BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
December 20, 2017 posted by Devon Baxter

Tom & Jerry in “Solid Serenade” (1946)

“Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?” Here’s the true cult classic of all Tom and Jerry cartoons in this week’s animator breakdown!

In fall 1943, popular bandleader Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five recorded a tune written by Jordan and Billy Austin, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” The song was a huge success and became one of Jordan’s #1 singles. He provided another performance on-screen in the 1944 Universal musical feature Follow the Boys. Soon after, other artists recorded their own versions, including Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby with The Andrews Sisters. As sung by Tom, Solid Serenade is perhaps the song’s most iconic usage—it’s instantly recognizable, even to casual viewers.

The singing voice for Tom was unknown for some time. One theory suggested producer Fred Quimby as the singer for the musical sequence. Given his indifference to animated cartoons, it seems unlikely, if not inane. Voice actor/historian Keith Scott’s research has determined that the vocals belong to Ira “Buck” Woods, an African-American musician/actor who mostly played bit parts in features. In one of his prominent on-screen appearances, he is seen singing and trumpeting in the 1942 MGM film Reunion in France. As for Tom’s other line of dialogue, when he tricks Spike the bulldog (named “Killer” in this cartoon) into fetching a stick, it’s unclear who provided those vocals, but it is clearly not “Buck” Woods.

In assigning the sequences to their animators for Solid Serenade, Hanna and Barbera gave the artists lengthy sequences, or often had one person’s scene inserted in between another’s in different portions of the film. Ken Muse animates the entire musical section of Tom serenading his sweetheart to “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” except for Ed Barge’s one scene of Jerry ready to launch a pie (with an iron inside) at Tom. This scene is further enriched by Tom’s moment of making music by plucking Spike’s bottom lip, with an audio effect achieved by pitch-shifting one of the most recognizable MGM sound effects to create the melody. In a bravura piece of character animation, after Tom is struck by the weaponized pastry, he pauses to look for the heckler that sullied his performance before he resumes.

Ray Patterson animates the opening scenes of the film, as Tom looks down at a sleeping Spike with a nefarious grin before tying him up to ensure no interference as he seeks the heart of the girl cat in the window. Later in the film, he animates “Killer” chasing Tom after setting sharper, stronger dentures into his mouth. Patterson is not credited in this film for his work; he re-located to England to teach character animation to inexperienced artists at Dave Hand’s Gaumont British studio.

Ed Barge handles Tom and Jerry’s chase inside the kitchen, with some sharp timing of Tom crashing into a pile of dishes and getting his neck caught in a closed window. He also animates Jerry untying “Killer,” after which he emits a disturbing bovine roar (used earlier in 1944’s Puttin’ on the Dog). Barge tended to draw the characters more rounded and cute, almost harkening back to the Harman-Ising cartoons of the early 1940s. He was one of the few homegrown animators at MGM, with no prior industry experience. He previously worked in George Gordon’s unit before joining Hanna and Barbera.

Like Muse, Mike Lah animates a large amount of footage in the film. With Irv Spence gone to work for John Sutherland Productions, Lah took his place with frantic animation—in breakneck pose-to-pose action—and stylized drawing in his scenes. Lah was a worthy substitute. He handles a brilliant piece of comic timing when Tom, who, brick in hand, poised to clout “Killer,” is exposed by his own carelessness. Nevertheless, he decides to smack “Killer” on the head.

Lah animates a nice portrayal of caricatured canine behavior when “Killer” lets out a joyful bark as Tom throws a stick, with nice follow-through on his jowls. He also animates Tom’s switch from playful instigator to charmer, as he runs back to kiss the female cat in between eluding “Killer,” who Tom unknowingly romances and smooches with a Charles Boyer accent and dialogue lifted from The Zoot Cat.

Pete Burness animates the last minute of the film, when Tom traps Jerry inside the doghouse, slowly entering with a devilish laugh, only to find “Killer” waiting inside. In another delay, similar to Tom’s interrupted serenade, Tom pauses the vicious beating to write his last will and testament before returning to the onslaught. Burness is also uncredited for his work on Solid Serenade. He followed Spence’s lead to move to John Sutherland Productions. Unlike Spence, he didn’t return to MGM and was replaced by Ed Barge.

Hope all of you have a good holiday, and a Happy New Year! Seasons greetings from Tom and Jerry:

(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Keith Scott and Didier Ghez for their help.)

12 Comments

  • Isn’t that Frank Graham as Tom doing the stick line?

  • That gag with Jerry bouncing out of bed in time with the music was redone many years later in the pool party episode of The Flintstones when an irate neighbor gets bounced out of his bed.

