Sunday, April 30, 2006

IN THE BAG (1932)

In the Bag (Van Beuren Studios, 1932) 
Dir.: John Foster and George Rufle
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

Tom and Jerry? Aren't they a cat and a mouse? Well, the pairing of the names goes far back beyond the cartoon world -- I am not necessarily going to recount how here, but, in general, the names refer to a pair that fights, brawls and drinks together incessantly -- rest assured, there is another animated duo blessed with the same names, and while they are no match historically for MGM's famed battling "buddies", in either popularity or in artistic success, they goofed about for a couple of years in over 25 shorts for the Van Beuren Studios, which, at their peak of quality (at least in the handful that I have seen over the span of my lifetime), are at least lightly spry in imagination and general silliness.

In the Bag seems to have little direction to it as far as plot goes. The drive behind it seems to be: 1) get Tom and Jerry to the location of the situation; 2) get Tom and Jerry in the situation once they are at the location; and 3) get Tom and Jerry out of the situation in time for the close of the film. 

Far better films have been built on even less in the story department, but, here the reasons for these two doing anything or going anywhere are specious at best; rather, the two characters flit and bounce from scene to scene, proving they possess remarkable protean abilities to cope with anything thrown their way, especially in the case of the decidedly more pugnacious Jerry, who is bedecked in the cartoon fashion trend of the 1930s, i.e. clothes somewhat close in style to Mickey Mouse's, and with a similar tough attitude to boot. Tom is the taller of the two; he is generally klutzier and more prone to end up in added trouble due to a severe lack of wits. The two will often be accompanied by a variety of sound effects when they do things like tip a hat, jump up in the air, or alight upon something. (I can't help but think of certain noises from Super Mario Bros. when I see a Tom and Jerry short.)

The film starts off somewhat gruesomely with the sudden death of a cute flying duck mere seconds into the action. Tom and Jerry have taken to the skies aboard a small, chubby aeroplane, with the smaller Jerry at the controls. The duck basically just wanders in briefly from offscreen and goes right into the propeller. The boys are covered by several waves of feather shavings, and then Jerry wisely holds a plate out under the prop to retrieve the (one would hope, cooked) carcass of the tragic duck. He hands it to Tom, sitting in the rear seat with a parachute strapped to his back (how prescient!), but as Tom tears off one of the legs and holds it to his mouth, the plane's engine fails and they begin zooming down to earth. Tom leaps out and pulls his parachute cord, but it doesn't poof out, and he smacks down into the ground, creating a small crater. Jerry, briefly, has it easier, managing to slow the drop of the plane down so that it practically tiptoes onto the ground. However, after a brief pause once it touches, the plane sputters out and falls to pieces.

They find themselves in the desert, or rather, "the Old West", and as they trek to the nearest point of civilization, they are matched in pace, and mocked, by a longhorn steer. He shave-and-a-haircuts their walk with some dance steps, and when Tom turns to the steer, he is scared but determined to protect his buddy, so he grabs the bull by the horns, literally, and turns them downward. The steer kisses Tom on the lips, then recovers his horns to their normal position and attacks again. Jerry grabs Tom's feet as the bull spins them around and around, and they are thrown into a nearby tree. 

After gaining their feet, they see a wanted poster nailed to the tree with a vicious looking baddie drawn on it. Spying the reward for $1000, Tom pantomimes that he will fight the villain and win the reward, but a hand appears from behind the tree, and thumbs the nose on the picture at Tom. Stepping out from behind the tree is the same bad guy, and he strides up to Tom to do him some harm. Fortunately for Tom, he has a tough little buddy like Jerry, who after distracting the baddie by pointing at the poster, kicks the villain full in the stomach. Tom takes the opportunity to turn the creep's ten-gallon hat into a thirty-gallon one, stretching it down over the baddie's body, and then the pair ride off on the baddie's horse.

In town, a cowboy is playing the banjo while another does tricks with a lasso. Jerry steps in, and turns out to be a natural with a rope, performing a wide variety of astonishing and physics-defying stunts. A crowd of cowboys gathers and applauds wildly. They lead Tom and Jerry into the saloon, where Jerry has the bartender make a chocolate shake for him. After he makes Jerry's, the bartender uses the shaker again with his back turned to the bar, and as Jerry relishes eating his shake's cherry, the bartender's two wisps of neatly combed hair slide off into the foam of Jerry's shake. Jerry sucks down the contents, and when the bartender turns around, he sees his hair sitting like a mustache on an equally surprised Jerry's upper lip!

A band starts up a lively version of the old standard, Ida (Sweet as Apple Cider):

"Seems though
Can't live without you
Listen,
Oh honey do
Ida, I idolize ya
Because I
Love ya,
Ida,
'Deed I do!"

What appears to be two showgirls bending over and showing the bottoms of some frilly bloomers and some supple legs dance across the floor. The figures turn around, and it seems they have their heads bent as they caper further along the floor. Near the last line, they reach up and pull down the frilled fabric to their shoes, revealing full sets of chaps. After the line " 'Deed I do", the figures pull their heads, revealing a pair of identically goofy looking cowboys, and the chorus sings "I do" once more, as the cowboys hold their arms out for effect. Then, the entire saloon bursts forth in a jam session, continuing the song, complete with a three-part cowboy vocal rhythm section, Jerry on trumpet and Tom on tuba. Jerry's trumpet solo sounds suspiciously like a human singing scat (which it is, and it's wonderful), and at the close of the song, the cowboys repeat the "Because I love ya, Ida, 'deed I do!" part.

Suddenly, the party ends when the bad guy, seeming taller than before, sticks his guns over the swinging doors of the saloon and yells, "Stick 'em up!" Everyone in the bar, indeed, sticks 'em up, and we see a shot of the roof of the building as a dozen pairs of hands stretch out through the roof and high above it. Inside, we discover, as the villain enters, that he seems twice as tall because he is riding what I presume to be a fellow of the African-American persuasion. The villain jumps down, gives his unwilling lackey a boot in the pants out the door, and turns to the shivering crowd. Tom's pants fall down when he holds his hands up, and not only is there someone hiding in a barrel, there are also a pair of hands sticking out of the spittoon, as well. The villain uses a magnet to collect all of the loot in the place, including watches, moneybags, guns, knives, coins, and a pair of someone's teeth.

The villain departs, and Jerry wastes no time in flying Superman-like (but long before that hero first appeared) out the door and onto the back of a horse, all the better to track the creep down. The baddie, however, has four guns shooting out of a spinning turret in his ten-gallon hat, but Jerry manages to evade the bullets easily, with the horse crawling on all fours part of the time while still giving chase. Jerry uses his lasso skills to snag the tail of the baddie's horse, and then walks a combination tightrope and upside-down crawl to make it to the other side. He clubs first the villain out cold, and then the villain's horse, and a definite clue that they are in Texas occurs when Jerry ties the rope around the bad guy's wrists and drags him back to town behind Jerry's horse. 

