TIGHT ROPE TRICKS (1/6)
Direction: John Foster, George Rufle
“Circus day/just hear that brass band play/Trombones boning, saxophoning as they pass your way…” Roustabouts Tom and Jerry lead the circus parade to the big top. A barker displays fat and slim ladies; an India rubber man stretches himself about. Jerry proves better than a seeming tough guy at a test-your-strength sideshow game.
Our boys’ first job on site is to water a scrawny elephant, whose trunk they connect directly to a tap. Tom and Jerry then “help” a lion-keeper — eating the lion’s steak supply before Leo can enjoy them himself.But our heroes’ central task is as acrobat assistants to the circus’ pretty girl tightrope artist. She and her horse climb up to the tightrope, then travel down on a stream of water. Tom hangs by his teeth from a pulley — losing every last molar when he tries to carry an iron weight with his feet at the same time.
The girl tightrope artist sings You’ll Get By as Tom and Jerry — also on the tightrope — play a piano and ride a unicycle. But the lion our boys earlier abused is out to get even. He cuts the rope, sending himself and them to the ground. There other lions join him in the attack. Lucky for Tom and Jerry, that elephant is still drinking from the tap, and our heroes use his trunk as a water cannon to wash the lions away.
TIGHT ROPE TRICKS is an enjoyable cartoon, but not an exceptional one. Funny gags can’t hide the fact that our heroes are portrayed with almost no personality at all. Then there’s the girl tightrope artist — a rather blatant imitation of Betty Boop, again with Bonnie Poe supplying her voice.
MAGIC MUMMY (2/7)
Direction: John Foster, George Stallings
Policemen Tom and Jerry are distracted from patrolling by a radio novelty song, The Cop On The Beat, the Man in the Moon and Me — performed by some seemingly gay cops back at the jailhouse! The police-pansies are pushed aside by the chief, who has a special assignment for Tom and Jerry. Mummies are being stolen from the museum; a new theft is in progress now, and our boys must follow the thief!
Tom and Jerry pursue their “man”: really a longhaired Phantom of the Opera-like ghoul. The villain heads for his hideout under a graveyard; then reveals his evil plan — to make the mummy, a pretty girl, come back to life and sing for him! Tom and Jerry interrupt the Phantom’s efforts, but he magically imprisons them in a metal-walled cell. The bad guy then resumes his work, successfully making the mummy sing and dance (Sing Your Cares Away) for a roomful of high society skeletons.
Tom and Jerry escape their cell and sneak up on the Phantom. But they give themselves away when Jerry inspects the villain’s bony legs up close. In the ensuing chase and scuffle, Jerry thinks he’s recovered the mummy and quickly returns to HQ with the sarcophagus. Alas, it contains only Tom.
MAGIC MUMMY nearly has it all — crazy Van Beuren scares, surprisingly good animation and a very nicely-told story. All that’s really missing is characterization in Tom and Jerry, who basically act as one throughout most of the short. At least Jerry’s solo capture of the sarcophagus suggests a bit of his earlier, mischievous character — he’s evidently all right with leaving Tom to his fate in the Phantom’s lair.
HAPPY HOBOES (3/31)
Direction: George Stallings, George Rufle
The iris opens on a hobo camp where tramps Tom and Jerry are cheerfully playing music. But a cop comes by and posts a sign demanding “All Bums Out of Here by Sundown”. The hoboes quickly flee and jump aboard a freight train. Tom and Jerry compact their shack, attach it under a boxcar, and somehow manage to fit comfortably into it. As the train moves over a lake, Jerry catches a fish and begins to fry it. But Tom eats it quickly before his baffled pal can get even a mouthful!
The train heads toward a nearby forest as snow falls above — caused by two angels in heaven having a pillow fight! In the woods ahead, a lumberjack cuts trees with a scythe as his Chinese chef cleverly fries several whole chickens. Tom and Jerry’s train comes to a halt nearby; our heroes and the train conductors emerge, sniffing the wondrous scent of food! The woodsman encourages them: “Come on, boys, have something to eat!” But that proves to be a mistake: all of the train’s passengers join Tom, Jerry, and the conductors in jumping on the food, and the lumberjack is kicked aside! He gets even, though, by manipulating several logs to crash down on the diners.
