Saturday, April 29, 2006

NOAH'S OUTING (1932)

Noah's Outing (Terrytoons, 1932) 
Dir.: Frank Moser
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

Sure, you can read a lot into the title above. You can, for instance, wonder just what led Noah to the moment of his outing. Did he have something going with one of his sons on that cramped little ark, or was it a secret rendezvous on the poopdeck with the Brahma bull?

Or, maybe it was just an innocent little outing on the water, trying to save life as he knows it from being wiped out by a devastating flood. Whatever his story might happen to be, all I know from Noah's Outing, a Terrytoon cartoon from 1932, is that Noah is played by the geezerific Farmer Al Falfa, star of innumerable Paul Terry shorts since the silent days. It's very convenient for Al that his first name and surname combine to form a type of plant that a farmer might grow. Otherwise,

In Noah's Outing, Al plays, unsurprisingly, the titular character, and at the beginning of the short, he is jamming out a nifty riff on his banjo for all of his animals, while his cat does a neat soft-shoe routine for the lot. A mouse then continues the jam session by playing Al's toes like a xylophone. (If this gives you pause, perhaps you'd best depart here... it's only going to get sillier.) A tremendously fat (and roughly animated, like much of this film) hog plays a saxophone, while a large crowd of animals follows him in parade. Two notes jump out of his sax, dance along in front of the parade for a few steps and jump back into the horn. Several animals dance, quite stiffly, in weirdly staring unison, and then a cow "la-la-la's" with the music, turning her back to the camera to shake the fat on her upper arms. (Still there?) The hog, sax, crowd, horn animation is reused, and then so is the dance and the cow footage.

Suddenly, a black cloud looms overhead, with thunder rolling ominously in the distance! A flock of duck, the leader of which is pedaling a bike in mid-air, and with a mother duck pushing a stroller full of eggs, fly into the path of the cloud's rain. The bicycle duck turns about a couple of times and then rides off. The mother duck parks her stroller underneath the cloud and flies away. The eggs hatch one by one, and then the first duckling leaves the stroller (which is just hanging in the air) and flies away, too. 

There is another burst from the cloud, and then hordes and hordes of cats and dogs come pouring out along with the rain, with each animal meowing and yipping on the way down. The mouse (presumably the xylophone player) runs up a palm tree to safety, and then whistles for a giraffe to come over. When it does, the mouse crawls into the giraffe's mouth, and then takes an elevator down the creature's neck, which is marked by numerous windows, and out of a door in its foot. The mouse jumps onto the back of a horse (with seemingly wooden legs) and charges into the wind and rain. A lightning bolt turns the horse into nothing but a skeleton, and then another bolt sheers the still running skeleton in half, which comes apart momentarily, but then the back half catches up to the front. (I hope you've stuck around...)

Noah/Al and his cat are hurriedly throwing furniture into a horse-drawn cart. Al jumps in, the horse takes off, and the back of the cart breaks apart, and the furniture is left behind. The front of the cart falls off, but Al leaps onto the back of the horse. The horse falls down, and Al keeps riding through the air, galloping away, until he is sent crashing face-first into a tree. Another cloud sends out bursts of rain, cats and dogs, as a parrot runs on the ground, carrying his cage and an umbrella. Lightning bolts hit the ground in front of him, and he climbs each one like a staircase. The ark is finally shown, and there is much work going on to fill the craft up, including a large dinosaur who is pedaling a wheel with his back legs that causes the scales on his back to move a series of trunks along towards the ark.

Al wheels a henhouse, complete with Al-pecking hen, up to the ship. He motions for a crane to come down and pick the henhouse up, and when it does, the mouth of the crane actually belongs to a hippopotamus. It grabs the house with its enormous maw and pulls it up with the help of another dinosaur on the ship's deck. (This dinosaur, I must mention, apparently is steam-powered, owing to the large engine mounted on his back.) The hippo is then lowered to pick up an item that two dogs have carried up in a box: an incredibly long dachshund. 

A monkey frantically honks a horn attached to his unicycle. He rides into a slot on a thin tree, and then rides back out with his family hanging on behind him, as he again frantically honks his horn and wheels along. Soon, all of the paired up animals begin arriving, running intently for the safety of the ark. A turtle finds that he is far too slow, so he takes off his shell, revealing his clothes. He takes off eight shirts, each in a different style, until he is standing in nothing but his underwear. He climbs back in his shell, and instantly, he is running twice as fast.

Meanwhile, a tiny mouse is seen sitting high on the end of a canoe, in which the other ending is weighted down by a well-dressed but hefty lady hippo. The mouse rows swiftly as he can through the rough water, but he accidentally splashes her, and so she bonks him on the head with her tiny umbrella. The animals climb aboard the ship on long ramps, but the mouse and hippo are still rowing along. The splash/bonk animation is used again before they reach the ship. The mouse climbs up to a small porthole, climbs through (with barely enough room for himself), and then pulls the entire canoe and his hippo girlfriend through it, too. Her bottom gets stuck and her bloomers fill our sight for a brief moment, but she does manage to get inside. (She loses her nifty shoes in the process, however...)

As another hippo blows the whistle, the ship weighs anchor, and as it is lifted inside, two turtles crawl out of the water behind it, up the side of the ship, and go inside to safety, as well. The giraffe has a sail hoisted up his back, and then the ship is shown being pulled by a huge smiling whale, who drags the craft up and down over each oceanic swell. A huge array of umbrella dot the deck of the ship, and when the wind carries one of them away, a kissing pair of dogs are caught by surprise. The ship rocks and rocks through day and night, until, I assume, the legendary 40 day/night contract is fulfilled, and then a bright, smiling sun is seen in the skies above. The sun, with a ill-fitting mouth that moves like Clutch Cargo's, begins to sing all gospel-like:

"It ain't gonna rain no more, no more!"

What seems like an entire choir, representing the animals on the ark, pick up the next line in tandem with the sun, as we see the ark sitting precariously on the tippy-top of Mt. Ararat:

"It ain't gonna rain no more!"

The animals are then shown surrounding their hero Noah/Al Falfa on the deck of the ark, serenading him in song:

"Old Man Noah was a grand old man,
and it ain't gonna rain no more!"

Then, there is a sudden burst of lightning which strikes the ship, and then we see Al hanging from the point of an extremely crooked lightning bolt, struggling to free himself from its grasp. Superimposed over the top of him is another torrent of cats and dogs, and the film irises out.

Despite the crudeness of much of the animation and of the story as told, this film is remarkably enjoyable. So many of the scenes are so barely connected to not just each other, but to the actual story, that for large sections of the film, it almost fulfills the basic tenets of surrealism, then relatively nascent in the art scene. I have no doubt whatsoever that this is on purpose; rather, it is merely a cartoon department run incredibly on the cheap that causes such laziness on screen, but I cannot dislike this film for that feeling. There are actually several well-considered shots in the mix, and the silliness does a lot to keep you jumping from disconnected scene one to disconnected scene two and so on. It is exactly this feeling that makes the cartoons of the early thirties, with their black-and-white endless variations on a still limited animated range, so intriguing. 

While many of the early cartoons seem almost interchangeable at the time, with everyone reaching for Mickey-style success, there are little subtleties at play beneath the rampant silliness that make all of them worthwhile watches, even the worst of the lot, for at least a couple go-arounds, if not more. As cheap as Terrytoons could be, they are still as precious as gold for the history contained within them.

Now that I think about it, perhaps Al is dating his cat. The cat is wearing pants at the beginning of the cartoon, generally a cartoon signal that the character is a male, and a little while later, Al and the cat are packing up furniture together to escape to the ark. While we don't necessarily see that cat in such close proximity to Al again in the rest of the cartoon, there is an awful lot of necking going on in the ark (the umbrella scene proves it), so things aren't so squeaky-clean and innocent in Al Falfa's world already.

Which leads me to believe that perhaps Noah's Outing is really an outing, after all? Al, you have some 'splainin' to do... but only if you feel comfortable in telling us.

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