Thursday, October 06, 2016

Countdown to Halloween: Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! (1966)

For the month of October, Cinema 4: Cel Bloc is taking part in an annual internet celebration known as the Countdown to Halloween. This is the fourth year that I have participated in this countdown, but the first with my Cel Bloc site. To find out more about the Countdown to Halloween, and to see a list of participating websites and blogs, go to http://countdowntohalloween.blogspot.com/.

Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! (DePatie-Freleng, 1966) 
Dir.: George Singer 
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9

It's pretty cut and dried. In fact, it's a mystery so simple that even Inspector Clouseau could easily solve it, and not have to carry on about "bimps" and other fractured attempts at speaking the Queen's English in his outrageous French accent, while tripping over anything that got in his way.

Easily my favorite cartoon in The Inspector series, which itself is a spinoff of not just The Pink Panther cartoon series but also the film series of the same name, is the ninth film in the run, Sicque! Sicque! Sicque!, directed by George Singer in 1966. Naturally for me, such a film would either have to contain a shark, gorilla, or a monster to have so easily gained my attention, and sure enough, Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! is indeed inhabited by a very specific monster. The film is a spoof of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, of which there are arguably greater cartoon examples. Based on overall quality, Friz Freleng's Tweety and Sylvester romp Hyde and Go Tweet (1960) is probably the best, but mostly out of the design of the monster itself and its impressionistic Gallic surroundings (and because I must have seen it a zillion times growing up watching the various Pink Panther series in the '70s), Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! holds a special place in my heart.

The Inspector and his erstwhile (and far more observant) assistant, Sgt. Deux-Deux (I have always loved that name so much), crammed into their too small police vehicle with the expected wailing siren, are called to an urgent affair in the Rue Morgue section of Paris. There, a mad scientist is being dragged away by two hulking policeman, after they had received numerous complaints from locals asserting that the scientist's experiments were interfering with their TV signals. Of course, we know for certain that the scientist, an Einstein-looking sort, is mad because he is gurgling away maniacally as his tiny body is carted off to jail, yelling defiantly, "I'm not crazy! THEY are crazy! I don't sit around watching TV!" (He does have a solid point, but no matter.)

As usual in the series, the cases are narrated lightly by the Inspector (who, like Deux-Deux, was voiced by the late Pat Harrington, Jr., of One Day at a Time fame). The Inspector informs us that, "The sergeant and I began a thorough investigation of his old house." Of course, in the darkness, Deux-Deux accidentally walks into the Inspector right away which startles both of them. The Inspector whispers to his junior partner, "Often in these mad scientist cases, there is a... mue-nster... somewhere on the premises!" The nervous Deux-Deux asks in his lightly Spanish manner, "And what does this mue-nsters look like?" (Deux-Deux is prone to adding plurals to nearly any word.) 'Well," begins the Inspector, "mostly they're sort of 'orrible... like this!" The Inspector then starts to make large, wild gestures and contorts his face into a terrible grimace, frightening Deux-Deux enough to exclaim his main catchphrase, "¡Holy frijoles!" The sergeant starts to walk in the other direction and says, "I want to go home!" The Inspector grabs him and asks, "What kind of stoof are you made of?" Deux-Deux, forgetting his terror, calmly responds, "Oh, enchiladas, chili beans, tacos... stuff like that. Nothing fancy."




The Inspector starts to walk away saying, "Personally, I cannot see how you can stomach that awful food." Left on his own, Deux-Deux pats his tummy and says, "If my stomach she doesn't like it, she can lump it." Then he burps loudly and replies, "I think she lumped it!" He walks over to a collection of vials and bottles in the laboratory of the mansion. Boiling amongst the collection is a large vat full of bubbling green liquid. "I better drink some of this seltzer water to put out the fire." Deux-Deux chugs the entire vat down his gullet, and feels refreshed at first. "Ah, that is muchos better!" But then he starts to hiccup and burp, which will lay down the pattern for the remainder of the cartoon. Upon doing so, Deux-Deux body starts to shiver and rattle about in place. Deux-Deux continues shaking wildly, and then he transforms! Suddenly, a large, green monster with wild, yellow eyes and red pupils, along with a mouth full of razor-sharp fangs, stands in Deux-Deux place, though still wearing his police sergeant's uniform. His arms are now longer than his tiny body (which has somehow retained its normal proportions) and the knuckles of his massive hands drag along the floor.

This "mue-nstrous" version of the usually good-natured Deux-Deux turns its attention across the room where the Inspector is tapping a hammer along a wall. "These old secret passage type walls are the just the place to find a secret passage!" says the Inspector, but right behind him, a huge green hand reaches out and grabs the police detective by the collar of his jacket. The monster crunches the Inspector into a ball and throws him back across the room, resulting in a bowling alley-type sound when the Inspector lands offscreen. Then the monster hiccups again, transforming back into Sgt. Deux-Deux. The sergeant walks over to the wall, where there is now a hole where the monster had thrown the Inspector straight through it. "Hey, Inspector," asks Deux-Deux, "did you find the secrets passage?" Across the room, a door swings open with the Inspector splatted against the inside. "Yes..." is all the Inspector can mutter in a voice wracked with utter pain before he drops face-first to the floor.

