an enormous fan. A hurricane-strength wind arises from Felix's cranking, and his nemesis is blown out of sight. Felix puts his tail back on, looks at the camera, and laughs heartily to finish the picture.

I like the fact that the title has a double meaning in its use of "Two-Lip", and the details on individual characters are incredibly vivid. (The sequence of the man removing his shoe has a depth to its design that is quite astonishing for a film from the early days of animation.) The shipboard sickness scene does go on a little too long, but the starkness of the room combined with the two portholes with the sloshing seawater is a most memorable image. Felix has a swell character bit, where, after he has dumped the gin and is about to water the flowers, he does a silly straightening and flourish to his whiskers. I also like the fact that once Felix gets to Holland, he completely forgets his hunger, only rediscovering it once he has given up on the girl, and then sees the bottle of milk. Love can make you forget you are starving to death, I suppose.

Of course, he never does get to down anything in the cartoon, and this is where he definitely differs from my cat. I attribute this to Felix's silence: no matter how loud Felix yells in these films, they are silent movies, and he is going about the process all wrong. My cat, on the other hand, CAN'T... SHUT... UP...! The slightest twinge of hunger gets him yowling, and the only way to tone him down is to feed him. NOW!

If only it were possible to distract him with a little Dutch girl...

[This article was updated with new photos and edited on 11/23/2015.]

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