Sunday, July 31, 2016
Odd Cat Out
We start with a rare pass fake. These Looney Tunes are usually straightforward affairs... but before I get to that, I would like to point out that this has one of the best opening themes I've heard in a long while... all due respect to The Old Grey Hare, of course. Second best... it's a variation on one of the songs that Stalling seems to use all the time. Maybe someone else can triangulate it for me. As for the reference to "Farren's Fine Cat Food," well,... maybe that was an actual local brand at the time, or maybe Farren is a rare portmanteau of two animators' names. (Foster, wARREN perhaps?) Anyway, back to the action.
Stalling plays "California Here We Come" with emphasis on the saxophone; always like that. We start with Sylvester's humans, getting ready for a post-WWII road trip. However, we never learn where they currently live. But any fan of animation will look at the car's trunk and know that it will not be closed in the current scene.
Yes, it's practically The Ballad of Sam and Vi at the beginning. But then, we see Sylvester sleeping on the couch with a pillow over his head... you know, to make it easier on the animators. To make it tough on the animators, we see a lone feather blowing in the wind from Sly's mouth... thereby influencing Forrest Gump. Ah, Zemeckis probably got the idea from DePalma or something.
Maybe I haven't put enough thought into this hypothesis, but it seems that Mel Blanc does all his best dramatic work when he does Sylvester. Take Friz's Birds Anonymous, for example. Colbert recently asked Regina Hall if she prefers drama or comedy. For Friz, I guess it's comedy first, then drama when you run out of ideas. Ain't that the artists' eternal drama right there, trying to outdo your last big hit? Sly's dilemma here is more urgent, yet less systemic. Perhaps it's a product of the era in which it was made... would Sam and Vi be seen as terrible, terrible homeowners? Or was the need to drive Route 66 to California at that time much more manifest than any number of suffering housepets?
"They forgot to put out the cat!" says Sylvester, as his humans drive off, all big as ya please. Sylvester laughs at first... but then it hits him. Panicked, Sly runs around the house like he's on the weed, desperately trying to find a way out... or maybe just a discreet indoor litterbox around the corner, even.
Sylvester runs to the door in the kitchen that leads outside. "Locked!" he says, after struggling with the knob. He then runs through the living room, and trips over a table much like Porky tripped over every single obstacle in his path to get to his fishing line in the now unfortunately titled Boobs in the Woods. Next: the front door with the mail slot in it. Boy, those were the days. Well, a few people still have their house as the mailbox now. After failing with the doorknob, Sly looks through the mail slot to see a note for the milkman.
"No milk for TWO WEEKS?!!!" cries Sylvester after reading the note... and sounding a little Daffy-ish, according to my humble ears! The audience finds a little comfort in knowing that the humans will eventually return, but Sly is still panicked. Sure, he could turn on the faucet, and have all the faucet-fresh water he wants for two weeks... great diet, actually. I should try something like that. But Sly's used to living a little higher on the hog, so it's back through the house, and tripping over the downed table a second time, to find something to eat.
Next scene: the pantry, where Sly finds nothing but empty lower cupboards. Above the cupboards? Looks like an Aztec dish and vase, or some such thing. Well, even the backgrounds people gotta have some fun now and again, right?
Oh, and... a brief note about showmanship. Notice that the first three cupboards have their doors hinged on the right. And why? So the audience can see that they are empty when Sly opens them up. The full one on the right almost has to have the door hinged on the left, with its contents just out of the audience's direct view from that angle... okay, back to the action.
Sly leans back like Matthew McConaughey in a photo shoot for the poster of one of his Rom-Coms. After a happy sigh of relief, on to the next step. "All I need now is a can opener!" says Sylvester in that saliva-spewing way of his. He grabs a large green can of tuna, and it's off to the races.
