Animation Trails
December 11, 2019 posted by Charles Gardner

Countdown to 2020: Time Waits For No Toon

Time for something completely different. The year, and the decade, are rapidly waning. We’re into a countdown before we enter into the 2020’s – hopefully with 20/20 vision to a brighter and more prosperous future. (Yeah, dream on, Charles!). The time thus seems right for an overview of cartoons dealing with the fictional figures and more realistic timepieces that have helped us calculate countdowns to the New Year through many a generation – clocks, and Father Time.

Clocks were not specifically at the head of the cartoon prop catalog of Marvin Acme, but maybe they should have been. The chronometers on which we depend so much to regulate our daily lives appeared innumerable times as an animation center of attention, providing anything from a brief throwaway gag to taking on lives of their own and becoming active heroes on which a whole episode could be built. Various types of clocks served these purposes – but undoubtedly, the most prolific performers were cuckoo clocks and their resident aviary (suitable for a medium where most characters can easily be classified as “cuckoo” themselves). Sometimes the storylines utilize only the clocks’ outer features – while others give us the “inner workings” of the character, taking place nearly entirely in the maze of mechanisms within. Sometimes the clock becomes an instrument of terror, regulating weapons of mass destruction or a death trap. More often, out timepieces are played for pure laughs. I’ll try to cover in this series of articles the lion’s share of memorable instances where the clock plays more than a passing role, and for a matter of seconds or minutes becomes the center of attention.

While chronological chronicling is the order of the day, one aspect which shall be carved out from this discussion (which might someday merit a discussion of its own) is the time machine. This favorite of the imagination of H. G. Wells, who has already provided subject matter for two previous articles in this series (invisibility, and Wars of the Worlds), will have to bide its time for another day. Not to say, however, that a few select episodes to be discussed herein will not succeed in “turning back the clock” by means alternative to Wells’ device.

One such instance begins our survey – among the earliest I have been able to discover from the silent era. Felix Trifles With Time (Pat Sullivan/Educational Pictures, Felix the Cat, 8/23/25) finds Felix in his usual element – the back alley garbage cans – and none too pleased with the poor pickings of food available within. Having eyes for bigger game like a roast chicken on the top of a tall building, Felix scales the heights atop the booming exhales of a street musician tuba player – only to get hurled by the apartment owner back to the pavement below in a nice shot of descending perspective (reminiscent of future Wile E. Coyote falls), climaxed by the word “WOW”as he impacts the street. After detaching and inspecting one foot to see if it’s all right, Felix leaves in disgust. In his wanderings, he encounters Father Time walking through the woods. He begs Time that a cat can’t get along nowadays, and could he send Felix back to a better time, if only for a day. For a coin, Time agrees, and sets a large alarm clock backwards, past the 5th Century, past Year One, and into the Stone Age.

Activating the travel mode by merely bopping Felix on the head, a trademark-Sullivan series of fantastic fades, positive and negative image flashes and phase dissolves ushers Felix into prehistoric times. His first sight is a huge dinosaur bone, which turns out to be plenty tasty – that is, until it’s claimed by a “dogasaurus” – a sort of cross between a hound dog and a stegosaurus – who pursues Felix off a cliff (Felix saves himself by throwing a rock into a river below, catching the top of the resulting splash of water, and snipping off the top portion of the water stream which remains in the general shape of an umbrella so that he can float down). He passes a stone-age tailor shop, where a choosy customer is giving the tailor no end of trouble in selling him a suit. Spotting Felix outside, the tailor lures Felix in with an offer of a small bone – then skins him, tossing Felix outside with his body reduced to a skeleton. Felix follows the satisfied customer to the river, where the caveman decides to take a swim, removing the “Felix suit” in the process. Felix reclaims his outfit, leaving the unclad caveman shaking his fist from behind a rock. Felix tries to hide behind a “tree”, but finds the “trunk” is merely the leg of something that already has a trunk – a mammoth, who attempts to trample him. Back in the present, Father Time’s alarm clock goes off. “Time’s up”, he observes, and resets the clock back to the 20th Century. Felix, in another effects laden transition, disappears from under the mammoth’s feet, and returns to the present where he started – in the alley. He happily dives into a trash can, retrieving a tiny bone, and states, “No more stone age for me. Give me the garbage.”

Again, the silent era provides only possible hints of other potential stepping stones along the present trail. Two Koko the Clown “Out of the Inkwell”/”Inkwell Imps” installments A Stitch In Time (5/1/24) and Koko Beats Time (2/8/29), titles of which possibly indicate connection to our subject matter, do not appear to be available from any known sources, with no plot synopsis available online, and may be possibly lost. Any info on these, fellow toon detectives?

Koko’s Klock (11/26/27) only marginally joins in this article, as it seems to lose its way in continuity and topic almost before it starts. Max is settling down to bed in a nightshirt, and realizes his alarm clock has only one hand. Squeezing Koko into the shape of a minute hand, he installs Koko onto the clock face, and tells him to wake Max at 5:00. Koko gets bored, and, summoning Fitz out of thin air from a visualized whistle note, they concoct an idea to wake Max differently – by a hotfoot from a candle placed between his toes. The plan is upset by a passing hookworm, who bites Koko, giving him a dose from a bottle of “sleeping germs”. Koko dozes off, while above, Max twitches his toes and drops the candle, which lands on Koko’s back for a surprising arousal back to reality. It now being almost 5:00, Koko and Fitz drag Max’s clothes under the blankets, fully dressing him while he still sleeps. Koko produces a mop, with which he wipes away the live action surroundings around the sleeping Max, then paints in a new live action background, placing Max on the running board of his car while Koko returns to the clock face and sounds the alarm. Max seems to take the whole thing in stride, merely sucking up Koko into his fountain pen and capping it for the fade out.

Koko in 1999 (3/10/27) stays much more on point, though beginning on a tangent. Max draws in Koko, then starts to assemble a series of paper cutout puzzles, from which he assembles other clowns, placing them on the drawing board. “Now you’re not the only clown in town”, he tells Koko. Koko gets annoyed, and pushes the first batch off the drawing board. “Can’t stand the competition?”. Max razzes him. A second batch of rivals is similarly disposed of. Deciding to fix Koko for this, the next figure Max places on the board is not a clown, but Father Time. Koko shoves him too, but Time retaliates with a slash of his scythe. Time pursues Koko, and in the process the years roll up – to 1999. Koko finally outdistances Time, but finds himself surrounded by huge futuristic skyscrapers. Entering a building, robotic hands from panels in walls strip him down to his shorts, deposit him in a pool for a morning bath, then dress him in a freshly-created outfit. More hands from panels provide him with an elaborate morning shave, and still more shove a multi-course breakfast into his mouth. A new machine attracts Koko’s attention – “Matrimonial Questions Answered – 25¢.” Koko deposits a coin and pulls a lever – wheels spin – and out pops an attractive fiancee. Koko and the little woman are whisked in front of a tall rectangular robot who utters a few words, points at each of them to hear “I do”s, and ties the knot. Koko and the missus proceed further along and encounter a door with a buzzer. The wife nodding approval, Koko pushes the buzzer. The door opens, and a mechanical claw deposits two twin babies in clown hats into Koko’s arms. Koko tries to hand them off to his spouse, but she refuses. Koko drops the kids and attempts to retreat, but scolding wife backs him into a corner – then tears a chunk out of the paper background, lifting Koko with it, and tears Koko up into little paper pieces, which she throws off the drawing board onto Max’s desk. Max solves this untidiness by assembling two more paper puzzles into a pair of miniature live-action maids, who, against giant props, sweep the paper bits off Max’s desk, set his pen in order, and cap the inkwell for the fade out.

The Cuckoo Murder Case (Ub Iwerks/MGM, Flip the Frog, 10/18/30) is perhaps one of the earliest talkies centered on a clock. On a dark and stormy night (mirroring previous gothic settings from Iwerks’ classic The Skeleton Dance (1929)), a shadow of a shrouded figure enters an old house, and flashes the beam of a flashlight on a cuckoo clock hanging in a corner. The clock (whose “face” has literal eyes and a mouth) points its hands at 12:00 – but nothing is happening. It extends one hand to “knock” on the door to the cuckoo’s chamber above. A tired, yawning cuckoo slowly emerges, and starts to cuckoo in the hour (stopping intermittently for more yawns, forcing the clock to jab it with its hand in the rear end to prompt the bird to finish the job). The cuckoo finally gives out with a thirteenth “cuckoo”, as a bony hand across the room raises a pistol, and fires off shot after shot. The bird darts out of the way of all but the last bullet, which stops, reverses course, and drills a gaping hole through the bird’s round abdomen. Inspecting the damage, the cuckoo extends its neck clear through the hole in its own body before it is convinced it’s done for. It removes a lily from the wooden engravings around the clock face, and keels over off its perch. The distraught clock spots a wall phone with an old-fashioned conical mouthpiece nearby – and phones a number by removing four digits off its own clock face and dropping the numbers into the mouthpiece, causing a call to be placed to Sherlock Flip, detective. Of course, various spooky and atmospheric episodes follow. The clock meanwhile weeps in the corner, but finds that despite the loss of the cuckoo, he is not alone. Out from the cuckoo’s chamber roll two eggs – which hatch two baby cuckoos, to double-chime the new hour. Meanwhile, Flip finds the culprit hidden away down a darkened corridor of the house – the embodiment of Death himself, who ink-stamps in a book next to a picture of the cuckoo, “Out”, then “flips” to the next page – to a picture of Flip! Turning his gaze to note that Flip is already there, Death rubs its skeletal hands together, and makes a lunge for Flip, who escapes between his legs under the shroud. In well animated tracking perspective, Flip rushes down a corridor, toppling furniture in his path, and dives headlong out the window into blackness for a surprise fade-out and ending.

Iwerks’ ex-boss Disney follows suit the following year with The Clock Store (Disney/Columbia, Silly Symphony, 9/28/31 – Wilfred Jackson, dir.). The film makes heavy use of the popular musical composition, “In the Clock Store” (aka “In a Clock Store”) by Charles J. Orth – a “descriptive” light classical number full of chimes, bells, and sound-effects, of sufficient popularity to become the very first selection ever issued to disc recording by Columbia Records in approximately 1901. Following a lamplighter down an evening street, the camera closes in on a closed clock store. A row of cuckoo clocks chirps in the hour, with the last one having a stutter – having to pause and whistle to get the word “Cuckoo” out. An alarm clock quartet do a bellringers’ act. Pocket watches rhythmically tap their metal covers (one liking it so much he won’t stop until another whacks him with its watch chain). Wristwatches dance in a snaky flexible manner. A pair of ceramic Victorian figures on an antique clock dance a well-animated minuet (these characters, with slight modifications, would be remembered again as the starring couple of “The China Shop”, discussed below). A grandfather and grandmother clock cavort in creaky fashion. Dutch figures clog-dance before a windmill clock. And a boxing match develops as a wall clock engages in mischief and alternates hitting two alarm clocks with its pendulum when they’re not looking, making each think the other is responsible. The other clocks cheer them on as they engage in fisticuffs with their “hands”. As one clock becomes battered so that it is barely able to stand (only braced up by its sprung mainspring), the other clock attempts to deliver a final “haymaker” blow – but only succeeds in socking himself and getting knocked cold. Another wall clock counts him out and declares “springy” the winner. Two excited cuckoos in the corner crash into each other on emerging from their doors and fall limp, as the shot irises out. Animation is traditionally advanced, with nice lighting effects on the lamplighter scene, and many shots where the animation is nearly live-action smooth, plus nice personality animation on the fight sequence. Lacking in plot, but still a very-enjoyable six-minute warmup to any program.

The Crystal Gazebo (aka “The Crystal Gazabo”) (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Krazy Kat, 11/7/32, Ben Harrison/Manny Gould, dir.), an endless pursuit cartoon between Krazy and a mad swami who’s abducted Kitty, features an unusual death trap. Krazy passes through a small hole in the wall, only to have the path he entered through blocked to prevent his retreat. He finds himself inside the body of a grandfather’s clock, the lower portions of which are made of glass. Ahead of him lies the front door panel of the clock body, and freedom. But between him and the door, the clock pendulum swings – suspended from which is a free swinging knife blade blocking the path of his exit. Not a bad way to cause some damage.

Honorable mention goes to Time On My Hands (Fleischer/Paramount, Screen Song, 12/23/32 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Willard Bowsky/Thomas Goodson, anim.), which while including nearly no actual animation of clocks excepting a brief morph of three turtles into alarm clocks, features a stunning integrated live-action musical number of the title tune by Ethel Merman, seated astride the hour-hand of a nicely constructed mock-up of the face of a large tower clock (and even pointing to the clock’s numbers when she reaches the words “one” or “two” in the lyric). To think that simple cartoons in those days could afford the budget to build such a well-designed set. While the cartoon adds nothing to the time theme, it is further quite notable as featuring an extended unbilled cameo for Betty Boop, appearing as a mermaid in an undersea sequence – completely topless throughout! No lacy brassiere to shield the view – and Betty really flaunts her stuff in seductive poses to a passing deep sea diver. Yes, the Fleischer animators had probably been chomping at the bit for this chance, after all the “nearly there” situations they had animated for her in previous episodes. And for those that might innocently excuse their motivations as merely depicting a mythical creature in a commonly acceptable manner, the artists dispel any pretense of such innocence by having Betty reeled in by a fishing cat, who flips her up out of the water, causing her to lose her fish fins and reveal lower undergarments and human legs, while still topless. Betty really is Betty after all! Republic Home Video discreetly chose to make no mention or inclusion of this episode in their Betty Boop laserdisc and VHS multi-reel set years ago, nor is it included on the more recent Boop DVD’s. Sounds like a “cover-up” to me.

Shuffle Off to Buffalo (Warner, Merrie Melodies, Hugh Harman/Rudolf Ising, 7/8/33 – “Drawn by” Isadore (Friz) Freleng and Paul Smith) deserves a re-mention here, as a Father Time character presides over the operations of the heavenly headquarters where babies are produced and storks get their delivery orders. Full details on the film can be found in my previous article, “Holy Matrimony! And a Stack of Storks (Pt. 1)”, this website.

Croon Crazy (Van Buren/RKO, Cubby Bear, 12/29/33 – Steve Muffati, dir.), a tribute to broadcast radio similar in tone to Warner’s “I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song” of the same year, features a running gag involving a clock, amidst Cubby Bear’s one-man performance impersonating all the radio stars who cancelled from appearing on his show at the last minute. An announcer tells the audience that when they hear the musical gong, it will be exactly 12:00. With mallet in hand aimed at a Chinese gong, he waits for a large clock on the wall to point to twelve. The scene cuts back to him every so often, as the minute hand draws nearer and nearer the hour. The announcer starts to perspire. Just as it seems the time has come, the minute hand falls backward to the half-hour! It rises again, but tremulously – and wavers back and forth between the hour and the ten minute mark. The announcer now sweats profusely, and strips down to his undershirt. Up and down teeters the minute hand, frustrating the announcer’s false starts to hit his target. As it seems the hour will never come, the hand finally zips to the top and a small chime is heard. The announcer rears back – but instead of hitting the gong, smashes the clock, leaving the stage strewn with gears and springs. Cubby emerges from the debris, and closes the cartoon by bonking the announcer on the head with clock parts.

The China Shop (Disney/UA, Silly Symphony, 1/13/34, Wilfred Jackson, dir.) is a wonderfully executed and musically-scored visit to another “midnight in a” setting, this time a shop dealing in china plates and figurines. While the stars of our melodrama are a male and female pair of Victorian figurines (lifted from Jackson’s previous “The Clock Store”, discussed above, marvelously detailed with reflective surfaces, and overly bulky proportions in some dimensions as would be the custom for china molding to ensure durability of certain shapes), who perform an elaborate minuet on a mirrored surface, a principal character is a large china wall clock, who acts as watchman for the midnight escapades, seeing that the elderly shop owner has securely locked the front door and departed before sounding its gong to give the “all clear” to the store’s “inhabitants”. Among such inhabitants, however, is a dark-green china creature who is half-devil, half-satyr, who takes an evil liking to the lovely Victorian female. He seizes her, locking her inside a glass case, and swallows the key with a glass-like “clink”. A ferocious battle royal ensues, with the satyr picking up and hurling every china object in sight at the hero, who barely avoids the fate of the objects thrown (which generally smash into bits).

Using the pewter top from a beer stein as a shield, the hero ultimately succeeds in reaching the villain, kicking the key out of his insides, and tossing him to land in a china skull. The villain is not through yet, and lifts the heavy skull above his head to hurl at the hero for a death blow. But above him is the watchman clock, who has seen about enough from this pest. The clock raises its metal pendulum and smashes the skull in the satyr’s hands – then smashes the satyr too, sweeping away the shattered china fragments with his pendulum like a broom. Next morning, the clock is the first to see the old man returning to open the shop. In the melee, the clock has suffered some damage, with part of its mainspring sticking out over its head. The clock pulls the spring loops together to form a sort of golden halo, as if to tell the owner, “I didn’t do it.” The owner enters – and nearly loses his glasses at the shock of seeing nearly every item in his store cracked, chipped, or partially broken. But he recovers quickly, getting an idea worthy of a clever salesman. He goes to the front window, where the Victorian figures stand in a slightly cowering way, wondering what the boss will do at their now tattered condition. The boss merely removes the window sign reading “Fine China”, and replaces it with one reading, “Rare Antiques”. And he increases each of the figurine’s price tag from $5.00 to $10.00! The female figurine shyly covers her giggles under her fan as the scene irises out on a clever and perfect ending.

Red Hot Mamma (Fleischer/Paramount, Betty Boop, 2/2/34), previously reviewed in my Go To Hades (Pt. 1) article, deserves mention for an original clock gag. On a winter’s night, things get so cold in Betty Boop’s home that an alarm clock on the mantel wraps its hands around itself to try to keep warm, then dons mittens for further warmth.

Grandfather’s Clock (Van Buren/RKO, Toddle Tales, 6/29/34 – Burt Gillett/Jim Tyer, dir.) – An attempt to bring Van Buren studios “up to speed” with Disney, by more full animation and a try at telling “cutesy” stories aimed at a younger audience – through a short lived series of cartoons framed by live action footage of toddlers cavorting, who are told stories by various objects or animals, often with some lesson to be learned. It’s odd to see Jim Tyer’s name associated with this production, as none of Tyer’s trademark stylistic or eccentric off-model animation appears within (proving that the man could draw on-model when he had to). The nearly non-existent storyline follows a typical day in Clockland (as told by the kids’ living room grandfather’s clock, which features a live-action face (was this a prediction of “Clutch Cargo’s synchro-vox?). Attempting to create a Disney-esque world of living walking clocks that play kindergarten games, go to school, and engage in after-school football, Gillett and Tyer embellish backgrounds, flowers, trees, etc. with clock faces and hands, but the result, while a massive artistic upgrade for Van Buren, lacks much in real humor or surprise, and amounts to only a pale imitation of Gillett’s former boss in the days of “Three Little Pigs”. Ultimately, a junior alarm clock runs into the goalpost during the football game, and his parts fall out of his body. The grandfather clock, senior citizen of the community, takes charge, scoops up the loose pieces, and carries them to the clockmaker’s shop. The clockmaker (also a grandfather’s clock himself), performs emergency repairs before a hushed crowd of clocks watching in at the window. He has slight trouble compressing the mainspring, causing the audience to gasp. But as he replaces the alarm clock’s balance wheel (shaped like a heart), the clock begins ticking again, and happily revives. Everyone outside musically chimes cheerily in celebration, as the scene reverts back to live action, and grandfather impresses upon the youngsters to treat clock carefully, as they have feelings too. An alarm clock the kids have been playing with suddenly goes off, causing the youngest child to cry in surprise, as we fade out.

Holiday Land (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Color Rhapsody (Scrappy), 11/9/34, Sid Marcus, story, Art Davis, anim.), Columbia’s first venture into 2-strip Technicolor animation, is a wonderful all-purpose holiday cartoon. Attempting its best to compete with Disney’s Silly Symphonies (and actually succeeding in going up against them with a nomination for the year’s Academy Awatd), this film is perhaps a bit soft in its portrayal of Scrappy himself, who is much less brash and eccentric than in original Dick Heumor episodes). But what is lacks in true Scrappy personality, it makes up for with charm and (by Columbia standards) genuine spectacle. Sleepy Scrappy doesn’t want to wake up to go to school, and wishes it was a holiday – in fact, that every day were a holiday. Dozing off, Scrappy, in his dreams, gets his wish, as a breeze from the window blows sheets off a wall calendar, from which emerge from pages for each holiday the miniature symbols of such days – turkeys from Thanksgiving, rabbits from Easter, witches from Halloween, Santa from Christmas, and Father Time from New Years Day. Father Time acts as master of ceremonies, climbing up Scrappy’s bed and beckoning him to follow to the land where every day’s a holiday.

He takes Scrappy to a large hall, where, in tableau fashion behind a series of curtains, the festivities of each holiday are always in progress. One curtain of course features New Years, with noisemakers, balloons, a dancing chorus of multiple Father Times, and a conveyor belt where Baby New Years are being manufactured by the dozens, with one Father Time stamping their respective year numbers on the back of each of their diapers. The tour goes round the calendar, wrapping up in a magnificent Thanksgiving feast – but as Father Time offers a toast to their guest of honor, his voice changes from basso to the voice of Scrappy’s mother – and Scrappy awakes from his dream to hear Mom telling him he’ll be late to school. Putting on a burst of super speed, Scrappy washes (with two drops of water), dresses, devours a small breakfast, grabs his books, and gets just outside the door – then decides what’s the use, turns full circle, and jumps back in bed again, for the iris out.

Little Dutch Plate (Warner, Merrie Melodies (2 strip Technicolor), 10/5/35 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.), features another running gag involving a cuckoo clock. This unusual film begins looking for all the world like a follow up to Disney’s “The China Shop” of the previous year, with various china and ceramic objects from an old Dutch kitchen coming to life, including a Dutch girl from a china plate, and a Dutch boy who is actually a salt shaker. Freleng even takes extra care with animation of a trio of blue and white china plate girls, using light blue outlines instead of black, making them appear to be seamless with the engravings on the china. But midway through the film, the resemblance to Disney begin to crumble, and is replaced by Warnerisms. A melodrama villain (labeled as actually a bottle of vinegar), threatens to foreclose the mortgage on the little girl’s Dutch windmill. The boy promises to get the money on time before the foreclosure hour of twelve, while the villain tries to persuade the girl to marry him to save the mill. The running gag begins above as a cuckoo emerges from a clock, announcing, “When you hear the sound of the chime, it will be exactly eleven-thirty. “ The chime, however, is rung in by a gnome figure atop the clock, who whacks the bird on the head with a little hammer.

While the boy searches for money (ultimately finding it by dynamite-blasting a set of gold false teeth into little nuggets), the clock hands keep rising to twelve o’clock – but every time the cuckoo tries to sound the hour, the gnome hits him with the hammer again, knocking him out – then turns the clock hands back to eleven-thirty again to give the boy more time. The villain uses another clock – a grandfather’s model – to good effect, by dragging the girl inside its main mechanism, and using a large whirling gear as a mini-buzzsaw for the old “tied to a log” saw cliffhanger for our heroine. The boy arrives in the nick of time with the dough, rescues the girl, and fights the villain, knocking his stopper head off his bottle body. The villain’s body searches blindly for its missing head – finally encountering another bottle with a more handsome male head. Installing the new face onto villain’s body brings about a complete change of personality to the little girl, who stops the boy from hitting the villain again, and walks off with the villain arm in arm, saying “You handsome man”, completely ignoring her rescuer. Certainly an ending that would never appear in a Disney cartoon. To ensure no further resemblance to Disney, the clock reaches twelve again, but this time the bird emerges prepared – with a machine gun – perforating the gnome full of bullets and finally uttering his long delayed cuckoos.

The Blow Out (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 4/4/36 – Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.) – One of Avery’s earliest assignments at Warner Brothers, and one of the earliest appearances of Porky Pig in a starring role. The studio was just coming off the final run of episodes featuring Buddy – in a past season that had seen much of the mood of the Buddy cartoons shift to adventures rather than random gag reels. Perhaps the influence of the adventure style was still prominent in the studio writers’ minds when word came down from the front office that Porky Pig and Beans the Cat were to be the new Looney Tunes stars. Finding roles for these new characters, whose personalities had not yet reached full development, possibly presented initial challenges similar to finding something for the persona-less Buddy to do, such that the writers remained tempted to invent fantastic adventure settings rather than rely on the traits of the character to carry a cartoon. Beans, for example, would wind up in a movie-studio encounter with Frankenstein’s Monster in Hollywood Capers (1935), and face a bevy of drawn monsters in A Cartoonist’s Nightmare (1935). Porky would team up with Beans to fight World War 1 in their only real joint effort, Boom Boom (1936). The moods of each of these episodes were considerably darker than Looney Tunes of the Bosko era, or of any films that would follow this season, with laughs and gags carrying considerably less weight than mood and minimal storyline. Even soon-to-be king of the gags Tex Avery was drawn into this trend with the episode now being reviewed, presenting one of the moodiest and least gag-driven episodes ever presided over by animation’s maestro of mayhem.

While standard black-ball Bolshevik bombs were a common prop even in the early talkies, this film perhaps marks one of the earliest uses in animation of the more advanced time bomb – in this case rigged inside an alarm clock packed with dynamite, a black bomb, firecrackers and skyrockets. A mad bomber picks out the Blotz Building as target for the device. Meanwhile, Porky Pig looks longingly in the window of an ice cream soda parlor – but has only half of the ten cents he needs to buy one. A passing pedestrian drops a cane on the sidewalk, and Porky, hardly noticing, reflexively hands the cane back to the man. To his surprise, he is rewarded with a penny, which he cheerily tosses in the air and deposits in a “pocket” that appears out of nowhere in his backside – a sort of living piggy-bank. Porky decides to make a career out of retrieving dropped objects – building his savings to 8 cents. He almost bags a whole nickel mislaid on the sidewalk – but (in one of the only gags in the film), a thrifty Scotty dog beats him to it. Along comes the bomber, depositing the alarm clock on the front step of the target building. Porky thinks it’s another lost object, and rushes around the corner with it, offering it to the bomber who waits with his fingers in his ears. The bomber shrieks at the sight, and tries to get away. In his earliest use of the trope that would become a standard gag for Droopy, Porky manages to show up everywhere the bomber goes, leading to endless chasing up tall buildings, down sewers, etc. The whole chase is underscored by Bernard Brown with heavy sinister music that entirely defeats the minimal comic impact of the preposterous situation of Porky always being one jump ahead, making the film play instead dramatically serious. Avery does not play the impending nature of the explosion up to its greatest extent visually, as no reference is made throughout the film to what time the bomb is set for, or what time it is presently – so it is possible that Brown and Avery were working at cross-purposes in their respective presentations. The police finally catch sight of the bomber and give chase, with Porky still clinging to the back of the bomber’s shroud. The bomber retreats into his cellar residence, with Avery attempting another exaggeration gag by having him lock four consecutively-layered doors, including five locks on the last one, barring the door, and placing crates and barrels against it – only to hear behind him the ticking clock, and to discover that Porky rode in with him. In a flash, the bomber somehow gets all the doors open, and runs headlong into the police paddy wagon, shutting the door behind him. But before the wagon pulls away, Porky emerges, and drops the clock through the wagon’s rear window. The vehicle proceeds down the street, as sparks and skyrockets from the clock’s contents ignite inside and stream from the vehicle’s windows, presumably giving the bomber his just desserts. Porky still waits on the curb for his anticipated penny reward – but instead receives a sack from police with $10,000. He spends the reward in a way that suits him – on an endless supply of ice cream sodas.

Donald and Pluto (Disney/UA, Mickey Mouse (series banner only – no Mickey appearance), 9/10/36 – Ben Sharpsteen, dir.), previously heavily reviewed in my first article, “Magnetic Personalities” on this website, features two run-ins with clocks for Pluto, who has swallowed a supercharged magnet from plumber Donald Duck. He first passes a ceramic wall clock with a large hanging metal pendulum. The pendulum becomes attracted to Pluto’s tail, and hits him in the rear end. Pluto struggles to break free, pulling both the pendulum and its attached gears and springs out of the clock frame, leaving them in a hanging tangled mess, as a cuckoo bird appears from nowhere and lets out an exhausted-sounding “cuckoo”. Pluto next walks under a table, not knowing that on top is a small alarm clock. As he proceeds to walk, the clock is drawn along on the table top in a mock-walking gait, matching his every step. As the end of the table is reached, the clock is finally drawn off the edge, again hitting Pluto’s rear. Pluto runs to and cringes in a corner, with his back to the wall. The clock follows, but stops, as Pluto’s magnetic rear is facing away from it. Pluto starts to creep out of the corner, but every time his rear end turns, the clock is drawn to him again, forcing another retreat. Staring at his rear, Pluto finally gets the idea, and an experiment or two confirms that his tail is what the clock is after. Now, keeping his back flush against the wall, Pluto successfully extricates himself from the corner – but trips on a kitchen rolling pin, causing his rear to turn toward the clock again. Bam! The clock hits him square in the tail, and Pluto runs across the room and under a bearskin rug – leaving the ringing alarm clock stuck in the bear’s jaws.

Porky’s Badtime Story (7/24/37), and its Technicolor remake Tick Tock Tuckered (4/8/44), both directed by Robert (Bob) Clampett, provide Porky Pig with two clock gags. Chronically late to work, Porky and his sidekick (Gabby Goat in the original, Daffy Duck in the remake) try to punch in on the time clock softly so their boss won’t hear them. But the punch handle gets stuck when Gabby/Daffy tries, causing him to give the handle a big yank – and setting off bells and sirens to alert the boss in the process. At the end of the film, as our heroes realize they’ve woken themselves up early for nothing on their day off, they return to bed, only to have the alarm clock start ringing. In the original, Porky smashes the clock with a mallet, causing it to wobble in malfunction. In the remake, Porky shoots the clock with a rifle, as the clock develops a “face” and keels over in death throes.

Next time, we continue the countdown with one of Mickey’s Mouse’s most famous and popular episodes, some random appearances of Father time in the Golden era, and an array of “Cuckoo” cartoons during the fast-paced 1940’s.


  • “The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.” — William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1794)

    Time and time again I marvel at your Animation Trails, and clearly you’ve put a great deal of time into this one. The prize for this week has to go to “Time on My Hands”. Merman and mermaid in the same cartoon — and thank Heaven the right one is topless!

    Skeleton Felix in “Felix Trifles with Time” bears a striking resemblance to Nekoppachi, a computer-animated cat/bee hybrid who hosts a Japanese kids’ TV show and talks like a wrestling announcer. Felix would return to prehistoric times in 1960 with “Stone Age Felix” — but we’ll have to wait for your discussion of time machine cartoons to hear about that one.

    I suspect that in “A Stitch in Time”, Koko is a tailor, and in “Koko Beats Time” he conducts an orchestra, but I’m sure the cartoons are worth tracking down regardless.

    In “The Clock Store”, there is a pocket watch marked WED. Those are Walt Disney’s initials, obviously, but does anyone know to whom the “H. G.” on the other pocket watch refers? It couldn’t be Wells, could it?

    You’ve taken pains to avoid mentioning it, but the elderly, bearded, yarmulke-wearing shopkeeper who doubles the price of damaged merchandise in “The China Shop” is a Jewish caricature — a fairly benign one by the standards of the time, when even B’nai Brith magazine regularly printed jokes about niggardly Jews and their dodgy business practices, but one that would have been recognisable as such to contemporary audiences. That’s why we have to sit through Leonard Maltin’s disclaimer (“It’s important to remember that these cartoons were made a long time ago…”) before we can play it on the DVD, as with Mammy Two-Shoes and her “Three Little Kittens”, and why Disney’s detractors today sometimes cite it as “evidence” of Walt’s alleged anti-Semitism.

    In “Holiday Land”, Easter bunnies jump out of the calendar page for April 7, but Easter Sunday had not fallen on that date since 1912 and would not do so again until 1985. In fact, in 1934 April 7 was a Saturday! Maybe Scrappy is a Seventh Day Adventist.

    I’m sure I’ll go “cuckoo” for your next post. See you next time!

  • It never occurred to me that the old man in “Shuffle off to Buffalo” was Father Time. I always thought he was the Deity who oddly enough had elves just like Santa! The cartoon feels to me like 1930’s cartoon theology.

  • I always hear of those Mickey Mouse clocks but I haven’t seeing one until now. That Cubby cartoon sure looks… different from what I thought his cartoons looked like. Columbia’s Scrappy its a very underated character, he deserved more praise. I didn’t know of that Betty cartoon, looks fun, I suppose its before they set on her definitive hairstyle. Makes me wish the Latin Spanish dub weren’t so crummy.

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