Sunday, July 10, 2016
The opening music seems to imply an anarchic Bob Clampett affair, but alas, we've had the rug pulled out from under us. It's just a stuffy ol' Friz Freleng affair... or is it? I guess we gotta give him props for trying. He had his dark side, too, after all!
Scene: the garbage can buffet. Anthony Bourdain... I mean, Sylvester the Cat, is picking through the garbage cans of some alley somewhere. There's actually some pretty good stuff here! That's because movie stars, despite their wanting to do their own stunts, don't get to pick through actual garbage. They only get to pick through carefully prepared movie garbage. And as the background music informs us, Mammy's little baby wants the good stuff.
Next scene: but then, things get complicated. Orphan? Dame? In this case, the former, in the form of a smaller, oranger cat. He brushes past Sylvester and finds himself a nice fish skeleton with the blue head and tail still on it. Sylvester quickly grabs it off the orange cat's plate and issues the usual edict. "I'm woikin' this side of the street!" sez Sylvester in that usual, extra-saliva-y way of his. He picks up the orange cat as if he were a garbage can discard, and flings him into a garbage can a little farther down the alley. We see that the orange cat lands next to an inside joke: Pratt's Cocktail Sherry.
Next scene: whether as the result of Sylvester's cruelty or not, a big gust of wind reinforces the urgency of Sly's situation. Forget the food; if Sylvester don't get some shelter, Lord he's gonna fade away! Sly eventually finds his way to a front door and... you know, it's little details like '1623' that I tend not to care about anymore. I'm well past my movie adolescence, and I've already slaked my thirst on the Room 237s of old. But I am still a sucker for a good alliteration, and in Sly's panicked state, he cries "Please save a frostbitten feline from a frozen fate!" As Sly hammers away on the front door, Elmer opens it and gets a couple knocks on his head. When Sly realizes his mistake, he quickly makes like rigor mortis and falls flat on his back... hmm! I thought cats didn't do that! Anyway, there he is on the porch, with a couple teeny icicles on his paws, no less. It's just that cold out, folks. Sylvester's looking at Elmer with one eye open; normally, that's a move of the guilty, but I'm not that cynical just yet. Give a cat a break, for God's sake! He's desperate! This is no well-heeled grifter we're dealing with, right? I think not. We didn't get that much back story yet, anyway.
Next scene: Sylvester is sitting in a chair next to a comfy fireplace. "Pwease consider this your home now, Mr. Pussycat!" says the comforting Elmer. Now, I know normally a line of dialogue like that would be at the beginning of a gruesome hostage pic or something like that. Yes, my Hipster Spidey Sense is tingling, but I don't think Elmer's going there. Spoiler alert: I know ahead of time that Elmer, in fact, is in for a gruesome time of his own, tee hee hee!
There's another knock at the door, and Elmer goes to investigate. Now it's the orange kitten's turn, only he ends up knocking on Elmer's knees instead of his head... sorry, chest instead of head. Some part the orange kitten's got! No lines! Oh, but don't be fooled, folks. He's practically co-star here, as it happens... I'm just assuming it's a he. I mean, for Gawd'z zake! Sylvester treating an underage female kitten that way... tisk tisk. The orange kitten lies there on the porch, but still keeps one eye on Elmer. You know, just in case Elmer tries to pull anything funny. "Another orphan of the storm!" says Elmer, as he gently carries cat #2 into the warm inside.
Next scene: Sylvester's lounging in the chair by the fireplace has been thoroughly disturbed by this plot development. Screenwriters take note, incidentally, because this is a work of genius. Oh sure, Friz probably won't do anything to write home about with it, but genius nonetheless.
And so, here we are. Another semi-textbook example of ... opportunity cost? Arbitrage? Both, maybe? The point being, Elmer feels the need to pick one. Also, it is good plotting. I've been told that Looney Tunes are "conflict-based" cartoons; sumpthing like that.
Anyway, this is probably where Act Two really begins in proper. Elmer does a little thinking out loud, and says to the two cats "I can't keep BOTH of you!" Cruel bastard... sure, he says that now, but once we look around this mansion of his, it kinda seems to me that he's got room for many, many cats. I mean, take Porky Pig in Kitty Cornered, for example! He had a rather modest suburban household in that one, and he had four cats! Yeah, four! Oh well. I guess fellow animals look out for their fellow animals... at least, up to a point.
