Sunday, June 26, 2016

I Am Friz-ymandias, Animator of Animators. Look on My Works, Ye Mighty and Despair!

If there was anyone more dedicated to self-acknowledgement in all of cartoondom than Friz Freleng putting not-so-subliminal "Friz"zes throughout his cartoons, well... I don't wanna know about him or her.  But he definitely had a knack for what would become fare for Saturday mornings, if only for a short while.   
So now that I've finished Tortoise Wins by a Hare, then sat through the FBI warning and the blue thing about artists' rights in English and French, Canary Row is next.  Volume 1, Disc 4.


Scene: the big city.  Time of day: dusk, probably dawn... oh, right.  After the red tubes and all that, we start with a song from Tweety.  "Tweety's my name but I don't know my age" and all that.  Where's the one about the putty tat won't do him no harm?
Scene: the big city, probably New York.  Time of day: dusk, probably dawn.  The sun gives the buildings a little more oomph when it's near the horizon.  Overhead... meh.
We pan over to the window of the Bird Watchers' Society.  Oh, the irony that's about to hit.  That's about as subtle as things get in a Friz Freleng cartoon.  Up pops the head of Sylvester, the black and white tabby cat of international renown.  What Walter Matthau was to Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder, so Sylvester is to the Tunes that are Loony.
It being the Bird Watchers' Society, Sylvester now has access to binocular technology.  Plus, the current president of said Society was in WWII.  Recon, and he had a bunch of leftover binoculars from his stint in Patton's successful campaign in North Africa.  The binoculars give us an extra up-close look at Sylvester's eyes, focused and veiny.  Back then, veins in cartoon characters' eyes didn't take on a life of their own so much.  The '90s and beyond, however... eye veins are contractually obligated to throb.  A lot.
Sylvester scans the exterior of the Broken Arms Apts. (GUFFAW) for his quarry.  Panning up, Sylvester spies a cage.  Next scene: a little bit closer up.  We see Tweety Bird with his own pair of binoculars, probably some left over opera glasses.  Boy, those were the days.
"I taut I taw a putty tat!" says Tweety.  More contractual obligation.  Tweety takes a second look.  We see Sylvester's enhanced eyes once again.  "I DID!  I DID taw a putty tat!" exclaims Tweety.  Incidentally... the Closed Captioning?  Well, it makes no hint at Tweety's thick New York accent, alas.  Only the more abled among us get the full treatment.
And so, the scenario is well established.  At this point, from a plot point of view, it's a bit cut and dry, esp. to someone as jaded and seemingly knowledgeable as I am.  And even though we're not quite at 2:20 yet (the Act Two mark), we might as well start Act Two because, like the Wile E. Coyote cartoons parallel to it, it's kind of just a series of attempts by Sylvester the Cat to get them darned old Duke Boys... I mean, get that darned old Tweety J. Bird.

FIRST ATTEMPT: the direct approach.  Excited at just seeing any bird at all, Sylvester is immediately overcome with joy.  He runs down to ground level and takes the Broken Arms Apts. by force, just waltzing in right through that old front door.  Somewhere, Daniel Goleman is weeping...
Next scene: a close-up of the Broken Arms Apts. front door, where we note the sign that prohibits cats and dogs.  What reasonable public arena would allow those two sparring species to gain entrance?  The very idea!  We hear a scuffle, Sylvester gets thrown out, and we hear the loud clatter of martyr on garbage can.
"AND STAY OUT!" one of the Broken Arms Apts. goons yells.  Kinda didn't sound too Blanc-ish to me, but who am I to criticize, right?
Amid the pile of cans, large garbage and tiny food, lies the dazed Sylvester.  "Thhhh-poiled thhhhh-port!" he says, in that redundant, saliva-producing way of his.

