Sunday, August 14, 2016

Che Gruyere-a

Our next Looney Tunes cartoon is perhaps eponymously called Speedy Gonzales.  As the informative commentary by Jerry Beck on the DVD informs us... this one won an Oscar.  Shows you what I know!  Well, Friz was a mere WB employee when he made all his Oscar-winning shorts, so apparently he never got the little gold and bronze statue in his own right.  Not until The Pink Phink an odd decade or so later.
I know, hard to believe that the Academy voting block that year picked Speedy Gonzales over the universally beloved Disney classic No Hunting, but whatever.  Two things.  1) Somehow, they should fix that on the IMDb where there's a more direct link to Friz and his Oscar-nominated shorts, instead of having to go through Edward Selzer to get to them.  And 2) ...Daily Show time!

ACT ONE  Actually forgot what the second thing was.  Oh well; guess it wasn't that important.  But was that a video fade from the director credit to the film proper?  Oh, Warner Bros.  How you let things go into disrepair.  No wonder I'm a little hesitant to buy the Batman 4-Pack from Safeway for $9.99.  Did they skimp on the 1080p 4K Dolby 5.1 McRib transfers?  Probably... (Finally got it, and... yup!  Skimp.  Beeg surprise.)
As for Carl W. Stalling, well... his IMDb page doesn't exactly make it clear when he retired.  I mean, I thought Rabbit's Kin was his last one, and I'm pretty sure he was credited in the credits for it, despite what the IMDb says!  I guess you have to go by when Milt started composing, rather than just orchestrating.  Anyway, the cartoon begins in proper.  Scene: something called the "international boundary."  Could be anywhere, really!  Could be the border between Portugal and Spain, or Spain and Andorra... nah, must be America.  Only the USA could be responsible for a culinary atrocity like the "Ajax Cheese Company."
The protagonists: a bunch of emaciated Mexican mice, who look on hungrily at the cheese company across the way.  Oh, they're no dummies.  They can smell what's going on in there.  WHEN SUDDENLY... one of the mice says a bunch of stuff in Spanish, then "Pussycat!" in English.  The Closed Captioning only gets the "Pussycat" part of it, of course.  Or you can have it in Spanish or French!  Well, they did all these in one big batch, noticing after the fact that Spanish for a Speedy Gonzales cartoon is, well ... kinda redundant.
...okay, just rechecked Rabbit's Kin and it does indeed give credit to Carl Stalling for the music.  Of course, a lot of people who worked on these cartoons don't get credit; mostly to save time, I suppose.  I mean, hey!  If you've got three minutes of credits, you only get four minutes of cartoon over here!  Kinda like with those Roger Rabbit cartoons...
Okay, back to the plot.  The mice scatter, and up marches Sylvester.  Oh, I just hate it when he becomes a metaphor for border guarding, but that's what we got here folks.  For you audiophiles out there, note how the marching drums fades as Sylvester passes.  As for me, well, I got a kick out of the start of 0:52 when there's a brief pause in the drumming, then it starts up again.  Still fading out, mind you!
Next scene: the mice are all gathered in a close group behind a cactus near the fence.  I don't know why; it's not like there's armed guards close by, right?  Stan Freberg seems to take up the job of doing a voice of one of the mice, and... well, okay, so accents weren't his forté.  Plenty creative in other ways, of course!  All those radio shows and ads and albums, sigh... he passed on too soon.  Anyway, a mouse named Manuel draws the short straw, so it's up to him to try and make it to the cheese factory and back without getting killed.
Now, screenwriters take note.  The normal structure in a case like this is to have a short opening scene to introduce the situation or scenario as we prefer to call it.  Then, typically, the rest of the film is devoted to showing how the scenario gets fundamentally changed.  For me, the clearest example is 1997's Men in Black, but there are numerous others as well.  SPOILER ALERT - Here, in Speedy Gonzales, Manuel represents a slight break from formula.  We have Manuel's attempt to get cheese.  Long story short: it's unsuccessful.  Ain't that always the way, though?  Sylvester can never catch an American animated mouse to save his life, but a Mexican one?  Such cultural bias.  Makes me sick.  The mice have a big pile of sombreros of the fallen, and Manuel's gets lightly added to it.
Okay, so Manuel's episode should probably just be lumped into the opening scenario, but that just feels wrong to me.  Anyway, we move on to the means of getting to the part where the scenario is changed.  In this case, rather irrevocably so.  One of the mice declares that their only hope is Speedy Gonzales.  "Speedy Gonzales?  ...Who's he?" asks one of the mice.  Let's stop and dwell on that for a second... okay, that's long enough.  After all, even Jesus himself has trouble getting the word out these days.  One tasteless "sister" joke later, and we're on our way to meeting Speedy proper.  I don't know who's doing the voice for the mouse who goes to fetch Speedy... doesn't sound like Blanc.  Sorry to keep beating that dead horse and all... I'm just saying.