The townsfolk are overjoyed, present Jerry with the $1000 reward, which he hands over to Tom, and then the sheriff hoists Jerry up in the air and carries him back into the saloon to celebrate. Tom drops the back on the ground, and when the villain wakes up, he switches the reward bag with a false bag, also marked "$1000.00." A horse runs in and convinces Tom to make off with the cash, and after considering it for a second, he grabs the bag and rides off into the forest with it. Once in the woods, Tom dismounts and kicks the horse away. He opens the bag greedily, sees what is inside, pours it out and says, "Nuts!" Suddenly, a gang of voracious squirrels attack Tom, knocking him down into the pile of nuts, and then run over him as they all try to grab what they can in a squirrel free-for-all. Iris out.

It's slightly worth mentioning that Simon and Garfunkel originally recorded under the names Tom and Jerry. They took assumed last names, as well, and though I have seen some mentions that they took the names because of the famously named cartoon characters, no one ever offers up which cartoon characters: the human Tom and Jerry or the cat and mouse team. It is also worth noting that Simon, the short one, took the name of Jerry, the monicker of the short character in both teams; Garfunkel, meanwhile, was Tom, who in all cases is the tallest. Since Paul and Art eventually took to arguing, fighting and brawling, leading to their very public breakup and reconciliation and breakup and reconciliation and... well, so on and so on... I guess they lived up to the names Tom and Jerry after all. In both teams.

They just never showed the same sense of humor as the animated versions. Well, except on Saturday Night Live

Or, unless you count A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission). Now, THAT’S entertainment...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

NOAH'S OUTING (1932)

Noah's Outing (Terrytoons, 1932) 
Dir.: Frank Moser
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

Sure, you can read a lot into the title above. You can, for instance, wonder just what led Noah to the moment of his outing. Did he have something going with one of his sons on that cramped little ark, or was it a secret rendezvous on the poopdeck with the Brahma bull?

Or, maybe it was just an innocent little outing on the water, trying to save life as he knows it from being wiped out by a devastating flood. Whatever his story might happen to be, all I know from Noah's Outing, a Terrytoon cartoon from 1932, is that Noah is played by the geezerific Farmer Al Falfa, star of innumerable Paul Terry shorts since the silent days. It's very convenient for Al that his first name and surname combine to form a type of plant that a farmer might grow. Otherwise,

In Noah's Outing, Al plays, unsurprisingly, the titular character, and at the beginning of the short, he is jamming out a nifty riff on his banjo for all of his animals, while his cat does a neat soft-shoe routine for the lot. A mouse then continues the jam session by playing Al's toes like a xylophone. (If this gives you pause, perhaps you'd best depart here... it's only going to get sillier.) A tremendously fat (and roughly animated, like much of this film) hog plays a saxophone, while a large crowd of animals follows him in parade. Two notes jump out of his sax, dance along in front of the parade for a few steps and jump back into the horn. Several animals dance, quite stiffly, in weirdly staring unison, and then a cow "la-la-la's" with the music, turning her back to the camera to shake the fat on her upper arms. (Still there?) The hog, sax, crowd, horn animation is reused, and then so is the dance and the cow footage.

Suddenly, a black cloud looms overhead, with thunder rolling ominously in the distance! A flock of duck, the leader of which is pedaling a bike in mid-air, and with a mother duck pushing a stroller full of eggs, fly into the path of the cloud's rain. The bicycle duck turns about a couple of times and then rides off. The mother duck parks her stroller underneath the cloud and flies away. The eggs hatch one by one, and then the first duckling leaves the stroller (which is just hanging in the air) and flies away, too. 

There is another burst from the cloud, and then hordes and hordes of cats and dogs come pouring out along with the rain, with each animal meowing and yipping on the way down. The mouse (presumably the xylophone player) runs up a palm tree to safety, and then whistles for a giraffe to come over. When it does, the mouse crawls into the giraffe's mouth, and then takes an elevator down the creature's neck, which is marked by numerous windows, and out of a door in its foot. The mouse jumps onto the back of a horse (with seemingly wooden legs) and charges into the wind and rain. A lightning bolt turns the horse into nothing but a skeleton, and then another bolt sheers the still running skeleton in half, which comes apart momentarily, but then the back half catches up to the front. (I hope you've stuck around...)

Noah/Al and his cat are hurriedly throwing furniture into a horse-drawn cart. Al jumps in, the horse takes off, and the back of the cart breaks apart, and the furniture is left behind. The front of the cart falls off, but Al leaps onto the back of the horse. The horse falls down, and Al keeps riding through the air, galloping away, until he is sent crashing face-first into a tree. Another cloud sends out bursts of rain, cats and dogs, as a parrot runs on the ground, carrying his cage and an umbrella. Lightning bolts hit the ground in front of him, and he climbs each one like a staircase. The ark is finally shown, and there is much work going on to fill the craft up, including a large dinosaur who is pedaling a wheel with his back legs that causes the scales on his back to move a series of trunks along towards the ark.

Al wheels a henhouse, complete with Al-pecking hen, up to the ship. He motions for a crane to come down and pick the henhouse up, and when it does, the mouth of the crane actually belongs to a hippopotamus. It grabs the house with its enormous maw and pulls it up with the help of another dinosaur on the ship's deck. (This dinosaur, I must mention, apparently is steam-powered, owing to the large engine mounted on his back.) The hippo is then lowered to pick up an item that two dogs have carried up in a box: an incredibly long dachshund. 

A monkey frantically honks a horn attached to his unicycle. He rides into a slot on a thin tree, and then rides back out with his family hanging on behind him, as he again frantically honks his horn and wheels along. Soon, all of the paired up animals begin arriving, running intently for the safety of the ark. A turtle finds that he is far too slow, so he takes off his shell, revealing his clothes. He takes off eight shirts, each in a different style, until he is standing in nothing but his underwear. He climbs back in his shell, and instantly, he is running twice as fast.

Meanwhile, a tiny mouse is seen sitting high on the end of a canoe, in which the other ending is weighted down by a well-dressed but hefty lady hippo. The mouse rows swiftly as he can through the rough water, but he accidentally splashes her, and so she bonks him on the head with her tiny umbrella. The animals climb aboard the ship on long ramps, but the mouse and hippo are still rowing along. The splash/bonk animation is used again before they reach the ship. The mouse climbs up to a small porthole, climbs through (with barely enough room for himself), and then pulls the entire canoe and his hippo girlfriend through it, too. Her bottom gets stuck and her bloomers fill our sight for a brief moment, but she does manage to get inside. (She loses her nifty shoes in the process, however...)

