This week, a mix of musical styles, celebrity impersonations and cameos, and up-to-date modernizations blend together with more traditional educational methods to try to teach a 1940’s audience their life lessons, in manners considerably more palatable than Paul Terry’s “Aesop’s sugar coated pills of wisdom” of the 1920’s.
The Screwy Truant (MGM, Screwy Squirrel, 1/13/45 – Tex Avery, dir.), begins with a gag that takes some explanation today. A country schoolhouse is shown, in an unusual color – bright blue. A sign at the door, formerly saying “Little Red School House”, has the word “Red” crossed out. and the word “Blue” handwritten over it. No, it’s not a reference to post-war communism scares, as explained in a second sign hung beneath it, reading. “Technicolor Red Has Gone To War.” This was an off-the-wall reference to a major ad campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes, which before the war had been marketed in a pack featuring green ink. Chromium, used in making green ink, was in short supply, apparently needed for the war effort. So Lucky Strike changed to a primarily white package, with the slogan, “Lucky Strike Green has gone to war.” An oblique gag if ever there was one. But it probably got the expected chuckle from a savvy audience of the day.
While the rest of the kids answer the call of the school bell, at some distance from the school we see Screwy Squirrel, who has no such parallel intentions. “Can you imagine those dumb kids going to school on a day like this? What a bunch of chumps.” He pulls out a fishing rod and can of worms from behind a tree, and sets off for the pond, singing, “In the Good Old Summertime”. However, he is observed by a dog wearing an official black hat, who holds up a sign with neon arrows pointing to himself, to identify his position as truant officer, then flips the sign to the back side to tell us to “Sh-sh!” In typical nutty Avery style, he stalks his prey from behind trees, various parts of his body separating and moving independently for extra stealth. At the pond, Screwy casts in his line, gets a nibble, and reels in. On the end of the line is the dog, who had been hiding in the water. “Why ain’t you in school?”, he demands. “Don’t worry,” says Screwy. “I’ve got a plenty good reason.” Without telling what, Screwy pulls out some scissors, cuts the line, and dunks the dog in the drink.
What follows is a typical potpourri of unpredictable Avery chase gags, common to the Screwy series. A few highlights include Screwy pulling off the dog’s nose, yelling, “Fore”, and launching it with a golf club for a hole in one on a nearby green. The dog reaches into the hole to rescue his appendage, but briefly walks off with a golf ball on his snout, while Screwy flattens the real nose with a hammer blow on an anvil. Eventually, the dog gets flattened with the anvil as well, producing an anvil-shaped lump on his head. Another sequence has Screwy disappear into a tree trunk, with the dog seeming to have grabbed Screwy’s tail. The dog pulls and pulls on the tail, but the camera reveals that behind the tree has been placed a large spool reading “500 yards of phoney squirrel tail” (a prop exclusively available only from Marvin Acme). At the end of the line is one of Avery’s favorite stand-by gags – a tag, reading “Long darn tail, wasn’t it.” A random gag leads into a sequence at Red Riding Hood’s Grandma’s house, by Screwy accidentally encountering Red (a kid this time) being chased by the wolf back and forth across the screen, and Screwy alerting the wolf that he is in the wrong picture, by pulling down as curtains the main titles of the film again for the wolf to see. “Oh, one of them corny B-Pictures”, says the wolf.”, Offended, Screwy challenges, “If you were my size, “I’d punch you right in the nose.” The wolf obliges, by shrinking to Screwy’s size. But Screwy keeps the scales uneven, by shrinking himself smaller than the wolf, so he can avoid the fight with a hasty exit. Further randomness includes one of many reuses of Avery’s “door” gag, where the characters pursue each other in and out of a doorway that becomes unhinged from the wall, falls, then opens a new doorway in the floor below where it fell, and continues to flip around the room, with a new passageway appearing everywhere it lands, on floor, walls, and ceiling. Screwy takes a leaf from the war effort with a lesson in camouflage, whitewashing the side of a barn, the ground, and then himself with white paint, so he can invisibly smash the dog with a mallet. Finally, Screwy finds a random trunk, labelled, “assorted swell stuff to hit dog on head”, and, in lghtning-fast changes, pulls out assorted heavy objects to hit the dog again and again, each blow transforming the dog’s hat to a different style, including witch’s hat, Indian headdress, football helmet, and crown. (Use your freeze framer if possible to keep track of it all.) “Gee whiz”, says the dazed dog to the camera, “He hit me with everything but the kitchen sink.” “Well, don’t want to disappoint ya, chum”, says Screwy, slamming down the expected plumbing equipment upon the dog, whose eyelids close, lettering appearing on them, reading “Closed for the duration.”
Reaching for his endkess supply of background curtains, Screwy pulls down a background reading “The End”, and tells us, “Now that dunb truant officer never will know why I wasn’t in school.” Miraculously, the dog revives, entering the shot and grabbing up Screwy in his hand, and demands to know why Screwy wasn’t in school. “Because”, says Screwy, giving the dog a Bugs Bunny style kiss, “I’ve got measles!” Screwy instantly breaks out into a face of red dots – and so does the dog – – and so do the letters of the “The End” sign, as the scene irises out to Screwy’s laughter.
The Pied Piper of Basin Street (Lantz/Universal, Swing Symphony, 1/15/45 – James Culhane, dir), presents an up to date retelling of the tale of the Pied Piper. A Lou Costello-type mayor presides over a rat-infested town, where the rodents have respect for no one or no thing – including biting runs in valuable pairs of ladies’ nylons. The harried mayor is deluged with frantic phone calls, demanding that something be done about the situation. “Call the fire department. Call the health department. Call anyonem but stop calling me!” wails the mayor in frustration. “What you need is a pied piper”, says a voice from behind his chair. Applying for the job is a tall lanky fellow in modern swanky garb, armed with a trombone. For a small fee, he offers to take care of the rat problem. “It’s a deal” promises the mayor.
The piper marches through town, playing the soulful strains of the legendary Jack Teagarden on his trombone. “Solid! That guy’s from Basin Street”, comment the rats, forming a parade behind him. The piper lures them all to his rat control truck, where a large cage awauts to contain them, the piper locking its door behind them. Back at the mayor’s office, the mayor shakes the piper’s hand, but seems in an unusual hurry. “Nice work, boy, nice work. Here’s your reward. I’m a busy man. Scram.” A sack is placed in the piper’s hand, and he is hurried out of the mayor’s office, with the door closed behind him. The piper opens the sack, to find all its contents consist of is – peanuts. “I won’t work for peanuts”, says the adamant piper, pounding on the mayor’s door. Inside, the mayor casually relaxes, his stocking feet (with holes in the toes) up on his desk, while reading a copy of ”Of Mice and Men”. Unphased by the piper’s pounding, he presses one of a series of buttons on his desk, on a device labeled “Automatic Boucer”. In the corridor outside, a pair of mechanical hands pull a welcome mat out from under the feet of the piper, while a wheel of boxing gloves emerges from the mayor’s door to sock the piper in the face. From a track fastened to the ceiling, more mechanical hands emerge from a box marked “The Bounccer”, grabbing the piper and rolling him down the corridor to a window, where the piper is tossed out of the building, landing in an alley trash can with sign reading, “Keep our city clean”. “This happens to me every time!”, complains the piper. “Well, there’s no alternative – Here go the kids.” With a few pinches to his face, and a retying of his tie from long to bow, the piper transforms himself into “Hank Swoonatra” (a reasonable facsimile of Frank Sinatra), pulls a radio microphone out from under his shirt, and begins to serenade the town, passing directly in front of the dormitories of Jollywood High School. All the girls of the campus clamor to the windows, to swoon over the crooning notes of their singing idol. Even the boys fall under the spell, as boys and girls desert a malt shop – at least after downing the last sips of the malt through a straw. The entire school empties of students, until the high school shrinks to the shape of a little red school house. Following the piper in parade formation with signs boasting their adoration for him like a fan club convention, they are led to the docks, where a giant show boat waits at anchor. A huge sign on its side reads “Swing Ship”, on board 100 name bands, among them Ozzie Nelson, Harry James, and, of course, Jack Teagarden (though I believe his actual working big band had already folded before this cartoon was made). The ship sets sail with all the town’s kids aboard, and the piper returns to town – just long enough to open the door on his rat-catcher truck and release the rats.