  • Thanks Devon.

    Nuthin’ like a strong cuppa coffee and a frantic 40s MGM toon to start the day.

    For my money, Muse is THE animator for T&J over the long haul.

    • I definitely agree.

      And in terms of Muse’s best period, I’d have to say it’s the cartoons released between mid-1948 through the end of 1949, pretty much everything from The Truce Hurts through The Cat and the Mermouse. The characters designs by this point, at least in my opinion, are iconic Tom and Jerry, and Muse handles them well. His long, uninterrupted sequence in Professor Tom is great.

  • Martha Sigall, Rita Giddings, Colene Gonzales, Florience Henitz, Suzi Dalton, Art Goble, Jean Tobin, Muriel Burger, Shirley Ballou, Paula Forbes, Grace Enright and Roberta Gruhert did ink and paint work
    The Assistant Animators were Lefty Callhan, Tom Bryne, Barney Posner, Lew Marshall, and Irving Levine
    Color models were by Vonnie Adamson Shaffer
    Irene “Peewee” Wyman was animation checker
    Richard Bickenbach painted backgrounds
    John Boersmama, Bill Weber, Frank Gonzales, Jack Carr, and Manny Corral, were additional inbetweeners and assistants
    Jim Faris and Greg Watson were in editing.

    This information is all from Martha Sigalls book “Living life between the lines” Update for above information.

    • Manny Corral was a cameraman.

    • Wasn’t Dick Bickenbach at WB when this was made? Are you sure this information is accurate in regards this cartoon in particular?

  • Another nice job, Devon. Having listened to the cartoon again, I agree with Yowp it’s Frank Graham doing the one-liner (and also the Bletcher-like evil laughs at the end). And you could add that the re-used track of the Boyer imitation from THE ZOOT CAT is the voice of mimic Jerry Mann.

  • Actually, I think that the “up, boy, up” line as Tom tricks the dog (Killer) into fetching the stick might be done by the same person who uttered the Groucho Marx type line in “ZOOT CAT”; at least it sounds that way to my ear. You know, animation is tremendous in the theatrical age, and I don’t want to minimize that fact, but truly what makes those first few sound film decades so immensely enjoyable are the soundtracks. Sadly, we will never, ever see an age when full orchestras are so well utilized to not only add music to an animated film, full length movie or short subject, but to actually so neatly enhance the action or swift changes of mood throughout such films. Think of those TOM AND JERRY cartoons if the scores were merely played on one or two instruments such as what you hear on today’s cartoons. Even in those days before Carl Stalling came to Warner Brothers and the favorite stable of characters found their way to LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES, the scores were uniquely listenable, and it is what makes collecting all those cartoons and restoration of same so worthwhile. This has never been more true than when you analyze the TOM AND JERRY cartoons. When they first premiered on TV, I used to record the soundtracks on reel to reel tape and played them so often, in anticipation for the next week’s offering. I have favorites among them, and “SOLID SERENADE” is among these because of the song Tom uses to serenade his girl and the Bradley-scored and arranged chase scenes, and the scoring is one of the main reasons why I so championed getting the “forbidden” titles in the series out on DVD. It is ironic that the brassier scores appear in that handful of titles throughout the TOM AND JERRY series. And, yes, whoever was responsible at MGM for sound effects really pulled out all the stops for the earliest TOM AND JERRY cartoons, throughout the 1940’s. I would almost go so far as to say that, throughout the 1940’s, the scores and sound effects tracks are carefully chosen enough so that they blend as if one were supposed to be a part of the other. In other words, I don’t know that the scores would always be as interesting without the sound effects, while, at Warner Brothers, the scores can nicely stand on their own. I’d love to hear rehearsal takes on the Bradley scores, though, if such masters still exist on disk. Unlike the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION sets, no one has ever attempted to locate any masters on the scores for MGM cartoons. It is possible that such source material no longer exists, but I toss it out there in case anyone knows otherwise. Merry Christmas to all at CARTOON RESEARCH, and I hold out dimming hopes for possible restorations on these cartoons to further continue. There is always so much to talk about regarding these titles and, each time I listen to these toons again, I discover some other small tidbit worth pointing out.

  • In case anyone wishes to do so, remember to tune into “STU’S SHOW” tonight, because Jerry Beck is the final guest of 2017. Keep the discussion of animation in the golden age alive!

  • Bugs Bunny also referenced the song title in The Unruly Hare (1945).

  • This information regards to the staffers were staffers around the time in which this cartoon was made. This is not a precise listiting. It is a list of possible staffers based on information from her book. And by the way I forgot about Manny Corral being a cameraman. I am sorry for any mistakes.

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