Sunday, May 15, 2016
The Cat Is A Lonely Hunter
Ah, the American home. Less affordable than ever. I don't know what the signs are of an impending real estate bubble, but one of them seems to be ads on TV saying "The American home! A great investment. Buy two! Buy three!!!" You start seeing those again, buckle up. More bad times ahead.
To make matters worse, Mother Nature sends her agents to infiltrate said house. This isn't some happy-go-lucky Tom and Jerry cartoon, after all, where we zoom in on a house to meet Tom, then Jerry living in the walls. This is Hubie and Bertie, yet another Chuck Jones serial. How many of these things does that guy HAVE?!!!... oh, right. Could probably use the IMDb to figure that out. Anyone else have time?
And so, we start, as most of these affairs do, with a character introduction. As you can quickly divine, Hubie's the smart one, and he sits there on the window ledge, wrapped in a leaf, looking inside... hence Carl Stalling's choice of "September in the Rain". Remember?... "The leaves of brown came tumbling down"? Of course, Hubie's leaf is green, mind you. Now, I'm no biologist or anything, and couldn't go on for hours and hours about the social lives of mice... come to think of it, I guess moles and voles are solitary creatures, if all those wasted hours watching nature documentaries taught me anything. Mice, on the other hand, they don't spend all their time digging, and they've got larger eyes for lookin' at stuff. And Hubie's found a real doozy. But we need to wait until Bertie gets up on the stoop before we get a look inside. That's just good plotting.
"Hey Boit! C'mon!" says Hubie in that accented way of his. See, usually he says "Hey Boit! C'mere!" Bertie makes his way up to the window sill, eager to get the latest news. "Obsoive! Our new home!" says Hubie the Impresario. The camera zooms in on the cheese, correcting for being a little off center. That's the part of the house that Bertie focuses on. Bertie starts to make a run for the cheese, but Hubie has to hold Bertie back. Again. Hubie throws the audience a bit of a look. Pathetic, ain't he, folks? Look what I gotta work with. Because Hubie knows that he just can't make it on his own, but still... what an unformed mess this Bertie is! Good Lourdes. Hubie slaps the overeager Bertie around. It's at a rate somewhere between 4 and 6 frames a second. Well, Chuck Jones liked to make things a little tougher on the animators, so it would seem. Don't want things to get too stale, right?
Hubie then marches up to the windowsill and lifts it up. You know... mice stuff. It's kind of like how Bella Swan fell for... you know, the Robert Pattinson character in the Twilight movies and books. Who wouldn't want to be friends with Super Mouse? Even if he slapped you around a little bit every now and again? Bertie marches triumphantly through the open window, and Hubie kicks him in the ass. Clearly this is an abusive relationship, albeit an entertaining one. I can't help but wonder what it says about me that I like it so much?
Next scene: a roaring fire in the fireplace. Hubie and Boit have managed to get the Pac-Man shaped wheel of cheese over next to it, and are enjoying the fruits of their collective labour. But surely there are other inhabitants of this house? Who leaves a giant thing of cheese just sitting out like that? Even if it is the kind you can do that with? These things just don't appear out of thin air! Even Hare Force had a human counterpart, and look what happened to her!
And so, enter the cat. "Will there be anything else?" asks the cat, pretending to be a butler. In cartoon land, sarcasm is one of the nastiest tools in the mouser cat's tool chest. Hubie gets scared right away, but dummy Bertie eventually catches on. Oh, that Bertie! Surprising he's survived as long as he has, isn't it, folks? He'd be on the side of the road in two seconds if not for brainiac Hubie! Next scene: the more sensitive viewers amongst you will surely like this part. The chase is on, and I'm assuming that it's Mel Blanc doing his best impression of a cat on the hunt... aren't cats usually silent when they're chasing their prey? The time when they make noise is when they've got the thing in their mouth, and are confidently walking back home to bring it inside. Great job, Kitty. Another dead bird. "And I CAUGHT it!" thinks the cat. Oh, cats just have no social skills to make it in the human world. They just sit there going, hey! You try sneaking up on a mole and catching it with only your mouth and paws! It's a skill, like juggling! Anyway, your more sensitive friends will appreciate Blanc's vocalizing as the cat on the chase, noting how it's just on that knife's edge; maybe it was a cat after all! Who can say?
Anyway, it's at this juncture where in any ordinary pic, those two rodents would be as dead as fried chicken. It may also represent the only time when Hubie's in less than absolute control, as he and his dumb companion try running up the wall to get away. But God and the devious Looney Tunes screenwriters have other plans in mind. The cat's about to get those old Duke mice WHEN SUDDENLY... the cat screeches to a stop. The open window! The cat carefully closes the window, then gallops on over to its basket bed, and starts chugging the old chelated manganese and what not. Why... is that Mel Blanc's normal, regular voice? Oh, this is bad. Very very bad. A sorrier state a Looney Tunes character could not be in.
