Sunday, June 04, 2006

A ROMEO ROBIN (1930)

Birds... just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in. Every single time that I think my peace has been made with these winged freaks, something flaps along to spoil this accord. I will meet someone's asshole pet parakeet, which will be loud and obnoxious and try to snap you if get even two inches from the cage, and I swear off bird relationships forever. But then you meet a swell duck at the park and everything is righted again. Then a jerk seagull tries to divebomb your head as you pass it on the street, and he and its compatriots continue this airborne assault all through the summer, and you declare war on the avian kind. Then a trip to the zoo reveals a baby penguin, and you have no choice but to go "Awwww!" at its utter cuteness. A few weeks later, you bear personal witness to an abandoned baby duckling as it is creepily stalked and brutally murdered by a ravenous crow, and your blood boils anew. A half year later, and the scales are rebalanced when you find your porch lined with scores of thrumming doves, and your heart breaks a little when a tiny hummingbird smacks into your window, which you guard and stress over until it comes to and manages to fly off under its own regained power.

And all appeared fine until Jen and I found our nights being interrupted by the monotonous and overly eager strains of a sunrise bird who clearly has his alarm clock set for far, far too early in the morning. With the darkness still staked to its moorings on the ground, this winged nut apparently has it in for the two of us, and especially me, who has a hard enough time staying asleep each night. It would be fine if I just slept straight through its chirping cacaphony, but every night, I wake up around four in the morning to perform my usual ablutions, and it becomes damned impossible to fall back under Morpheus' spell with Droolly the Feathered Moron going off for three straight hours just outside your window.

So, forgive me if I have little patience with today's Aesop's Fable cartoon from 1930, A Romeo Robin. I care little for romances of the bird kind right now, and all that I can think about is catching the little twerp, purchasing a meat grinder, applying his tuchis to the blades, and then feeding the little chirpy creep his own hind end. PETA can show up and picket my apartment for this horribly reactionary scenario if they wish; I am so sleep-deprived right now, in my delirium, I will only subject the unbathed hippie girls to the same treatment. Sorry for meandering, but that's the state that I am in this morning.

The film opens with a quartet of blackbirds of assorted sizes and a lone owl, all dressed in shabby castoffs, and sitting along the top rail of a fence while whistling a merry little tune (which might be The Man in the Flying Trapeze; it is too short and offkey for me to tell). A sixth bird sits off on a post to the side: he is small and wears lederhosen and a Tyrolean hat with a tiny feather in it. He stretches out his stick-thin legs until he is about four times his previous height, and starts to perform The Swiss Yodel, with the other birds performing backup to his loopy warblings. As they proceed with the song, two birds are spotlighted in a demented little stomp n' shuffle: wearing top hats and sporting cigars, the birds have overly large feet on the long legs that sprout from their squat black bodies. As they cavort, one of their legs ties itself in a knot but then continues its course until each is unknotted again. After they each repeat this action, their bodies transform until they bear a striking resemblance (not fully, though) to Clampett's Dodo Bird from Wackyland. Bells looped around their now shoe-clad feet jingle insistently as they leap, flap their arms and turn their heads about in circles. Suddenly, another transformation is made, and we see only their skeletons, their ghostly bones making some of the same motions as they literally dance themselves to death. Finishing a tap dance with Shave and a Haircut, the two avian skeletons grab some grass, pull it over themselves, headstones with wreaths pop up, and they are buried for good.

The musical parade continues as we next meet a pair of crows, one of whom plays a large piece of corn like a piano, flipping a trio of kernels into his hungry mouth in time with the music. (The other bird, inconsequential to the music, blows to little result on a pipe.) Three canaries perform a kickline along the edge of a branch; behind them, stalks another "bird" of odd design, which is due to the fact that it is actually a cat in disguise, who is walking backwards and partially upside down, with his head hidden behind his back, and either his hand or tail (it is inconclusive since he is contorted so strangely) made up like a bird's head. He attacks the canaries with a badly voiced yowl, but they escape his evil grasp. He tries his hand at catching a trio of dancing bird children, but they, too, escape unharmed.

Two well-dressed storks march across the screen, doing a quick little dance; we then meet a rather effeminate larger bird who struts about with limp wrists, who is followed by a much smaller bird who clues us in to the bigger bird's demeanor by going "Whooops!" behind his back. (This was apparently the "gay" term in the 1930's.) Arriving at a tree where another bird rests in a hole in its trunk, the gay bird starts to sing Listen to the Mockingbird in a very insistent tone. As he goes off, the bird in the tree punctuates each line with cooing, but finally spits a raspberry at the gay bird, who yells "Oh, for goodness sake!" and runs off to the horizon. The little bird left behind repeats the line from the song, looks up, and something drops in his eye. As he rubs his face angrily, the bird in the tree mocks him.