Ah, the life of a legend.  We find Speedy wasting his gifts at a tiny booth in the big city.  And as you can see from the attached photo I've provided... it's not part of a scam, I swear... the booth says "Win BEEG Prize."  You can't see it, but I'm shaking my head right now.  But this isn't the polite Disney humour, people.  This is why we love the Looney Tunes and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Merrie Melodies.
"Ah HAH!" laughs Speedy.  From all the times that I remember Speedy, he's usually just saying "Andalay" and "Eee-pah" [sic].  Well, this was the first, after all.  It was bound to be tweaked later on.  As you can guess, Speedy's too fast for the bullets that the people shoot at him.  They're probably small, but at Speedy's vantage point, they sound like cannonballs.  They also sound like the falling train tracks at the end of The Unruly Hare, but that's to be expected.
"Hey, Speedy!" says the mouse we saw earlier, just offstage from Speedy.  Speedy looks over and gets a hole in his sombrero from one of the bullets.  Reminds me of the time John Cusack was kickboxing down at the local kickboxing ring, got distracted by Ione Skye, then got socked right in the kisser.  That's right... it's not just about the now infamous jukebox scene, if only for me.  Even though it's also the cover of the DVD.  Why fight it?
And so, Speedy and the other mouse have a brief discussion.  The other mouse lays out the scenario for Speedy and... dayamn!  I've never seen Speedy so calm before.  It's a little off-putting.  Fortunately, that'll change later on.  The other mouse says "Gracias" to Speedy, bowing and stepping back and what not.  Must be a Catholic thing.  Why Speedy isn't a saint already is beyond me.
Next scene: one of the reasons I never got ahead in astronomy was reading about quasars and other stars that pulsate.  Guess my gift in life has always been memorizing the various names of things.  Once upon a time, I might have been able to name all 88 constellations, even though I'll probably never see the Southern ones.  But one can't help but think of a pulsating heavenly body when they look to the horizon, and see that weird-ass plume of smoke heading towards the gathering of Mexican mice, awaiting some earthly justice or, sparing that, at least some earthly nourishment.  Were they not promised a land of milk and honey too?  And if not honey, then surely some heavily processed milk by-product?  You see what I'm getting at.
Next scene: the heavenly amorphous cloud dissipates, as does its devilish motorcycle-type growl, and Speedy appears before the mice's eyes.  A great cheer erupts from the egg carton in which some of them sit, and flowers and sombreros fall all around Speedy.  Sylvester the Cat looks up from behind his rock, and gets a look on his face like Homer Simpson used to have once upon a time... maybe when talking to Patty or Selma on the phone.  The look might last forever if Speedy didn't do anything else, but Speedy came here to get some sweet cheesy justice, and Sylvester's scowl quickly returns.
And now... I'm not sure when to break this up into a Third Act... probably at about 4:30 in the proceedings, but the plot structure is pretty clear.  As with Friz's serials for MGM, it's time to test the bounds of the setup.  In this case, we just wasted so much more time because of the introduction of a new character.  One of the most flagrant examples of this plot structure has got to be Reaux, Reaux, Reaux Your Boat.  As the IMDb Plot Summary will tell you... A NUMBER of unsuccessful attempts.  All that seven minutes allows.  One of my favourites is Isle of Caprice... probably monotonous to some, but if my count from when I used to watch it on a semi-regular basis is still correct, the Jackie Mason-sounding Aardvark makes a grand total of eleven attempts to get from one island to the other, twice getting foiled by the rather elastic tree on the ant-laden island.
So, for Speedy Gonzales, let's just break this down into a series of miniature episodes... which I believe gets shortened to "mini-sodes" these days.