Anyway, back to Elmer and his pwedicament. Elmer says "Dear me... TWO cats! I'd wike to have a cat awound the house, aww wight... but I can't keep BOTH of you!" That's Sylvester's cue. Looking scornfully at the teeny weeny orange cat, Sly gives it a good swift kick out of frame. But the teeny orange cat's a tough little bugger, and he quickly returns to his spot on the dark orange rug. Elmer goes to pick it up. The orange cat starts licking Elmer, and nuzzling up against his face... maybe it's a female cat after all! For some reason, I don't remember a guy cat being so affectionate. And I've owned... I mean, I've been possessed by a couple cats in my lifetime. They do seem to like their faces rubbed; apparently, they've got scent glands in their face that they like to deploy a lot.
Elmer's clearly smitten. He laughs his trademark, iconic, epic laugh and says "Baby kittens are so cute!" He apparently was 49 years old when he made this... and he kinda sounds it. Anyway, acting quickly, Sylvester quickly dyes his hair black and gets a hoodie... I'm sorry, I'm thinking human trying to act young. No, Sly grabs a bottle and a giant blue bonnet. Sly also gets a giant pillow to recline against, lol.
And so, Sly starts drinky-winkin' away on the bottle, and kicking his hind feet like a baby. Now, Elmer was born at night, but it wasn't last night. Oh, he is so not having any of Sylvester's new-fangled antics. "What a widicuwous way for a gwown-up cat to behave!" scolds Elmer in the general sense. "Act your age!" Elmer scolds Sly more specifically. Hey, lemme tell you something, Elmer. Standards may have been higher back then... or were they? Maybe things were always skanky, even though it was definitely not reflected in the Golden Age of Cinema, thanks to the Hays Code and its many practitioners.
Elmer gets a frown over his face, reminiscent to me of the expression on his face before Bugs sees the mirror at the bottom of a serving platter in Slick Hare. Probably the same animator or something. I haven't gotten that fetishistic yet about the works of individual Warner Bros. animators. "Hmm!" says Elmer. Now, screenwriters take note. In order to pad this out to one-reel length, Elmer decides he needs to sleep on it. Now, the more cynical amongst you... and I include myself in this case... er, it seems to me that Elmer's alweady made up his mind, he just doesn't want to do anything about it yet. He hasn't said anything positive about Sylvester, and he repeats again, before ascending his gilded wooden staircase, "Baby kittens are SO CUTE!!!!" They are, but they need a lot of love and attention from their indifferent mothers. I guess the orange kitten has matured enough to not need large helpings of mothers' milk anymore. Tough world out there, folks. A hard world for little things.
Next scene: the pacing again, just as in Canary Row. Always with the pacing. It's Sylvester's trademark, no question... maybe Wile E. Coyote as well, but Sylvester seems to do it a lot in his pictures... and this one deviates from that rule slightly. I think this is the only instance here where Sly paces back and forth, with visions of killing the orange cat dancing in his head. What should it be? Noose? Gun? ...railroad tracks? No, something more modest and, more importantly, practical. The tracks are too far away for one, and he'd be leaving the comfort of his new found sanctuary, for two. Windy and snowy out! DERR!!!!!
FIRST ATTEMPT: Get a load of this, folks! A cat calling to another cat! Sly's got a saucer and a bottle of milk. Oh, we're through the looking glass, folks. No two ways about it. Sly has an easier time saying "kitty" than of saying "pussy." Something about the letter 'p' that really makes the saliva fly, but Sly works through it asbestos he can.
Ever the faithful lap dog, the orange cat comes bounding up to see what all the fuss is. And just before you think Sylvester's actually going to feed the orange cat, well... gee, I kinda hate to spoil it, so I guess I'll just say that Sly frames the orange cat. Okay, he dumps out the bottle of milk onto the orange cat, then drops the empty glass bottle, which shatters into a couple large pieces ... and who knows how many untold tiny slivers of glass. Oh, ye know of what I speak, dontcha? Yeah, isn't it always fun getting one of those teeny slivers lodged in your big toe, thinking that you've cleaned up all the fallout from that glass you dropped a couple days ago? Ah, memories.
Sylvester assumes the accuser's position by the kitchen doorway as Elmer approaches. "What's going on here?" asks Elmer... wow! No extra 'w's this time! A good start. Sly points his thumb at the guilty orange cat. Elmer walks over, looks at the damage and asks "...did YOU do that?" The orange kitty looks up as innocently as possible. It would take too long to explain that he got framed, I suppose. Anyway, you'll just never guess what Elmer's going to say next... never in a million... sorry, I mean, never in a miwwion years! Spoiwer awert: that's wight, he takes pity upon the poor little orange kitten, and starts unloading the fridge for it. Sylvester starts beating his head against the door frame. Now I hate to direct from the back seat, but it's funnier when Sly just continues to beat his head against the frame, and not look over in between. He looks over twice at the nightmare he's created, but beats his head the rest of the time. Elmer says "Here, have some nice milk... and some dewicious cheese... and hamburger! And pickewd hewwing, and smoked bawwacuda... sawami, bawoney..." Man! Enough, already! Even the greediest of foodies pace themselves a li'l bit...
