Friday, January 20, 2006

The Awful Orphan (1949)

The Awful Orphan (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1949) 
Dir: Charles M. "Chuck" Jones
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9

I can't resist puppies. It doesn't matter the breed; it doesn't matter the size... I love puppies. I love that new puppy smell, and I am saddened as it slowly goes away while the dog moves into adulthood. (I also can't resist kittens, but they don't have that awesomely weird smell that puppies emit.) If I see a puppy on the street, I immediately long to bring it home with me, whether I have the resources to support it or whether the inn is full already. I have no defenses.

Ever since I left Alaska, I've been a little touchy in the dog department. I had my ailing, practically blind and deaf pup of nearly eighteen years put down before I left the state, and I have wrestled in my head with that decision every day since I departed for So Cal. Seventeen-plus years is a long-ass time to have a dog, at least, in my experience, but my cat, Buster Keaton Ghidorah (who just turned twenty) made the trip with me and is doing... alright. He's happy, but he has to contend with two wonderfully rambunctious rat terriers who are not used to cats (he is the first cat that they've known personally), and one of them hates him with a fiery passion, the other tolerating him enough to sit next to him, but that is about it in the friendship area. As for me, because I am totally susceptible to pups of all stripes, I love the crazy things. If I were on my own, I would not have replaced my beloved Blip (yes, named after a cartoon monkey in Space Ghost) so quickly; but these are Jen's dogs, so there is no conflict in my heart. And besides, it seems that if I must have a dog in my life, it would take at least two dogs to replace Blip.

Or maybe three. If the circumstance arose, I would also take in Charlie Dog, Porky Pig's eternal canine would-be boarder/nemesis. He's just a normal hound dog, and he's egotistical, rude, pushy, and greedy. He's also hilarious, a master of accents and disguise (it helps to be voiced by Mel Blanc), and cute beyond the limits of cuteness when he wants to be. In The Awful Orphan, released by Warner Bros. in 1949, Charlie lines 'em up on a busy city street using a sandwich flipboard recounting just exactly why, using his tail as a pointer as he runs word through word of each page of the flipboard, these people should take poor lost Charlie home. At the end of his sales pitch, even though he turns on the saddest eyes and posture available to an orphaned dog, there are no takers, especially since all of the onlookers are expecting the big reveal to amount to something far more than a mere mutt.

This is Charlie's lot in life: The Eternal Orphan. No one is willing to take the poor boy in, but he is resolute in his quest to find a master, no matter what it takes. We all know somebody who is so obsessed with being in love with someone, anyone, as long as they are in love. They sometimes seek this love in an almost hopeless, desperate fashion, but seek it they do, nonetheless. The problem is that once they hook up with that certain someone who is willing to try and give them the affection they so crave, even though the amour-searcher has convinced themselves that they have finally achieved perfect happiness and contentment, they almost invariably do everything they can to trash their supposed state of bliss: rudeness, lying, cheating, jealousy, all leading eventually to betrayal, and all because this personal, idealized notion of love is an impossible goal to obtain. It will never be good enough for the searcher. It is an addiction, with the predictable highs and lows of any addictive element. And thus goes Charlie Dog's search for a master.

Charlie is convinced that he must have a master. After all, he is a dog and that is what dogs do. Dogs have masters. The problem for Charlie is that while he will go to almost any means to win over his potential master, Charlie also will commit any betrayal, even crime, to damage this newfound dynamic. He will cajole, push, prod, insult, and outright cause physical harm to his newly gained master in exactly the same way that he got him in the first place. Call it a vicious cycle.

Porky Pig doesn't even want a dog. Like the people on the street who rejected Charlie outright, Porky has him sized up immediately. After Charlie Dog sneaks into a pet shop van with a door that has been left ajar by the drive, it turns out that Porky has ordered a canary from that very same pet shop. When the package is delivered to his apartment, once the pig removes the cloth covering the bird's cage, there has been what he takes to be an ordering mistake. Inside the cage, completely crammed in and filling up its tightly confined interior, with his eyes practically bulging out from between the bars, is a clearly uncomfortable and misshapen Charlie Dog.

