Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Cat Who Loved People Dancing

You can tell that it's a compilation cartoon because there's only one animator: Kenneth Muse.  Apparently he wrote a book or two about animation way back when, in between drawing the little rat and the constantly abused cat.  But this time, however, it's time to sit back on the hammock and get some dividends from all that built-up capital.  This was before reruns on TV, of course.  So the animators might not be working as hard on Smitten Kitten, but it still presents a challenge for the screenwriters.
And so... how do we string all these clips together?  Well, Popeye did it by explicitly taking a tasteful highlight reel to a Hollywood executive in... gotta look it up here... Doing Impossikible Stunts!  That's the one.  But while Popeye had climbed to the summit of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in that instant case, for this compilation Tom and Jerry outing, we're going to stick with the yellow middle of "love/belonging"... hmm.  There's just gotta be a way to abbreviate that.  Anyway, we start with a typical classic beginning: Jerry holding a pair of scissors.  Angry Tom emerges onto the porch; the punchline is too good to spoil.  Back to the chase.  Screenwriters, take note of the transition.  Tom catches up to Jerry, grabs the scissors, and is just about to use the scissors on Jerry when.....
A couple of examples spring to mind. 1) In Ghost Dog, Ghost Dog is just about to explain to young Pearline (dayamn!  Remembered her name.  Didn't have to look it up!  Camille Winbush was the thespian) what the Hagakure is.  I believe he says "Well, it's not a book, it's more of a....." before he gets cut off by Louie, Ghost Dog's master.  John Tormey's my new hero, BTW.  Apparently he started his acting career at 60 and never looked back!  Incidentally, was Armin Mueller-Stahl ever a young man?  Apparently so, just not in the American market.  The point I was trying to make is... something about leaving the audience hanging.  Alas, we'll have to wait for Tom and Jerry's Vegas show to get a chance to see Tom cut Jerry's tail with a scissors.
So, that was a good example of plotting.  Here's the bad example... in a recent episode of Person of Interest, the bad computer, Samaritan, tries to arrange a Non-Bush collapse of the world economy.  The episode turns into ... I mean, devolves into a lame excuse for dragging out a bit of story.  Very, very lame.  I know J. J. Abrams is the newest, hottest 50-year old reincarnation of Irving Thalberg, that he's Coppola, Spielberg and Lucas all rolled into one, so I'm going to hold his feet to the fire for this one.  See, it's okay for the home viewer to rewind the tape, not so okay when the filmmakers do it for us.  If it's Phoebe Cates' nipples in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, okay.  When it's just another day at the office for Person of Interest, not so much.
...anyway, the point I was trying to make for screenwriters is about story element equilibrium.  When you propose something as devastating as crashing the world economy, you have to balance it out with something cheesy.  A little vinegar at first, followed by a virtual drowning in sugar.  Take Wall-E for another example!  We start with the ecological collapse of earth, followed by robots chasing each other around for... however long.  Two thirds of the picture, seems like.
Of course, in this case, it's a bit like working backwards.  In Smitten Kitten, the filmmakers started with the premise of a love-themed rehash of old Tom and Jerry clips, so we gotta balance it out with the threat of violence.  You know, a little something for the hardcore fans.  How about Tom just about to kill the mouse with a pair of scissors?  Another example: that Simpsons episode where the nerds living with Homer have to find an electrical outlet for their rock tumbler, thereby causing Bart, Lisa and all of us to miss the only Itchy and Scratchy episode where Scratchy finally kills Itchy.
Anyway, on to the romance.  At the last second, before Tom's about to chop Jerry's head off with the scissors... I can't think of a finer babysitter for our nation's children... when BOOM!  There's the hot cat next door sitting outside reading a book.  Tom throws the mouse and scissors away and starts his mating dance.  And frankly, it's a little sub-par compared to previous efforts.  Well, he's got no zoot suit or cowboy outfit this time.  It's just him all by himself and his sense of urgency.  Even more surprising, the girl cat sees Tom on the porch going gaga, and she giggles to herself... boy, something's just not right.  For one thing, she's clearly not the stand-offish girl cat of Salt Water Tabby.  She had Tom's number, all right.  And second... what's with that giggle?  Kinda high-pitched and mouse-like!  At least, that's what I found myself asking, dear reader, the first time I watched this.  And you'd be right too, but not to worry, for it's leading to Coen-esque synergy, to give this otherwise nondescript Tom and Jerry cartoon a strong recurring thread to it, for lack of a better term.