From his lofty perch, practically in an ivory tower, Hubie tries to put two and two together and... dayamn! Does Hubie use Bertie as ... as bait?!! Practically. Okay, in addition to himself. So here's what happens. Bertie's less in control than Hubie, we've sort of established that. Bertie climbs up next to the window, still scared. Hubie shows Bertie the hypo-chondri-cat of the film's title's fame, gulping away at the old acetomenaphine and Comet pills, etc. Bertie whews in relief. Hubie then gives the cat a raspberry, and hangs on to the tail of the fleeing Bertie. I'm now a fan of 1:46, the shot of the cat running up, meowing, with the bag of hot water still atop its head.
Bertie's still trying to escape in that pathetic way of his. Far down the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs he is! And so, with Bertie's tail in one hand, Hubie lifts the window sill open with the other, thereby stopping the cat. Not exactly a scientific study, but for now, we have two successful tests. The open window, for now, stops the cat. Thank God it's a windy night!
And so, the cat's got the thermometer in its mouth, and Bertie's laughing away. "We've got woik to do!" says Hubie, walking away confidently Stage Right, hands in pockets... mice have hand pockets?
Perfect place for an Act Break. We fade to black, then fade back in on the hypo-chondri-cat proper. We don't know how much time has passed, but these two mice probably haven't been idle, and over the course of the next five minutes, we'll see to what extent they've build the perfect cat trap... if only for this one cat. Not as elaborate as, say, Mouse Wreckers which, arguably, is practically the same cartoon as The Hypo-Chondri-Cat, but still. I gotta wait until Vol. 2, Disc 2 for Mouse Wreckers. Figures.
The two mice start off simply, with as bare of a psychological warfare as you can get. "Didja ever see such a sick cat in your life?" asks Hubie of Bertie. Bertie concurs. The cat's putty in their hands, of course. "He's toining green!" says Hubie. Bertie's not completely on board yet, of course. "WHADDAYA MEAN, HUBIE? HE AIN'T TOINING GREEN!!!!!" he says. This may be my favourite part of the cartoon yet. Hubie slaps Bertie into submission on this one. Welp, can't argue with results! The cat does indeed turn green, as both of the mice together have willed it into existence. Then he turns purple! Now, Jones liked to make life a living hell for his unders, as he has to go and make what could of... have been a simple cross fade, and make it complicated as hell. It's all in the cat's eyes. If you watch the cat's eyes as it changes color, colored rings fill the cat's eyes. If you watch the cross-fade very very closely, the rings are about as perfect as can be. They appear unaffected by the cross-fade. However, when the cat turns from his regular color of white and yellow to green, his top left whisker shortens, then lengthens again. When the cat goes from green to purple, the opposite happens... and his top right whisker moves a little bit. Ah, the days before Adobe Flash or Maya, or RenderMan. Little details like that didn't seem to matter. And not easily fixed, of course... kinda like "Base on the book by" in Dr. Strangelove in the opening credits... tee hee hee!
"Let me pick the next color!" says Bertie. Now, normally, this is the kind of thing that should make those two grifter mice as dead as Costco baked chicken... I must be hungry or something. But such is the state of this cat, supposed champion mouser, supposed guardian of the domicile. Alas, the fleas and the germophobia have gotten to him rather completely. He's become that mouse-crazed elephant and/or Looney Tunes human housewife. Stricken by fear, this is his fate now, awaiting what color a mouse is going to pick that he will change into. Is it completely involuntary? Is it some strange manifestation of hope? If I turn this color or that color, will all my ills suddenly be cured? If I prostrate myself enough at the tiny cheese-stealing feet of these grey and brown devils before me, will I finally be in decent health? This is uncharted waters here, people. This is a fate worse than the cat in The Aristo-Cat.
"Don't overdo it!" Hubie side-mouths to Bertie. Time to move on, anyhow. "Medicine ain't gonna help him now," says Hubie. "You mean?" asks Bertie. Hubie nods... I'm a little unsure what they mean here, but they start fake crying and slowly walking away. The cat breaks down, holding the two mice by their tails, screaming "DON'T LEAVE ME!!!" This is why pyramid schemes do so well, like Trump University and what not.
The cat begs the two mice to save him. "I'm an awful sick cat!" the cat says... did I mention that I don't like this one that much already? Let me check... yup, right up top. And yet, here we are. Well, Hubie does give a genius response to the cat's pleas. "I know there's not much to work with, but shouldn't we at least see what we can do?" Hubie asks Bertie. Oh, even ol' Rod Serling couldn't have done much better than that. Next scene: the cat's on an operating table. That does it. I need a break.
...okay, I'm back. Yes, for as the Three Stooges and the Marx brothers before them, Hubie and Bertie do the ol' fake surgery routine. Should I include Hard Candy for good measure? I suppose, for both it and this cartoon have about the same level of believability. Again, the screenwriters bring sly personal touches to the mouses' dialogue. "How's that new nurse in Ward C, Doctor?" Bertie asks of Hubie. The hypochondriac feline is too stricken with fear to argue with the mice, but the mice strain credulity that much further when Hubie admits that he's never operated on a sick cat before, "but I'll try anything once," he says. "Riot!" adds Bertie, when the veritable "Men at Work" sign gets placed atop the quivering cat's belly.
No anesthetic is given the cat. Does this mean that the Stooges are actually more credible surgeons than these two cartoon mice? Depressing thought, indeed... oh, I mean, laughable at best and criminally negligent at worst. Personally, I think the Marx brothers took the right approach in A Day at the Races when they kept washing their hands. And Harpo kept drinking water in A Night at the Opera. Not as obsessed with water as, say, M. Night Shyamalan, but that's for another blog. You see, in both Signs and Unbreakable, you see... ah, skip it. Back to the operating table with us. SHEESH!!! The time-honored, well-worn comedy conventions continue, as Hubie and Bertie list the various instruments and implements they will use on the cat. The poor cat is covering himself with the surgery blanket... that's right, I'm siding with the cat on this one. And so, after all the instruments and implements have been shown and named, the two mice are, in fact, operating on that big Pac-Man-shaped wheel of cheese... you know, I'm suddenly put in mind of this one time when Jon Stew-Beef reprimanded a Right-wing organization for overusing hyphens. I'll know I'm really truly around the bend when I'm overusing the word "Whereas."
And so the cheese is cut... sliced, rather. Mel Blanc probably provides the sound for that, sounding more like the noise you make when you run your finger across your throat... see Waikiki Wabbit for an example of that. Now, all this noisemaking may seem corny to you and I, but it's veritable curtains for the cat. The cat makes like rigour mortis and falls flat on the table. Kinda like how the older you get, the more you feel like you're going to have an heart attack when someone slams a door a little too loudly............
Darkness warshed over the cat, darker than a black steer's tookas on a moonless prairie night; there was no bottom. (no pun intended)
I'm sorry, but if you need that reference explained to you, you can no longer read this blog. Leave. Immediately. Sure, it's not like stealing one of Bill O'Reilly's books, but still. And so, the Big Dream Sequence begins in earnest. Cue the theremin! Dig, man. Real George. Very '50s, man, very Beatnik and all that. How NOW, brown bureaucrat? Rather than visions of erotic bowling pins flying through our collective heads, we get the egg beater from before, but drawn only in white lines on an ink black background. Oh, you gotta watch this part a couple times to catch everything, that's fer sure! The cat tries to run, but there's no johnson cutters wielding giant scissors on his tail. He does have doctor bags on his feet, and a giant bottle of pills emerges from the infinite distance of dreams. In Russia, pill take you! Hee hee hee... The bottle of pills explodes, and the explosion cloud 'morphs' into the kitchen that the cat is sitting in. Sure, morphing may have existed as a concept before the release of Terminator 2... but everyone knows The Abyss is the one, right? That's where it really took off. Any number of millionaire ILM geeks will tell you that. Anyway, back to the cat. The cat now has tiny angel wings, and a garment that looks vaguely like what an angel might be wearing. Depends on whose biblical interpretation you believe. Clearly it's a working class angel's cloth coat! (scoffs) Plus, it says "Acme Flour" on the back. Again with the Acme.
We can hear the two mice crying... I'm assumpting that it's still them, as they're the only ones who have been crying... as a pair. The cat did its fair share of tearing up as well, if only out of selfishness. Anyway, we pan past the cat and down to the ground, where we see a mocked up grave site for the cat. We've now entered full-on Playhouse 90 territory, or maybe just Twilight Zone. An actor's exercise as old as time, ain't it? The ghost in the room that just can't get anyone to listen. "I'm right here!" they often will say. Will Claude Cat eventually find out that it's all just an elaborate gag?
...spoiler alert, no. No, he doesn't. But I do kinda like the two times that he goes "EEP!!!!" Okay, clearly the "EEP!!!!" at the X-ray machine's the better of the two.
While the stroke of midnight part was a stroke of genius, I failed to find the rest amusing. The two mice have set up the perfect psychological cat trap, using an X-ray machine to see through the cat, a sign pointing to Cat Heaven on the edge of a cliff, and a teeny red balloon to help the cat fly. It's the kind of balloon that only works after you jump off a cliff; ah, cartoons. I guess it's the old 'looks like a duck and talks like a duck' argument that even Yogi Barra never believed, but the cat eventually believes the mice's elaborate ruse, and as it floats away towards the moon, the cat says "Farewell, you poor earthly creatures!" to the mice. Now, there's probably a whole blog post out there somewhere dedicated to the fact that the cat trembles at the edge of the cliff that leads to "Cat Heaven." You know, the whole Test of Faith kind of a thing. Maybe it's like how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, but stopped him at the last second. A rather cruel God, indeed, messing with people like that. But for a slightly more positive example, I read once about a man who helped his wife who was tormented by bad dreams about not being able to ride a bicycle. Maybe this is all just actually a radical new medical approach to curing hypochondria (for the 1950s), or maybe it's like "death therapy" in What About Bob? Or maybe it's just that, for Supermice, it just can't always be about the cheese. And so, therefore, with that in mind...
Good double bill with (merely for academic purposes): the far, far superior Hare Tonic, where Bugs easily escapes the clutches of suburban Elmer and says "Hey, wait a minute! This setup's too good! I must go back and heckle that character." Love that one. The Hypo-chondri-cat, on the other hand.....................................
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan