Another nice mix of weather fronts this week. Some classic Disney, a Halloween treat from Tom and Jerry, peckin’ wood with Woody, a triple-decker sandwich of Mister Magoo, and a Bugs Bunny masterpiece. The ill winds are blowing somebody good.
We’ll start with a few items overlooked in our last installment and out of chronologial sequence. First, Lady and the Tramp (Disney, 6/16/55). Returning to earlier Disney tradition of using weather changes for dramatic effect, the film includes a number of interesting uses of climate change. When a baby is expected by the humans in Lady’s home, Tramp explains his viewpoint that a dog becomes expendable when a baby moves in, the human heart having only so much room for love and affection. He has Lady imagine her usual comfortable evenings by a warm fireplace – then, the alternative after the baby arrives, as the background changes the glowing fireplace hearth to a view of a rainstorm as seen through the doorway from inside a leaky doghouse. As the baby’s arrival becomes more imminent, Jim Dear arises in the middle of the night, only half-dressed, to open the front door and brave the onslaught of a driving blizzard outside – because his wife has an insatiable craving for watermelon (which, of course, especially in a Victorian age before supermarkets and processed foods, would have been totally out of season). In the later chapters of the story, after the baby’s arrival, a rat manages to slip past Lady while she is chained to her doghouse by Aunt Sarah for punishment, and sneaks into the upstairs window of the baby’s room. These events occur just as a thunderstorm is breaking outside, and flashes of lightning illuminate the key movements of the rat as he enters the window, making the entrance appear more terrifying. Disney’s use of this lightning effect is nearly a means of snapshotting key frames from the storyboard, as the lightning flashes on cue at each moment when things get the most dramatic. Heroic Tramp confronts the rat inside the house. I once noted in a showing of the film in a theater that seemed to be lacking some wattage to its projector bulb that the sequence was made fully understandable by just what was seen during the lightning flashes, even if other frames of the battle between Tramp and the rat seemed too dark to follow. A crucial flash displays the rat about to pounce into the baby’s crib, and Tramp leaping at the rat, grabbing it by the neck. A few moments later, under a drape fallen from the window, movement ceases, and only Tramp emerges, licking his wounds, with the rat no longer a menace.
A final sequence uses the aftermath of the rainstorm to notable expository advantage. Aunt Sarah, not noticing the rat concealed under the drapes, finds only Tramp in the room with the knocked-over baby’s crib, and calls for the dog pound. Tramp is taken away in a horse-drawn wagon, for a trip through “the one-way door”. But Lady finally gets her chance to get in the house, and reveals the real culprit in the form of the rat under the drapes. Neighboring dogs Jock (a Scotch terrier) and Trusty (a bloodhound), realize an injustice has been done, and that Tramp is about to be executed wrongfully. They set off after the wagon, through the rain-soaked, muddy streets of the town. Trusty, a former champion tracker of criminals, was once known for his fine sense of smell. But the years have caught up with him, and the retired champion is rumored by all his fellow dogs to have lost his sense of smell entirely. So when Trusty suggests they “follow the scent” to find Tramp, Jock can only shake his head, and finally be frank with Trusty that he is only kidding himself, as they both know his smeller is gone. As this is the first time this accusation has been brought to Trusty’s attention, Trusty is taken aback and highly offended by such a suggestion, and after a pause, continues to smell at the puddles in the rain-soaked street. Suddenly, the impossible occurs. Despite the deep water which should have masked and cut off any scent trail to the most determined tracker, Trusty brightens, howls, and picks up a scent. Mirroring his days of criminal hunting, Trusty charges down the street, baying and howling at the top of his lungs, and before you know it has caught up to the dog-catcher’s wagon. Barking and nipping at the hoofs of the horses, Trusty causes the startled stallions to rear up, toppling the wagon onto its side. Trusty is partially pinned underneath, and for a brief moment, is believed to have sacrificed his life – but of course, this is a Disney movie, and Trusty has only suffered a busted wing, which mends itself in a sling so that Trusty can meet Lady and Tramp’s new family of pups by the following Christmas. Trusty brags to the pups about catching the scent of Tramp’s new collar the moment he came into the house, and Jock confides to Lady and Tramp that after Trusty’s heroic deed, “There’ll be no living with him from now on.”
Just in time for Halloween, an honorable mention goes to Tom and Jerry’s The Flying Sorceress (MGM, 1/27/56, William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.). Tom is fed-up with his female owner’s dissatisfaction with the way he keeps breaking things and leaving messes around the house during his chasing of Jerry. While being forced to sweep up, he spots an ad in a newspaper, seeking an intelligent cat as a traveling companion for an elderly lady. In a gag that feels like it could have come out of the Addams Family, Tom applies for the job at the address of 13 Sunnydale Road, only to find the world’s first instance of localized weather. Every house on the block is bathed in sunshine – except for one spooky old mansion, where a distinct dividing line on both sides concentrates a raging thunderstorm and gloomy clouds only upon the single abode. The “elderly lady” turns out to be a witch, who is in need of a cat to ride with her on her broomstick. “You don’t look much like a witch’s cat to me”, she remarks at seeing Tom – so she lets out a scream at him, causing Tom’s back to arch and his fur to stand on end in all directions. “That’s better”, the witch concludes. She places Tom on her broomstick, but before taking off, shows him a view of a graveyard in her back yard. Seven gravestones mark burial sites (one of them bearing the name of cast member Butch), with an 8th grave still open with its headstone unmarked. “You’ll be number 8 if you don’t hold on tight”, the witch informs Tom. A harrowing exhibition of acrobatic flying follows, with Tom hanging on for dear life. He trues to jettison himself from the broom as they pass through a cloud, grabbing the witch’s hat to cling to as a parachute. But the witch swoops under and catches Tom, returning him to the spooky mansion. “You get the job”, she announces, then retires to her bedroom, leaving the broomstick leaning against a wall. Tom is left a sleeping place of a cat-sized coffin. Instead, he decides to borrow the broom, to return to his old home to have some revenge on Jerry. A few passes of Tom by the window, and Jerry begins to think he’s gotten into some bad cheese. Tom settles to earth in a vertical descent accompanied by the sound-effect of helicopter blades – and Jerry realizes the hallucination is all too real. Tom sends the broom to do his dirty work, and Jerry is no match for its maneuvering, finding himself quickly swept up and deposited in a trash can. Triumphant, Tom returns to the witch’s house. However, the witch is now wide awake, and has discovered he stole a ride. “I’ll give you a REAL ride”, she declares – and the broom speeds Tom through a violent obstacle course, including driving his head through the plaster of the ceiling, and shooting him into a tumbling fall down a flight of stairs. As the broom begins bouncing Tom vertically like a pogo stick, the scene dissolves back to the living room where the film began, to find Tom clinging to the sweeping broom he was using to clean up the mess, and his owner attempting to shake him awake out of his dream. Tom is forced to resume his cleaning duties, but is somewhat relieved to be back in the normal world again. Playfully, he places the broomstick between his legs, and gives it the starting kick he had used on the witch’s broom. At first, nothing happens, and Tom is relieved. But unexpectedly, the broom responds with delayed reaction, and takes off the same as before, out the door and Into the distant sky. Jerry and the owner look out the door after him, and, to our surprise, the owner remarks in matter-of-factly tones, “Now what is that cat up to?” – suggesting the broom’s flying power is no surprise to her, and that she herself has been a witch all along.
Magoo Goes West (UPA/Columbia, Mister Magoo, 4/19/56 – Pete Burness, dir.) – Magoo sulks, looking out the picture window of his home, at a sheet of water pouring down the window glass. “Rain. Rain. Two weeks of constant downpour.” Yet outside, the sun is brightly shining, as we see the cause of the unusual “weather” – Magoo has left his lawn sprinkler on, facing the house. Having neither functioning sense of sight nor of weight, Magoo “bails” a series of pails he has placed under the hanging strands of a set of beaded door curtains he mistakes for streams of intruding water, then calls for help out of his “back window” – a wall painting of a Venice gondola. Thinking the vessel is piloted by the Coast Guard, Magoo despairs, “They never hear me.” He decides to try the phone “one more time”, speaking into and cranking the handle of a pepper grinder. A cloud of pepper makes him sneeze, and Magoo claims “Now I have influenza.” Donning full raincoat and packing a suitcase, Magoo determines to make a break for “sunny California, lock stock, and barrel.” He bursts out of the garage with his car without bothering to open the door, and thinks he’s broken through into a patch of good weather.
But sunshine doesn’t prevail for long, as his windshield is doused by following too closely to a street cleaning water wagon. He catches a brief unobscured glimpse of a statue in a park fountain shooting water out of its mouth, and believes the public is getting water-logged. He then hits a bump, reminding himself to watch the curves more carefully on these “treacherous mountain roads” – then spends the rest of the night traveling in circles under more “rain”, inside the bowl of another park fountain. Believing he is covering miles and miles of wasteland, with not another car in sight, Magoo finally bounces out of the fountain the next morning. thinking he “just passed over the Rockies. My ears just popped.” To his dismay, he spots a park sanitation man picking up papers with a stick, confusing him for a cotton-picker, and thinks he made a wrong turn into the deep South. But his keen sense of direction is soon on the right beam again, as he spots a sign reading “California – 100 miles” (which actually says “Car Wash $1.00″).
Entering the “road”, Magoo suddenly finds himself again facing torrential downpours. A blast of steam is interpreted by Magoo as “smog.” As the “storm” worsens, Magoo ducks under his dashboard to “wait it out.” Then soap suds flood the driver’s compartment. “A snowslide! They’ll never dig me out. What a way to go!” Just as suddenly, the bubbles dissipate. “Must have slid on past”, remarks a more-confused-than-average Magoo. Magoo vows to forge on ahead until he reaches the border, and returns to the wheel. As he accelerates, he also reaches the end of the car wash, and breaks out into sunshine. An attendant dries off his windshield, and asks, “Pretty wet coming through?”, causing Magoo to recount his impossible journey. When the attendant asks for “one dollar”, Magoo is again confused, and looking back sees the last line of “rain” inside the wash. “It’s the state line!” shouts a triumphant Magoo, and gladly pays his $1,00 to the “border” man as toll. He then proceeds ahead – landing with a crash into the side of a large billboard, depicting a beach and bathing girls, advertising “Visit Florida”. Magoo greets the trio of depicted beauties as his welcoming committee – “Lana” (Turner), “Rita” (Hayworth), and “Marilyn” (Monroe), and shouts the praises of California sunshine, as we fade out.
Chief Charlie Horse (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 5/7/56 – Paul J. Smith, dir.) – There’s been a lot of Paul Smith bashing by bloggers on this website lately, but this one, being from Paul’s strong period in the mid-1050’s, isn’t bad. Woody runs a wood-carving shop in a small Western town – his specialty being the pecking-out of wooden cigar-store Indians. A local sheriff is simultaneously in hot pursuit of the renegade Chief Charlie Horse – wanted for scalping Rose Bowl tickets. A $10,000 reward is offered – and the sheriff is easily confused when the Chief hides out behind Woody’s shop, Woody’s latest wooden Indian is a dead-ringer for the chief! The sheriff at first hands the sack of money to Woody and confiscates the wooden Indian, then eventually realizes his mistake. Returning to take back the money and have a better look around, the snooping sheriff causes the real Chief to stash the wooden Indian inside a crate, and take his place holding a cigar in his hand. Woody tries to tack a “Sold” sign on the Indian’s rear, which the Chief dodges by shifting position, until the Sheriff comes up nose to nose with him, causing the Chief to remain rigid. The sheriff turns away, then Woody drives the nail in. Ouch! Many mistaken identities ensue, despite Woody discovering the Chief’s real identity – as the sheriff keeps thinking Woody is trying to fool him with the wooden Indian again to get the reward. The Chief produces what appears to be a piece of backyard cooking equipment – a rolling metal wagon with sign reading “Jiffy Stake Bar-B-Q”. One unique featire of the contraption is a vertical pole above the grilling surface. “Where’s the steak?”, asks Woody. In a twinkling, the Chief produces a rope, binding Woody to the pole. “You tied to stake”, he answers. The Chief then produces a record player, putting on a disc labeled “Fire Dance”. In rhythm to the tom-tom beat, the Chief dances around Woody, causung flames from the barbecue to mount higher and higher. Through his bonds, Woody manages to reach down and flip the record over, revealing a label on the flip side reading “Rain Dance”. As the music changes, so does the Chief’s dance – and a localized cloudburst puts out the fire under Woody’s feet. After more confusion and chasing, the sheriff again erroneously arrests the wooden Indian, handing Woody the money sack. The Chief reappears, pointing an arrow at Woody’s head, and demanding “Give me wampum.” Woody hands him the sack, and the Chief makes an escape – only to return disgusted, to dump out the sack’s contents at Woody’s feet. “Ugh! Wooden nickels!” He leaves empty handed, as Woody reveals to us that he nabbed and hid the real sack of money, tossing several bills around in the air as he gives out with his signature laugh.
