Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's A Very Special Cel Bloc Xmas: Hector's Hectic Life (1949)

Hector's Hectic Life (A Paramount/Famous Noveltoon, 1948)
Dir.: Bill Tytla
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

Poor Hector the Dog. He gets his name in the title of Hector's Hectic Life, a 1948 short from Paramount's Famous Studios, but is it his real name? The only human being in existence in the cartoon -- either a wife/mother or a domestic servant of indeterminate Scandinavian accent -- insists on calling him "Princie" throughout it.

So, is this dog really named Hector or is he named Princie? Was he really meant to be Princie all along, but the Famous Studios producers were having a hard time coming up with a title for the cartoon? I can imagine they reached zero hour, and at the very last minute, one writer said, "Boy, that dog is sure having a hectic life in it, that's for sure!" And then a another writer kicked in with, "Hectic life... hec-tic... Hec--tor! Hector!" And then the producer yells, "HECTOR! That's it! Well, call it 'Hector's Hectic Life!'" "But, sir! The dog's name is Princie!" "Doesn't matter... the title stays!" "But he's called Princie all the way through the cartoon!" "Well, it's too late to redo the audio. Let's run with it!"

My silly conjecture aside, Hector or Princie the Pup is having a hectic life indeed in this cartoon. Everything starts up because, for a dog, Hector/Princie (we will call him the latter moving forward) is an utter pig, and leaves mess after mess in the house. This being a 1940s cartoon, excrement and urine are not to be accepted as the canine messes of preference, and thus, Hector is seen lounging about on a bed -- not a dog bed mind you -- with a more family-friendly mess -- chew bones, a random piece of bread, a candy wrapper -- strewn all about him. And then there are paw prints and dirt all over the comforter on the bed and on the white pillows. Princie is not a clean boy, and he is content to just snore and snore (sounding much like Bird Bird's famous one) the day away.

Until he is smacked hard with a broom, that is! He is awoken with the maid (I am thinking she is a servant rather than the distaff head of the household) screaming at him, "You lounging mutt, you! Always messing up this house!" Princie bolts instantly from the room and slides speedily down the bannister of the stairway. Unfortunately for him, he crashes right into the family Christmas tree, and he is left hanging from the thin trunk at the top of the tree when it fell over sideways. The angel mounted on the tree lands on his head, and Princie is swept up the scruff of his neck by the maid.

"If this wasn't Christmas, I'd t'row you out! For now, for der last time I'm warning you. Yust one more mess, and outside in the cold you vill be! Vith-out a home!" She holds Princie up to the glass of the window and he sees the lawn and trees covered in snow. Princie imagines himself with a ragged blanket pulled about his shoulders as he shivers and begs for alms next to a snow-covered fire hydrant. "So!" she continues, "You yust remember dis! But if you are a good dog, Santa might leave you a nice present!" The sulking pup suddenly perks up with excitement. He nods his agreement, and tucks his front legs under his head as he lies down for a nap on the rug.

Suddenly there is a rapping at the front door, and Princie wonders if perhaps Santa Claus has already arrived to give him a basket full of goodies. Pushing open the dog door and going out into the snowy weather, there is indeed a basket sitting on the front steps. He grabs the basket by the handle with his teeth and drags it inside. Licking his chops in anticipation, Princie quickly ties a napkin about his neck, and prepares to dig into the feast for which he is hoping. Instead, as he goes to open the lid, a quick yelp makes him pull his hand back.

Quickly reaching into the basket, he is surprised to see 1, 2, 3 puppies pop their heads up out of the basket! He looks at the pups, and slowly realizes that with each tan puppy having a right eye with a black circle around it and a tan right ear, that they look exactly like him. Could it be? Princie turns to look at himself in the mirror on the door, and after examining himself fully, he lifts his left ear into the air and remembers that it is black. Hah! He's got 'em! He turns with a wicked smile and wiggles his black left ear at them, but then the pups surprise him again by all three lifting their left ears and wiggling them. They are all black in color too!

Angrily, Princie slams the lid on the basket shut and sits down it to trap them inside. But the pups crawls out of the lid on the other side of the basket. Within seconds, they have already upended a goldfish bowl from off of a pedestal in the corner, and are rolling the bowl about in the water all over the floor. The goldfish himself, freed from his prison, leaps about happily in the newly created lake of water, playing with the puppies. The maid hears the commotion and asks Princie what is going on, but the dog leaps in to action, mopping up the water with a towel in a frantic display of energy. He wrings the water out of the towel back into the bowl, but then realizes the goldfish is still missing. One of the puppies is sitting in front of the older dog, but as he wags his tail, Princie realizes that the puppy is sitting on the fish instead and that the fish's flopping body only looks like the puppy's tail. He grabs the fish and throws it back in the bowl. 

Princie whisks the puppies away to a nearby closet, traps them inside, and then holds the door shut with his foot while he pretends to be asleep on the mat in front of the closet. The maid, telling Princie what a good dog he is being, departs when she sees he is sleeping peacefully. Princie turns towards the closet when the puppies start to yip and yelp, but when he opens the door to shush them, the puppies make a break for it. Princie is first hit hard in the head by an ironing board and then even harder by the actual iron, as the puppies scurry away to wreak more havoc in the house.

The puppies start to attack a large stack of presents by the Christmas tree, and then the whole stack is thrown about the room by a jack-in-the-box that has just popped out from the bottom of the stack. As the boxes fly into the air, Princie makes a concentrated effort to catch each one of them, piling them up in his arms and then placing them on top of the jack-in-the-box as before. One final box falls and opens when it hits Princie, and he comes out wearing a pair of blue bloomers, and gets all red in the face with shy embarrassment. 

He comes out of this quiet moment when the puppies attack and shred the cushion of a nearby chair, sending feathers flying everywhere! Rushing back into action, Princie attacks exactly like a vacuum and sucks up all the feathers with his mouth, running himself across the room and up and down over the chair. With his mouth full of feathers, he sees the puppies hiding around the corner of the chair, so he swoops them up, stuffs them back in the basket, runs to the front door, spits the feathers out so they can mix with the snow on the ground, and throws the basket as far as he can.

Slamming the door, Princie slaps his hands together in victory, but it is short-lived. As Princie strides off proudly, the puppies (his puppies?) match his every step in line behind him. He turns and growls at them, and then grabs them up with his teeth by their tails. He runs to the front door and throws them out again, and then grabs a hammer and nails and boards up the dog door. He marches over to the fire and lays down to warm himself with a nap. But sleep will not be so restful for Princie. 

Using the time honored angel/devil scenario, a tiny version of Princie wearing wings and a halo pops out of his head and says in dramatic fashion, "For shame! Your soul to the devil you have sold, for throwing those puppies out into the cold!" From the fireplace springs a devilish version of Princie who says, "Doggone it! If that ain't chintzy!" The devil grabs the angel's halo and twirls it on his finger. "Ah, don't be a schnook, Angel Puss! Come off of the clouds! Why should he lose his happy home for them dopes, see?" The angel has had enough, puffs up his chest, and socks the devil square in the chops, sending him flying! "No!" the angel says, "Those innocent babes into the cold you've driven! Go, bring them back, and all with be forgiven!"

The angel disappears and Princie wakes up. With a smile on his face knowing he will do good (and get his present from Santa), Princie reaches for the doorknob, but then he hears a crash behind him! The puppies have somehow gotten back inside and have attacked the Christmas tree, causing most of the needles and ornamentation to come crashing to the floor. The puppies themselves sit in the branches of the trees with smirks on their faces. Princie rushes forward and admonishes them for their behavior, but when he hears the footsteps of the maid coming down the stairs, he starts using the standard canine digging motion to kick all of the needles and ornaments back at the tree. Miraculously, it all seems to hang together and look as it did before, and Princie quickly lies down and pretends he is sleeping again.

"My goodness," says the maid. "Wherever you look, he were sleeping! A sleeping beauty!" She walks away, but then the puppies, still sitting inside the branches of the tree all sneeze simultaneously. Everything that Princie just kicked back onto the tree crashing down on top of his head. The maid runs back in, and screams, "By Yiminy!" Grabbing him by the scruff again, she makes ready to kick him outside for good, but the puppies come to his rescue. They pop up out of the pine needles and block her from taking Princie, barking at the maid as ferociously as they can. 

The maid instantly falls in love with the puppies. "Ah, Princie! Why didn't you tell me?" She picks the puppies up and we hear her kissing them. (We only ever see her feet, legs, and portions of her body, but never her face.) "And they're all so beautiful! They look yust like you, Princie!" This makes the dog puff his chest out and stand at attention proudly. Saying that this will be a wonderful Christmas for the children, she places each puppy in a different stocking on the mantle. Princie looks at his pups and smiles at them, and they all paw and kiss his head joyfully as Jingle Bells plays on the soundtrack. Iris out.

Hector's Hectic Life is pretty standard Famous Studios fare, but its cuteness is not too nauseating, and the Christmas theme is rather played in the background mostly until the finale. It's a decent enough cartoon, and is perfect for the holidays, especially for the younger set. So, I can't get too down on it, because I kind of enjoy it too.

But I do have a problem with Hector/Princie. Why the title isn't more holiday oriented I don't know. I really do think they were having a problem coming up with a title, and maybe the writer's room fantasia I created at the beginning of this piece is closer to the truth than not. But in going through the film, it makes me question Princie's gender. Is Princie actually short for Princess? Were the puppies left on the front doorstep by the stork, the baby delivery shorthand convention of the time? And if the puppies are being left with their father instead, what happened to the mother? Did she drop them off? What happened between her and Princie?

Or... wait a minute! Maybe Princie is their father after all, but he has to dress up as their mother so they don't feel like they have been abandoned. They could have called the film... Hector/Hectoria! Now that's a title!



And in case you hadn't seen it:

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