November 11, 2021 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Absolutely a New York cartoon: “Trouble” (1931)

To be completely honest, the week has been so busy that I’ve barely had a chance to sit down more than a half hour here or there to work on finishing the last Flip the Frog cartoon I’m working on cleaning up: Fiddlesticks. It’s lovely to be working with that particular original material, so I want to make sure to get it as nice as I can. There’s been many days in the past week where I’ve been working on it and dozed off for a second or more— only to be woken up by the subtle tones of Harris Colour. The other films in clean-up left on the set are now with Dave and Ciara, with Vikki picking up a bunch of little fixes on various films. This next week is pivotal in finishing the set.

As you read this, I may be driving east to finish more scans. I’m excited to get more things in the can and just struggling to find enough time to do them!

That said, Van Beuren cartoons keep showing up here back from various freelancers digitally cleaning them up- and that means I need to look at more and figure out what ones to hand out next. As I was preparing scans to send, I got a real kick out of this one, Trouble (1931).

I don’t think it’s a secret that I really enjoy these particular films, even when I’m not dressed for the occasion to watch them according to some people. Then again, I’ve heard that these “Ugly, badly produced cartoons” are not really worth preservation. I think all this stuff needs to be around for the next generation to look at; these adventures shouldn’t only be relegated to chance happenings of good materials….

We’re at a crossroads moment in film collecting and preservation right now. We’re seeing a great change of hands happening with many film collections- sometimes because collectors decide to part with them, other times because that collector passed. Whole collections of various types are still tossed these days sometimes by a family unwilling to make sure they’re in good hands. We’re also seeing a *lot* more films in the process of acetate deterioration. Kodak officially gave this acetate deterioration a cute name that may have actually started with the collecting community: Vinegar Syndrome.

This is different than the deterioration that nitrate prints can have, but is actually a much bigger problem since many films only survive in 16mm. For the Van Beuren cartoons, the best collections are all in private hands, and often the best prints are in those collections. I’ve started a lot of these sets for a reason- we’re just running out of time to make sure the best material is scanned since we really don’t know what will go in the coming handful of years. They should all ideally be scanned beyond their actual range of about 2k to digitally preserve them in their original quality.

I’m glad I scanned some of my own prints of the Van Beuren Tom and Jerrys since some of those prints are now starting to VS. It’s heartbreaking to see it happening. I have one older collector friend who is too scared to open all the reels to see what is and what isn’t; one of these days I’ll visit and do the dirty work of separating everything. I know a lot of really cool things will just be getting tossed in that collection, other soaked if we can manage.

Back to Trouble: This is the third Tom and Jerry short and has our plucky team of two very much in evolution. The design of Jerry especially is all over the place, depending on the animator; there’s something both bizarre and really enjoyable about that. It’s interesting to note that many short have the couple looking pretty similar to how they are in the film before and many after, but I don’t think another cartoon has them drawn quite like they’re drawn in many shots here.

In this one, they’re accident lawyers, and within these six minutes it’s pretty clear that less-then-scrupulous lawyering goes back a long time. By the end they’re even *riding* in an ambulance. Jerry appears to be voiced by a woman in this film some of the time— so it’s fun to hear him talking and singing since you never know what may come out! These wanna-be-lawyers sing a lively song near the beginning before trying hard to save a man in probable peril. I especially enjoy Jerry’s eyes staring straight forward in many of the closer shots.

This cartoon screams “New York animation in the 30s” through and through. It doesn’t quite have the wackiness of the Fliescher shorts, but you can really see they’re trying.

Here is the raw scan of Trouble – Mark Kausler deserves thanks for lending his very good 16mm Gutlohn print of this title. Hopefully I didn’t cause too much trouble in requesting this print of Trouble

Have a good week all, and make sure to watch this in HD (or higher)….


  • While Jerry’s googly blank stare gives me the heebee-jeebees, “Trouble” is still a fun cartoon, and a vivid picture of New York city life during the Jimmy Walker era. Makes me want to order a chocolate egg cream from the Carnegie Deli.

    In the scene where Tom and Jerry hitch a ride on the ambulance, how exactly did they record the ambulance driver’s speech? Is it sped up, or played backwards? Is it a bird call, or something improvised on a trumpet mouthpiece? How on earth did they do that??? It’s a very weird and funny effect, whatever it is.

    • Sounds to me like it was done with a duck call.

    • Could have been a duck call. Also sounded like the mouthpiece of an alto saxophone, which detaches from the instrument. I’m sure my high school self could have made those noises.

    • Thanks, I think you’re both on the right track: some kind of small tube with a single reed. There’s a similar, though higher-pitched, effect elsewhere in the cartoon, when the woman is making the emergency call and again just before the “slow motion actor” makes his descent. It’s pretty cool; I wonder why Van Beuren didn’t use it more often!

  • Thanks Steve. I’d never seen Trouble before it’s a good’un.

    I’m always amazed at Van Beuren characters’ ability to hang and spin slowly in mid-air for 3-5 seconds at a time.

    And yes, as noted, Jerry is freak-eeeeeeeeeeeee.

  • The Empire State Building had been completed about six months before the cartoon was released, and a dirigible mooring tower was indeed part of the plans and the final construction. However, owing to high winds and the probable need to dump water ballast on the streets below, it was never used. A few weeks before the cartoon was released, an attempt was made to dock by a U.S. Navy dirigible, which failed owing to, among other things, high winds.

  • As always, Steve, this is a wonderful cartoon! It is because of you that I am even remotely aware of the van Buuren Tom and Jerry cartoons, and boy, the music is always wonderful. I’m sure I’ve seen them on television before, but I’m never sure because I can’t remember their design at all. It is also because of you that I keep collecting at all and keep hoping! Thank you, thank you as always for all you do! I look forward to the flip the frog set. I know you’re working very hard to make sure that these things look as good as they did when people saw them in theaters. I wish you so much luck there.

  • I was positive I’d seen a photograph of a dirigible moored to the Empire State Building, but I looked it up, and it turned out to be an “artist’s conception”. Now I’m wondering if that whole giant gorilla thing was a hoax, too.

    Nice to see the Chrysler Building, then a brand new edifice, in one of the backgrounds in “Trouble”.

  • A fun fictional dirigible docking at the Empire State Building is depicted at the beginning of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

  • Was this cartoon inspired by Frank Capra’s DIRIGIBLE (1931) – reportedly, a very expensive production for Columbia Pictures at the time. I’d like to see it someday, but I don’t think it’s currently available right now.

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