And so, Tom begins his courtship in earnest by standing right in front of the girl cat and making the pointer dog stance.  Jerry looks on in disgust.  Their interspecies bromance has been temporarily discontinued.  Screenwriters take note... CUE THE DEVIL MOUSE!  At least, I think it's a devil mouse.  I was confused by the ears.  The devil mouse has got cat ears.  For all I know, maybe it is actually supposed to be Tom's devil talking to Jerry.  That'd be a good twist, right?  I'm going to use that in a project, I think.  And so, to get this highlight reel cartoon started, the devil mouse says to Jerry, among other things, "Remember the time when..................................."  Hoh boy, here we go.
And so, we get highlight reels of the various times Tom fell in love, and took it out on Jerry in various love-themed ways.  This is one of the reasons why the aristocracies of the world failed.  Now, I haven't seen the one yet where Jerry is carrying a tray of olives around upon his head, but I think Tom should stick with that girl.  It's a trait the two cats have in common: no empathy for the mouse!
Now, according to the IMDb Connections page for Smitten Kitten, there's four cartoons that highlights are taken from and used to pad out Smitten Kitten to one-reel length.  They're at the bottom of the page, and I'd like to take this opportunity to throw a gentle criticism at the editors of IMDb who've been extraordinarily good to me over the years.  Seriously, though, dudes, someone went crazy on these Tom and Jerry "connections" pages.  These pages aren't supposed to be that long!  We already know that there are other Tom and Jerry cartoons!!!!!!  Take a typical Stooge short, for example.  Does their connections page list all 190 Stooge shorts?  No!  Take a Popeye cartoon, for example #2.  Does that connection page list all 10,000 Popeye cartoons?  No!  I rest myc ase... my case.
I know.  I barely care myself.  Anyway, I'd just like to point out that the audio on the clip of Texas Tom was changed!  I can't vouch for the others.  Well, I'm pretty sure the audio for Solid Serenade is the same.  Very sure.  The devil mouse makes a point to mention the song, for devil's sake!  I think the audio from Salt Water Tabby's the same.  The tomato seems to make the same raspberry noise when it hits Tom in the face.  No, Texas Tom has livelier music, and the sound effects have more punch.  Case in point: Tom rolls a cigarette and uses Jerry's tongue to moisten the paper so that the cigarette will stay rolled.  In Texas Tom, when Jerry gets squeezed, he sounds like he's trying to induce vomit by sticking two fingers down his throat.  In Smitten Kitten, when Jerry gets squeezed, he makes a much louder "PLEAH!!!!!" noise, in order to drive home the point better.  Also, the various twanging noises used in Texas Tom are subtler, when Tom flicks the cigarette butt away, for example.  The gunshots sound the same.

...okay, back to the cartoon.  We've gone through the rehashed clips, so now what?  Well, Jerry's devil hands him some teentsy mouse-sized firecrackers, a book of matches, and a pin.  Oh, with tools of mischief like that, handed to you by a devil?  Jerry knows what to do.  Wink, wink.  Rudyard Kipling taught us all that.  And so, Jerry goes off to draw Tom's attention away from the girl.  WHEN SUDDENLY... why, look!  Some jailbait for the mouse!  Jerry falls in love, and the girl mouse ... gives that same giggle!  All the puzzle pieces are falling into place.  Watching this from afar but in full focus, Jerry's green devil walks away, disgusted.  I should point out that the devil sounds like Jimmy Durante, a fitting use for Durante's voice IMHO.  I kinda doubt that Paul Frees did a good Durante, but I'll go with the IMDb's judgment.  No voice credit for Slicked-up Pup, incidentally.
And so, as the green devil walks away, disgusted, a green devil girl magically appears.  I guess they do, huh?  Just like the boys.  But just before the green devil boy falls in love, he asks, much like Daryl van Horne after him, "Why do we need dames anyhow?"  Trust me, devil boy, the dames ask themselves a similar question all the time.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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