SECOND ATTEMPT: Sylvester gets way way closer to his quarry this time.  He sneakily climbs up the building's drainpipe.  I've seen our cat try to sneak up on birds that way; they'll usually wiggle their ass a little bit before that final sprint to catch their prey.
Off in the distance we can see a sign that says "RISBY."  Must be some kind of nightclub or something.  If we could see the whole thing, it would surely have an 'F' on the front of it.  See?  Friz had some modesty!
Next scene: a close-up of Tweety.  Tweety's singing that one old stand-by, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."  Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies characters have been singing that one since time immemorial.  Guess they got a bunch of Seinfelds over there working on the cartoons.  How can eyes smile?  And why do Irish eyes do the most smiling, anyway?  ....AIRLINE PEANUTS!!!  As I pointed out, it's a close-up of Tweety's cage, so we can pull back to see Sylvester on the ledge... did I spoil that for you?  Sorry.  I talk too much, I admit it.  But, ...okay, can you guess what Sylvester's doing on the ledge?  Probably not, Mr. & Mrs. Smart Guy!  Why, he's standing there, using one finger to play conductor, of course!  He moves his finger to Tweety's beat, confident in his empire over Tweety's world.
Tweety was swinging on his little swing in the birdcage... incidentally, I know that Tweety's a 'he' because I heard Jerry Beck's commentary track on the DVD, and he said so.  And believe me, he's a guy what knows.  He's not like me, who watches the same things over and over.  He actually has watched every Looney Tune and Merrie Melody that exist... for some reason, I thought there were 5,000 of them.  Guess I just rounded up to the nearest 5,000.
Okay, back to where I was.  Tweety senses the foreign presence in his midst, then looks over at Sylvester, who stops waving his finger to the music and waves a sarcastic hello back.  Tweety is now in full panic mode.  "THE BAD OLD PUTTY TAT'S AFTER ME!" the helpless Tweety cries.  Tweety's panic rubs off on Sylvester, who's now panicking a little bit.
Tweety lets himself out of the cage, and takes off inside the apartment.  Sylvester throws his brief flirtation with paranoia aside, and gives chase.  We hear another big scuffle, as earlier on the ground floor.  Mere seconds later, we see Sylvester getting completely thrown out of the x number of stories window.  Judging from when Sylvester first scans the building with his binocs, I'd say Tweety's on the fourth floor!  So, Sylvester drops four stories and lands on the ground with a mighty bang indeed.  Carl Stalling's slide whistle artist gets special echo-y emphasis on this one.  Granny, Tweety's human guardian, makes an appearance at the window.  "Next time I'll give you what fer!" Granny says to the probably dead cat on the street below.  Guess she's more of a dog person!  Sheesh!  Have some sympathy, lady!
"Bad old putty tat!" says Tweety.  No sympathy from either party.

THIRD ATTEMPT: Sylvester is nothing if not a quick healer, much like all cartoon characters... unless an injury's real bad, like the time Jerry sawed Tom in half.  Lol, right? ...anyway, Sylvester's pacing on the ground below, next to the building's orange drain pipe.  The city fathers of the Broken Arms Apts. are okay with it for now.
Sylvester paces at eight steps a second, or the cartoon speed of schemers everywhere.  Must've had too much homemade kombucha that morning or something.  Sylvester's clearly in a bad mood, but he probably would tell you he's fine if you asked him.  Ain't that always the way?  No, I'm not upset.  I'm NOT!  I'm NOT UPSET!  QUIT ASKING ME!!!  So childish.  He looks at Tweety, then looks at that darned old drain pipe.  Sylvester looks back up at Tweety with a fiendish glee... he's got an idea!
Sylvester starts climbing up through the drain pipe.  Next scene: unfortunately for Sylvester, Tweety saw the whole thing.  So much for the element of surprise.  Fortunately, the infinitely more resourceful Tweety's got just the solution.  Tweety runs over with a bowling ball, and drops it into the drain pipe.
Next couple scenes: we watch as the bowling ball makes its way down the drain pipe.  Humph!  Every time I try something like that, the ball either gets stuck, or the pipes split open prematurely... not for Tweety.  His life is depending on this working.  And then... POW!  Dust clouds burst out of the pipe, and the orchestra gives out a mighty fanfare.  John Williams couldn't have done much better for Spielberg.
Next scene: ground level.  Brought to you by Friz.  In six delicious flavours, no less!  Pop open a nice cold Friz and watch the Olympics, perhaps!  You and the athletes have that in common, except your fat ass is on the couch, and they're on international television with the best abs you've ever seen... but you both drink Friz.  You have that in common.  Again, the slide whistle gets another big echo-y solo.  Sylvester emerges from the pipe... but where's the bowling ball?  Why, in his tummy, of course!  You know, there was a similar gag involving glowing hot coals in Catch as Cats Can... God, I hate that one.  Of course, that was Arthur Davis' generic Sylvester-type cat in that one.  Leave us never speak of it again.  Anyway, Sylvester rolls down the hill and... well, I wouldn't dare spoil the gag's payoff.  Let's just say it's a perfect fit.  No gutter humour here, something like that.  You'll split your sides laughing... ah, probably ruined it.
Slow fade to black.  Now, that's confident filmmaking.  Probably the film's highlight.