"An obvious suspicion was growing in me," narrates the Inspector, and then he tells Deux-Deux conspiratorially, "Sergeant, you and I are not alone in this old house. If there is another presence here, it might be upstairs." Deux-Deux decides to go search the cellar, but his boss pushes him up the stairs to do his duty (rather than himself). After wishing he were in sunny Barcelona instead, Deux-Deux takes relief that "I don't see no monstruos up here. At least that's a good sign." At least it is until he enters the next room. Hiccuping and transforming again, the Deux-Deux/Hyde creature turns his gaze on a vanity mirror and frightens himself nearly to death. He hiccups immediately and turns back to his usual self and rockets out of the room, down the stairs, and straight into the Inspector's arms. "The monstruo! I see him!" yells Deux-Deux. "The monstruo! Come quick! I mean, stop quick! Oh, I don't know what I mean! Mama!"

The Inspector tries to calm down his partner, and says that now that they know where the monster is, they have him where they want him. "But I don't want heem!" begs Deux-Deux. The next shot is of the Inspector finishing up nailing a series of boards across the room where Deux-Deux says he saw the creature, but right behind him, the sergeant hiccups again and turns into the monster. "Now, I defy him to get through this door!" brags the Inspector, and then he turns around to see the monster breathing heavily and glaring at him. Without ever taking his gaze off of the monster, the Inspector reaches up with the claw of his hammer and undoes the nails for each board one by one and piles them at his own feet faster and faster. Reaching the last board across the door, he pulls it off, piles it off, and leaps through the door.



Thinking he is safe on the other side, he leans against the door and breathes hard, his tongue lolling out of his mouth in relief. (It is rather amusing – and an untold tale – that there is a large axe that someone has buried in the wall right behind where the action occurs.) One punch from a big green fist, however, is all it takes to thoroughly crush the Inspector into the floor by the door being ripped off its frame. The creature then leaps up and down on the door to finish the job, but another hiccup sees him turn right back into Deux-Deux mid-leap. Finding himself standing rather confusedly on the door, Deux-Deux hears a loud knock, and opens it up from the ground to find a flattened Inspector lying there. He asks what happened, and the Inspector tells him "Shut the door, Deux-Deux... you're making a draft." A light breeze blows through the roof and the flat Inspector is whisked up through the air.

The Inspector gives the sergeant a pistol and has him hide inside the coat closet. "If you see any mue-nster, shoot him through the keyhole," instructs the Inspector. Armed himself, the Inspector reassures the frightened Deux-Deux that he will be right outside hiding behind a curtain along the window next to the closet. The Inspector sticks the barrel of his gun through the curtains in preparation, and Deux-Deux sticks his barrel through the keyhole. We then the sounds of someone having a hard time dealing with gas in his stomach. There is a burp, and then the monster creeps out through the closet door. The monster swings the door wildly, with the pistol still hanging through the keyhole, so that it slams into the curtains next to it and shoots the Inspector in the face! The door squeaks back a couple of feet so we can see the smoke-charred body of the Inspector standing there completely shocked and silent. And then he falls face-first into the floor once again.



"We searched everywhere but the cellar," continues the Inspector, as the two policemen stare down into the darkened stairs below them. "He mue-st be down there!" "I could stay here... and catch him...," motions Deux-Deux, "...when you chase him out!" But the Inspector is having none of it. "We're in this together," he reminds his partner, "You first!" He pushes Deux-Deux towards the stairs. Closing the door with the only ambient light source behind them, he reminds Deux-Deux to keep his gun handy at all times, but we hear the tell-tale signs that the little police sergeant has already transformed yet again into the monster. The Inspector mentions that he has found the light switch, and that "If you see the mue-nster, shoot!" Turning on the switch, he turns behind him to ask, "Do you see him?" but there is only a monster there brandishing Deux-Deux gun instead. The monster shoots the Inspector in the face again. The Inspector reaches up and turns off the light switch. "Cunning devil! Now I know where you are!" He turns it on again to face the monster, but it has moved to the other side of the room so now it is behind the Inspector again. The Inspector fires and then turns around, only to get shot in the face once more.

The Inspector turns off the switch, and in the darkness, we hear yet another burp. This time, the Inspector doesn't wait for the light and fires his gun in the dark instead, but when he turns on the switch, he realizes he has shot Deux-Deux in the face. "Somebody here is triggers happy!" the dazed sergeant says. "I won't say who." "We're dealing with a pistol packing mue-nster!" declares the Inspector, and he switches off the light. After another burp and the growls following the transformation, the Inspector believes he hears something and turns on the light. He finds himself face to face with the giant monster! He turns off the light, there is another burp, he turns it back on, and Deux-Deux is there. He turns it off again, there is a repeat "repeat" of Deux-Deux stomach,  and then yet another monster appearance. The Inspector turns the switch off yet again, but the monster turns it back on immediately... and the Inspector is gone!

The monster steps under the light and burps, turning back into the sergeant. Frightened, Deux-Deux runs outside and finds the Inspector speeding away in his police vehicle. As he chases after the car, the sergeant yells, "Hey, Inspector! Don't leave me all alone with this monstruo!" He then turns into the creature once more and keeps chasing the car, and then back into Deux-Deux, who follows the car at the turn and off into the Parisian sunset.

Back at the mad scientist's lair, we hear a somewhat familiar stomping, and through the entrance of the building, out comes a diminutive version of the Frankenstein monster. He is even smaller than Deux-Deux in his normal self. He turns to the camera, and in a neat approximation of Boris Karloff's voice (I must assume it is Harrington doing this voice as well but can find no proof of it), says, "Oh, am I glad those crazy fuzz are gone. They make a body nervous." FINIS

The Inspector series was prone to using and reusing some of the same gags over and over again, and that is certainly the case here. Most of the other DePatie-Freleng series, including the Pink Panther eventually, fell into the same trap pretty early on in their runs, so it is not surprising the Inspector series had the same problem. But it is not the gags that make Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! so memorable for me, but the dialogue and interplay between the two main characters, and of course, some excellent atmosphere as delivered by the backgrounds and setting. I mentioned the detail of the axe in the wall earlier, but there are some other odd things tossed into otherwise mundane backgrounds that caught my notice. When the cops enter the lair, not only is there a crocodile's body hanging from the ceiling, but there is a bird (I presume stuffed along with the croc) as well as human skull in the croc's mouth. Next to the croc standing on the floor are two Egyptian sarcophagi. In the scene with the vanity mirror, there is a fresh rose lying on the dresser top, but it is clenched in a set of disembodied teeth. Finally, in the strangest background detail, when the small Frankenstein monster stomps out at the end of the film, there is a big pointy syringe just lying there on the ground in front of the lair next to a human skull. Very, very odd indeed.

And then there is that marvelous "mue-nster,", one of my favorite animated beasties, that I even recall attempting to draw as a kid a few times, though always rather lamely. (Along with other monsters, and more well-known characters like Space Ghost and the Herculoids, to drop a couple of names) The monster's outrageous features did inform other drawings that I was doing at the time, so I guess that I worked him into other places more successfully in my own small way than the actual drawings I tried directly of him.

There is another reason why this Inspector short has resonated with me so well into adulthood when other cartoons in the series have fallen away. As a late teen/young adult, being able to finally go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show with my friends at midnight showings at the Capri Cinema up in Anchorage, Alaska was an important step for me in asserting my film independence. Rocky Horror had yet to be release on VHS and had never played on TV or even cable to that point, so the only way to see it at that time was in a movie theatre. And, of course, the only way to see it in a movie theatre, especially at midnight, was with the sort of crowd one associates with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Assuredly, we dressed up as characters from the movie (I was the narrator), and we joined the rest of the crazies, and carried in our bags of props and attempted to say the lines, and dance awkwardly on a stage far too small for the amount of people who wanted to be up there, and sing along with the show.

What I was not expecting at these showings was there to be an opening cartoon, which for a good while was Sicque! Sicque! Sicque!, the very cartoon under discussion here. Just as with Rocky HorrorSicque! Sicque! Sicque! started to take on a bit of a life of its own with these crowds, as people delighted in saying "Deux-Deux" over and over, and telling the Inspector to "Turn on the light" and "Look this way!" and "Look that way!" Being even more of an animation fan than of horror and science fiction, I delighted in how it managed to get incorporated into the local Rocky Horror experience (albeit for a relatively short while). Years before Mystery Science Theater 3000 came long (though we did have Elvira on the air around the same time as this), I began to dream of a world where there were other movies that could be riffed on openly in movie theatres, where people happily dressed up and brought semi-destructive props and made a general nuisance of things.

Of course, to run a theatre constantly in this state would be madness, and now I demand almost near total silence from the surrounding audience when I go to see nearly any film. I may have turned from a cynical young fart into an even more cynical old one, but I think that I would still make allowances if Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! were to suddenly get shown before any movie nowadays. Just to hear an entire audience yelling "Deux-Deux!" in outrageous French accents would be heaven to my ears.

RTJ


*****

And in case you haven't seen it...

2 comments:

SueB said...

I.. I've never seen deaux-deaux spelled out and that made me smile right off. I love the inspector series and the Pink Panther series and this one is so perfect

Rik Tod Johnson said...

Thanks, SueB, but in seeing your comment, I realized that I had spelled Deux-Deux's name incorrectly throughout the entire article (in fact, 39 times, or 78 occurrences of the word "Deux"). Somehow, it slipped past me, and should not have, since I have written about the Inspector before. I have now updated the article.