As another hippo blows the whistle, the ship weighs anchor, and as it is lifted inside, two turtles crawl out of the water behind it, up the side of the ship, and go inside to safety, as well. The giraffe has a sail hoisted up his back, and then the ship is shown being pulled by a huge smiling whale, who drags the craft up and down over each oceanic swell. A huge array of umbrella dot the deck of the ship, and when the wind carries one of them away, a kissing pair of dogs are caught by surprise. The ship rocks and rocks through day and night, until, I assume, the legendary 40 day/night contract is fulfilled, and then a bright, smiling sun is seen in the skies above. The sun, with a ill-fitting mouth that moves like Clutch Cargo's, begins to sing all gospel-like:

"It ain't gonna rain no more, no more!"

What seems like an entire choir, representing the animals on the ark, pick up the next line in tandem with the sun, as we see the ark sitting precariously on the tippy-top of Mt. Ararat:

"It ain't gonna rain no more!"

The animals are then shown surrounding their hero Noah/Al Falfa on the deck of the ark, serenading him in song:

"Old Man Noah was a grand old man,
and it ain't gonna rain no more!"

Then, there is a sudden burst of lightning which strikes the ship, and then we see Al hanging from the point of an extremely crooked lightning bolt, struggling to free himself from its grasp. Superimposed over the top of him is another torrent of cats and dogs, and the film irises out.

Despite the crudeness of much of the animation and of the story as told, this film is remarkably enjoyable. So many of the scenes are so barely connected to not just each other, but to the actual story, that for large sections of the film, it almost fulfills the basic tenets of surrealism, then relatively nascent in the art scene. I have no doubt whatsoever that this is on purpose; rather, it is merely a cartoon department run incredibly on the cheap that causes such laziness on screen, but I cannot dislike this film for that feeling. There are actually several well-considered shots in the mix, and the silliness does a lot to keep you jumping from disconnected scene one to disconnected scene two and so on. It is exactly this feeling that makes the cartoons of the early thirties, with their black-and-white endless variations on a still limited animated range, so intriguing. 

While many of the early cartoons seem almost interchangeable at the time, with everyone reaching for Mickey-style success, there are little subtleties at play beneath the rampant silliness that make all of them worthwhile watches, even the worst of the lot, for at least a couple go-arounds, if not more. As cheap as Terrytoons could be, they are still as precious as gold for the history contained within them.

Now that I think about it, perhaps Al is dating his cat. The cat is wearing pants at the beginning of the cartoon, generally a cartoon signal that the character is a male, and a little while later, Al and the cat are packing up furniture together to escape to the ark. While we don't necessarily see that cat in such close proximity to Al again in the rest of the cartoon, there is an awful lot of necking going on in the ark (the umbrella scene proves it), so things aren't so squeaky-clean and innocent in Al Falfa's world already.

Which leads me to believe that perhaps Noah's Outing is really an outing, after all? Al, you have some 'splainin' to do... but only if you feel comfortable in telling us.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bunny Mooning (1937)

Bunny Mooning (A Max Fleischer Color Classic, 1937)
Dir.: Dave Fleischer
Animation: Edward Nolan and Myron Waldman
Cel Bloc Rating: 5/9

OK, it's not so much that I hate weddings. I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to get married if that is what is important to them, though I do ask that young loving couples be a little sensible and not put themselves or their loved ones into a ridiculous amount of debt just so a pair of people can get laid "legally" later that evening. I find wedding culture nonsensical to the extreme, and it is one of many traditions of which I would be just as happy to not be invited. You're getting married? Great... now, wear a condom or have your nuts jarred in formaldehyde after the first couple of brats. Let's not be popping young out like friggin' bunnies.

Speaking of bunnies and weddings, there is a Max Fleischer Color Classic cartoon called Bunny Mooning, and though nowadays one would hope that such a title would be offered up on the Playboy Channel (does that piece of crap station still actually get viewers?), as this film was released in 1937, it is most likely going to actually have something to do with bunnies of the fur-bearing, twitchy-nosed, and hoppy-legged type. And if you think cute little bunnies holding a wedding are going to get me change my mind regarding the damnable events, then you've obviously been smoking the baby's breath, Cheech.

This is what you get when a bunny is your friend: cuteness unhindered by any rational thought. On a giant moonlit mushroom, a bunny boy cuddles with a bunny girl, and offers her a 1-karat ring, which is actually a carrot on a ring, which she accepts. I assume that it is about twelve grueling, money-draining, nerve-wracking, ball-tightening, wits-ending months later, but soon every hand belonging to every animal in the forest is grabbing cutesy invitations (I wonder who did the printing? Note: Need to check on that...) from a stack of leaves hanging from a tree. They read: "WEDDING: Jill and Jack Rabbit will be married in the Woods at Tree O'Clock. This will Leaf you in." Ah, isn't that punny and sweet? (Note regarding the note before: Need to check with that printer to commend him on this.)

Soon, a song begins as the animals of the forest — and judging from the wide array of African animals on display, I would guess that the Dark Continent would be the location, but it does nothing to explain the moose that we meet in a little while, so it is more likely it is a general Animal Land type of fantasia — make their preparations for the party:

"Everybody's getting
ready for the wedding!
Oh, they're so excited!
Everybody's getting
ready for the wedding!
They've all been invited!"

(There are more lyrics, but I couldn't care less about figuring them out or writing them down...)

We first see a barber pole in front of a shop, where the winding stripe on the pole is provided courtesy of an employed snake, or a series of employed snakes, since the pattern repeats over and over again. Inside the shop, an elderly ostrich buzzes short the quills on a fussy porcupine; a lion (in a striped shirt that gives it the partial look of a tiger) has its razor-sharp claws honed down on a grinding wheel; and the aforementioned moose asks for a "poi'menent" whereupon hot curlers are dropped on her antlers and, when raised, tight little curls decorate the ends of each point. (She may be a deer, but her face is more like a moose's, as is her rack, but the problem there is that female moose do not grow racks.) Other animals about the forest prepare themselves to look their best, too: a hippo applies makeup to her face, using a paintbrush to coat her mouth with a generous dollop of lipstick, and then puckers up to complete her mission; a crocodile brushes the sharp teeth making up his infamous smile; and a well-bred giraffe affixes his spats and tab collar, though when he fixes his tie, several other successively smaller collars pop about to cover the length of his neck.

Mr. Bunny calls his beloved to tell her that it's "tree o'clock", and he does this by dropping a coin in an elephant's trunk, and then the pachyderm opens his mouth to reveal the telephone. His intended tells him she is ready, though she actually has a couple final adjustments to make. She puts on her false eyelashes, and then her stereotypical black maid of a bunny fusses with her headpiece. The bride complains about the length, and her maid proclaims, "Don't worry, honey! I'll fix dat!" and she snips the offending piece in half with the aid of her ears, which shear the fabric like scissors, while the maid chuckles. Mr. Bunny arrives to escort her, and the happy pair skip and "la-la-la" their way to the ceremony. (So much for not seeing the bride before the nuptials.)

