Sunday, April 30, 2006

IN THE BAG (1932)

In the Bag (Van Beuren Studios, 1932) 
Dir.: John Foster and George Rufle
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

Tom and Jerry? Aren't they a cat and a mouse? Well, the pairing of the names goes far back beyond the cartoon world -- I am not necessarily going to recount how here, but, in general, the names refer to a pair that fights, brawls and drinks together incessantly -- rest assured, there is another animated duo blessed with the same names, and while they are no match historically for MGM's famed battling "buddies", in either popularity or in artistic success, they goofed about for a couple of years in over 25 shorts for the Van Beuren Studios, which, at their peak of quality (at least in the handful that I have seen over the span of my lifetime), are at least lightly spry in imagination and general silliness.

In the Bag seems to have little direction to it as far as plot goes. The drive behind it seems to be: 1) get Tom and Jerry to the location of the situation; 2) get Tom and Jerry in the situation once they are at the location; and 3) get Tom and Jerry out of the situation in time for the close of the film. 

Far better films have been built on even less in the story department, but, here the reasons for these two doing anything or going anywhere are specious at best; rather, the two characters flit and bounce from scene to scene, proving they possess remarkable protean abilities to cope with anything thrown their way, especially in the case of the decidedly more pugnacious Jerry, who is bedecked in the cartoon fashion trend of the 1930s, i.e. clothes somewhat close in style to Mickey Mouse's, and with a similar tough attitude to boot. Tom is the taller of the two; he is generally klutzier and more prone to end up in added trouble due to a severe lack of wits. The two will often be accompanied by a variety of sound effects when they do things like tip a hat, jump up in the air, or alight upon something. (I can't help but think of certain noises from Super Mario Bros. when I see a Tom and Jerry short.)

The film starts off somewhat gruesomely with the sudden death of a cute flying duck mere seconds into the action. Tom and Jerry have taken to the skies aboard a small, chubby aeroplane, with the smaller Jerry at the controls. The duck basically just wanders in briefly from offscreen and goes right into the propeller. The boys are covered by several waves of feather shavings, and then Jerry wisely holds a plate out under the prop to retrieve the (one would hope, cooked) carcass of the tragic duck. He hands it to Tom, sitting in the rear seat with a parachute strapped to his back (how prescient!), but as Tom tears off one of the legs and holds it to his mouth, the plane's engine fails and they begin zooming down to earth. Tom leaps out and pulls his parachute cord, but it doesn't poof out, and he smacks down into the ground, creating a small crater. Jerry, briefly, has it easier, managing to slow the drop of the plane down so that it practically tiptoes onto the ground. However, after a brief pause once it touches, the plane sputters out and falls to pieces.

They find themselves in the desert, or rather, "the Old West", and as they trek to the nearest point of civilization, they are matched in pace, and mocked, by a longhorn steer. He shave-and-a-haircuts their walk with some dance steps, and when Tom turns to the steer, he is scared but determined to protect his buddy, so he grabs the bull by the horns, literally, and turns them downward. The steer kisses Tom on the lips, then recovers his horns to their normal position and attacks again. Jerry grabs Tom's feet as the bull spins them around and around, and they are thrown into a nearby tree. 

After gaining their feet, they see a wanted poster nailed to the tree with a vicious looking baddie drawn on it. Spying the reward for $1000, Tom pantomimes that he will fight the villain and win the reward, but a hand appears from behind the tree, and thumbs the nose on the picture at Tom. Stepping out from behind the tree is the same bad guy, and he strides up to Tom to do him some harm. Fortunately for Tom, he has a tough little buddy like Jerry, who after distracting the baddie by pointing at the poster, kicks the villain full in the stomach. Tom takes the opportunity to turn the creep's ten-gallon hat into a thirty-gallon one, stretching it down over the baddie's body, and then the pair ride off on the baddie's horse.

In town, a cowboy is playing the banjo while another does tricks with a lasso. Jerry steps in, and turns out to be a natural with a rope, performing a wide variety of astonishing and physics-defying stunts. A crowd of cowboys gathers and applauds wildly. They lead Tom and Jerry into the saloon, where Jerry has the bartender make a chocolate shake for him. After he makes Jerry's, the bartender uses the shaker again with his back turned to the bar, and as Jerry relishes eating his shake's cherry, the bartender's two wisps of neatly combed hair slide off into the foam of Jerry's shake. Jerry sucks down the contents, and when the bartender turns around, he sees his hair sitting like a mustache on an equally surprised Jerry's upper lip!

A band starts up a lively version of the old standard, Ida (Sweet as Apple Cider):

"Seems though
Can't live without you
Oh honey do
Ida, I idolize ya
Because I
Love ya,
'Deed I do!"

What appears to be two showgirls bending over and showing the bottoms of some frilly bloomers and some supple legs dance across the floor. The figures turn around, and it seems they have their heads bent as they caper further along the floor. Near the last line, they reach up and pull down the frilled fabric to their shoes, revealing full sets of chaps. After the line " 'Deed I do", the figures pull their heads, revealing a pair of identically goofy looking cowboys, and the chorus sings "I do" once more, as the cowboys hold their arms out for effect. Then, the entire saloon bursts forth in a jam session, continuing the song, complete with a three-part cowboy vocal rhythm section, Jerry on trumpet and Tom on tuba. Jerry's trumpet solo sounds suspiciously like a human singing scat (which it is, and it's wonderful), and at the close of the song, the cowboys repeat the "Because I love ya, Ida, 'deed I do!" part.

Suddenly, the party ends when the bad guy, seeming taller than before, sticks his guns over the swinging doors of the saloon and yells, "Stick 'em up!" Everyone in the bar, indeed, sticks 'em up, and we see a shot of the roof of the building as a dozen pairs of hands stretch out through the roof and high above it. Inside, we discover, as the villain enters, that he seems twice as tall because he is riding what I presume to be a fellow of the African-American persuasion. The villain jumps down, gives his unwilling lackey a boot in the pants out the door, and turns to the shivering crowd. Tom's pants fall down when he holds his hands up, and not only is there someone hiding in a barrel, there are also a pair of hands sticking out of the spittoon, as well. The villain uses a magnet to collect all of the loot in the place, including watches, moneybags, guns, knives, coins, and a pair of someone's teeth.

The villain departs, and Jerry wastes no time in flying Superman-like (but long before that hero first appeared) out the door and onto the back of a horse, all the better to track the creep down. The baddie, however, has four guns shooting out of a spinning turret in his ten-gallon hat, but Jerry manages to evade the bullets easily, with the horse crawling on all fours part of the time while still giving chase. Jerry uses his lasso skills to snag the tail of the baddie's horse, and then walks a combination tightrope and upside-down crawl to make it to the other side. He clubs first the villain out cold, and then the villain's horse, and a definite clue that they are in Texas occurs when Jerry ties the rope around the bad guy's wrists and drags him back to town behind Jerry's horse. 

The townsfolk are overjoyed, present Jerry with the $1000 reward, which he hands over to Tom, and then the sheriff hoists Jerry up in the air and carries him back into the saloon to celebrate. Tom drops the back on the ground, and when the villain wakes up, he switches the reward bag with a false bag, also marked "$1000.00." A horse runs in and convinces Tom to make off with the cash, and after considering it for a second, he grabs the bag and rides off into the forest with it. Once in the woods, Tom dismounts and kicks the horse away. He opens the bag greedily, sees what is inside, pours it out and says, "Nuts!" Suddenly, a gang of voracious squirrels attack Tom, knocking him down into the pile of nuts, and then run over him as they all try to grab what they can in a squirrel free-for-all. Iris out.

It's slightly worth mentioning that Simon and Garfunkel originally recorded under the names Tom and Jerry. They took assumed last names, as well, and though I have seen some mentions that they took the names because of the famously named cartoon characters, no one ever offers up which cartoon characters: the human Tom and Jerry or the cat and mouse team. It is also worth noting that Simon, the short one, took the name of Jerry, the monicker of the short character in both teams; Garfunkel, meanwhile, was Tom, who in all cases is the tallest. Since Paul and Art eventually took to arguing, fighting and brawling, leading to their very public breakup and reconciliation and breakup and reconciliation and... well, so on and so on... I guess they lived up to the names Tom and Jerry after all. In both teams.

They just never showed the same sense of humor as the animated versions. Well, except on Saturday Night Live

Or, unless you count A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission). Now, THAT’S entertainment...

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