The mayor sits in his office, lonely, realizing that the kids have been piped away, and he’s all alone (Did the adults board the ship, too?). A voice tells him hie’s alone no more. “You’ve still gor us rats!” The mayor’s office is overrun, and the rats begin throwing every object in the place at him, then light a huge firecracker under his seat. The blast sends the mayor into the outer corridor. The rats now jump with glee upon the entire panel of buttons on the mayor’s Automatic Bouncer. The mayor gets the works from additional mechanical contraptions outside, then is lifted and tossed out in the trash as the piper was. From the can below, the mayor, using Lou Costello’s famous catch phrase, admits, “I’m a bad boy!”
Cured Duck (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 10/26/45 – Jack King, dir.) – Donald Duck smokes cigars?!! You wouldn’t think it likely, after his negative experiences with a pipe in “Donald’s Better Self”. Yet, this trait would be established and reinforced here, and in “Donald’s Crime” (1945), “Clown of the Jungle” (1946), and “Donald’s Happy Birthday” (1949). I guess he just grew into the habit – maybe from inhaling too much when around Black Pete.
However, Daisy Duck isn’t a fan of secondhand smoke, and wants a window opened. Donald’s efforts to do so become Herculean, as the window won’t seem to budge. After several frustrating attempts, he breaks into a red-faced rage, flies around the house in a tantrum destroying everything in sight, and winds up in an exhausted heap on the floor. Not losing her cool, Daisy walks slowly to the window, and reveals the entire cause of Donald’s failure – he forgot to open the window lock! Donald is given an ultimatum – learn to control that temper, or never come back. Enter a newspaper ad for a mail-order course to cure any temper, from the Tootsberry Institute of Temperism. Donald sends in the coupon, and soon receives a huge package at his doorstep. Out of the package bursts a mechanical marvel – a talking “insult machine”, which states that if Donald can take his insults for 10 minutes and still control his temper, he will be cured forever. Obtaining Donald’s promise of undivided attention, the machine begins with the old fake-out, “Please look behind you.” When Donald does, he is “sucker”-punched by a mechanical hand, straight into the wall. Showing unusual reserve, Donald says, “That’s all right”. But the machine grabs him up, produces a pair of scissors, and cuts off Donald’s tie and shirt buttons. Donald starts to react as usual, trying to strangle the machine, until the machine reminds him he is supposed to control his temper. “I almost forgot, for a moment”, Donald apologizes. The machine calls Donald over to its speaker, and begins to whisper a funny story (possibly a travelling salesman joke) into Donald’s ear – then blasts his eardrums with a loud auto horn. As Donald turns beet red, the machine advises him to count to ten. Donald cools off again, and the machine states it will reward him with “a nice surprise” – a brick thrown on his foot. The machine chortles with raucous laughter. Donald is about to lose it, but the machine holds up an alarm clock to his face, reminding him he has only a minute to go. Donald assumes a prayer position, asking the heavens to “Give me strength”. The machine asks Donald to relax, then delivers a series of upper cuts to his chin, blows black smoke in his face, then washes off the soot with a splash from a water pistol. A mallet blow leaves a pulsing lump on Donald’s head. “Only ten seconds to go. Pal, and you’ve made it!”, says the machine, holding up the clock again – but this time, there is a fuse lit in the clock’s rear, as a time bomb. An explosion leaves Donald frazzled, but as the machine passes a whiff of smelling salts under Donald’s beak, the duck remains surprisingly calm, stating, “I ain’t mad at nobody.”. The machine presents Donald with a diploma, announcing, “You’re a new man.”
Donald races to Dausy’s house, entering the door to hold her in a fond embrace. Donald’s voice changes to an impression of Charles Boyer, stating, “Daisy…It ees the new me!” “We’ll see”, says Daisy, challenging Donald by asking him to open the window again. Donald begins on the right foot, by remembering to turn the window lock, but finds the window almost as stubborn to open whether unlocked or no. He gets it partway up, only to have it fall upon his hand. He borrows a fireplace shovel to use as a lever, but it still won’t budge. He hops upon the shovel handle, but bounces into the ceiling. When he falls back to earth, the impact on the handle finally flips the window open again, but it wobbles and begins to fall closed. Donald inserts the shovel verticalluy in the window frame, preventing the pane from falling shut – but the pane falls out of the window frame entirely, shattering atop Dona;d’s head. Yet Daisy is impressed. “After all that, and you’re still smiling. Now I’ll go out with you.” She disappears up the steps to her bedroom, and emerges on the upper landing, wearing an outlandish headdress she has picked up from a local hat shop. “Where did you get that crazy hat?”. Donald laughs. While the scene is unfortunately played too fast by the director to attain full impact, as if time was running out on the alotted footage for the film (or merely from not being used to the newer Avery-style tempo of pacing), we find Daisy has a boiling point, too – and disapproval of her new hat is it. Daisy now is the one turning beet red, and she launches into Donald with a series of blows that leave the whole house vibrating in an exterior long shot, as we leave Donald in yet another lover’s quarrel for the iris out.
Bored of Education (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 3/1/46 – Bill Tytla, dir.) – An imaginative romp through daily lessons begins with the usual “Good Morning to You” song at school, Lulu borrowing from Oswald the Rabbit to blow her nose at the end of the tune like a raspberry. Her next-desk neighbor is Tubby, with whom in this episode she maintains an ongoing rivalry. Tubby decides to make points with the teacher by snitching an apple from Lulu’s lunch, and presenting it to teacher to get in his good graces. Discovering the theft, Lulu makes a quick switch of objects on the teacher’s desk, substituting in place of the apple her pet frog. The professor is not impressed, and Tubby receives some offscreen whacks with a ruler, while Lulu shows off to Tubby the core of the apple which she has eaten herself.
Next comes history questions. Lulu is called by the teacher, but has no idea of the answers. Looking around nervously, she spots Tubby holding out a slate in her direction with a date on it, and assumes he is trying to help her. Instead, all his answers are deliberately wrong, so Lulu identifies 1492 as the year the pilgrims landed, and 1776 as the year Columbus discovered America. The teacher tries one more question: “When did Ben Franklin die?” “Did he die? I didn’t even know he was sick”, responds Lulu. That’s all the teacher can stand, and Lulu is sent to the dunce’s stool to study her history lesson, while Tubby grins ear to ear in sweet revenge. Lulu tries to concentrate on the book, but falls asleep. In her dream, the book grows to giant proportions, big enough to leap into its illustrations. From the stern of Columbus’s ship, Lulu hears the taunting voice of Tubby, “Hey, Lulu, when did Columbus discover America?” Lulu jumps into the picture to seek out Tubby, but finds a fat captain in pantaloons, talking in a fake Italian accent and claiming to be Columbus. Of course, it is Tubby in disguise, and the two witness the discovery of America, as Tubby sights in his spyglass a shore covered in Indian-style advertisements, including for “White Howl” cigars (play on “White Owl”), “Bow and Arrow Collars” (reference to the “Arrow” shirt company), and “Four Noses Fire Water” (play on “Four Roses” bourbon). Lulu “plants” the flag, which grows out of the ground from a seed by adding water, then she and Tubby shoot off Roman candles to celebrate the event – until Lulu recognizes Tubby at last, and turns the spray of fireworks upon him. Tubby races for the pages of the book, running atop them, and disappears into the next chapter, with Lulu close behind.
Next thig Lulu knows, she is in a Pilgrim village. She finds Tubby again, playing the part of John Aldrich in the courtship of Miles Standish, giving wolf whistles to the lovely Priscilla. Lulu breaks up the romance with a slingshot aimed at Tubby’s rear, and the chase is on again over the book’s pages to another chapter. Lexington finds Tubby playing Paul Revere, on a horse much too slow for the task, who reacts to Tubby’s prodding, by saying. “Listen, Mac, if I could run faster, I’d be in the Kentucky Derby”. Lulu fixes the problem by fastening a skyrocket to the horse’s tail, making Tibby the first jet-propelled messenger. Suddenly, the ground bulges upwards under Lulu’s feet, and she finds herself standing atop Bunker Hill. A single redcoat (Tubby again) advances, while Lulu pulls out a musket. “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes”, reminds Tubby, as he cleverly puts on a pair of sunglasses. But Lulu employs a strategy guaranteed to work on only Tubby, as she pulls out a large ice cream cone and slowly licks its appealing scoop. Tubby’s eyes pop out in ravenous appetite, knocking the glasses from his face, and Lulu quickly takes aim and fires. Tubby makes an exit once again, and Lulu pursues him past a settlers’ camp, where an old scout warns that Injuns are coming, after their scalps. He activates a siren, with a sign reading “Hair Raid Alarm”. “But where are the Indians?”, asks Lulu. From behind a rock, an Indian appears, dressed in a baseball uniform, and states, “We’re in the American League”. A tribe pursues Lulu, who leads them to Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth, tripping them into the water with a rope across their path. Each of the warriors emerge from the water as babies, while Lulu sings, “One little, teo little, three little indians…” The last “Indian”, however, is Tubby, as the Tenth little indian boy, who douses Lulu with a bucket of water from the fountain. Lulu shrinks out of her dress, reverting back to an infant, and sits on the ground crying. The scene transforms back to the present, where Lulu is still in a semi-doze from her dream, awakening to find that the fountain water is actually a shot from a water pistol held by Tubby at his desk. Tubby decides to take the idea one better, reloading his water pistol with ink from his inkwell. Lulu spots the tactic, and defends herself by holding up her history book as a shield, causing the ink to rebound off the book, straight into the teacher’s face. With the telltale drippings of ink pointing straight to Tubby, the blue-faced teacher rises from his desk, ruler at the ready, ordering Tubby, “Hold out your hand.” Obviously, however, Tubby’s hand wasn’t the intended target, as the final shot shows Tubby walking back home, with a glowing red sore butt, Lulu walking behind to fan it, laughing, “Boy, you sure stuck your neck out that time!”.
A Bout With a Trout (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 10/30/47 – I. Sparber, dir.) – Lulu’s back again, this time without Tubby. Despite her time in the dunce’s corner in the last episode, she’s still not hot on book learning. She’d just as soon sleep in, where she ensures sweet dreams by hanhing a lollipop from a string over her bed, so she can lick on the inhales of each snore. Mom calls to awaken her, and Lulu is instantly dressed with a spring from her bed (her clothes also hung from the ceiling so that she can leasp into them). In a retreaded gag from Fleischer’s “The Kids in the Shoe”, Lulu brushes her teeth by smiling before the mirror, then spreading toothpaste on the reflected smile and brushing the glass. Breakfast is quickly ingested by lining up in a row a glass of milk, a soft-boiled egg in an egg cup, and a glass of milk – then sucking up all of them simultaneously with three straws. Her schoolbooks are placed above the front door frame, falling neatly into her hands as she opens the door. Quick as a flash, Lulu arrives at the school – but not to study. For she has one more thing prepared and at the ready – a fishing rod and reel, hidden under the front step of the schoolhouse, which she quickly grabs, and is off for the nearest fishing hole.
On her way, she encounters a crisis of conscience, with her shoulder angel and devil. The angel in her soul says a line in a book is worth twice a fish on the hook. The devil tempts by reaching down with a pitchfork and hauling in an easy catch from the water for Lulu to examine. The angel is disposed of in the usual manner, dating back to “Mickey’s Pal Pluto” (1933) – by pulling her halo down over her arms, then sweepung her away. So Lulu prepares for a day of leisure under a tree, wuth a special sure-fire lure shaped like a female fish with a seductive hip swish, to make any male break into a wolf whistle. She quickly attracts a prospective catch, and tries to reel in. (There is a flaw to her method – How do you get the male fish to take the hook, since his interests will be anything other than to swallow the bait?) The Paramount writers overlook this flaw, by somehow getting the fish on the line without being seen by the camera, and as Lulu pulls back on the rod, the line suddenly gives up its reistance, sending Lulu a step backward, to smack her head into the trunk of a tree. Lulu is knocked cold, and begins to see swirling stars. They transform into a vision of the heavens, as the film becomes a music video to the tune “Swingin’ On a Star” – recent hit from the Bing Crosby feature, “Going My Way”. Amidst the “stars” are animated photographs of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and comedian Jerry Colonna (their lips animated to sing the song). It is Bing’s real voice on soundtrack, probably lifted from the feature. Hope’s voice sounds unusually convincing – is it possible he consented to specially record one line of lyric for this film? Colonna’s voice is impersonated – a mimicking which would appear frequently in Paramount cartoons, including in the Noveltoon “Pleased To Eat You” shortly thereafter. Lulu symbolically swings on a playground swing attached to two stars, but is shown by a talking schoolhouse the alternative lives she might lead if she chooses the wrong path and avoids her studies, briefly transforming her into a mule, pig, fish, and monkey. None of these lives being appealing to her, Lulu thinks it over, and ventures into the school. There, the letters of the alphabet and numbers 1 through 10 are her fellow classmates, welcoming her to the classroom, and performing a conga-line dance with her up to a staircase of books. Lulu climbs books on every study known to man, up through the roof of the schoolhouse and into the heavens, where she meets the crescent moon face to face. A sprinkle of moondust transforms itself into a shimmering cap and gown upon Lulu, as the moon hands Lulu a diploma. Planet earth also arrives to shake Lulu’s hand.
But the scene begins to dissolve back to reality. Lulu awakens to find her hands still being shaken by the vibrations of the fishing pole, as she pulls on the line and finally lands the fish. But instead of keeping it, she lets her catch go, then zooms back to school so fast, she upsets all the boards on a wooden bridge while crossing. She arrives just in time for school’s closing, entering class right past the teacher who is dismissing the other kids. The angry teacher orders Lulu to write on the board a thousand times, “I’ll never play hookey again”. Lulu carries out her “sentence” – but cuts her workload dramatically, by fastening eight pieces of chalk to a yardstick, allowing her to complete eight sentences at a single stroke.
Kiddie Koncert (Lantz/Universal, Musical Miniature, 4/23/48 – Dick Lundy, dir.), presents a grade-school recital of the “Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna” overture by Von Suppe. Musical director is Wally Walrus, who appears with the kids on the stage of a school auditorium, making an unusual entrance, as a door frame descends from the rafters onto the podium, Wally appearing magically behind it as the door swings open. His junior performers include a young rooster who plucks out pizzicato violin notes with his feet (while his Mom boasts to anyone in the audience within earshot, “That’s my boy”), a quartet of seals who emerge one after the other out of the bell of each other’s trumpets, and a droopy basset hound who plays a sad cello passage that turns on the water works in the eyes of the whole audience (including his equally droopy Pop, who lets out mournful howls). Attendees in the balcont fill the box to overflowing with teardrops. Even conductor Wally’s eyeballs fill internally with water, so that his irises scramble for air at the top, then dive into the fluid to pull a bathtub plug below and let the water out. The music finally takes a turn to the more cheerful. A multi-legged centipede provides a violin quartet with his four sets of hands. A shy ostrich hides his head in a stage knothole, reading his music from below the floor. A pig combines drumming and knitting at the same time, using knitting needles as drumsticks for a solo, finishing four pairs of socks in the process. A skunk plays a long, long horn, bell inside the auditorium and mouthpiece on the outside of the school. A worm dances on the strings of a violin, then pulls out the tuning handles when a young rooster tries to eat him, tying the rooster up in the violin strings. More general mayhem and spot gags are climaxed by a junior pig trumpeter blowing bubble gum while playing, getting his bubble stck to Wally’s baton. Wally struggles as the gum ensnares his gloves, collar, tuxedo, and, in a lift from Betty Boop’s “Judge for a Day”, leaves him in his underwear, caught in a spider’s web of gum, for the iris out.