Magoo Beats the Heat (UPA/Columbia, Mister Magoo, 6/21/46 – Pete Burness, dir.) – Magoo seeks the comforts of a day at the beach to escape a heat wave – but, as usual, instead drives into the inferno of a nearby desert. An old wrecked covered wagon is mistaken for a beached square-rigged schooner, and a mound of dirt next to a bleached cow’s skull on the sands is believed by Magoo to be a sunbather who is going to receive a nasty sunburn. Circling buzzards are believed to be friendly seagulls. Magoo sets up a full array of beach equipment, including shade umbrella, picnic basket, and rubber inflatable horse. Mistaking jumping jack rabbits behind a dune as fish leaping in the ocean. Magoo casts a line in hopes of doing a little fishing. His bait is snapped at by a desert tortoise, whom Magoo reels in, then remarks at with disdain: “Oh, a crab.”
Out of the desert stumbles a lonely old prospector and his mule, desperately in need of water. The prospector carries a large gold nugget worth thousands of dollars, but knows it is useless to solve his problem, as you can’t buy anything when lost in a desert. Then, he spots Magoo’s array of beach provisions. He knows it must be a mirage, and that he’s really been out too long this time. But the view is “mighty invitin’”, and the prospector decides to go along with the gag and try to enjoy it. He passes Magoo, who tries to exchange friendly greetings with him. The prospector thinks he’s not only seeing, but hearing a mirage this time, and marvels at what heat can do to a man. The old man settles into Magoo’s beach chair, and he and his mule begin to devour Magoo’s picnic lunch and drink. The mule even sidles up to Magoo’s inflatable horse, but it pops as he tries to give it a kiss. The prospector warns the mule that that’s the trouble with mirages – you can’t count on them.
As Magoo, trying not to be entirely inhospitable, begins to complain about the prospector and mule making use of his food and equipment, he asks them to move on. The prospector merely dismisses him, “Go away, mirage”, and continues eating. Magoo becomes more irate, seeking law enforcement, but of course finding no one. The prospector and mule eventually realize they’ve finished off the grub, and decide to leave anyway. But the prospector generously hands Magoo the gold nugget for his troubles and in payment for the food and drink. “I wouldn’t be so generous, but this is all just a crazy dream anyhow”, he remarks. Magoo thinks the derelict “beachcomber” to be a nut, and tosses away the nugget on the ground – but then returns to it before leaving, taking it back to his car, believing it to be a pretty shell that Waldo might want to add to his collection.
What’s Opera, Doc? (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 7/6/57 – Chuck Jones, dir.) – The high-tone masterpiece that Jones finagled extra time for to create, by speeding a Road Runner cartoon through two weeks early, and shifting the work time to this production. All the elements of a standard Bugs and Elmer hunting encounter – re-envisioned in the form of Wagnerian opera! This unique take on the characters’ well-known relationship, liberally dipping into scenarios dating all the way back to Tex Avery, recasts Elmer as a mighty Viking warrior, not only lethal with a spear, but versed in the supernatural, mastering control over the very elements by use of a glowing, horned magic helmet. His powers are visualized in dramatic fashion in the opening layouts of the film, as lightning bolts flash across the sky, then layers of dark clouds depart on cue, all conducted and orchestrated by movements of Elmer’s hands, his shadow cast across the face of a large mountain cliff, making the diminutive hunter look like a mighty god. Bugs, retaining his usual wit and knack for quick-change disguise, has his work cut out for him, as he first encounters Elmer plunging his spear violently into Bugs’ rabbit hole, singing at the top of his lungs, “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!” Going along with the gag, Bugs too breaks into song, politely and musically inquiry how Elmer intends to accomplish this task. Elmer provides a sample of his power, climbing to the top of the highest peak, and again summoning the clouds. A dense rain blankets the glen, and a lightning bolt strikes a tree only inches from Bugs on Elmer’s cue, reducing it to a burnt matchstick. Bugs registers a look to the camera that communicates in an instant that he is clearly cognizant he is outmatched. In a coy way, borrowing a facial expression he once previously used while impersonating Liberace in Hyde and Hare, Bugs waves a civil “Bye” to the audience, then scrambles into the woods for a rapid retreat.
Elmer quickly realizes his prey is getting away, and gives chase. He loses sight of the wabbit, but suddenly spies a sight he and the audience were never expecting. High at the top of a towering staircase (mountain, canyon, and palace layouts in this film are truly amazing), a vision of loveliness appears in a spotlight, astride an impossibly-overweight white charger who transports her down the stairs in a blubbery gallop. It is the legendary Brunhilda – or make that Bugs, in one of his most seductive drag disguises. Elmer is transfixed with adoration, and the two break into a spontaneous aria and ballet (featuring an original lyric penned for the film, “Return My Love”). Just as it appears the two will engage in a lover’s tryst in the palace at the top of the staircase, Bugs’ wig and helmet fall off, bouncing down the stairs, revealing his tell-tale long ears. Bugs pills Elmer’s helmet over his eyes, and runs for the hills again. Elmer is so furious, he will show no mercy. With more conviction in his voice than one may have ever thought Elmer capable of, he vows, “I’LL KILL DA WABBIT!!!”. Racing to the tallest turret of the palace, Elmer summons every power of nature he can name. “Awise, storms. North winds bwow. South winds bwow. Typhoons. Huwwicanes. Earthquakes. SMOG!!!” (Notably, Arthur Q. Bryan wasn’t quite able to give the last command the necessary oomph, so the one word is dubbed-in by Mel Blanc, in a shout that would bring a smile to Cosmo Spaceley.) Lightning is summoned to “Stwike the wabbit”, and does so in jolts that slice and carve apart an entire cluster of mountains where the rabbit is concealed. Elmer descends to a parapet, to closer view the devastation he has wrought. Lit by a single beam of light through the clouds, his eyes fall upon the image of Bugs, lifeless and draped over a rocky platform. From above Bugs, the last drippings of rain fall from the petals of a single flower, which seems to weep for him. “What have I done?”. moans Elmer in melody. “I’ve killed the wabbit. Poor wittle bunny.” Elmer descends to the rock where Bugs lays, lifts the rabbit gently in his arms, and, in a level of drama never before seen from the speech-impeded hunter, weeps bitterly. Elmer turs away from the camera, gently and slowly carrying the murdered body of his prey back toward the castle, a long shadow of himself extending across the ground behind him, and the path that he walks upon lit almost as if it were the walkway of an ascension into Heaven. The orchestration rises in volume, reaching a crescendo that appears to signal the end of the production…and the audience is left wondering, can this possibly be the way this cartoon is going to end? Shades of “The Little Match Girl”! Just when we think it’s all over, however, Bugs, not dead at all but only play-acting for the sake of the integrity of the production, raises his head to the audience, and reminds us of a wise and true observation: “Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?” A brilliant curtain line, closing a brilliant cartoon.
Rockhound Magoo (UPA/Columbia, Mister Magoo, 10/24/57 – Pete Burness, dir.) – The character of the old prospector from the previous episode of the series discussed above must have received too many laughs to let go – as the studio comes up with this follow-up episode only a little more than a year later. Forgetting their prior meeting, Magoo and the prospector start out fresh, with Magoo having a new motivation. For once, he actually seems to know the territory he is in, and is attempting himself to prospect for gold. He pulls his jalopy up alongside a mammoth boulder, precariously balanced over a column of smaller boulders atop the desert floor. Magoo does not become aware of the large boulder’s presence until he has exited the car and is standing directly under it – at which point, he thinks an ominous black rain cloud has sneaked up on him. Believing a downpour imminent, Magoo hastily pitches a tent, still underneath the boulder. The tent poles scrape at the boulder’s underside, dislodging a series of pebbles which fall on the tent, which Magoo presumes are hailstones. Eventually, Magoo sticks his nose out of the tent for air, and thinks there is a break in the precipitation – but with that cloud still looming overhead, he decides to stick close to his tent in case he has to run for cover. In the meanwhile, Magoo examines the column of smaller stones supporting the boulder, and decides they are worth investigating as potential ore deposits. He pulls out a pick axe, and begins tapping off chunks of the smaller stones to conduct his examination – all the while making support for the massive stone overhead thinner and thinner.