Everyone and everything ends up in the lake, but Tom and Jerry successfully make it to safety. The water clears away the debris and other characters, leaving only Tom and Jerry’s shack behind. They emerge with a table, pound on it — and out comes the Chinese chef, who has just fried another helping of whole chickens exclusively for our heroes!
It is little wonder as to why George Stallings and George Rufle worked so seldom as a Tom and Jerry directorial team. HAPPY HOBOES not only features a dully generic plot — as executed, it is one of the weakest entries in the series. The short plods on and on without ever picking up the pace, and offers little — if any — characterization. HAPPY HOBOES isn’t a total loss, however. The Chinese chef provides a few clever highlights; especially in the end, when he becomes Tom and Jerry’s official cook.
PUZZLED PALS (3/31)
Direction: George Stallings, Frank Sherman
A stork carrying a baby makes his usual rounds — only to discover that nobody wants the trouble of raising another kid. Then the bird encounters the home of roommates Tom and Jerry. Busy inside solving a tough jigsaw puzzle, our boys soon find the baby on their doorstep. Tom takes him in, but when Jerry tickles the kid on the cheek… POW! he takes a left hook in the face! Tom laughs at the humor of the situation — until the baby gives him a bopping as well.
Tom thinks sitting the kid down on the couch will keep him out of their hair. But the kid jumps from the couch to the table to munch on Tom and Jerry’s puzzle pieces! Tom again tries to move the baby, setting him on top of a tall stack of books. However, this still doesn’t hold him; the books topple down on the table and the puzzle is ruined. Fed up, Tom takes the kid and tosses him into a closet. Unfortunately, the child finds a giant vacuum cleaner in the corner of the closet and puts it right to use, sucking up everything in sight — including the table where Tom and Jerry have just finished reconstructing their puzzle!
When the vacuum ingests the table, it breaks down the closet door in the process. The kid escapes and vacuums the shirts off Tom’s and Jerry’s backs, despite Jerry’s efforts to cling to the wall and resist. Tom tries using a milk bottle as a bribe to make the kid put the vacuum down, but to no avail; the vacuum literally “drinks” the milk from the bottle. Jerry tries tying the vacuum to a radiator, but the vacuum sucks the radiator in too. The baby next uses the vacuum to suck up a bunch of mice, a nearby staircase, and a statue — though the latter screams for help and tries to escape.
At last Tom cuts the vacuum cord with a pair of scissors, then spanks the kid until his hand goes sore. Jerry decides to throw the puzzle at the baby — in the process of which it assembles itself. The puzzle pictures the stork, who slugs our heroes and flies away with the kid, leaving our boys to barricade their doors and windows shut. Just in case that stork changes his mind and brings the baby back! The directorial debut of Frank Sherman, a New York animator from the 1920s, at Van Beuren.
HOOK AND LADDER HOKUM (4/28)
Direction: George Stallings, Frank Tashlin (credited as “Tish Tash”)
It’s late night at the local fire department as hosemen Tom and Jerry play a game of checkers. Jerry wins the round and Tom gets frustrated; the situation isn’t helped when he’s laughed at by the wall portrait of “chief” Ed Wynn. As our boys prepare for bed — and Tom puts out the candle with a mallet — the fire alarm sounds. The two leap to the ready, awaken their lazy horse (a Horace Horsecollar type) and rush to the scene of the fire.
There an old man screams for water as flames kick and punch him. Tom pulls out the hose, but as it loads up, all it ends up producing is one tiny drop. Tom gets it working by using “snake charmer” methods. The horse tries putting out the fire with a microscopic water bucket — predictably, to no avail. The man is about to leap; Tom and Jerry grab the safety net. But landing on it, the man bounces back up, falls down through the chimney and reappears at his window in blackface: “Mammy!” Tom and Jerry ready the net again, but drop it once the man jumps — they’d rather save a pretty girl instead! The horse, meanwhile, decides to assault the flames with an entire keg of water; but when he throws it at the house, it knocks the building to the ground! Teeth chattering, the guilty horse tries to sneak away. But the old man pursues him, floor board in hand. The horse pulls the fire wagon with Tom, Jerry, and the girl as the old man chases them all off into the distance.
One of the best Tom and Jerry shorts to postdate John Foster’s departure from Van Beuren, HOOK AND LADDER HOKUM is a very funny cartoon. It’s also historically significant for being George Stallings’ final effort for Van Beuren and Frank Tashlin’s directorial debut (as well as the only short he directed) at the studio. Several gags used here (such as the words “HELP!” and “HURRY!” being spelled out with flames) were later reused in one of Tashlin’s best Warner cartoons, PORKY THE FIREMAN.
IN THE PARK (5/26)
Direction: Frank Sherman, George Rufle
Tom and Jerry decide to spend a quiet day in the park, and are strolling along beneath the trees when a baby that has strayed away from its nurse happens across their path. The baby is crying and the two boys try to soothe it. Tom picks it up and they start looking for its owner. They stop at a hot dog stand and buy wienies, but decide the baby cannot have one. The baby, however, helps himself.
The trio next try a slide ride. The slide is meant for babies only and when Tom and Jerry also come down, their momentum is such that they are carried across a small lake and crash into a tree. The baby enjoys this and wants them to try it again, but Tom and Jerry have had enough. The baby cries and to make him stop they buy him a toy balloon. To the amazement of the boys, the balloon carries the baby up in the air, soaring over the trees. Tom and Jerry dash madly after it and when the baby is caught in a treetop, Tom scrambles up to the rescue. Just when he is about to grab it, the baby wiggles free and falls toward the ground.
A policeman, who is the cause of the baby’s nurse not paying attention to her business, has his arms outstretched and into these strong arms the baby drops, safe and sound. The nurse and policeman cannot figure out where the baby came from and Tom and Jerry do not tell them.
While we haven’t seen IN THE PARK for ourselves (the synopsis above is the copyright synopsis), it sounds like a less than inspired short. Coming hot on the heels of PUZZLED PALS, it again features a troublesome kid with what sound like less memorable gags.
Direction: Frank Sherman, George Rufle
THE PHANTOM ROCKET (7/31)
Direction: Frank Sherman, George Rufle
A large crowd gathers to see the launch of a rocket piloted by Tom and Jerry. As an effeminate announcer tells the public what’s going on, the rocket-building crew announce their individual jobs in sing-song fashion. The big event goes fine until an escaped convict — first seen disguised as an old lady — commandeers the rocket for himself and takes Tom and Jerry aboard as hostages!
The rocket lifts off and flies aimlessly in several different directions. It crashes into the spectators’ stands, then collides with a train and a ferris wheel. Jerry tries to throw an anchor at the convict, but only succeeds in hooking a bunch of telephone poles and making a shambles of a brickyard below. The rocket meets and is tossed around by a pair of tough-guy clouds, after which it splashes underwater. When the villian shoots a hole in the rocket’s side, water sprays in. Tom manages to get ahold of the stream in order to squirt the felon in the face! Heading through a farmyard, the rocket scares chickens and a Farmer Alfalfa knock-off. Finally, the rocket crash-lands in a prison, where Tom and Jerry bring the crook into custody for a huge cash reward!
The final Van Beuren Tom and Jerry cartoon, PHANTOM ROCKET shares the same strengths and weaknesses as the sixth entry in the series, ROCKETEERS. It has a great opening with a wonderfully weird musical sequence, but casts aside the chance to do a true outer space cartoon in favor of less inspired ground-bound hijinks. Any prospect for this becoming the Van Beuren equivalent to Fleischer’s UP TO MARS is once again, lost. The Tom and Jerry series ends not with a bang — but with the whimper of this mediocre short.