The guests have already arrived, and there is a great array of gifts set out on incredibly long tables, with about fifty or sixty of the gifts being several sizes of baby chairs. (Hmm... I wonder why? What could they possibly be implying about bunnies here?) A hippo carves a slice out of a cake, and then eats the rest of the cake instead. Mr. Cow tries to dip into the punchbowl (which is most likely spiked with something), but Mrs. Cow catches him and angrily "cows" him with "Mmmmm-ox!" (I guess his name is Max? Or would the cow equivalent be Mox?) A monkey grinding a music box with his tail accompanies a chicken who clucks the wedding music, and the resulting cacophony brings tears to the eyes of the bride's mother. At the close of the song, Mr. Cow takes another try at getting some punch, but is again thwarted by his “butter” half. (Yes, my own pun is clearly intended...)

The peacock minister takes the stage to perform the ceremony, and a monkey uses his tail to play The Bridal Chorus on a row of bluebells growing in a flower box behind him. A choir joins him in the brief section of song as the bunny betrothed jitter their way down the aisle to a slightly more swinging groove. The minister then speeds them through the reading, and finally, the bunnies kiss (cutely, of course). The wedding is over, but not without a word from our sponsor! The peacock turns around and displays, instead of his usual feathery glory, an advertisement reading "BUY BABY BLOOMERS AT BIMBLE'S BASEMENT"! (Apparently, these bunnies are going to be very, very busy...)

Like most weddings, this one also leaves me cold. Sure, I guess that I feel happy for the couple, but why did I need to be here? If it were a little jazzier or a tad more swinging, I would probably have a better time with Bunny Mooning. Cuteness is as cuteness does, and sometimes it is merely the theme that determines whether I am willing to go along with a too cute premise. I had no problem at all with the honeymooning and far livelier and grittier (though still cute) couples in Fleischer's Dancing on the Moon [reviewed here], so don't think that I am just using this cartoon as a connubial punching bag. It's just that Bunny Mooning, except for a handful of amusing moments (I especially enjoy the barber shop series, and the giraffe is swell, too), the show is just a little too underwhelming to hold my interest in repeated viewings.

As for my pronounced despising of weddings? It's not so much weddings, but parties in general that I tend to not enjoy as much as other people. I am better in groups of four, five or six people; larger parties, I tend to wander off (I don't know why!), find a quiet spot, perhaps write a little in a notebook, and if I can find someone off adopting a similar non-social attitude, I will have a nice conversation with them. But the party itself? Not my thing, people. Even with my best friends surrounding me (more on this in a second), you will notice me eventually drifting off from the group at large, and finding a quieter place to disengage myself from the proceedings. This happens at Halloween parties (purportedly my favorite, which they are), Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even cast parties, of which I have been to far too many to count, and even in the ones where I am involved in the setup, I will eventually lose myself, often going home at the earliest possible convenience.

In late July, Jen and I have to fly to Texas for the wedding of our very close pal Bubba. (Yes, I know a "Bubba", but it's a nickname, not a birth name. The boy has even posted on here.) I may hate weddings and I may hate Texas and I may not relish the thought of going there in July, but I'm going to the wedding. It's Bubba. He's one of my closest pals; he's one of my brothers; he's part of my gang. Sure, I've groused a lot about having to go, but it's the same way that I complain about everything in life. At work, I am given impossible projects, and I yell and bitch and throw things... and then I figure out how to get it done. It's just the breed of cat that I am. So, I will be at Bubba's wedding. Brothers stick together, and I am proud that he finally cracked down and finished grad school, got a great job, and met a swell girl. As long as she's good by him, I'm all for his getting hitched. But, there will be a point in the wedding when I will just disappear for a good chunk of the time. It's the way that I am.

As the Mighty Mighty Bosstones said, "I guess I really don't know how to party..."

[This article was updated with new photos and edited on 11/24/2015.]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

PLAY SAFE (1936)

We all did stupid things as kids. Hell, I still do them today. They just tend to be of a slightly less self-destructive nature than when I was a kid, jumping out of trees, sledding through traffic, taking sharp downhill ess curves without bike brakes, and pushing bullies to their testing limits. The funny part is, I never broke so much as a single bone until I moved out of the house. Now, when I do something stupid, and break bones, I'm just not paying attention, and I will accidentally hurt myself. Regardless of my own klutziness, at a certain point, most people grow up and leave the insanity to the next generation.

Play Safe, the last Color Classic in the 1936 release slate from Max Fleischer, has perhaps the worst theme song I have ever heard in a cartoon. The singers sounds like a hellish duet of Moe Howard and Jimmy Durante impersonating bellowing baseball umpires who skull-poundingly point out why you should consider the path of safety in all your playtime activities. The lyrics are rushed, though shouted slowly and clearly, and inane:

"Play Safe! Play Safe!
Hesitate,
Before it's too late
Stop headin' for danger!
Wait! Better Play Safe!
Beware! Take care!
And always prepare
To stop, look and listen!
When you get up in the morning
Don't you dare forget the warning:
When you play,
Better Play Safe!"

The film itself is cute but purposefully bland through the bulk of its running time, with a cutesy train-loving boy getting into all sorts of trouble on the railroad tracks while his loving St. Bernard tries to rescue him. At the beginning, while the dog sleeps, the boy, bored with his book on trains and tired of playing the tunnel to his own model train set, opens the gate to the yard and tries to run out to the train tracks running adjacent to his home. The dog, unleashed for the moment, leaps out and grabs him before the boy can get too far. The dog settles back to sleep, and the boy sneakily hooks the leash up to its collar, and then tiptoes back out to the tracks again. A train has stopped not far away, and the boy climbs up to the top of the back car, and when it starts to go, he jumps for joy, and then sits down to enjoy the ride. The St. Bernard, meanwhile, has woken up and discovered the boy's escape. The dog struggles madly to loose itself, but it can't get free. The boy continues his swell ride, but finally, he gets bumped off and lands hard on the tracks below, hitting his head on the rail.



The boy enters his own "Dreamland" situation, and wakes up in a magical railyard, thick with brilliantly detailed cars, tracks, and railway minutiae. It would be a wondrous place for a train addict like this little boy; for me, it is mankind grown wild, and a blackly perfect vision of the industrial disfigurement of the planet, so at least they do properly gibe the impression that we are actually in a nightmare realm, whether intended or not (and I think the answer is "not"). Great, powerful engines loom out at the audience, and the boy eventually climbs into one and begins to play with the whistle and the controls. He starts the engine up, and every few revolutions, the wheels and gears jitter and shake maniacally before shifting back into place. At last, the engine picks up speed, and though the boy is ecstatic at first, he is menaced by the machinery within the engine. A pair of dials come to life, each yelling "Play safe!" at him gruffly. The boy reaches for the brakes, but they shrink down to the floor and disappear from view. He tries to grab other levers, and they, too, wither up like someone took their Viagra away. The dials spring out at him again, shouting "Hesitate!" The train goes faster and faster, and we are shown the front of the engine, which forms a grouchily glaring face that shouts "Beware! Take care!", before turning back to its normal train self.

