We’ve saved the best for last with one final Tom and Jerry animator breakdown!
By the time Mouse Cleaning was in production, Irv Spence and Ray Patterson had returned to MGM. Hanna-Barbera’s crew of animators was solidified, and its four key animators (including Ken Muse and Ed Barge) remained with the series into the mid-1950s. In several entries, Tom’s owner (unofficially named in the cartoons, but often known as “Mammy Two-Shoes”) chastises him for his mistakes and threatens his ejection from the house if he doesn’t straighten up. In this standout entry, Tom tracks mud in the house and forced to mop the floor himself. His owner leaves the house for grocery shopping and warns him to keep the house clean if he wants to keep his place. Jerry overhears her reprimand, and what follows is a prime example of razor sharp timing in 1940s animation.
The film’s strength lies within its strong gag structure as a fuel for its characterization and comedy. The opening scene of Tom’s owner mopping the floor, as she warns the cleanliness of the house “better stay that way,” sets up a comedy of errors. As animated by Ray Patterson, this doesn’t last long when Tom is seen splashing into a mud puddle while gaining traction to chase Jerry. After his owner leaves, his methods are almost obsessive, as he nervously mops up an errant sweat bead and wipes dirt left by a housefly on the window.
In an extended series of sequences animated by Irv Spence—which is much slicker than his previous work, presumably due to a new assistant animator—Jerry, in his meddling nature, creates messes for Tom to clean. His fury over Jerry’s torture causes such disasters, as well—when Jerry avoids a tomato hurled at him, it leaves a towering splatter on the wall. To make the situation worse, Jerry fills Tom’s bucket of water with blue ink from a fountain pen. In a great piece of character animation, after noticing his wash towel covered in ink, he covers his face, hoping that his oversight has not ruined the wall.
Spence’s previous animation experience with Tex Avery in the late 1930s and early 1940s is evident in the same shot, when Tom reacts to his blunder as multiple eyes pop out and his jaw slams to the floor. Evidently, in his free time at the studio, Bill Hanna ran most of Avery’s upcoming cartoons to study them, frame-by-frame, on a Moviola in the hope to achieve similar effects. Tom’s vanity overtakes him again in the following scene, when Jerry threatens to expel ink on the curtains, to no avail. When Tom tries this himself, it squirts onto the curtains, much to his terror.
Ken Muse animates a marvelous sequence, accompanied by Chopin’s “Minute Waltz,” of Tom attempting to keep eggs and a cream pie from falling onto the kitchen floor. What makes the scene humorous is that Tom continues to juggle the eggs while having enough time to set them down. Instead, he is also forced to balance a cream pie, placed on a fork, on his forehead. To end such a precarious situation with a flourish, musical composer Scott Bradley adds a nice musical touch with successive notes as the eggs fall into the carton. Muse also handles a section where blue ink is used again to sabotage Tom’s cleaning, when Jerry places an ink stamp pad on Tom’s paws. In a nice filmic gesture, after Jerry shuts the pad on Tom’s nose, the two run off-screen, and only the sound of clattering is heard, until they are run into view again when Jerry stops the chase. The following shot after reveals the multitude of blue paw prints along the walls and furniture from Tom’s point-of-view.
Ed Barge animates the scene of Jerry allowing an old farm horse to enter the house. Barge’s use of volume and weight is utilized effectively, as Tom struggles to lift an animal larger than him and toss him outside. What enriches the payoff of the sequence are the sound effects of the resounding crash, which accentuate Tom’s strength for a housecat. Later in the film, Muse animates Tom hurriedly scrubbing and mopping paw prints. In a wonderful layout that is amusing because of how dramatic it appears in Tom’s eyes, his owner wobbles out of the shadows with grocery bags under her arms. Barge animates the following scenes of Jerry redirecting a delivery truck to the living room, where an avalanche of coal drags Tom and his owner away, just as she opens the door.
Ray Patterson animates Tom emerging from the mound of coal in blackface, as he speaks to his owner in a voice reminiscent of “Stephen Fetchit”—the stage name of African-American comedian Lincoln Perry—to avoid punishment as he slowly walks away. This gag has caused the film to be withheld from current video releases, along with 1951’s Casanova Cat, for similar use of ethnic imagery. Irv Spence animates the last scene in the film, when Tom dodges lumps of coal thrown by his owner, only to receive a last one to the head at a far distance, similar to the ending of Tee for Two (1945).
Another year down for these weekly columns! As always, I’m grateful for the response these columns have received, and I’m hoping to expand to bigger subjects in the following year. To show my gratitude, I’d like to reveal my big project I have planned for several months, though it is far from finished, research-wise: the influence of vintage comic strips, silent comedy and early sound comedy in animation. For a subject this vast, it’s still taking me a while to research. Now that you know the subject, feel free to send me your input—us researchers should look out for each other!
Next Month: More moonlighting animation artists in comics…
(Thanks to Frank Young for his help with this column.)