FOURTH ATTEMPT: ...hoh boy.  The politically incorrect approach.  Sylvester spies an organ grinder with a monkey and... what?  What did I say?  It's in the cartoon!!  Besides, it wasn't always a cliché then, was it?
Anyway, Sylvester lures the monkey round the corner... with a banana, no less.  Well, it works in the cartoons, anyway.  Sylvester lures the monkey out of the sight of the organ grinder in particular... and the audience, in general.  We hear a thud, then Sylvester emerges, dressed in the monkey's costume.  Oh, cartoon violence.  How many more minds must you continue to corrupt?
Well, shame on the organ grinder for giving the monkey so much freedom.  Soon, Sylvester's climbing up that orange drainpipe again... that seems to be the go-to method for getting up to that fourth story window now.  Going through it, not so much.
Next scene:  ...oh, and bear in mind, Tweety's not buying it for a second.  "Dat putty tat's after me again!" says blue-eyed Tweety.  And soon, Sylvester in his new outfit is up on the ledge, right next to Tweety's cage... we'll leave that aside for now.  But there's no two ways about it: Granny loves to let Tweety have that fresh air!  Tweety escapes through the cage door again, and runs inside, with the cat-monkey giving close chase.
Next scene: Granny watches as Tweety runs by... incidentally, is that Granny's portrait on the wall?  Anyway, Tweety runs by, and Granny just stands there and watches in awe.  Then, she looks over and sees Sylvester!  Sylvester stops, then starts making those hokey monkey noises of his again.  Lol.  Blanc's a genius.  "Well, just look at this!  A darling little monkey!" says Granny... however, the "well" and "just" seem to have gotten a little smushed together... yeah, should've listened to it with headphones in the first place.  Just can't find the time anymore.  Go figure; my teeny computer speakers don't do it justice.
Next scenes: Confident in the success of his ruse, Sylvester begins to search around the apartment for Tweety.  He lifts up the tablecloth, then the cloth of the chair, and then... oh, he wouldn't, would he?  Oh yes he di'id!  The Carl Stalling Memorial Orchestra is sufficiently shocked as well, as Sylvester lifts up Granny's dress a little bit.  It's as tawdry as the similar scene in Gone With the Wind, it is.
Next scene: Granny gets out her purse and gets a "shiny new" penny for Sylvester.  Sylvester's got the monkey's cup now, and takes the penny.  Sylvester lifts up his little monkey hat and... WHAM!!!  DOWN GOES SYLVESTER with a thwack on his little cat noggin with Granny's umbrella.
And just to rub it in a little, Granny notes that she was "hep" to Sylvester all along.  Sylvester lifts up his cap again, and wanders off in a daze.  Well, at least he's not getting his ass thrown out the four story window again!  That's definitely an improvement!

FIFTH ATTEMPT: For some reason, a human desk clerk gets a big scene here.  In a rare display of humanity in a Friz cartoon, the angry and beleaguered desk clerk rushes over to the phone, teeth clenched.  He quickly puts on his calm demeanor and says "Yes?" as sweetly as he can.  Granny informs him that she's checking out, and could he send up a boy to get her "bags and bird."  She's old old school, and will just tell her friends about all the cat troubles at that hotel later on.  Out of solidarity, her friends won't take their Tweeties to the hotel when they go.  Sylvester's listening in on the conversation from a cubicle in the... you know, the big wooden thing where they put all the hotel keys.  I have absolutely no idea what that would be called... a hotel key caddy?  Wall-mounted?
Fade to black.  Next scene: Sylvester the bellhop is waiting outside Granny's door.  Room 158?  Small world!  We saw Brooklyn tonight... I think the boarding house where she was staying had a big brass '158' upon it!
Sylvester knocks on the door.  Granny appears, looking over the glass transom above the door... what's up with that, incidentally?  Pretty spry for such an old gal!  Sylvester says to Granny, "Your bags, madam?"  Let's just stop for a moment, and take note of the barrier that's been broken here... a cat talking to a human!  Well, apparently Granny's seen it all, and she's certainly not impressed with some talking cat, especially one going after her sweet little bird.  I sure hate to spoil the ruse she comes up with... I guess she knew it was Sylvester all along, as with his monkey costume.  She tells Sylvester "[My bags are] right behind the door.  I'll see you in the lobby!"  Boy, but those were the days.
Sylvester, of course, gets the old sneaky look on his face, and he clasps his paws together on top of everything else.  He gets the suitcase and the bird cage with a blanket over it... can you guess what's going to happen next?  Well, first of all, it's about the journey, not the destination, right?  You probably didn't guess that Sylvester was eventually going to just ditch the suitcase, did ya? did?  Wow.  And I thought I was cynical!  Okay, so it wasn't a total surprise, but still kinda shocking.  Throwing away an old woman's suitcase... the very idea.  Sylvester gingerly tiptoes down the stairs with the cage.
Next scene: Sylvester finally makes it down to the alley adjacent to the hotel.  After looking around and rubbing his paws together in anticipation, he lifts the grey blanket off of the birdcage and... yup, that's right.  Sylvester is shocked to discover that, in fact, Tweety wasn't actually in the cage, having gained about 110 pounds.  No, it was Granny all along in there, armed with her trusty umbrella, the choice of weapon against cats.  Granny raises her umbrella, stretching the bars of the cage, and smites Sylvester upon his poor little cat head.  Now, you might be asking yourself, but The Movie Hooligan!  How was a ten pound cat able to lift that 120 lb. bird cage and all that?  Oh, but we can debate the physics of it all we want.  I'm more interested in the physiology of it all; more specifically, I guess it would be endocrinology... particularly adrenaline.  Now, I know all the endocrinologists out there are shaking their heads, going "You know, there's OTHER endocrines besides adrenaline, you know!"  They would probably never admit that adrenaline is particularly beloved in America right now.  I blame the internet for that.
Next scene: Granny runs down the surprisingly empty city street, hitting Sylvester about the head and shoulders as many times as she can.  Very spry for an octogenarian cartoon character!


SIXTH ATTEMPT: We have us a good old fashioned bona fide "Etch-a-Sketch" moment, where it gets shaken and cleared, as has occasionally happened on The Simpsons, for one.  Apparently, Granny leaving the hotel has been cancelled, and Tweety's back on the ledge.  Surely, she didn't try leaving just on account of Sylvester?  Or just to trap him, and perhaps deliver that last, fatal blow with the umbrella?  He just keeps on coming back!  Again and again!
No rumination about a plan this time.  Sylvester's got a box and a board all at the ready.  One last item... and screenwriters take note.  Sylvester arrives a little more slowly with this one, as you'd might expect.  He's got a 500 lb. weight, thereby inspiring Monty Python all those years later.
With the poise of a true Olympian, Sylvester's aim with said heavy weight couldn't be better.  Sylvester pitches the giant weight and it lands on the other side of his ad hoc teeter totter.  Sylvester sounds like a rocket or a plane as he flies through the air, with his arc stopping right at Tweety's cage.  No need for the orange drainpipe this time.  Sylvester's solved all his ascent and descent problems in one fell, elegant swoop.  Sylvester returns to ground level with bird in clenched paw, landing back on the teeter totter, and off he goes.  There's just one problem: the 500 lb. weight is now in the air.  You'll never guess where it's going to land.  Never in a million years... give up?  That's right.  In lieu of Granny's umbrella, the weight lands right on Sly's head.
Sly peels his flattened head off the pavement and looks around... thereby creating Milhouse van Houten of The Simpsons fame.

SEVENTH ATTEMPT: Could this be the lucky break ol' Sylvester has been a-hankerin' for?  Maybe, but Sly's going to take some time with this one first.  As one of the great sequels taught us, "chance favors the prepared mind."  Sure, maybe it says more about the expounder of that philosophy than it does about the true nature of either chance or preparation... or minds, frankly.  All we need to know is that Sly is sort of taking a page from the Wile E. Coyote playbook... granted, we don't usually see Wile E. actually preparing plans or a blueprint that he's working from.  We usually only see the moment when he sets his Rube Goldberg wannabe contraptions into motion, or we (at least once) see the finished blueprints if it's an especially complicated ruse involving at least three different stages or moving parts.  OR we see all the empty Acme crates with the various parts involved... I think that's it.
Now, if you're at all like me (scary thought, I know), you've sat through all this planning and scheming and using of surveyor's instruments from the building across the way... and for what?  Why, for Sly to swing across the street from a rope, Tarzan-style!  Terrific.  Anti-climax personified.  I guess climbing back down the drainpipe is the ex-cape route, even though he actually hasn't done that yet.  Well, at least he's not stuck in a tree, waiting for the Fire Dept. to come.
Still, even the seemingly simple act of swinging on a rope does involve planning if you're wanting some precision in the landing, instead of just good old-fashioned terrifying fun... say, like Chris Farley in Black Sheep.  Not so here; Sly is intending it as a tool.  No more climbing up the drainpipe, no more costumes, just getting the job done will suffice at this juncture.  Wonder how it'll work out?


EIGHTH ATTEMPT: Tweety expresses concern for the physical well-being of Sylvester, which is sweet.  His concerns seem a little gratuitous, admittedly... I mean, this is his, what... third or fourth fall from a four-story window now?  No crutches, no sick days in bed... just right back at it.  In fact, notice there's no fade to black this time!  I guess the filmmakers knew it would go way way over a seven-minute runtime if they had that.  But there is a certain finality in the way the orchestra holds the last note of Sly's harried pacing back and forth at 5:54 or so.  This is, of course, when the next bit of inspiration strikes.
Sly runs over to the telephone pole across the street and begins to climb.  I hate to break it to you, Sylvester, but um... seems to me that the problem isn't in how you get up to Tweety's window, dude!  The problems seem to start when Tweety breaks out of the cage and runs inside the apartment!  But Sylvester is nothing if not a glutton for punishment, and if he's going to lose, he wants to do so with a little variety.
And so, here is Sylvester, walking the veritable tightrope that is the matrix of electrical streetcar cables above the city.  The flute player trills the notes to... Sobre las Olas!  That was my second guess.  And yes, it is asking way way too much for the IMDb to guess Canary Row when I type it in to the search field.  No, you're looking for one of The Cat and the Canary films, surely?
And of course, we can see the Friz Plaza Hotel in the background.  WHEN SUDDENLY... yup, here it comes.  A streetcar, and it's now become Sylvester's desire, pun intended, to get out of the streetcar's way.  Take note of who's piloting said streetcar at 6:18 if you dare.
Now, I really do hate to call B.S. on these cartoons for the tiddly-winkies.  I really do.  But they've painted themselves into a corner, plotting wise.  Even they try to have all the stuff conventional movies do: sharply drawn characters, good plotting, backgrounds pleasing to the eye, no pesky hairs in the projector's shutter, what have you.  So what happens is this: Sylvester hears the oncoming streetcar, stops in horror, looks behind him, then begins to run.  Maybe this is some child's game he's playing in his mind, like "The Floor is Made of Lava," but for some reason he can't just jump as the streetcar's electric wheel passes underneath him.  In his panic most extreme, it's all Sylvester can do to just keep ahead of the darned thing.
Now, cartoon characters don't abide by the laws we do.  They can defy gravity, keep getting killed over and over again, and suffer from extremely abnormal degrees of insanity.  And I'm talking to you, bumpersticker that says "I don't Suffer from Insanity.  I enjoy every blessed minute of it."  Lotta sick people out there.  But silly games like this?  Blatant plot devices?  No, no.  This simply will not do.  Meanwhile, Sylvester lights up the daytime sky, much like Yosemite Sam did in his office in Big House Bunny, I believe it's titled.
Again, try to ignore who's piloting the streetcat... I mean, streetcar at 6:35.  Lousy Second Unit work, guys.  Lousy Second Unit work.  Worse than 1941.  Next scene: it's Tweety at the streetcar's strange lever!  He no longer seems too worried about Sylvester's well-being, that's for sure, judging from his smiling demeanor.
"I taught I taw a putty tat!" (TM) says Tweety. (R)  "You DID!  You DID!  You DID taw a putty tat!" says Granny, who's operating the streetcar's bell.  I guess that explains her non-surprise at a talking cat earlier.  Man, was this one exhausting.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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