Then, the train is shown in three-dimensions, and you could cynically point out that the Fleischers merely filmed a model train set, but there is far more to it than that. It is the grandest, scariest looking train set ever seen, with mountains with gargoyle-like faces only slightly subtly carved into them, and with the steepest drops and the sharpest turns. The train enters a tunnel with one of the gargoyle faces; the mouth closes behind it and the face springs to horrid life, shouting "Better play safe!!" The boy looks out the side of the train to view its steadily rushing progress, and the face of the engine comes alive once more. It screams, and then forms two fingers from its catcher to use as a whistle. Ahead of it on the tracks is an oncoming train, which also screams and whistles. They go back and forth with the scream-and-whistle act, and then the cars seem about to crash into one another, but at the last second, they both leap up into the air, arch their necks like two cobras, scream savagely at each other -- and the boy leaves the dream, though he is still passed out on the tracks!

But, he is not out of the woods yet -- there is a train rushing towards him, and the St. Bernard sees it and even more frantically tries to escape its bonds. It finally slips out of the collar, and charges alongside the train, running as fast as it can. The train starts to pull forward, but the dog gives it one more burst of speed and manages to get on the tracks ahead of the monstrous vehicle. The dog finds some red paint off to the side, and he coats his tail in it, lays down, and waves the tail like a red flag, trying to stop the train. However, the train continues apace, and it seems that all is lost for the dog, but the train's cowcatcher boots the Bernard in the rear, and the canine is sent sprawling far ahead on the tracks. It slides a while on the rails, then gathers its feet and runs to the boy, picking him up its jaws. Pulling him to the side, the dog starts to lick the boy awake, but has left its red-flag tail draped over one rail. The train nears the tail, but at the last second, the dog pulls it to the side. The boy wakes up, and gratefully hugs his huge pet. As the film closes, the annoying vocalists assault us one final time with a monstrous shout, yelling "BETTER PLAY SAFE!"

This film actually seems far better in describing it than it is watching it. The dream portion is hellaciously intriguing to watch, but it is sandwiched between scenes of marshmallowy sweetness, and I know that it is on purpose, so that the lesson learned in the dreamland is more memorable and severe. But I feel the dream portion is not severe enough: even if the circumstances of the near-crash are set into motion by the boy starting the train, and I suppose the lesson he is supposed to learn is how things can go wildly out of control despite our best efforts, what I would get out of the dream is that anthropomorphic engines are friggin' crazy, and one just needs to avoid trains with human faces on their pressure dials. Then I'd be out on the tracks again an hour later, trying to flag down a real train. Besides, the kid is passed out the entire time the dog is making such a huge effort to save him. He doesn't even wake up until the danger is passed, and since the dog can't talk, how is the kid going to learn any lesson here?

Hidden deep on the Young Fresh Fellows' album Low Beat Time, there exists a hidden track, after a crashing stroll through the standard Green Green, where a presumably ancient lost song from the 1950's is played. I assume, from the words shouted at the beginning of the track, that the "song" is called Let's Make Rock 'n' Roll! Yes, I say "shouted"; and then the voice belonging to that shout recounts, in the straightest white-guy style possible, how easy it is to make rock n' roll, which he demonstrates via a band playing the stiffest riffs this side of The Shaggs. That he or his band have little rhythm or talent is beside the point; they are making "rock 'n' roll", and woe be to any "squares" that get in their way! (If only you could hear their dull, off-key voices attempt to harmonize the simple "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" part.) I have no idea who does the song, or if it is indeed, as I have often suspected, the Fellows themselves having us on for a lark. But, the song sounds so authentic, and the narrator is so obviously squaresville, one is pained to listen to it, but one must listen! Why? Because he shouts almost half of his instructions! He shouts all through the record!

What does this have to do with Play Safe? Well, nothing except for the fact that when I watch the cartoon, and those wondrously inept, growly voices start shouting the opening song, my brain automatically switches to Let's Make Rock 'n' Roll! Because, just like the instructions being yelled for safe playing in Play Safe, the assumption is that by yelling the instructions for "making" rock 'n' roll, we will be convinced that the narrator knows of whence he is speaking. He tries to convince us of his knowledge by shouting it at us; by practically scaring it into us. The same with the shouters in Play Safe: they want to scare us into obeying the safety rules. And, on both counts, the shouters fail.

Society can tell you nonstop that you must do this and you must do that. They can yell their warnings and laws and rules at you day and night, and yes, most of the time, the laws are there for a very good reason. But
, take it from a guy who has been hit three times by cars, and all when listening to the rules and crossing at the "safe" crosswalks: sometimes, if you want to live to the next day, you just have to break the rules and jaywalk. Pedestrians are on their own whether or not they follow the rules, because people in cars are crazy. Most people get an attitude when they get behind the wheel, an "everybody get out of my way" charge that many of which most of them are not aware. And, though I do it very rarely, I've yet to have a problem when picking and choosing my moments to cross the street in an "illegal" fashion.

Really, it's the only time I have ever been happy being "middle of the road"...

Play Safe (A Max Fleischer Color Classic, 1936) Director: Dave Fleischer
Animation: David Tendlar & Eli Brucker
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

HAWAIIAN BIRDS (1936)

"Birds are boring. It's like, 'Hell-lo! I'm a bird! I'm yelll-low!'" - Respectfully Anon.

Unlike the person above, who shall remain nameless for reasons that only a handful of people need to know (but I will tell you who it is in person should our paths ever cross and only if you ask me -- but, prepare to be disappointed, for you'll not know the person), I do not find birds boring. Truth be told, given their bursts of energy and variety of colors, birds are probably one of the more exciting classes of animals, when you take all factors into consideration.

But, I am in a like mind regarding the creatures when a film like Hawaiian Birds is viewed. Neither bad in conception nor in animation, the fault with the film lies yet again with Max Fleischer's story department, where a halfway decent set-up leads to much ado about nothing, only a failed suicide attempt -- yes! I said suicide attempt! And the film itself paints its story in a predictable manner that come across as both a tad too weepy and, well, for lack of a better term... boring.

It starts out beautifully, with gorgeous three-dimensional sets showing the volcanic landscape of a Hawaiian island matched against beautiful foreground plants and trees. A pair of romantically inclined birds flit above this landscape, pitching woo to each other and preparing to build a nest, while a warm Hawaiian-style ballad lulls the viewer into believing they are in paradise, a concept to which the song's lyrics attest. (It is interesting to note that while the birds have many human characteristics, not only employing props throughout the film in human fashion, but also having restaurants and, in this opening sequence, build a house with features like a human's home, the building of the home itself is done by the male bird entirely using his beak, adding a nice natural touch to the love sequence.)



