Here’s some good news with some bad news. The good news—finally, an animator breakdown on a Bob Clampett cartoon! The bad news, however, is that only the first page of the animator draft is available. It’s not such a loss, since the second page only constitutes the last third of the film; animator identifications during these sections will be based on educated guesses.
Bob Clampett’s A Gruesome Twosome features an embryonic version of Tweety, seen here as a flesh-colored newborn bird without feathers, as he appeared in A Tale of Two Kitties (1942) and Birdy and the Beast (1944). The other central characters in this film are the dopey, pot-bellied cat from Birdy and the Beast—this time in a yellow color, and addressed as “Snooks”— and a red cat based on popular entertainer Jimmy Durante (addressed as “Colonel”), as they fight over the affections of a small female cat. The model sheet prepared for A Gruesome Twosome by Tom McKimson, as well as the lobby card, revealed an earlier character design for the rival cat before Clampett decided to utilize a resemblance to the “Great Schnozzola.”
Mel Blanc and Sara Berner (as the girl cat) recorded their dialogue track on February 12, 1944, while another vocal session with Blanc occurred two weeks later on February 26. (Blanc recorded another dialogue track, presumably a pick-up session months later, on December 23.) In between the production and release of this cartoon, the staff changed significantly. Bob McKimson was promoted to director when Frank Tashlin left the studio by August 1944. Rod Scribner was transferred to McKimson’s unit, while Manny Gould and Basil Davidovich were dispatched to a new directorial unit headed by Art Davis. This unit was formed after Clampett left the studio by May 1945, a month before the release of A Gruesome Twosome. The first page of the draft for this cartoon, handwritten by Clampett on an exposure sheet, gives credit to each of the four credited animators in their scenes.
McKimson and Scribner, two animators inherited from Clampett after Tex Avery left the studio in 1941, are both present in the first few scenes of the cartoon. McKimson animates an impressive feat for a Warners cartoon—his footage of scene 2, with the three cats interacting on the fence, lasts about one minute and twenty seconds in a single shot without camera movement. The scene itself does not overstay its welcome. The viewer’s attention is held by its innuendo-riddled dialogue and by McKimson’s strong poses and acting through his solid draftsmanship.
When the yellow cat yanks the Durante cat off the fence, the film cuts to scene 3 with a simulated camera shake. Now, Rod Scribner assumes the animation of the interloping hound that inexplicably appears on-screen to plant a big kiss on the girl cat. Scribner also animates the two suitors pausing their violent fight and her proposal for them to retrieve a little bird. (The inking/assistant work on the girl cat’s close-ups is rather crude, compared to the scenes of “Colonel” and “Snooks.”)
Basil Davidovich and Manny Gould animate much of the hunt between the two cats. Gould arrived at the studio shortly after his termination from Screen Gems in 1941, and Russian-born Basil Davidovich—also a former Screen Gems animator— landed in Clampett’s unit by the fall of 1943. Davidovich’s work during these scenes display a great sense of weight as they race each other. For instance, after the Durante cat sabotages the yellow cat by tying his tail to a heavy iron, it stretches and strains before the heavy object lifts off the surface. When the Durante cat obstructs the dopey yellow cat with a washtub, the iron is pulled back, which strikes the cat and renders him into liquid, as he is poured out onto the ground. Gould animates with more distorted drawings, but more solid than Scribner’s, as evident in his scene of the Durante cat discarding the washtub out of camera range, and reverting back with a telescope.
Gould handles more footage throughout much of the cartoon; he is credited with the two cats spotting Tweety in his nest—with some partial re-used animation from Birdy and the Beast on the yellow cat—and their territorial one-upmanship when they yowl and arch their backs at each other. In scene 28, Gould draws a devilish anticipation pose on the Durante cat, ready to pounce on the singing Tweety, but not before being stopped by his rival. Scribner animates the brief scene of the two cats at their most brutal, even resorting to multiple rounds of gunfire, before the two realize their quarrel is delaying their progress of capturing the tiny bird. As animated by Gould, the Durante cat whispers his method of “stragety” to the yellow cat, prodding his large proboscis into his ear.
The cats’ plan with the floppy, vaudeville horse costume—the purpose of which is never explained—is interrupted again by Tweety, when he agitates a bee, smacking it around with wide-eyed apathy, before he drops it inside their outfit. After swatting the horse’s rear with a big stick, Tweety is seen pulling on the reins, dressed as the Lone Ranger in a cowboy hat and eye mask. Davidovich presumably animated these close-up scenes of Tweety, since the drawing does not fully match the style of Gould or Scribner. Manny Gould animates many of the scenes of the horse costume, including a frenetic succession of drawings when it goes into a wild spinning action before exiting the frame.
Before the two cats can formulate another scheme (animated by Scribner), Tweety incites a bulldog to attack the two cats by smacking him with his own bone (animated by Gould)—his surprised reaction before he is struck again is a nice touch. As the cats are trapped and beaten inside of their costume out into the horizon, Tweety delivers his final line—before morphing into Jimmy Durante—and an innocent, but mischievous smirk to the audience (animated by Scribner).
When the censors reviewed the work print of this cartoon for approval, during the scene of the Durante cat calling Tweety “the naked genius” (a reference to a 1943 Broadway comedy production written by Gypsy Rose Lee), it was noted that the little bird, in fact, appeared naked. When Friz Freleng used Tweety for Tweetie Pie, Tweety was given yellow feathers and became a canary and paired with Sylvester. Tweetie Pie started production around the time of A Gruesome Twosome’s release in June 1945, a month after Clampett left the studio. Freleng’s version of Tweety was not inherently brutal as his first three films, but the general idea—the cloying presence of a tiny, naive child setting up predators for their own suffering—still remained intact.
(Please note: The model sheet, draft and lobby card publicity refer to the film as THE Gruesome Twosome; the on-screen title is A Gruesome Twosome).
(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Keith Scott, Mark Kausler, Greg Duffell and Michael Barrier for their help.)