Along comes the old prospector. While at first he thinks he is seeing things at the odd sight of Magoo and his activities, this time he decides Magoo must be a human being, and approaches, asking to pay Magoo for a drink of water. Magoo is not mercenary, and allows the prospector to help himself from his canteen. The prospector refreshes himself, but then notices what Magoo is doing. On inquiry, Magoo informs him he is prospecting, but mentions the alleged hailstorm and the looming black rain cloud above. The prospector assumes from this crazy talk that Magoo has been out in the desert too long, and gone off his nut. He attempts to persuade Magoo to stop what he is doing, and to get on home, while maintaining a spirit of friendliness by referring to Magoo with the Western phrase, “pardner”. Magoo interprets things the wrong way, insists he is not the man’s “partner”, and believes the prospector is attempting to jump his claim. Magoo continues to peck away at the small stones, and suddenly, the column starts to crumble. The boulder begins to topple in the direction of the prospector, who bravely places himself to catch the weight of the stone upon his back. Struggling to maintain the boulder before the center column disintegrates altogether, the prospector pitches small stones with one hand at Magoo, yelling to him to “Git while the gettin’s good”. Magoo becomes more irate than ever that he will not be intimidated, and scolds the grown man for throwing stones. The prospector, at his wit’s end and running out of strength, finally realizes the time has come to let go, and gives the stone a mighty heave to tip it in the opposite direction for its final fall – Magoo or no Magoo. The rock smashes to the ground, but fortunately remains at a slant atop what is left of the center column, missing Magoo. Several large chunks of the stone wind up in the rear seat of Magoo’s jalopy, which also narrowly avoids being crushed. (Heaven only knows, however, what happened to the tent.) The boulder is busted open from the fall – and the prospector whoops, declaring its insides to be “solid gold”. The prospector sits among numerous small nuggets and tosses them into the air, celebrating their good fortune. Magoo will have none of this, and fails to recognize the stones as gold, believing the prospector’s identification of same to be as crazy as he believes the prospector is. Magoo drives off, oblivious to the cargo in his back seat, while the prospector calls for him to bring back a bigger truck for the next load. Instead, Magoo merely putters his way down the highway in his usual befuddled manner, leaving us to wonder if he will ever recognize the boon resting right behind his back.
Paul Bunyan (Disney, 8/1/58 – Les Clark, dir.) – Once again, weather provides some key plot-points in a Disney film, as we are told the tallest of tall tales. A Southeaster hits a New England coastal village, almost wiping the community off the map. When dawn breaks, a huge raft is discovered washed up on shore, carrying a giant-sized cradle – and in it, a mysterious giant-sized baby. The unexplainedly-orphaned waif is adopted by the community, and named Paul Bunyan. He receives a double-bladed axe for a present when he reaches young maturity, and clears timber away so fast, the village grows exponentially in occupancy of the newly-cleared farmland, crowding Paul. Paul moves on in search of more timber to cut and plenty of room. In his travels, Paul encounters the worst blizzard in years, cold enough to turn the snow blue. Building a fire, Paul is surprised to find the flames freeze solid – and Paul has to build a second fire to thaw out the first one. He then discovers a giant ox, frozen solid blue in the snow. Using the fire, he thaws the ox out. The ox never recovers its natural color, but becomes Paul’s lifelong friend for saving its life. The ox, whom Paul names Babe, wanders with Paul through the storm, and the two leave a trail of giant footprints all around the countryside. In spring, the tracks fill with water, and the region becomes known as the land of ten thousand lakes. By the end of the film, Paul is beaten in a race of man vs. machine, as a steam-powered saw chops a stack of timber that tops Paul’s by one-quarter inch. Paul and Babe leave, going Into retirement in a place where they can depend on having plenty of room – the North Pole. There, they play and roughhouse around, producing ice mountains in their wake, and generating from the friction the Northern lights of the aurora borealis, for the final iris out.
NEXT WEEK: Theatricals from the late 50‘s and early ‘60’s.