"Gosh darn that ol' pet shop! I distinctly told them to send me a canary, and not a MONSTER!,” declares the highly perturbed pig, who recognizes Charlie's true nature with only a second's glance. When Porky tries to call the pet shop, Charlie pulls the telephone cord out the wall and speaks directly through it to Porky in the affected tone of the pet shop owner, telling the dog-hating Porky that he should feel privileged to own such a creature. Porky, who lets the ruse go for a little while before he marches up to Charlie with a furious look on his face, throws Charlie Dog right out the door.

Charlie can't be kept out for long, and soon he employs his usual tactic for proving his worthiness as a companion: by sheer volume of determination, he wears you out. He does so to Porky after a half-cartoon's worth of pranks, disguises and bad puns. "Yet in me," the dog pushes, "you see one of the finest pointers that ever lived. Get a load of this!" He points all about. "There it is! There it is! There it is!" When Porky adds his own "There it is!" the dog looks out the door. Porky rears his foot back and kicks Charlie into the hallway and slams the door.

Charlie crawls through the transom window and sits on Porky's stomach. He says, "Dogs is a comfort to have around. You can't help but like it!" Against his will, Porky is forced to dress in a bathrobe and slippers, wear a fez, and smoke a pipe while sitting in a chair reading by the fire. Charlie Dog lies demurely at his feet, giving Porky his biggest, saddest puppy dog eyes. Porky picks the prostrate dog up by his stiffened tail and carries him to the doorway, where he kicks him out again.

The string of banishment gags continues. Charlie dresses himself up as a baby left on the doorstep (whom Porky kicks across the hall); as a lady who defends the baby and smacks Porky over the head with an umbrella. Porky ends up locked outside his own apartment, and when Charlie opens the door over Porky's door pounding, he answers with a very slow and deep "Yyyesssssss?" Threatening suicide is not beyond the needy dog, as he pretends to jump from Porky's building, only to appear before a startled Porky laying atop a mountainous pile of mattresses.

Convinced he is rid of the dog, Porky sits down to dinner, but when he lifts the lid of the tray, Charlie is there instead with an apple in his mouth. Charlie seems to convince Porky that he can stay, and Porky says he is going to make Charlie a "nice dog coat" but first he needs to fit a paper pattern around the dog. In a blinding fury, Porky laughs wickedly and wraps Charlie up for shipment "To Siberia". He runs the package to the mailbox and sends it on its way. A short while later, there is a knock at the door, and Charlie stands there dressed as a Cossack. He dances into the room Russian-style and kicks Porky repeatedly in the behind with each "Hey!" Ultimately, Porky ends up outside his own door again.

There is a call from the upstairs neighbor, who is very angry about the racket they are making. The man threatens Charlie, so the dog tells Porky that the man upstairs wants to give him something. Why not have the hell beaten out of Porky by an angry upstairs neighbor? Anything to break down the pig's defenses. The man appears in the doorway and returns a bruised and black-eyed Porky.

Finally, Porky gives in and declares himself Charlie's new master, offering up his hearth and home to the wayward pup. But Charlie has second thoughts about the relationship and decides that this is not the situation for him. Porky loses it even more than he already has, and finally and fully snaps. The picture ends with a fez and robe bedecked Charlie Dog seated in the recliner, smoking a pipe before the open fire, with a content Porky lying canine-like at his slippered feet. When Charlie makes even the slightest move to escape his enforced domesticity, Porky comes to and growls Charlie back into the chair. Iris out.

While the dialogue in this short is extremely crisp and I adore some of the expressions that Jones and the animators use for the characters, Charlie and Porky were still finding their way to what I consider to be the best of their short series, Often An Orphan, released later that same year, and even some of the gags in this would be refined in that definitive film. (I am also extremely fond of Charlie's solo adventure Dog Gone South.)

As for my own offer of taking in the incredibly obnoxious Charlie Dog... well, he'd learn soon enough that I know a thing or three about being obnoxious and annoying myself. All of my pets have sometimes give me the same looks of exasperation that Porky gives Charlie in their films together. 

Charlie and me? Look out, world! It could be a match made in hell.



And in case you haven’t seen it…

[This article was revised and updated with new photos on 1/8/16. Buster Keaton Ghidorah, my cat when this was written, lived to be 22 years old, and learned to deal with our pups, of whom we lost both over the past three years. Part of why I stopped writing on here for a good while.]

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