FIRST ATTEMPT: As with finding out the first time that the glowing red stove coil is hot by touching it, so too does Sylvester try with his bare claws to subdue the supersonic Speedy Gonzales.  To no avail, alas.  We watch as the white dust cloud leads to the open warehouse door of the Ajax Cheese Corporation.  It takes a while for Speedy to find some cheese, lol.  Soon enough, however, he's on his way back.  Sylvester shimmies a little bit, trying to get Speedy at dead center, then Sly makes his leap.  Speedy, however, has great velocity on his side, and easily escapes Sly's beclawed clutches.  Why, it's like he's covered in some type of lubricant or something!... let's leave it at that.
Next scene: at 3:17, we see what could be Sylvester's point of view from the American side of the fence.  It gives the guy who lines up the cels in front of the camera a little extra work to do... or, who knows.  Maybe the cels had a few inches between them, or maybe the different levels of cels were like books on a bookshelf, and you could easily interchange them back then.  Disney probably had that, right?  Anyway, it's a long shot, and Speedy hardly looks like Speedy, aside from the fact that he's holding aloft that first piece of cheese that's been sneaked by Sylvester, and in broad daylight, no less.  It's like how businesses always frame that first dollar's profit they make... so cliché.
Sylvester looks at his belly, and half of his white belly fur is gone.

SECOND ATTEMPT: There's barely time to breathe, when Speedy chucks the piece of cheese at the audience, and is off to get a second one, maybe more.  Sylvester ups the ante with a net on a stick.  Sly sets it down on Speedy all right, dead center in fact.  Speedy stops for a bintel brief... is this the premature end of Speedy as we know it?
Speedy takes off anyway while Sylvester tries to hang on to the net... you know, that would be kind of interesting to see that!  Speedy running along, legs sticking through the holes in the net?  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.  Sure, we see a little bit at 3:45, but somehow it's not enough.  The focus is on Sylvester, getting pulled over a cactus and through a very thin pipe and what not.  I'm suddenly put in mind of a slightly similar scene from the second Naked Gun movie, when Nordberg's legs are sticking out from under the police car, and finds himself on a stretch of road with any number of crotch obstacles to try and avoid.  Saw that again about a month ago... probably should write a review of it at some point!  Mad Magazine breathed to life, as with most (David) Zucker productions.
Sylvester gets pulled all the way to the Ajax warehouse, then almost all the way back.  He loses all his white belly fur this time.
And just to rub it in a little further, Speedy's got about seven small pieces of cheese in his surprisingly gentle grasp.  I sure wouldn't have been able to pull that off like that.  Fade to black.

THIRD ATTEMPT: We fade in on the third attempt.  Sylvester is delicately laying down a bunch of mouse traps.  Oh puh-leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze.  You can probably guess what's going to happen.  Why, he didn't even put any cheese in them or anything!  Wotta gyp.  Remember the similar scene from Mousehunt?  Is it not worth going back to it?  Cable TV certainly doesn't seem to think so.
Now, I hate to be so critical of the DVD; you know, what with its semi-functional menu and all... but I did seem to detect some slight flaws in the picture quality at 4:08.  Look at the wire fence and you might see it.  But I guess that's all part of the charm of the old film.  Say what you will about the bad new cartoons of right now; bad picture quality isn't one of their many, many faults.
But I would like to take this opportunity to point out something for the audiophiles in my teeny weeny audience.  At some point, the sound gurus at Warner Bros. heard the jet sound effect they use so often, and they thought to themselves... you know, it needs a little something.  And so, at 4:09 we get this jet sound effect with a little brass under it; trumpets or something.  When I was playing trumpet, I believe it would be an 'F' note; D sharp on the piano.  No wonder the brass and the rest of the orchestra don't get along so good.  Friz would use this a lot all the time.  In I've Got Ants in my Plans, the aardvark using jet skis makes the same jet-brass noise when he goes sailing by at one point... we'll get to that later.
The main takeaway being, the juxtaposition of fast and slow.  Sylvester slowly lays down the traps, and when Speedy goes sailing by, the traps slowly fly up into the air and land on... Sylvester screams them all off, but the last one closes his mouth shut.  Not so much painful as it is just plain undignified.  Oh well.  Another fade to black.


FOURTH ATTEMPT: We only hear Speedy off camera revving up as he does, and we watch Sylvester getting ready for his inevitable appearance.  Spoiler alert: time for a baseball joke.  Sly's mind is in the right place, of course, as he's dressed up like a catcher.  Sly catches something in his glove.  He looks to find that it's a baseball.  Ar ar ar ar... (clapping fins)  Now, c'mon, man!  What's not to like?  This is kinda it, folks... it's either that, or pervy sex jokes or something.
Now, there's nothing in the Laws of Cartoon Physics for this scenario, and I don't know if there's actually a document with the Laws of Cartoon Humor in general chiseled in stone, but if I may, it's an application of "You Are what You Eat."  Because as we all know, you also are what you do, watch, etc. ... and what you dress up like.  To go to another Ant and Aardvark example, the first one that comes to mind is the time the aardvark got hit with a coconut cream pie.  He knew it was coconut, and showed it to all of us, because he lifted up the tin, and there was an actual coconut in the pie.  Now, c'mon... you chuckled a little bit, didn't you?  Okay, another clothing example... Chuck Jones takes the example of hats way too far, and perhaps a little bit into Ivory Tower Egghead territory, even... with his 1956 classic, Bugs' Bonnets.
Sly looks with disgust at the baseball in his paw and throws it in the direction of the Ajax Cheese Corporation with all his disgusted might.  Next scene: the ball rolls right onto the warehouse floor, amid boxes of cheese... hmm!  And why are we following this non-sequitur, exactly?  Um... because the payoff is AWESOME!!! DERRRR!!!!!  Speedy returns to Sly's side of the fence with a piece of cheese as big as Speedy himself.  Sly pounces on him with the catcher's mitt, but Speedy once again easily escapes Sly's normally deadly, iron-like grip.  You know, just to rub it in a little bit more.

FIFTH ATTEMPT: Sylvester goes halfway back to the idea of the mousetraps... you know, the older I get, the less funny land mines seems to me, especially seeing as how there are still battlefields out there, apparently with WWII-era mines that lay unexploded.  Anyway, speaking of acronyms, I want to give a brief shout out, as any blogger worth their weight in beryllium should, to a former friend who, if you ever used an acronym like FDR, JFK or LBJ, would quickly pounce on you with "Oh, you know them personally?"  Hey, we all gotta try out new material sometime.
And so, Sylvester suffers the indignity of having to bury his own surplus land mines.  There were a couple of Ant and Aardvark cartoons... sorry, another reference to them... where the aardvark stumbled upon pieces of land protected by mines.  Inspector and Deux-Deux did that as well, if memory serves... and also, they violated the sacred law that says the Inspector should mainly get injured, not Deux-Deux.  I guess they were trying to warn us about apprenticeships, or internships for a more modern example.
Spoiler alert: Sylvester waits behind a stone for Speedy to appear.  And where does Speedy appear?  Right behind Sylvester, of course!  "AHH HAHHHHH!" says Speedy, thereby sending Sylvester into the sky.  Once Sylvester returns to earth, Sly looks at Speedy quite angrily indeed, then takes off after Speedy.  This happens at 5:04, and my complements to the animators that animated this little sequence; I could watch that sh... stuff forever.  And that's part of the problem.  I'm now ten cartoons behind where I'm supposed to be!  But that's how it goes.  My day job takes too much of a toll on me physically.
And so, a Sting song that I've been listening to repeatedly lately, perhaps in a desperate attempt to cling to my adolescence, comes into revelance: "Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I laid."  There's a reason that comes right before the chorus, you know!  Sylvester runs, then stops, looking around in horror, at the disturbed earth piles he's now smack dab in the middle of.  But for the same reason Republicans get picked on so much, so too does Sylvester the Cat in peril seem like the better dramatic choice.  What a tool he is.
I hate to spoil the land mine punchline, so I won't.  The film kinda does that itself anyway.

SIXTH ATTEMPT: Sylvester and Speedy are both upping their game.  It's a proverbial arms race, as in nature.  Take the example of the pine cone and the woodpecker, constantly at odds over the tree's dwindling number of plentiful, tasty seeds.  So too does Speedy get a little cocky, telling the audience to time him.  The already fast, strong and clever Speedy Gonzales even finds himself with room for improvement.  For a practically immortal cartoon character, that's a little hard to believe.
Meanwhile, Sylvester is back to the drawing board, trying to develop a clever ruse to trick Speedy.  He's decided to beta test it on Speedy himself, rather than waste too much time on the R 'n D side of things.  Kinda like Microsoft!  (note to self... "kinda" doesn't need to be spell-checked.  Hmmm!... this 'hmmm' does, tho... 'hmm'... okay, an 'h' with two 'm's after it is legal)  And so, gentlemen, we have ourselves an RV!... oh, right.  That was the blerd from Die Hard 1.  Love that guy.  Why Larry Wilmore never had him on is just a damn shame.
And so, Sylvester, much like any engineer, tries to subvert the free flow of nature's forces.  Take the river and the dam builder.  Take the loggers who carve their ad hoc trails in the mountains.  Now, too, does Sylvester get himself a length of steel pipe, much like the one he was pulled through during the tumultuous "Second Attempt" from earlier.  Now, to insure that Speedy goes through the pipe, enter the wooden board with a mouse hole in it to block Speedy's path, and strongly persuade him to go through the pipe.  I know I tend not to make carefully deliberated decisions if I'm travelling quickly.
Now sure, Speedy could jump over the board, but that is clearly beside the point.  Speedy takes on Sly's challenges directly.  And, of course, all the land mines aren't a factor anymore.  This isn't Lickety Splat we're talking about here, after all.
And so, Speedy goes through said pipe.  At the other end of the pipe, we see the ever hopeful Sylvester, mouth agape and at the pipe's other end.  Sylvester yearns once again for the taste of Peromyscus mexicanus amanuensis in his mouth hole.  And the ever hopeful Sylvester, of course, assumes that Speedy will just... get busy digestin' and get busy dyin' and all that, like all the Mexican mice he's engulfed all previous-like.  But just like what the ant-tiny motorcycle hybrid in the yet to come Hasty but Tasty does to the blue aardvark's tail, Speedy's ferocity of velocity and purpose bursts a tiny hole at the end of Sly's tail, making Sly's tail fur a little frayed.  Now, you might be asking yourself, 'fraid of what?  To which I must resonantly respond... this isn't a two-way conversation here.
...where was I?  Oh yeah.  Now, unlike the mousetraps, which were painful, this hole in Sly's tail is just a little bewildering.  Maybe a lot, which is why we focus on Speedy for the time being.  He returns once again from the Ajax Cheese factory, holding just one piece of cheese.  He stops at the wooden board with the hole in it for the pipe.  As in the Kill Bill series, the way things are done is everything, so Speedy, after eventually thinking it through, runs over to Sylvester's tail and stops... you know, so the audience can catch up.  And then, oy... as the commentary points out, it's kinda gross.  Kinda really gross.  Perhaps the only time in cartoon history, a character goes back through the hole in the punctured tail.  I believe they refer to that as Greek style.  And so, Speedy pops out of Sly's mouth, goes back on his side of the fence, and throws the piece of cheese to the cheering crowd.  Lord help the mouse that eats that specific piece of cheese.


Sly's a little bit furious now.  He's making the furious pose and all that, both fists clenched for a boxing match that will not come.
"This time "... excuse me... "THEES time I get ALL the cheese for you!" declares Speedy.  Well, Sly's reaction to that is an interesting one indeed, if only from a corporate perspective.  He's finally completely given up against Speedy, and he takes all the cheese and stacks it up in a big pile, and gets ready to blow it up with dynamite, using that old push-handle box to do so.  Phew!  For a second there, I thought this affair wasn't going to end with a gigantic explosion. 
For some reason, the 3-D-ish finale of The Unruly Hare comes to mind, minus the 3-D.  Anyway, I believe the head specialists refer to this as the old reverse psychology... sort of.  Halfway there.  Thankfully, Sylvester wasn't devious enough to poison the cheese and just hand it over to the mice, or something like that.  No, it was all verified and boxed up, ready for market.  Somehow, Sly's choice of location for the planned detonation was an unfortunate one for him, and fortunate for the hungry mice.  Sly watches as all the cheese rains down on the mice, and the mice rejoice in response.  Sly beats his aching head against the nearest power pole he can find.  Sly will probably lose his job at the cheese factory... is he even an employee, even?  That was never made clear, unlike the sheep dog and his wolf nemesis.  Fortunately, the company will file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection, and any upper brass named Trump will make out like a bandit, because of their financial 'genius.'
As for Speedy, well... he utters a line that many a cartoon character before him has, and perhaps a few after.  "I like him (this pussycat)... he's silly!"  I mean, seeley.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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