SECOND ATTEMPT: To cut to the chase, Sylvester doubles down on the broken dishes concept, but it takes him a while to get there. We start with a bright powder blue ball of yarn... another moment of zen. A cat rolling out a ball of string for another cat, and yet not being enthralled by it himself. Sylvester is clearly a human in disguise.
And so, Sly rolls out the ball of string, rolling it past the orange cat, seen resting atop a large powder green pillow. The orange cat may be tuckered out from a rough night in the cold, duking it out with Sylvester... but this is a ball of string we're talking about! The orange cat goes to work playing with it, and this part's interesting, because we hear an instrument from the orchestra that we don't usually hear, especially not with this kind of solo. It seems to be a jazz vibraphone! Not heard since You Ought to be in Pictures... boy, the internet's slow today. Alas, I don't have my copy of "The Carl Stalling Project" on CD anymore. It's the track that starts off with "You Ought to Be in Pictures," then moves on to the soundtrack for a cartoon made by Porky. As you can guess with a cartoon within a cartoon, it looks deliberately lame.
But let's get back to the cartoon at hand. As it happens, the other end of the ball of string is tied to a precarious stack of dishes. Sylvester stands next to it, smiling, confident in its imminent collapse but... keeping an eye on it anyway? A different time, folks, a different time. After the mighty crash, the orange cat rushes in to see what happened. The orange cat looks at the dishes, then looks to Stage Right. Next scene: we see Elmer coming down the stairs, putting on his trademark... twademawk bwue bathwobe.
Next scene: Sylvester's got a big smile on his kisser, and he looks over at the orange cat. Sly's smile turns to shock, as he sees the orange cat with a jar of glue, quickly putting all the dishes back together. So what does Sly do? Why, he quickly runs over and starts smashing the dishes that the orange cat has quickly put back together, of course! He knows that Elmer's on his way, right? A quick pan to the right and... surprise, surprise. There's Elmer, looking angrily at Sylvester, who's busy smashing the glued-together dishes.
Sly eventually notices Elmer... but just like that cat recently seen on "The Daily Show" knocking over that glass anyway, Sly still can't help but drop the dish that he's got in his guilty-ass paws. "SO! Bweaking my dishes!" says Elmer. Now... what Elmer says next is... well, actually, the words verbatim aren't so important to me, and they might not to be to you either if you get the gist of it. The gist of it is this: Sylvester's either in hot water or on thin ice. Now, to again quote another film, under any other circumstances, Sylvester's ass would be as dead as fried chicken... or back out in the snow as fried chicken? No, that doesn't work, does it? Anywho, a bit of a plot device, don't you think? Elmer's handing out second chances like free tickets to an Everclear concert. To be fair, it's still early in the film; I guess this isn't the big finale yet.
THIRD ATTEMPT: Sylvester's sitting there like (Rodin's?) Angry Thinker, while the orange cat plays with Sly's tail. I wonder if that's on YouTube yet... and I mean, real live cats playing with each other's tails. But that's how numberous... numerous cat videos are now. There's way too many sub-genres, and there's just way way too many cat videos in general. But this is how strapped for ideas Sylvester is: he gets his next idea literally from the first thing he sees. True, it happens to be an ancient-looking book on "how to be a hypnotist." And for once, Friz passes up an opportunity for a self-reference. In fact, I don't think I've seen one yet! Why, he could've had the book written by "Dr. Friz Ph.D." or some such, but alas, the book's author and publisher are covered up by the elephant-shaped bookend. And for those of you out there who are reading this instead of doing your SQL homework... GET BACK TO WORK! Those tables aren't going to outer join themselves!!
Next scene: Sly has quickly mastered the art of hypnotism, and is already shooting bright green oscilloscope rays out of his paws. The orange kitten is his slave, slowly doing Sly's bidding... which just involves walking for now.
Next scene: Elmer's bed, where Elmer is sound asleep. Boy! That dude must be a heavy sleeper, what with all the racquet going on around him. And so, Sylvester faces his greatest challenge as a communicator in general, and as a hypnotist less specifically. Dazed and hypnotized, the orange cat now stands on the foot of Elmer's bed, baseball bat in paws, waiting for the right kind of guidance.