Then the city birds show up. A troupe called the Big City Orioles, that is, and they are traveling entertainers, and once they land on a nearby branch and kick up a jazzy storm, dancing and tweeting, the lady bird is lost. She finds herself attracted to the leader of the troupe, tall and handsome with his bright chest thrust out boldly, spinning a baton while he leads his boys in their antics, and she slowly makes her way to their branch. With her cute face and grass hula skirt, the leader is enthralled by her ecstatic dancing to their music. He asks her to join his company, and she decides to run away to the big city. She scratches out a note on a leaf for her former intended, and flies off to seek her dreams in the wings of another bird. After putting the finishing touches on the house, the male bird discovers his mate is missing, and searches frantically for her, eventually making his way to the other branch and finding her note. It reads "Gone North - Goodbye," and he wastes no time in deciding to follow her across the ocean.



He instantly does not find the big city to his liking. It is snowing and freezing cold, and once he lands, exhausted from his journey, his Hawaii-bred body shivers intensely due to the lack of heat. He spies what he believes to be the outline of a bird frozen in the snow, but when he uncovers it, the object turns out to be a hood ornament in the shape of a bird. For his lost love, things in the big city aren't so swell, either. At the Oriole Nite Club, located inside a lamp, we see her new paramour literally kicking her out of his life and the troupe for an unseen and wholly unknown reason. We only know that he has no pity for her, and though snow is piled thickly on the ground, he doesn't hesitate to throw her out in it. She weeps and begs over and over for his mercy, but he smacks and roughly pushes back out into the cold again and again.

Giving up at last, she weeps and walks to the edge of the building, and after looking a picture of her former Hawaiian love, she kisses it, and then decides to end it all. She pulls a strand of grass from her hula skirt and ties it around her wings so she can't fly off at the last second. She peers over the edge and just can't do it. She tries again and still can't bring herself to end her life. On the third try, she manages to leap and she falls screaming headfirst to the ground below. Lucky for her, the male bird is bent over a discarded and smoldering cigarette trying to gather what heat he can from it as if it were a campfire. She lands squarely on his back, and survives her fall. When they realize that they have found each other, they are overjoyed. The film closes with the pair back in their native land, flying through the air, picking up leis from flowers, and finally, landing in their home and kissing sweetly, just before pulling the shade down on the window, and continuing their lovemaking.

There are a handful of cartoons that employ suicide as a device, but it is usually for comic effect, such as having a character blowing their brains out or exploding themselves by drinking nitroglycerine, only to end the cartoon on a ghost gag. (This happens several times in Warner Bros. cartoons.) But, rarer is the film that deals with suicide in a frank and serious fashion. Anytime that suicide is used, it is meant to be shocking, and it is; but here, because of the melodramatic approach to the story, you really get a feel for the silliness and desperation of the act. Despite this success, I feel cheated by the conclusion of the film. Perhaps on purpose, perhaps to downplay the role of the pimp that the lead oriole just may well be, we are not shown the circumstances surrounding her dismissal from the Big City Orioles. So, though she tries to murder herself due to the situation, there is no attempt at revenge on the part of the male Hawaiian bird. They merely turn tail and zip back to their home, and the story comes off as being unresolved. And the film is low-key enough, despite the melodramatics, that there is no real drive to the actions.

Overall, well made, but kind of a drag. Just a bit... boring.

And the birds aren't even yellow...

Hawaiian Birds (A Max Fleischer Color Classic, 1936) Director: Dave Fleischer
Animators: Myron Waldman & Sam Stimson
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Greedy Humpty Dumpty (1936)

Greedy Humpty Dumpty (A Max Fleischer Color Classic, 1936) 
Dir.: Dave Fleischer
Animators: David Tendlar; William Sturm
Music: Sammy Timberg; Bob Rothberg
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

As I said yesterday, animators don't need to know the history behind something to continue on apace with a project. It might help if the subject you are lampooning or portraying has some sort of historical importance or is a current figure in the headlines; some good jokes can come out of even the simplest morsel of dogged research. But we are talking about nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters for the most part when discussing the animated films of the first half of the 20th century. All that you really need to use for a springboard is the most basic information at the disposal of both yourself and the audience. And that information? In the case of Mr. Humpty Dumpty, that information is encased in four very famous lines; lines so famous, that it is not only one of the first poems that most children hear in their lives, it is also one of the first cautionary tales they hear, too:

"Humpy Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again."



So short; so concise; so... lacking in detail. Perhaps due to its history as a riddle in which children are supposed to guess Humpty's identity, the poem is locked in mystery, especially its etymologic origins; but, I've said before that I want to skip all of that folderol to concentrate on the mystery of Humpty himself. Who is he, besides an egg? Why did he have a great fall, and why was he sitting there in the first place? After his fall, why are the king's resources spent trying to reassemble him? Is he the king?



In Max Fleischer's 1936 Color Classic, Greedy Humpty Dumpty, Humpty actually IS the king: the king of Nursery Rhyme Land, that is. On top of that, according to the title of the film, he is greedy, and this character deficiency has turned poor Mr. Dumpty into a tyrant. Like most tyrants, he hides this bad behavior (or is self-deluded into thinking he has hidden it) under a veneer of gaiety and forced cheerfulness. Perched high atop a wall, wearing a gold crown and glutting himself on a turkey leg, he looks for all the world like an ovoid Henry the Eighth, and he opens the cartoon with a burst of boastful song quite literally fit for a king…

"I'm Humpty Dumpty, king of wealth,
and this wall of gold is my throne!
I've built it high so it touches the sky!
This wall is all my own!
The more I have, the more I want;
I love this glistening stuff!
There's power untold in these pieces of gold,
I've never had enough!"

But, there is dissent at large in the kingdom. Peering up at their king from a log, Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep (who is knitting clothing straight from her sheep) voice the people's discontent with their own song…

"Ohhhh... Look out! Look out!
Some day you're gonna fall!
Look out! Look out!
You aren't smart at all!
Oh Me! Oh My!
You go too high!
You'll be sorry by and by!"

The Old Woman in the Shoe reprimands the tyrant with a round of scolding…

"Look out! Look out!
The years have made me wise!
I know the end
Of all you greedy guys!
You've got to stop
While you’re on top --"

Her kids peek out of the shoe, pull the broom out from under their mother's arm and knock her down. They finish the song in a giggling fashion…

"Or you're gonna take the plop!"

King Humpty merely laughs off all of this bad press, drops a handful of gold coins into a pants pocket that looks more like it is carved in his side like a piggy bank, and wanders back to the golden-spired castle that is surrounded by his great wall of gold. Inside an antechamber, filled to the rafters with bags and bars and loose piles of gold, Humpty takes to playing on a table with a stack of coins, laughing lustily the entire time. But then the sun pokes its sunlight into the room, and Humpty is taken with the stray ray of light. "Gold! Gold! Gold!", he shouts, and climbs up his piles to peer directly out the window at the sun. When he looks at its center, he imagines that it is of the most detailed finery, and he yells with a righteous fury, still continuing to rhyme…

"Why didn't I know 
there was gold in the sun?
I'll get that, too, 
before I am done!"