Sylvester makes his way to the kitchen, stands on one of those short stepladders, and starts rifling through a drawer full of kitchen implements... yes, I'm an alien from outer space. At first, Sly is happy. Surely a can opener is easy to find, and seeing as how these people have so many cans, surely they'd have lots of can openers, right? However, like most people, Sylvester has a short attention span, and the hunt for a can opener is a little tougher than he first thought. Happiness turns to worry, and the flop sweat starts flying again, and his gentle rifling through the drawer turns more and more violent. Ladles, truffle graters, spatulas, slotted spoons for straining vegetables, various butterknives... everything but a can opener.
On to the second drawer. He just quickly spot checks this one and just as quickly throws it away. On to the third drawer, and...
Another moment of Zen, folks. Sylvester hears a whistle and looks over to see a mouse with a can opener. Sylvester looks positively doggish as he runs over to the mouse, yelling "Gimme gimme gimme!" Your fellow cats are ashamed of you, Sylvester.
Now, the audio aficionado in me has an appreciation for the moment at 2:38 (on the DVD) when the mouse throws the can opener into its hole in the wall, and Sylvester makes an exasperated grunt noise. Sly sticks his arm in the wall and reaches desperately for the can opener. We can see that it's just out of his reach. The mouse confidently walks away.
After a few moments of this, Sly looks over at the mouse, meows like an actual cat, and the chase is on. Now you might be thinking to yourself, why on EARTH would any mouse stand between a cat and a can opener in a situation like this? Boredom? Amusement? Bad arithmetic?... sorry, I was copying Carlin again. But is it all just one big bad plot device? Is Friz trying to get some sweet, sweet revenge against those MGM bastards for Tom and Jerry? And all their Oscars?
Oh well. We can sit back now in our armchairs and contemplate it all in peace, but for Sylvester, he has yet to learn the bitter lesson about cartoon mice, and that they possess all the strength, speed and agility of cartoon cats, and possibly more imagination. Try as Sylvester might, he just can't catch up to that mouse. The mouse manages to evade Sly and make it back to his hole in the wall. Sly just smashes into the wall, making his body go upwards. It slowly sinks back to earth, and the audio guys rub a balloon to make the sound effect. Fade to black.
Fade in. Scene: the massive main hallway of the Champin's house. (their name was on the note for the milkman, and it's also the name of one of the animators... guess he won the coin toss, or the game of 'Spin the Bottle' or something. Wonder if any of the other animators ever felt left out) We find Sylvester smashing the sh...oe leather out of the one can of tuna. Stalling's musical flourish reminds me of when Bugs was jumping on Elmer's stomach in the heat of Wabbit Twouble.
Now, sure, he could spend the rest of the cartoon just working on the can in this one fashion, but let's face it. The Looney Tunes creators had very short attention spans, and they were always all too eager to quickly move on to the next thing. As for Sylvester, well... he looks at that mashed can in his hand and finds no comfort. Does he break the fourth wall by looking over at us? Or is it just a coincidence? ...no, no, he's looking over at us. That's what differentiates the Looney Tunes from human movie stars. The cartoons are for the people, damn it! Populism at its finest.
Fortunately for Sylvester, hope is only a head's turn away. He looks to Stage Left, and gets shocked... an axe! Cue the timpani... 21! Brought to you by Geritol. Friends, didja have a good day today? Or did your "Get up and Go"... sorry, got thrown off by the timpani cue. Sylvester runs over to the axe, thereby making the same sound effect that Pete Puma made when he was dressed up as "Mrs. Rabbit" and had the cute tiny rabbit in his paws and said "Mother's going to have a wonderful dinner!" Boy, what would I have done without Windows 95 and its annoying sound paradigm?
Some work for the specialized "clouds and lines" team of animators, and Sylvester's back with the axe. So the big question is... how is Sylvester going to f... mess this one up? Is this the end of the cartoon as we know it? Well, I sure hate to spoil the gag, but there's probably someone on YouTube who sat down in front of their TV with a digital camera and videotaped this cartoon for some reason, and felt compelled to post it... I swear it wasn't me. Needles to say, what happens to the axe blade clearly inspired the comedy ethos, or raison d'être of no less than "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Sylvester beats the can a little bit with the bladeless axe handle UNTIL....
...yup, the mouse is back. The mouse holds up the red-handled can opener... its facial expression is perfect, by the way. The mouse then drops the can opener about a foot away from itself. As you and I can see, the mouse is perfectly ready to grab the can opener and run back into its hole.
Desperate for options, the prideless Sylvester again runs over to the mouse and the can opener, shouting "Gimme gimme gimme!" to the rooftops all the way.
You can guess what happens. Cross-fade to Next Attempt: Sylvester found himself a metal hook, and is now digging around in the mouse's den, so to speak. See? He's more resourceful than he thought! More fun work for the sound effects people, incidentally...
As you will notice, there are two wires in the mouse's den, and there appear to be gnaw marks where the mouse first thought... what, that the wires were thin strings of licorice or something? At some point, the mouse grows weary of the cat's vain attempts to find him with the wire. With a cartoon mouse's superhuman strength, the mouse grabs the cat's length of wire, and tugs on it, as though the can opener were a salmon. Naturally, the cat falls for it. But the mouse isn't quite done yet, for he... and I'm assumpting it's a 'he' mouse... pulls the hook over to the wire, then finds an inopportune place to stand and hide, considering what the outcome is going to be.
"I GOT it!" exclaims Sylvester, then begins tugging with all his might. "C'mon, c'mon!" he says, when the can opener fails to appear so readily... now, unfortunately, I was far too young when I took my high school electricity class, or electronics, or whatever the hell it was. Too many formulas to memorize. Now, could those wires be harmless phone wires, by any chance? Then again, usually when the power goes out, the phone still works, so there's some electric charge in play. We don't get to see what causes Sylvester to turn into a feline lightning rod... I guess it would be if the two wires touched each other then. We see one close-up of the two wires, and Sly getting close to bringing these two parallel wires together. But when it actually happens, there's enough of a charge surging through the house that Sly's resultant shock has duration to it, even after the wires have snapped back. Of course, maybe it's a contractual obligation or something, but can't a Looney Tunes character ever just get, like, a mild shock? Like, maybe just touch an electric fence, and pull their hand back and say "Ow! That's electrified!" No, it's always got to be the full electric Monty, so to speak. And in an artful touch that even my Ivory Tower artist friend might appreciate, Sly loses all his fur in the, um... extra-electron episode, aside from a small tuft on the end of his tail. But don't worry, folks, because, as punishment for Sylvester's greediness and lack of stopping to consider he's making a mistake, this last bit of fur eventually goes "Poof!"
Next scene: Sly's back to normal and raring to go to try a new method of opening that darn can. I guess if he was too weak from hunger to try something as bold as what he's trying now, well... well it just wouldn't be funny. Reminds me of a similar scene in Seven Beauties, which I'll tell you about when you're older. But Sylvester is a true resident of Hollywood, and is as versed in the classics as your Bob Dorians or Robert Osbornes, or even your Cenk Uygurs and Ben Mankiewiczs. Sly took one look at the piano in the hallway and thought of the Laurel and Hardy classic, The Music Box. But instead of lifting a crate up to the second floor, he's decided to lift up a piano, then drop it onto the can, and fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Sly has a length of rope, and a block and tackle to carry out such an unfortunate plan. ANY SECOND THOUGHTS ON THIS ONE, SYLVESTER? ANY AT ALL... well, to be fair, the Champins rather heartlessly left Sylvester trapped and resourceless, so turnabout's fair play. And if I'm using that phrase wrong, well frankly I don't care, as it wasn't a childhood favourite of mine.
Next scene: Sylvester's got the piano all the way up to the ceiling, and he hangs on to the rope while slowly setting the green can into position. Now, let's assume that Sly's plan is flawless and that it is indeed going to work. What could possibly screw it up now? Enter the mouse again. Now, we were... okay, I was expounding on the subject of strategy earlier, if only indirectly. Frankly, I just don't know how you people put up with me. The mouse is always careful to have the can opener close to itself. This time, the mouse enters the wide target circle of the piano, and offers the can opener to Sylvester.