"The head! The HEAD! ON THE HEAD!" Sylvester whispers as loudly as he can. Um... you can probably guess that it's not going to turn out the way he hoped. After all, even the most lucid of lucid dreamers have things they won't do... say their own names while dreaming, for one. Don't know why that one's so tough, but it is.
Dazed, and with a fresh red lump upon the top of his little kitty head, Sylvester climbs into bed with Elmer. This wakes up Elmer rather instantly. No grogginess, no bouts of blinking, just up and gazing upon Sylvester. Next scene: practically at rigor mortis, especially given what he's about to do, Sylvester walks down Elmer's grand staircase... except with his head rather than his feet. Sylvester's pace down the steps is exactly three beats a second; it's taken me a lifetime of watching cartoons to know that.
That old softie Elmer says "If I'm disturbed ONCE MORE..." Oh, puh-LEEEEZE.
FOURTH ATTEMPT: Sylvester gets his mischievous paws on a wind-up mouse. He winds it up and sets it loose. It whizzes past the orange kitten. Incidentally, if you're thinking that the orange kitten is more suited to an Arthur Davis Looney Tunes cartoon, he is. But, if Davis were making this cartoon, he'd probably have two no-name cats and a no-name human homeowner taking them both in. He was kinda cocky that way; it was his way of trying to be different, I suppose.
The orange cat instantly wakes up, and has the shock lines emanating from his head... just the one wave. The orange kitten springs into action, and starts hopping around like it's had too much catnip or something. LOL! I like how its claws are out, and it's bouncing around. Reminds me of my cat when I get some string out. Man, but can she claw up a formerly new rug with her claws, going after that string.
Now, this all may seem frivolous at first, but the result makes Sly look like a mad genius. The toy mouse heads for the rather large mouse hole in the wall... why these cartoon homeowners tolerate those things, I'll never know. Better than television, I guess. The orange kitten is just large enough to fit, and it chases the toy mouse into the mouse hole. I'm pretty sure this is a first as well. It's usually "living" cartoon mice that go into the holes in the wall. This is the first time I can remember in a lifetime of cartoon watching when a toy mouse went into a real mouse hole... ANYWAY, once the orange cat's in the wall, Sylvester is right there with a board and a bunch of nails and... yup, he entombs the cute orange kitten inside the wall.
This is probably a good place for the proverbial Act Break. It's about the two thirds mark anyway, and we start with Sylvester back by the fireplace, reclining in the chair. All is right with the world. I certainly can't think of what will burst this bubble. Can you?
Next scene: we see the board over the mouse hole, but in cel background form... what happens next, for some reason, reminds me of the opening scene from The Frighteners. That's not even a word, is it? Lemme check Words With Friends(TM) a minute... just checked! It is NOT! And neither is the plural! HAH!
...where was I? Oh yeah. Ever the resourceful one, the orange cat now wreaks untold havoc for Sylvester, as it apparently now has access to the entire house from within the mouse hole. But maybe he's searching for another way out. The only way the orange cat can find to escape is to pound out all the nails in the wall. Now, you might be thinking, well... what's the harm? Well, the first one the orange cat tries happens to be holding up a painting. Surprised, Sylvester runs over and catches it just before it wakes up Elmer with its potentially deafening crash on the floor. Next: the rack holding up a bunch of dishes. Kudos to the sound people for the nail at 5:04... I don't know what they used for when Sylvester was pounding in that piece of wood at 4:50, but the one at 5:04? Oh, that's the real f... real deal Holyfield right there, that I can tell you!! Ugh... we gotta take that phrase back from the Drumpf-ster, I'm sorry.
The teeny cat makes its way up to the master bedroom, and to the light fixture right above Elmer's noggin. Sylvester gets himself a giant stepladder and a screwdriver to try and undo the teeny orange cat's damage, but... alas, Sly was too prepared, but too late. It's a fine line, to be sure, but in this case, he needed to be quicker on the draw, so to speak. We don't see Elmer injured in his very bed, but Sly's face says it all, all to well...
Now, you might have a problem with what happens next, as do I. But bear in mind, we still have about two minutes to go, and cartoon characters are arguably more used to assassination attempts in bed. As for the mom in A.I. who rolls over in bed and almost gets her eye taken out by young David, well... consequences are a little more severe. But Elmer does tell Sylvester that it's the last straw. Then he goes into this whole thing about "If I hear ONE MORE SOUND..." Seems more like the second to last straw to me! Sylvester gives Elmer a good "BLAH!" for good measure... although it does sound a little politically incorrect, on second thought.