He runs back outside to his wall, checks himself before he falls off accidentally (and thereby wrecking himself), and then calls the citizens of the land to gather for some important news…

"There's gold in the sun! 
I saw it there!
Precious gold that is so rare!
So, get busy, everyone!
Build my wall to reach the sun!"

Mother Goose, who must have lost the kingdom to Humpty Dumpty in an earlier story, offers him some sage advice…

"Don't climb too high 
to build your wall
'Cause the higher you crawl, 
the harder you'll fall!"

This enrages the eggy monarch, and he pulls out a whip to make his point crystal clear. He cracks it over the heads of the populace and threatens them thusly…

"If you value your lives, 
and also your health,
You'll dive right in, 
for I want more wealth!"

The citizenry, fearing for their lives now, do indeed dive into building the wall higher! Scores of people carry sacks labeled "Gold Dust" to a trough where the Three Men In A Tub mix it with water to form mortar. The Rock-a-bye Baby gets in the act, using a bucket to pour the mortar along the top of the wall by sliding his cradle in the treetops along a branch. Mother Goose's namesake pet is a dedicated bricklayer, using its pointed beak for a perfect trowel. Pelicans also pick up mouthfuls of the mortar and pour it along the wall, while storks, too, help out the dispersal of the building materials. Witches on broomsticks carry the bulk of the workload, picking up large loads of bricks and dropping them perfectly into place on flyover missions. The wall eventually completely envelops the castle, even its spires, but still Humpty orders them to build higher.



At last, he is but a few feet away from the sun, and King Humpty himself stacks the last few bricks into place. He almost falls when he stands at its peak, but he balances himself, and then pulls out a huge axe and swings it at the golden orb. The effect is devastating -- and completely expected. Flames shoot out from the surface right at Humpty and he has to duck in order to avoid getting roasted. But somehow, lightning jumps out in the form of a stick figure, picks up Humpty, lays him over its knee and spanks him fiercely. He cries and rubs his backside, but the sun is not finished with him -- not by a long shot! Another lightning charge shoots out and takes the form of a jackhammer, caving in the side of the tower. It sways precariously from side to side, losing more bricks with each sway, and Humpty has to fight to keep from falling.

But fall he does when the entire structure finally collapses, taking Humpty's treetop castle with it, and as the yolk-filled despot falls to earth, he has one last relapse of greed. On the way down, he reaches out hungrily for a falling brick of gold, but then realizes he is doomed, and releases the object of his desire. He hits the ground with a disgusting splat, and there is soon nothing left of him but shards of broken shell. Various hands reach in to rebuild the fallen monarch, and he sings a tale of woe upon his reconstruction:

"Oh, I climbed too high
To build my wall,
But I got too greedy
And I had a great fall!"

He holds together for mere seconds before he falls to pieces for the last time. A choir then recites the last two lines of the famous poem, and the Nursery Rhyme kingdom is less one tyrant.

The Fleischers take the Dumpty storyline (such as it is) and run with it, imagining exactly who he really is, where he lives (a given, when considering the source of the poem), and detailing both exactly why he is on the wall and why he falls from it. It doesn't matter whether the poem actually mentions any of this detail or not; what is important is that the poem is successful enough in the human imagination that anyone can imagine the reasoning behind Humpty Dumpty's plight in infinite variations. Humpty's charge towards the sun is rhythmically strong as drama, with a slow and careful build (and, in Humpty's case, climb) to the conclusion. And the visual depiction of Humpty reaching the sun and battling it is a unique vision, and when the sun's defense springs into action, it is savage and brutal.

What disappoints me, though, is that yet again a nursery rhyme land is imagined (such as in Warner Bros.' Sniffles and the Bookworm, reviewed recently here), but while much thought has been given to the main character, little is done with the rich cast of Mother Goose characters at their disposal. Five or six characters are seen briefly, but then the action is turned over to squadrons of nondescript witches, storks and pelicans. I would have rather seen the different manners in which Jack Sprat and his wife help out; Simple Simon could klutz about and provide comic relief; -- and damn it! Jack built a whole house; why not let him and his rat and cat and dog and so on run riot while building the wall. Not to mention Jack and Jill; you already have characters moving pails about -- why, that's a natural for the unlucky pair! And certainly the Three Blind Mice could provide some politically incorrect chuckles misplacing various objects whilst building away? There are so many characters, and so many possibilities, that it seems perhaps the Fleischers got a little lazy again in the story area while concentrating so hard on developing the lead character.

And what is more shocking than a nursery rhyme character, generally though to be a cheerful and carefree sort until his plunge, picking up a bullwhip and cracking it angrily at the populace of his town? Not just the S&M overtones; not the totalitarian threat inherent in his actions; but the fact that it comes from a character of relative innocence, apart from his greedy habits, before this moment makes it all the more memorable.



Now, if only I could gather a conference together to discuss this weird cannibalism thing in the cartoon world. Daffy and Donald Duck regularly eat or crave the flesh of other fowl in various films, and now here, in an even kinkier twist on self-species destruction, Humpty Dumpty, an egg, though of unknown origin, is devouring the leg of some bird, most likely a turkey, in keeping with the play on Hank the In-Between-Seventh-and-Ninth. I know greed knows no limits, but come on...

If there are turkeys far smaller than the egg that is Humpty, then from what monstrous creature did Humpty drop? An allosaurus?

RTJ


*****

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



[This article was revised and updated on 1/18/2016. My thanks to the anonymous person who long ago helped me figure out a couple of the lines of Humpty's song.]

Monday, April 24, 2006

Humpty Dumpty (1935)

Humpty Dumpty (An Ub Iwerks ComiColor Cartoon, 1935) 
Dir.: Ub Iwerks
Music: Carl Stalling
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

I'm not going to get into the supposed and varied sources of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. There are enough places that already deal with the whys and wherefores and whats, and I feel as much need to make sense of it all as do the animators who have brought cartoon life to the character over the years. Cannons, kings, blah, blah, blah! 

The disparity between how much information we actually have about Mr. Dumpty, given the brevity of his poem, and the amount of times he has been employed over the many decades in comics and animation is astounding. This is all the information anyone gets from the start:

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
couldn't put Humpty together again."


The poem tells you so little, not even the seemingly necessary fact that Humpty is, indeed, an egg; though as this poem is meant as a riddle leading to that conclusion clears that mystery up for good. It is taken for granted that Humpty is an Ovoid of Notorious Balance; what has not been mentioned is that his skills clearly qualify him for most junior varsity gymnastics teams. (Were he created today, Humpty would possibly be some sort of a combination of idiot narcissist and daredevil, probably the forerunner in the quite narrow subgenre of X-Treme Dairy Products.)

Lewis Carroll was obviously bemused enough with the situation to clear it up for good in Through the Looking Glass, which is one of the early instances of Humpty being given more life than he possessed previously in this tidy little quatrain. In fact, Carroll skewers the structure of the poem by having Alice comment "That last line is much too long for the poetry" (given by Carroll as "couldn't put Humpty Dumpty in his place again," thus making it more ponderous than before).


In 1935, Ub Iwerks, like many studios in the 1930s, took to spending a good deal of time and money trying to compete with Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies series, and started a series, produced in the red-and-blue, predominant, two-color Cinecolor system, called ComiColor Cartoons. Like all of the Symphonic copycat series (and “copycat” is not a putdown, mind you!), the ComiColor shorts were generally cutesy and childlike. They were also severely lacking in the story department.

This does not mean that there weren't some good cartoons in the bunch, along with some excellent characterizations and quite memorable moments. One such cartoon (fun to watch, but with a story so weak you can hear its knees quaking from the strain) is the Iwerks updating of Humpty Dumpty, brought into the modern world with cheap melodramatic devices and poppy jazz. After all, when even the toddlers of the world have your source poem memorized, the only way to go is to set it finger-snappin’ music...

The film opens on a storybook where the credits are presented, and when the page turns, we are shown a window with wooden doors that open up and introduce us to the three main characters. As this is an update, the first egg is Humpty Dumpty, Jr., the son of the late wall-tumbler; the second is his lady love, the beauteous Easter Egg; and the third is the foul-mouthed villain, The Bad Egg. He is quite literally foul-mouthed: a stench wafts from his maw as he sneers at the audience, who cascade him with "Boo! Hiss! Boo!" which is apropos. The action proper begins with the camera showing us a picture of the late Humpty Dumpty, and a choir sings us a chiming version of the poem. It pulls back to reveal his son, Junior, who sits precariously atop the lip of a vase, and continues singing his story:

"My old man may have sat on a wall;
He slipped and had a very great fall!
But I'm Humpty Junior, 
I'm just like my pop!
I climb where I please!
They can't make me stop!"

His mother, sweeping the counter with a broom and worried beyond reason, intervenes, but almost causes her son's death inadvertently. She yells, "Junior! Come down from there!," and Junior is startled enough to lose his balance and fly down towards the ground. Luckily, his mother catches him in her apron. She tells him, "You be careful! That's how your father got cracked!" Junior slinks off, all the while hanging his head in shame.

Enter the heroine, Easter Egg. She skips along cutely, tapping various kitchen items with a stick, and Junior thinks fast and greets her with an armful of greens that he has plucked from a dinner plate. A light jazz number kicks in, and Junior serenades her:

"The moment you arrived, I had a feeling
I'd never be contented 'til we met!
But otherwise it ain't quite so appealing
So won't you join me in an om-e-lette?"

She then joins him in the chorus, as they rock back and forth as they literally spoon within a tablespoon:

"Oh, spooning in a spoon!
We don't need a moon!
Poached or fried or on the side
Morning, night or noon!
Scrambled in a tune,
Deviled with a croon!
In a cup, you're sunny side up,
Spooning in a spoon!"


As they cavort and sing, a kick-line of leggy she-eggs join them through the course of the tune, while The Bad Egg lurks jealously about in the background, peeking and sneering at their act, resplendent in traditional villain's curled mustache, tails, spats and top hat. The pair of love-eggs (I suppose that would make them pre-lovebirds were they fertilized properly) kiss sweetly and repeat the second half of the chorus, but then the villain stomps on the spoon handle, sending the pair flying into the air and onto their oval keisters. The Bad Egg tells Junior to "Scram!" and pushes him down, kidnapping Easter Egg, and carrying her off for his own twisted take on the process of love. Junior attacks him but only gets punched in the eye and knocked down again.

The Bad Egg carries Easter high up on the kitchen shelves where he puts the moves on her, but she runs and tries to stop him with anything in her path: a box of matches, a tomato can, and pepper, which she blows in his face, causing him to sneeze. Junior reaches the top shelf and charges the pair, but the Bad Egg roughly throws Easter off the shelf and down into a pan full of boiling water. She screams for help as Junior battles the villain, but finally the lovestruck hero breaks away from the melee and rushes to her aid.


Junior fashions a lasso out of some leftover spaghetti, but by the time Junior pulls her out of the water, she has become hard-boiled. To his surprise, she now speaks and looks along the lines of a Mae West. "Aw, scram!", she tells Junior when he tries to embrace her. The villain laughs at this turnabout, and Junior strides towards the heel to exact his revenge, but Easter pushes him out of the way. She hitches up her skirt toughly and starts pummeling the villain with a number of sharp blows to the face.


Junior, excited as usual, shadowboxes off to the side to Easter's every successful punch at the villain's face, but in his fervor, Junior slips and sends himself into the boiling water. At first, he calls for help, but he ends up getting hard-boiled as well. Crawling out of the boiling pan, he delivers a roundhouse punch that sends the Bad Egg flying. Junior then strikes a number of matches and throws them at the creep, surrounding him with flames and burning his rear end. Finally, Junior dumps the entire box of matches down on the Bad Egg. There is a large flash as the matches all catch on fire simultaneously, and when the smoke clears, the villain is revealed to be completely blackened and sick from smoke inhalation. 

The Bad Egg collapses exhausted into the tablespoon, and Junior stomps on the handle to send the Bad Egg sailing to the ground below, where he smashes to bits. As an explanation for his foul breath, a couple dozen skunks run out from the broken shards of his remains! Junior spits into the spoon's cup and it tosses him to the shelf above, where the two now-hardboiled love-eggs meet up. He embraces Easter and they kiss passionately, and then the film cuts back to the opening storybook window, where we see a replay of the chorus to "Spooning in a Spoon" before the book closes. Finis.

When I was a kid, I loved to make finger puppets, and I would do this by measuring a piece of construction paper into rectangular sections and then drawing clothes and faces onto the rectangles, cutting them out, rolling them, and then glueing the opposite ends together to form tiny little puppets. I would often have a hundred of these figures stored in a box by my desk, and each one was different, with distinct faces, clothes, and some even had arms, legs and other props glued onto their outsides. But there was one way in which they were the same: they all had tremendous facial areas that took up about 2/3 of their body lengths, mainly so I could get as much in the area of facial expressions as possible so that they could be seen by an audience (usually my brothers).


It is the same trick here with the eggs in Humpty Dumpty. Their faces easily take up most of their bodies, with only the bottom third left for the torso, arms and legs. Their eyes and mouths are huge and extremely expressive; as a result, with the wildly melodramatics at large in its action, this film would be an excellent example for drawing study.

The problem, though, is the close sticking to melodrama: the only real surprise in the film is the way the formerly innocent, childish eggs "grow up" and get "hard-boiled", though in retrospect, given the "tough guy" stance in most films of the period, maybe it's not really that surprising. But the film remains a visual delight even if there is that much going on storywise. The colors of the piece are remarkably vivid and the line work on the characters is sharp and clean. Overall, the film is politely entertaining, if nothing over which to fall off a wall.

RTJ


*****

And in case you haven't seen it:


[This article was updated with new photos on 12/28/15.]