Halfway through the film's running time, we finally meet the "main" character of the film, such as he is, a happy-go-lucky little bird who merrily tapdances his way down the stairs leading from his birdhouse, and continues this dance across the meadow, suitcase in hand. He stops eventually, and from his case he pulls a stethoscope and listens to the ground at his feet. Satisfied with what he finds, he forms his beak into a flute, and plays a seductive melody that no worm could possibly resist, including the one who lives directly below the bird's feet: a worm named Willy (he has a trunk in his house which bears his name. He undulates out of bed, dances a little shimmy, and slides up a pole to the surface world. After a brief interval of continued dancing, the bird tries to grab the luckless worm, but the invertebrate makes a break for it, and though the bird grabs him again and even rides him for a short spin, the worm makes it back to his home. The bird is not done trying, though, and he dons a disguise consisting of a large coat, a top hat and a full beard, returns to the hole, and whistles a song that is meandering and indistinct but has a slightly Jewish flavor at the end. The worm cannot resist the whistling, and the bird snags his prey. He slams his catch in a tomato can, and even when the worm leaps out, the bird manages to casually recapture the poor worm and trap him inside.

But for what purpose has he taken this victim? Eating? Fishing? A gift for his sweetheart? Perhaps the latter, but when he confronts the lovely ladybird who primps and preens while she listens to his romantic entreaties, she only gives him the cold shoulder and a hard stare. He beckons her to go with him, but she shrugs him off with harsh chirping and whistles. He tries once more, motioning behind him for some reason, and she smiles and relents. They march a short distance to a two-seater airplane, and we finally discover the intent behind the worm's capture. Opening the side panel on the plane, the boy bird attaches the worm to two hooks inside the compartment, and then winds the worm up like the rubber band on a toy balsawood plane. The propeller starts spinning, and the birds are soon up in the air, taking in the day while the melody of Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine plays on the soundtrack.

Below them, the scrawny cat villain bemoans his fate in broken song:

"Oh my gosh, I'm hungry, me-yow-yow-yow!
Oh, my tummy's empty, me-yow-yow-yow!
All I want is a bird, sparrow or quail, me-yow-yow-yow!
All I have is a very sad tail, me-yow-yow-yow!"

(He's getting no sympathy from me, either, with his whining.) On the plane above, a large bird lands on its tail, pulls the worm from the engine, and flies off. This leaves the plane without any power, and the two little birds inside plummet towards the earth, holding each other for dear life. (Well, that's one way to get a girl.) The cat looks up, sees the oncoming dinner, and opens his mouth to receive the birds, but ends up swallowing the plane instead. The wings cause the cat's body to conform to their shape, and the boy bird winds up the cat's tail like a propeller, and the villain is sent away from the picture. (I would think that they just made him more dangerous. Once he figures out how to control his flight, he will be the devil himself in a way those birds never counted on him being.) As The Swiss Yodel springs forth again on the soundtrack, the birds dance joyously in their rapture at being both alive and in love, and they kiss sweetly as we reach iris out.

The film is disjointed, not particularly sharp in any regard, and little effort is spent to actually make the film make sense at any point, even though there is a grudging attempt to give us the basics of a dramatic situation: a hero, heroine, villain, and conflict are introduced, but only half-heartedly set up or resolved. The entire film looks extremely rushed, and this may be the case, but I can only remark on the evidence at hand, and I spit the same raspberry at the film that the bird in the tree did towards the "Whooops!" bird. Even the musical sequences are subpar and ill-conceived, though I do quite enjoy the "dance themselves to death" bit at the beginning.

If only the little creep bird outside my window would peer into that same window and get a clue from this cartoon. Thanks to your interruptions, it's going to take about two flocks of really swell, cute ducks to get me back over on the side of the birds. If you are soooooooooo friggin' happy, obviously there is nothing left to live for, so grab some grass, pull it over your head and take a nice dirtnap, you little shit. I need some sleep myself, but I would like to wake up in the morning, not in the middle of the friggin' night...

Chirp off!

A Romeo Robin (A Van Beuren Studios Aesop's Fable, 1930)
Director: Mannie Davis and John Foster
Cel Bloc Rating: 4

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