Now, I'm going to take this opportunity to criticize the filmmakers. At 5:39, when Elmer slams his bedroom door, the color of the second floor banister changes from light brown to dark brown. But who knows? Maybe it had a spotlight or two on it. But the next part I cannot forgive. Sylvester looks down at the first floor... for a little too long... then looks shocked. Bad plotting, guys. Bad plotting.
Next scene: While Elmer was issuing his latest angry edict to Sly... you know, about the 'one more sound' and all... the teeny orange cat went from happy thoughts to thoughts of revenge, as evidenced by the guilty looking devilish smile that crept over its cute, orange face. But what to do? Well, for starters, it found Elmer's single-barrel shotgun, and Sly looked on in horror from the second floor as the teeny orange cat started trying to fire it. Sylvester's first strategy is to try to reason with the orange cat, shushing it and all that... but to no avail. The teeny orange cat has made up its teeny orange mind, and firing that shotgun is its new purr-pose in life... sorry, sorry. Sylvester's new plan is to somehow muffle the sound, and this one he enacts quickly. One pair of earmuffs on Elmer, then it's back downstairs to get that gun. There's a weird engine noise at 5:47 when Sly goes back down to get that darned old shotgun away from the other cat. And yes... we go into Quiet Please! mode now, specifically the part after Butch the bulldog issues a similar edict to Tom Cat, which Jerry Mouse overhears.
Sly grabs the shotgun in an attempt to keep the cute orange cat (no name, according to the IMDb and Wikipedia) from firing it. But once it's in Sylvester's paws... it won't stop firing! Owwch. Irony of ironies. Sly tries to stop it the only way he knows how: by plugging up the barrel with his finger. Something they never, ever tried on MythBusters, I'm sure... not even with a mannequin's hand. But they did build that giant Lego ball! Anyway, the gun eventually runs out of ammo... reminds me of the Cat Burglar episode of The Simpsons. The orange cat's next feat of making extra acoustical energy: a giant drum. Sly quickly takes it away from the teeny cat, and the teeny cat moves on to the next thing: slamming doors. Really? Seriously? You and I may not be impressed, but Sly sees the threat.
With the first door, two pictures fall off the wall. Sly puts his foot in the way of the second, and the orange cat slams the door right on poor ol' Sylvester's right foot. We all stop and watch respectfully as each of Sly's three toes pops back out into place. The orange cat even stops its Sherman-like march of wanton destruction to watch the healing in action. Now, I hate to be cynical and suggest that it's close to the end, even though it is, but for Sylvester it's the last straw. The top of his head pops off, and a ship's horn sounds as a veritable fountain of lava shoots from Sly's brain. He's mad. Really, really mad. The orange cat's gotten the best of him for the last time... or so Sly thinks.
No, the teeny orange cat's still one step ahead, and it continues in its pursuit to piss off Elmer that one last time that he keeps threatening. The cat turns on the radio, and we hear a bad radio drama, starring Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet, no less! You can read all about it here.
Anyway, after turning on the automatic piano, the orange cat tries knocking on Elmer's door to wake him up, and tries running past it with the gun and a loud bell, but all to no avail. Man, but can that tiny fatboy outrun Sylvester! He's always anywhere from one to five steps ahead of the large black and white cat.
Welp, can't argue with results! The good news is that Elmer's now awake. The bad news is he's mad at both cats, clearly. Elmer just can't tell the difference between good noise and bad noise. Slightly similar to the ending of Hare Force when Grandma's just trying to get the noise to stop, but I wanted Bugs and the dog to keep going. Every time one of them landed on their ass, there was a new sound effect! What would be next? Keep going!
Elmer says "I've (finawwy) made up my mind who's weaving these pwemises!" There's complete silence. Wow! Even the radio show stops! You could hear a pin drop. But before Elmer gets the chance to say who he's throwing out, Yosemite Sam's cousin comes in... well, his arm, anyway. Sam's cousin is an Irish cop, I'm guessing. Elmer gets handed an eviction notice and, as you can see from the frame grab I've provided, the bulk of the boilerplate is an upside down typewriter rubric. Looks like Russian, don't it? It's like how playing a tape backwards of people talking sounds like Swedish or Swahili. One of the 'Sw' languages.
Next scene: back where we began, to the garbage can buffet. First Sylvester, then the orange cat. They're both strangely happy now. They both pass on the same apple core. Now, you might not have guessed, but Elmer has joined them in the alley... and he takes the apple core! Frankly, it's a lesson for all middle class Americans: there wasn't any social mobility back then, either. But if I had to ascribe an Aesop's fable to all of this, it's either the one about the crow and the pebbles, or something along the lines of... if you don't clean up your own mess, eventually someone else will, and it won't be pretty.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan