Friday, May 05, 2006

A SPANISH TWIST (1932)

I never do a damn thing on Cinco de Mayo. OK, I did once, back in Anchorage with a group of friends, and we went for a subpar dinner at a passable Mexican restaurant. When I say subpar, I mean the food was subpar (there was something wrong with my order, but I let it pass); the company was just dandy. But, hardly any of us really knew what the hell we were celebrating. Like just about everyone in the jam-packed restaurant, which was in that state because of the celebration, all but one of us believed that Cinco de Mayo was the Mexican Independence Day.

What do we know. You go with the flow on these holidays. Most of the country is just happy to have another reason to hoist a few beers too many, and to hell with whether you are from Mexico or even remotely Hispanic. You just want to party. I have no problem with that stand. Life is hard enough for most people; why not go out and blow off some steam in the unquestioning shadow of a non-official holiday celebration. Holidays will take anyone; they're not that particular. But if you want to celebrate Mexican Independence on the proper day, do it on September 15. Cinco de Mayo is the commemoration of some battle in some part of Mexico with some famous general defeating the French. Many people, though not myself, just need the last six words of that last sentence to find cause to whoop it up. (If it seems like I am giving the event short shrift, so be it. I'm tired and not feeling so great in the noggin.) And, if I'm not mistaken, Cinco de Mayo usually takes place on, oh... hell, I can't remember... May something...

My pal Adrian, with whom I work, confronted me today on the subject of my lack of concentrated drinking. I am forever a lightweight in the drinking department, though I have had my crazy moments (and one particularly evil evening, since dubbed "Suicide Night", which I am better served not mentioning further). But, for several years now, I have gotten a supreme kick out of being in control, and not only that, by being able to reign myself back into control. I keep myself on a short leash where alcohol is concerned, and once I have, at the most, two drinks of whatever variety, I start solely drinking water for the remainder of the evening. But, since I have moved to California, I have only had two drinks total, and both of them were months apart in the downing. Adrian said that it was time that I moved that level up to at least three drinks, and this would be accomplished by hanging out for Cinco de Mayo this evening. Of course, I explained my case, and the rest of the afternoon went without mention of it. And so, here I am not out celebrating, and writing about not drinking instead.

But, I suppose I should celebrate Cinco de Mayo in my own way, if only because I can hear people out and about doing it on supposedly real terms. I don't have a Mexican cartoon at my disposal today (though, I thought about reviewing the series of new Speedy Gonzalez car commercials), but what I do have, since I am apparently in the midst of an unplanned Van Beuren Tom and Jerry series theme week, is a short from the animated comic duo that involves Spain, bullfights, castanets, flamenco dancing, mariachis and alcohol. If that doesn't veer us close enough to Mexico without Bugs Bunny digging his Albuquerque-lost way into an arena with a raging bull, then nothing will.

The short is called A Spanish Twist, and it starts with the Mutt-and-Jeff style team afloat in the middle of the ocean atop a small raft made of lashed-together logs. Tom is stretched out on it, sleeping comfortably with his hands crossed; Jerry, on the other hand, is frantically pacing. Why they are floating in the ocean is not known, but knowing why is not important to the playfully pesky octopus who leaps up out of the water and scares the pair half to death. After it ducks back down into the water, Tom and Jerry peer over the side, but the octopus comes up behind them and stings Tom in the backside with a slingshot. Tom opens a hatch in the raft (!), and both he and Jerry climb down a ladder hanging underneath it into the ocean. The octopus swims up to them, and they bolt fearfully back up the ladder and up into the empty air above the raft, still pumping their legs, until gravity crashes them back down facefirst into the logs. The octopus reaches all eight of its white-gloved hands up on different sides of the raft and pulls the vessel down under the waves. The boys scream for help, but a they spy a lone life preserver floating in the water near them. They reach for it, but a huge wave picks them up and spits them far along in the water. They try for the preserver again, but another wave carries them even further. A third attempt results in another wave depositing them on the sands of Spain, where a castle can be seen not too far away along the shore.

The delightful strains of Spanish music alert the boys to their location, and they are so overjoyed, that they dance, clap their hands, and "la la" their way to a table in some beachside cantina. There, a flamenco dancer, who is so skinny she makes Olive Oyl look like Bluto in comparison, clicks her castanets to the music, which is being played furiously by a trio of thin-mustached musicians, each one playing multiple instruments, and each one engaging their feet in the process. The dancer makes her way to Tom and Jerry's table, and she shakes her rear seductively to the beat, and then knocks the boys over with her hips. After the pair right the table and reseat themselves eagerly, she uses her hip attack again on them. On the third time, the boys stand up and shake their rears, and when she swings her hips again, Tom knocks her over with the thrust of his own. She lies on the ground, shaking her head now, while Tom and Jerry conclude her routine.

Another dancer takes the stage, and the boys sit down at another table. Behind Tom is another woman who is even thinner than the first, who is so svelte that her spine looks practically like a staircase. Tom takes a spoon and plays her back like a xylophone. The dancer begins to spin wildly, and her skirt spreads out around her, and Jerry jumps out of his chair and starts to run along on top of her skirt. He sits down just as Jerry jumps up there, and they both spin about on it like they were enjoying a ride on a merry-go-round. The music stops, and so does the dancer, and the boys go flying across the cantina. They crash right into the mayor of the town, and once he rights himself, he gives the pair a very enraged lambasting. He threatens them, and two huge tough-looking toros walk up behind him and escort Tom and Jerry out of the scene. The bulls didn't count on the toughness of Tom and Jerry, however, and the mayor watches helplessly as the bulls are tossed back unconscious at his feet. The boys walk back into the scene, dusting their hands off together, having manhandled the bulls the good ol' American way. "Ah!", the mayor cries. "In thees country, thees ees a big insult! Now, you must fight -- de bulls!" Jerry is instantaneous in his exultation at the prospect of a good scrap. "Hoo-ray!" he shouts, as Tom slaps a hand over his mouth.

There is a swirling screen, and the action reopens on a very full arena, where the crowds are going crazy for spilled blood. Tom and Jerry are introduced by the ring announcer, and the duo marches in, resplendent in their matadorial gear: capes, swords and all. They march proudly across the arena floor, but then the announcer introduces their opponent: over 100 large tough-faced toros, all marching in marine formation, and ready to take on all comers. They start to fan out all around Tom and Jerry, and the pair are caught by surprise by the enormity of the army of bulls. The bulls start to form a football-like formation of eleven, but then form an inverted pyramid instead, with the bull holding the rest up at the bottom shaking his knees with the strain. Jerry marches up and socks the bull full in the stomach, and the other ten bulls come crashing down on top of him. The crowd goes wild, but they ain't seen nothing yet!

Tom runs about, deftly (and fearfully) dodging bull after bull, and a cheerleading section of cows shouts out "Rah-rah-rah-rah-MOOOO! MOOOO!" and other college-style bursts. But, Jerry has another method of dealing with his foes: his fists fly like a '30's Bruce Lee as he wallops each and every bull that charges him. Each one goes sailing off as another charges him to take its place. He dispatches one after another, and eventually, Tom runs in to join his comrade in battle. Suddenly, an extremely aged Western Union carrier, who stumbles along with a cane, comes hobbles in with a letter in his hand. As Tom and Jerry take out their rage on the last remaining pair of bulls, who are already knocked out cold, the postman hands them a letter marked "Spain". Tom opens it up and reads aloud, "The Eighteenth Amendment Has Been Repealed!" The letter is signed by Uncle Sam. The boys are overwhelmed by this news, for it turns out that they were originally fleeing across the ocean to get a drink. Dedicated lushes that they are, Tom and Jerry had come all the way to Spain to escape the tyranny of Prohibition. But this is different -- they throw their arms up in the air in victory, and we next seem them on a new raft, rowing their swift and steady way across back across the Atlantic. As they row past a buoy marked "U.S.A.", images arise out of the foam on the surf: a glass of beer and the American flag -- apparently, two great tastes that taste great together.

So, the cartoon isn't that great, but it has some nice moments in it (the deadpan bits with the dancer's skirt, and I certainly like Jerry's feistiness throughout the film, especially his joy at the thought of taking on a bull in a fight), and while the violence seems a little unwarranted, violence often is, and the final battle does have a certain manic roll-up-the-sleeves charm to it. I do feel that more fun could have been had with the bulls and their attack formations, and in the variety of ways that Tom has to do battle with them, since he is obviously not composed of the same fierceness as Jerry.

But, what does this have to do with Cinco de Mayo? Nothing really, but as said, the elements of Mexico and the accepted deployment of a celebration surrounding the country are in this film; they just happen to take place in Spain. They could have set this cartoon on our continent, and it would not have changed all that much, except perhaps for the castle. And what do I have to do with Cinco de Mayo. Nothing at all. I'm just using it as a convenient excuse for a theme for this essay.

Besides, I'm part Irish, and I never do a damn thing on St. Patrick's Day, let alone have more than two drinks...

A Spanish Twist (Van Beuren Studios, 1932) Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Cel Bloc Rating:

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