Readin, ‘Ritin’, and ‘Rhythmetic (Paramount/Famous, Screen Song, 10/27/48 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.) is an odd casualty, which no one seems to have a print of excepting pre-print elements in UCLA’s possession. Was this another instance where a soundtrack element was damaged so it didn’t match up with the picture (the most commonly-found defect in the elements supplied to U.M.& M.)? No one has ever explained the film’s lack of restoration (nor other absentees, such as “Cat O’ Nine Ails”, also hiding in the vaults). No synopsis appears to come to our rescue to describe whatever action there is. However, a studio disc has been located, consisting of dialogue lines without music and effects track, plus the music and singing for the chorus featured during the sing-along follow of the bouncing ball. It’s far better than nothing, but it gives little insight to the gag or plot material of the film. The dialogue consists only of a calling of the roll by the teacher at a classroom consisting of various animal species, much like Fleischer’s in “An Elephant Never Forgets”. An elephant responds in a decidedly bored nasal voice. The giraffe has a faraway voice, suggesting his head is probably outside through the roof. A skunk may be responding to the call from outside the building, and his voice sounds like the basso “B. O.” of then-current ad campaigns for Lifebuoy soap. The teacher seems to have the same voice used for Mama Duck in the Baby Huey series, suggesting that, as in the Fleischer predecessor, she may be of avian breed. There appears to be a brief free for all between the students, again probably imitating book-throwing fights in both Fleisher’s “Elephant” and previous Screen Song “School Days”, but this time the outburst is quickly quelled by the teacher’s call for “Quiet!” The teacher then calls for a singing lesson, leading into the bouncing ball sequence. The brevity of dialogue would suggest that all opening sequences must have been played in pantomime, probably focusing on the various animals getting ready for and walking to school as in the previous films. There is no audio clue to the curtain gag, as all we hear on the record is “Class dismissed.”
How does a duck hunting picture, Lucky Ducky (MGM, 10/9/48, Tex Avery, dir.), possibly fit into this article? Only through the random wit of Avery for an unpredictable sight gag from nowhere. In the middle of a seemingly never-ending chase, the characters come to a stop at a highway intersection, where a sign cautions them, “School Crossing”. On the cross-road travels an unusual pedestrian – an entire little red school house, with feet, walking across the highway!
Professor Tom (MGM, Tom and Jerry 10/30/48 – William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, dir.) – Tom Cat a professor? With his track record for never catching Jerry, one would think he has little to pass on as a life lesson to aspiring young felines – excepting maybe the old adage, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Yet Tom stands before a class consisting of one lone kitten (possibly one of the three from 1940’s “The Milky Way”), pointing to a blackboard with the helpful illustrated instructions, “Mice live in holes”, and “Cats chase mice”. The student yawns and is barely able to stay awake, until Tom taps his pointer repeatedly on the blackboard to express his irritation. Meanwhile, a new line of instruction appears on the blackboard: “Mice are very nice.” Of course, this is the instruction of Jerry Mouse, and when Tom objects, Jerry attacks Tom’s eardrums by scraping the chalk against the blackboard (a lift from a Tex Avery gag used to “heckle the audience” in “One Ham’s Family”). Tom tries to give chase, but his dim-witted pupil likes the chalk sound, so freaks out Tom again by repeating Jerry’s scratches on the blackboard. Pointing again to the line “Cats chase mice”, Tom directs the student to get going. The student follows Jerry, but doesn’t seem to quite know why. Jerry extends his hand, and the kitten eagerly accepts a friendly handshake, until Tom’s scream tells him that this is a no-no. The kitten’s pursuit gets hung-up on every piece of low level furniture, or throw rug that isn’t nailed down. Tom attempts to join the chase, but Jerry uses the kitten as a sheld, eclipsing himself from Tom behind the kitten’s back in a game of circling and reversing direction, continuing to fool Tom as the cat lifts the kitten from the ground bodily, but Jerry remains unseen by hanging on to the kitten’s tail. Whle Tom continues to search aimlessly, Jerry is back at the blackboard, continuing his own lessong to the kitten, reading “Cats and muce are buddies. Cats and mce are chums.” (If you want to influence the masses, get ‘em while they’re young and impressionable.) Tom tries to interfere again, but Jerry tickles him in the belly with the tip of the pointer – then hands the pointer over to the kitten to take over tickling while he makes an escape. The rest of the film has little to do with instruction, falling into the inevitable chase mode. Action moves outside, as Tom is locked out of the house, and tries to break down the front door with a shoulder rush. The kitten opens the front door just before Tom’s impact, then Jerry rigs an innertube across the steps of the back porch as Tom emerges out the rear door of the house. The innertube slingshots Tom into a milabox, in which he is trapped. Jerry pulls out a two-by-four to give Tom a smack on the fanny, but the kitten intervenes – so he can do it to Tom himself. The kitten then puts Tom’s mortarboard hat on Jerry to demonstrate who’s smarter, and he and Jerry march away, to the unusual music cue of “We’re Off To See the Wizard.”
A new semester and a new decade, next time.