Sylvester, ever the creature of the moment, lets go of the rope and reaches for the can opener. The mouse pulls back the can opener, and looks at Sylvester with an expression that can only mean "GOTCHA!!!" Okay, for the modern mustachio'd, possibly over-baconed Hipsters out there, it says "You can't be serious..." Sylvester hears the falling piano and looks up. At this point, the mouse runs out of harm's way. Now, sure, Sylvester could run out of the way of the piano, but I've heard that a Captain always goes down with the ship. Hard to say what flavour of self-loathing is at work here, but all Sly can do is give a rather echo-y "Oh no!" and take his lumps like a male cat.
It's about time for an Act break anyway, and it's also a good time in the plot for one, for now Sylvester seems more interested in getting to the mouse than in opening the can. Maybe the piano actually did the trick, and now that Sly's belly is full, it's enemy-crushing time. Up the ladder of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs you go, buddy! Love that thing.
For Sylvester's next feat of engineering... and mind you, he's going after the mouse now, instead of dealing with the unopenable green can... Sly has a saw and is starting to cut a giant circular hole in the wall to get at that darned old mouse. But the mouse is at least one step ahead, and the mouse starts cutting a giant circular hole in the floor directly under Sylvester. The mouse mimics the cat's motions so perfectly that Sylvester slows down his sawing, then stops, then removes his saw from the wall just to double check it. Now, this may seem silly to you, and it probably would have to me about twenty years ago when I were much older then, but I'm younger than that now, and if I were sawing a hole in the wall under such dire circumstances, and someone else was sawing a hole underneath me at the same time, mimicing my every action, well... I would probably have thoughts of divine intervention flashing through my befuddled head.
Nope, can't be the saw. Sylvester gave it the look test and... nope! It's straight! Time to get back to sawing and... dayamn!!! That little mouse is making hella progress on his part! Again, superhero strength. And yet, I don't think I've ever seen a Mighty Mouse cartoon. The average person probably hasn't; they just go, oh yeah, Andy Kaufman did the theme song that one time. Love those cartoons... time to check YouTube... Bakshi? That guy can ruin anything. But this seems to be one.
Okeh, back to Sylvester. Sylvester sees the floor saw come a little bit too close to his foot and he stops sawing again. Then he gets the old sinister look on his face, and he clasps his paws together like a Republican plotting an act of either sabotage or arbitrage... a little of both, probably. Hybrids are the best way to go in acts of trickery. As for what's going on in Sylvester's brain, well... he is just a cat, after all, and that's just fine. However, whatever he was planning on doing, long story short, and spoiler alert, doesn't work. Unless his plan was to fall through the floor! Then it worked just fine. I might've stepped out of the circle myself, but...
Next scene: the door leading to the basement. Time for the sound FX people to go back to work... ah, nertz. Stalling's musical score makes Sylvester's harried footsteps up from the basement (six per second, BTW) come alive in our minds. Speaking of sound effects, the sound effects people use that same old crashing sound, but snip a little bit off of it! And kind of the main part, too. The only time they used the sound effect that I can definitely remember is when Yosemite Sam waltzed right into a mine shaft in... Bugs Bunny Rides Again? Pretty sure that's the one. Yeah, Bugs and Sam ended up having a dance-off... and they kept their pants on, incidentally! I hate to be so prudish, but it's for the kids. Won't someone please think of the children?!!
But, who knows. Maybe it was part of Sylvester's overall strategy, because look! He's emerged from the basement with a stick of dynamite! That's... that's better, right? Hey, who needs food when you've got such a ready supply of explosives! Incidentally, that's a wrong stereotype of suburban households. Only about half of suburban households keep their sticks of dynamite in the basement.
And so, the fuse is lit, and the match is blown out. Very important safety tip, kids. Always make sure the match is blown out when you're lighting firecrackers or any of their ilk. And finally, the dynamite stick is thrown into the hole. Sylvester takes off running for a safe place to hide for the duration of the campaign... and he turns around and stands against the same wall where the mouse's hole is. Terrific. That's just terrific.
We'll leave that aside for now, because once again, the mouse is one step ahead. Not only is the mouse nowhere near said stick of dynamite... although he's about as far from it as Sylvester is, arguably... but the mouse has a plan to trick Sylvester! The only other place I've seen this in the Friz-iverse is Never Bug an Ant, and the ant doesn't even have a paper bag! He just says "Pow!" and the aardvark falls for it.
And so, the mouse inflates a small paper bag, tiptoes a little closer to Sylvester, who's got his paws over his ears, incidentally, and... pop! The mouse runs off, and Sylvester has to run over and inspect the damage. Could he seem any more guilty? And so, Sly sticks his head into the mouse's hole and... hey, wait a minute! Did he just stick almost all of the upper half of his body into the hole? I guess we better leave that aside for now. We seem to be past needing the can opener anymore as it is. And so, pop goes the firecracker... and I say firecracker, because Sylvester seems to be the only collateral damage of it. Sly's tail drops to the ground, but don't worry, folks. He's not quite dead, just a little embarrased. And hairless from head to shoulders. You know, the older I get...
Next scene: fade in on a wider shot of the mouse's hole. Sly's got himself a vacuum cleaner now, and he's stuffing its very very very very long hose into the mouse's hole. But once again... what am I going to say? You guessed it! The mouse is one step ahead, maybe more! At least two, because he's got the nozzle end of the hose. We'll leave it aside for now that the hose has one of those super-wide attachments on it. Okay, I'll dwell on it a little. Did Sylvester jam that into the hole? Or was he able to, like, put the wide vacuum head in the hole first, then attach the hose to it?
So many unanswered questions up till now, so many more to come. And so, Sly has stuffed the hose into the mouse's hole, quite to his satisfaction it would seem. Missing the fact that the end of the hose is now in plain sight, Sly goes over, turns on the vacuum, then crouches by the mouse's hole to apparently wait and watch a tiny, mouse-sized lump pass through the hose. Now, 1) you probably know what's going to happen, and 2) yes, the vacuum is that powerful. Well, it was the 50s and all, and vacuums were much more powerful back then. You know, diamond absolutes and what not! And what falls... is fallen! Man, that's so deep, it's shallow again. Yecch.
"HAH!" says Sylvester at 5:52 as the vacuum starts to suck him in. Man, that thing must be powered by a teeny black hole or something. And then, slurp goes Sylvester past the tiny wide mouth of the vacuum attachment. Animation classes at A-113 still to this day show the scene of the vacuum's attachment rising into the air, then falling back to earth. About as graceful as the plastic bag in American Beauty, anyway. There's such respect for it, that once it falls back to the floor, Sylvester then emerges from the mouse's hole in the wall. Must be something about the apparently lubricating nature of the inside of a vacuum tube that allows a Sylvester-sized object to pass through a mouse-sized hole in the wall.
The only thing about this scene that would've been even more poetic is if the mouse were now watching as Sylvester passed through the mouse's portal in the wall on his way to the vacuum cleaner's bag proper. Sly gets there at about 5:59 in the proceedings, and he seems to make the same noise that I pointed out at 2:38. Yup, the same noise of panic, but under much worse circumstances.
Next scene: something truly wicked. Boy, but this mouse sure doesn't seem to like Sylvester very much. Alas, in our modern storytelling landscape, we're far, far too used to backstories and all that, but I guess it's safe to assume that the mouse has been bullied by Sylvester for the last time. And so, the mouse, utilizing its super strength and almost human craving for cruelty and torture, takes that vacuum nozzle and puts it up to the fireplace, where we see a rather large pile of orange, glowing coals.
"YA-HAA-HAA!!!" Sylvester exclaims as he gets hit in the ass with glowing hot coals. He kinda scream-laughs, then rubs his ass to dull the pain. You know, a similar thing happened to the cat in Catch as Cats Can. Some think it's Sylvester, but I still say it's Sly's drunk uncle. Besides, Arthur Davis seemed to have a disdain for the popular, well-known Looney Tunes stars. No, what happened to the cat in Catch as Cats Can was far more devious. I hate myself for ever showing that one to anyone. Anyway, next scene: it's the same scene, but the door moves a little. Sly's still stuck inside the black vacuum cleaner bag. He can't see, but that doesn't prevent him from trying to hit the devilish little mouse with a golf club. The mouse dances around, confidently assuming that Sylvester is not going to hit him accidentally at all. How precocious. He's kinda like the gremlin in Falling Hare. Now I know I'm supposed to be rooting for the mouse and all, but...
Next scene: Sly continues his campaign of random golf club strikes, so what's a mouse to do? Why, open the door to the basement, of course! You know, same thing happened to the Pink Panther once. I swear, there was this one where he fell down the stairs to the basement about a dozen times in one seven minute show. And I think a little mouse helped to make that happen as well. But we'll get to that series a little later on.
In a way, Sylvester should thank the little mouse, because that trip down the basement stairs did get him out of the vacuum cleaner bag! Sly was having a little trouble doing that on his own. But no. Now it's time for the rest of the explosives. Now, maybe it's just my imagination, but Friz has a thing about ending his cartoons with a bunch of explosives. Knighty Knight Bugs ends with it. Bunker Hill Bunny had a scene near the end with it. And now this one has it... oh, I almost forgot. At 6:23, we get the full crashing sound, as opposed to its truncated subset version at 5:06.
And so, Sylvester runs up from the basement with a big armload of explosives. And for once, the mouse shows a little stupidity, for he runs into his hole in the wall. And Sylvester starts loading it up with explosives. The Champin family has it all: red rockets with black heads, red cans of TNT, and those red things that look like those cuts of beef with the string webs on them that you get at the store.
We see the inside of the wall, and the mouse looking genuinely concerned as more and more of his space is being occupied by red explosives... hmm! It looks a little different than before. For one thing, where did the electrical wires go?
Next scene: back to Sylvester, who's placed the last explosive. He reaches into his pocket... we'll leave that aside for now... and lights a match. Now, I'm reminded of Back Alley Oproar, another Friz classic, in which Elmer Fudd is driven so crazy by Sylvester's constant singing at night, that by the end, it's time for the big explosion with the big explosives. In that one, Elmer took the precaution of having a great length of fuse to work with. I hate to spoil the surprise of that one, but the same thing happens to Sylvester, only Sylvester's got less of a fuse to work with. Slightly less funny if you've lost a limb in a fireworks-related and or explosives-related accident.
creepy? Ah, everything's creepy these days.
Needles to say, the Champins are either going to have to do some remodeling, or maybe just move to a different house outright!
But, like the time that Homer used a stick of dynamite to loosen a stuck drawer... can't argue with results! Sly is knocked out of his daze with the can opener. He's so happy from the sight of the can opener, that the eyes in his head pop right out. The can opener gave Sly a lump on his head, but his happiness made it instantly disappear! You don't usually see that kind of healing so quickly in a cartoon character. Usually there's a fade to black, then a fade-in on the completely healed character, but never such an example of same-scene healing. The power of the brain, friends.
"I GOT IT!" says Sylvester over and over as he runs back over to the cache of canned food. But once again, the mouse is one step ahead...
...you know, I can understand Sylvester being frustrated and all, and he has been through quite an ordeal (he gives the same noise that he did when getting his ass singed inside the vacuum cleaner bag), but the mouse is far too cocky here at the end for his own good, especially considering the degraded state of the house in general, and his mouse hole in particular, as he stands there at the opening of his mouse hole, now considerably larger. The sequel that seems to be promised here at the end will surely be that much shorter.............................
Good double bill with: Arthur Davis' Mouse Menace. There. I said it. Not all of his cartoons suck rubber donkey lungs. Most of them do, and even Mouse Menace has some weird touches to it if memory serves, but the most jaded of the Bearded Hipsters out there will surely appreciate the ending, even if they only read about it on said Wikipedia page.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan