More aviation material today from the waning days of the theatrical cartoon. We’ll deviate from strict chronology, and concentrate solely on theatricals without sidetrips into concurrent television cartoons, which we’ll treat separately in subsequent articles.
A belated nod to Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z (Warner, Road Runner, 5/5/56 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.).- in which Wile E. Coyote purchases the Acme Batman’s suit. It has nearly the same results as Tom’s winged corset in The Flying Cat – nearly smashing the coyote into the canyon floor until the wings catch an updraft, then permitting him to soar gracefully and confidently through the sky – only to smack face first into the opposite canyon wall, losing the costume’s wings in the process. The footage would be used again as heater material in the Adventures of the Road-Runner pilot (6/2/62).
A Chilly Reception (Lantz/Universal, Chilly Willy, 6/15/58 – Alex Lovy, dir.) – Life aboard an ice breaker is the subject of this film – particularly, the crew’s killing of boredom between missions by the retention of a mascot aboard ship. Smedly is the pampered pooch currently holding the position, hand-fed juicy steaks and living a life of ease – until Chilly Willy appears for a random look at the ship, and is found more entertaining by the crew than their dull dog.
Smedly sees his meal ticket about to vanish, and sets his goals to rid the ship of this intruder. Chilly evades exploding bombs, efforts to bottle him up like a ship model, and other perils with complete ease, all the while causing Smedley to repeatedly land upon and trounce the Admiral of the ship, whose large hat keeps him from learning who it was that clobbered him. Smedly finally rigs up an ice cream cone planted in the end of a high-pressure fire hose, with intent of washing the penguin overboard when he takes the treat. However, Chilly passes the tasty offering right by. “That’s good ice cream, man” shouts Smedley hoping to coax the penguin back. “I like ice cream”, responds a voice – of the Admiral. The commanding officer takes the treat himself, while Chilly turns the hose to full pressure. The asmiral is shot upwards on the plume of water, and lands in the pilot seat of a small jet plane in a catapult launcher on the rear deck. Chilly presses a launching button, and the plane is shot into the skies. Ir is evident the Admiral is not himself a trained pilot, as the plane zig-zags through the blue, spelling out in jet-exhaust contrail the word, “Help.” Smedly runs into the ship’s supply room, and emerges with a set of deck controller paddles to attempt to signal the plane down. He begins wig-wagging to the Admiral above, his signals not quite having the desired effects, as the Admiral’s veering plane bends both smokestacks of the ship at right angles, and ties the barrels of a gun turret into a knotted braid. “Cut your engine, and set her down”, Smedly shouts. The Admiral does just that – and nose-dives to create a gaping hole in the deck. All is quiet, and Chilly produces a bugle, which he hands to a forlorn Smedly. Smedly respectfully begins to platy Taps over the crater, until a hand reaches into the frame, and shoves the bugle down Smedly’s throat. Then, the hand, pulls out the instrument again, and begins beating Smedly over the head with it. It is of course the Admiral, standing on the end of a tall ladder raised from below decks. The scene fades to the aftermath. Chilly now lounges in the lap of luxury, with his choices of huge fish and roast turkey for dinner, while the task of ice-breaking continues resolutely on – with the new attachment of Smedly, tied to the bow of the ship, armed with an ice pick and now singlehandedly responsible for performing all ice cracking himself.
I almost wish I didn’t have to bring up again Droopy Leptechaun (MGM, Droopy, 7/4/58 – Michael Lah, dir.), the relatively uninspired and disappointing close to Droopy’s theatrical series. It is mentioned here only for the fact that Droopy arrives in and leaves from Ireland aboard a large commercial airliner – which otherwise contributes no gag material to the storyline of the film. That’s all you really need to know.
Fun on Furlough (Paramount/Famous, Herman and Katnip, 4/3/59 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.) – The last original episode of the cat-and-mouse series. (Only one more would be produced, which was a cheater consisting almost entirely of stock footage.) The mice reside in the toy department of a department store, where, as usual, Katnip breaks up their fun and games, adter the mice accidentally land a pogo stick on Katnip’s nose. Katnip pursues them to their hole in the wall, but is temporarily dispatched after swallowing the pogo stick on the rebound. A visit from cousin Herman will of course solve all problems – but this time, Herman’s visit will be limited to three days – as he is on furlough from a stint in the army, where he has earned sergeant’s stripes. Nevertheless, that’s all the time he’ll need to whip into shape the interfering cat, whom he recalls had also served in the armed forces – as a lowly private third class. Herman drums up some military discipline in the feline, by blowing reveille into his ear on a toy trumpet, causing Katnip to instinctively rise and stand at attention. Herman orders him to march, which the cat obediently complies with – right to the end of a teeterboard near a window of the store. “Fall out”, commands Herman, as he leaps on the other end of the teeterboard, launching Katnip through the window.
Katnip is soon back, and the usual chase begins, with military touches of interrupting Katnip’s pursuit with an impromptu military parade of wind-up toy soldiers, a round of “the old army game” as Katnip tries to guess which of three toy pup tents Herman is under, and a run-in with a realistic toy tank, which blasts a large hole right through Katnip’s face. Just as it seems Herman has taken command, a stern voice is heard outside the mousehole, calling Herman’s name. Herman peers out, to find a human general standing outside. “All leaves are cancelled. Back to the barracks”, the General commands. Herman obediently marches at the General’s call – but something is phoney, notable when the general turns to a profile view, revealing a cat’s tail sticking out of his trousers, and Katnip’s sideburns jutting out from the back of a face mask. Herman passes a display counter of model planes. “To the right flank, haarch!”, orders the “General”. Herman makes a turn around the corner of the display, while the fake general pauses in place. Three more commands to march to the right flank are issued, while Katnip removes his mask, lays down on the floor, and waits with open mouth for Herman to round the last corner, right down his hatch. But, despite his military discipline, Herman somehow gets wise, and rounds the corner with a surprise in hand – one of the toy airplanes, which he jams into Katnip’s mouth, the wings sticking inside the cat’s cheeks. “Contact”, shouts Herman, spinning the plane’s propeller. Katnip exits with a crash though another window, seen through the hole flying off helplessly into the night sky. The mice award Herman with military honors for services rendered above and beyond the call of duty, decorating him with the only medal they happen to have on hand – an oversized golden neck pendant, reading “Chicken Inspector”.
Birds of a Father (Warner, Sylvester, 4/1/61 – Robert McKimson, dir.).- A leisurely summer day finds Sylvester snoozing in a hammock, while his son energetically chases a blue jay around the yard. This seems like normal activity to papa Sylvester – until the bird and his son pass the hammock again, their roles reversed, with the bird in pursuit. Sylvester investigates, and finds that the two were just playing tag, rather than the appropriate game of cat hunting bird. This has to be set right, and Sylvester has Junior read from a Cat Psychology text that a necessary stage of development is for cats to learn to chase birds, catch birds, and eat birds. “Oh father! What are we, cannibals?”, asks Junior, “Yeahhhh!” answers Sylvester, nearly drooling. Sylvester’s efforts to teach his son the tricks of the trade include shotgun hunting, where he only succeeds in bagging a badminton bird, and a stuffed bird on an old lady’s hat (after which the lady beats Sylvester soundly with an umbrella). Junior expresses his usual degree of mortification at his own father shooting at helpless old ladies. Sylvester responds with a line McKimson might have saved for a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon, noting that “She was about as helpless as a porcupine in a nudist camp.”
Sylvester finally employs “the most diabolical bird catcher ever invented” – a toy jet plane, radio-controlled ant robotically programmed to seek out and destroy any object it is directed to by a selector wheel on a high-tech control panel. Turning the selector to “Ball” and tossing a rubber ball into the air causes the plane to launch, zero in on its target, and shoot a hail of miniature bullets until the ball is disintegrated, “Father, you’re just not human”, moans Junior. “Of course I’m not human. I’m a cat”, remarks Sylvester proudly. He sets the selector dial for “Bird”, and launches the plane again. The blue jay quickly becomes a target, and dodges hails of bullets from left and right. The bird seeks a route of escape – and chooses to fly right at Sylvester, putting the cat in the cross-hairs as well. “Gangway”, shouts Sylvester, as he races for the nearest shelter, the bird and the shooting plane right on his tail. The nearest structure with an open door turns out to be a dynamite shed. Sylvester races in, but the bird darts upward. The plane fails to make the change of direction quick enough, and winds up inside the shed with Sylvester, while the bird returns to shut and bar the front door. The expected explosion follows quickly, destroying shed and plane, and leaving Sylvester deep in a crater in the ground. Junior gets an idea to solve this nightmare once and for all, and produces a feather pillow, from which he liberally sprinkles blue feathers around the crater, giving the impression that the bird was also destroyed. A bedraggled Sylvester emerges from the hole, now satisfied that he has demonstrated properly how a cat outwits birds. Junior has one more surprise up his sleeve, as a new character appears on screen – an unknown kitten, who Junior introduces. “That’s what I told my new little friend here. No bird can outsmart my father.” Junior walks off hand in hand with the new “cat”. However, a drop seat opens in the “cat’s” rear, revealing that the fur is only a costume – and protruding from the cat suit are the telltale blue tail feathers of the blue jay.
Clash and Carry (Lantz/Universal, Chilly Willy, 4/25/61 – Jack Hannah, dir.) – Considerable coverage of this title has been previously presented in my prior article series, “Toons Abhor a Vacuum”, including behind-the-scenes reveals of lost sequences and ending that were scrapped despite completed storyboard to cut budget, replaced with needless and exceedingly-long reliance on old newsreel stock footage of fishing trawlers. Attention is directed to such past series for a detailed read. For our present purposes, the plot concerns Chilly’s intrusion into Wally Walrus’s supermarket, specializing in both fresh and frozen fish. Chilly keeps Wally busy during the first half of the cartoon with various ruses to smuggle fish out the door without payment. At one point, Chilly wanders through the cereal aisle, encountering boxes of Korny Krunchies, including inside the box as a premium, “Free Jet Plane”. Amazing what you’ll find in cereal giveaways. The plane, just Chilly’s size, really works, and Chilly takes off amidst the ceiling rafters of the store, carrying a large fish under one arm as a prize. “So, war games it is, eh?”, shouts Wally, reaching for a box of a rival brand of cereal marked “Krunch Krisp” – which just happens to be offering as a premium a free anti-aircraft gun! (Competition in the industry is keen, when one manufacturer sets itself for the destruction of the other’s merchandise.) Pulling out the weapon, Wally shoots a neat line of holes through the fuselage of Chilly’s plane from tail to nose. The engine is silenced, but Chilly turns to the plane’s emergency features – an ejector seat launched at the push of a button, and a parachute strapped to Chilly’s back. However, the parachute isn’t made as well as the plane, and turns inside out, landing Chilly waist-deep in a display of fresh fish, with a soggy salmon draped across his nose.
Landing Stripling (Rembrandt Films/MGM, Tom and Jerry, 5/18/62 – Gene Deitch, dir.) – While awkwardly drawn, as are many of Deitch’s imported films to fill the MGM schedule, this one tries reasonably hard to present a typical Hanna-Barbera type set-up for plot and character. As in so many H-B films, Jerry strikes up a friendship with another small animal who is also potential easy prey for Tom – in this case, a bird in an aviator cap, who makes odd wobbly sounds like a multitracked cuckoo, while soaring around like a plane and living in a bird-house shaped like a hangar. Tom first encounters the bird while trying to take a siesta on the lawn in the noonday sun. The bird, circling to ake a landing, mistakes the patch of gray fur on Tom’s chest for a landing strip, and parts Tom’s fur in the middle as he makes a two-point landing under Tom’s chin. The bird backs away, re-fluffing up Tom’s fur as he goes, and attempts to depart to the safety of his birdhouse. Tom intercepts him, and begins to rough the bird up for disturbing his slumber. Ignoring the fact that the time to set up his plan leaves the bird open to considerable additional beating, Jerry charitably intervenes, by tying a rope to Tom’s tail, guiding the rope end over the top of a crotch in a tree’s branches, then tying off the end to a telephone pole. Producing a saw, Jerry saws through the pole, calls Tom’s attention, then topples the pole. Tom is drawn up Into the tree’s branches, which are stretched like a young sapling by the weight of the pole on the other end of the rope, leaving Tom in the firing arm of a potential catapult. Jerry and the now-freed bird position a large metal wash pail atop a backyard barbecue, light a fire, and fill the tub with water at a boil. Then the bird flies over to the rope still tied to Tom’s tail, and snips it, despite Tom’s pleas for mercy. Tom is plunged waist-deep into the water, howls, and leaps out of the tub, bouncing all around and leaving a vapor trail of steam wherever he goes. When his bouncing is finally though, Tom finds all his fur has been burned off his lower torso, and he struggles in embarrassment to hide his semi-nudity by strenuous efforts to stretch his upper fur to cover his lower half.
Jerry and the bird laugh hilariously, until Tom, finally covered again, grabs a garden hose and attempts to dampen their spirits. The duo retreat into Jerry’s mousehole, while Tom sticks the hose nozzle inside to flush them out. Inside, the bird and mouse position a mousetrap to clamp upon the hose end, producing a blockage which results in a huge water bubble building up in the hose behind Tom. When it is of appropriate size, the bird flies out and pecks a hole in the hose, exploding it upon Tom. Tom winds up wrapped in hose remnants and with the nozzle upon his nose, looking like some new species of bird himself. The bird lands on a wire leading to the house. Tom scales the roof and steps out upon the wire, only to find the insulation is apparently shot, and he is exposed to live voltage. Tom hops about painfully, until the bird mercifully snips the wire, sending Tom rebounding off a wheelbarrow into the garage. Inside, Tom finds tools ad materials to fashion himself a pair of wings similar to those in “The Flying Cat”, plus bedsprings on his feet to bounce up into the bird’s tree. Tom confronts the bird at his birdhouse in the tree, and steps out on a limb after him. But observant Jerry positions a tall pole fan behind Tom, and turns on the power. The breeze catches Tom’s wings, and blows him off the tree limb, bouncing him far off into the horizon.
A few moments later, Tom reappears in the distance, trudging slowly toward the house, carrying on his back a large, heavy crate marked in military stencil, “Danger”. In a well laid-out shot, Tom opens the doors of the house, then is seen through a cellar window descending with the crate into the basement. The camera continues to pan left, to a set of double cellar doors on the side of the house, which slowly open like a bunker, to reveal the emerging muzzle of an anti-aircraft cannon! Tom works the targeting controls of the device to place the flying bird in his crosshair sight. Behind him on the cellar floor, Tom has placed an artillery shell. Jerry, without fear that his actions might accidentally explode the shell, drills a small hole through the nose cone, then threads the tip of Tom’s tail through it. When Tom reaches for the shell and loads, he blasts himself out of the cannon along with the shell, both of them penetrating through and lodging in the trunk of the bird’s tree.
Tom finally devises a clever master plan of his own. He builds a fire in the backyard barbecue with old wood, to build up a thick cover of smoke over the yard. The flying bird is confused, and circles blindly over the yard. Meanwhile, Tom uses a lawn mower to cut a clear strip of land down the middle of the backyard lawn, and retrieves two strings of Christmas lights from the house, placing each alongside the path he has cleared. As the lights are lit, Tom produces the effect of a miniature runway for the bird to land upon – with Tom lying in wait on the ground at the far end, mouth wide open, ready to welcome the bird’s “final” approach. Tom hears an approaching sound which he believes to be the soaring of the bird, but then reacts in total shock, before the view is entirely obliterated by the swirling of air in a whirlwind. When the view clears, we are looking into the skies, at a twin-engine passenger jet flying away. The jet apparently has mistaken Tom’s landing strip for its home runway, pulling up at the last minute, but is now carrying on its nose Tom, whose mouth is still open with the tip of the plane’s nose caught inside. Below, Jerry and the bird watch from a miniature air-show style reviewing stand in the tree, as the plane soars overhead. A descending slide-whistle denotes the plane has dropped something, and Tom lands with a crash on the tree limb beside them, his arms drooped over the limb to barely support him, his face clearly registering that he’s had it. The bird hops over to Tom, then slaps upon Tom’s forehead a large stamp, reading “Via Air Mail”. Jerry and the bird salute Tom, while exhausted Tom barely manages to return the salute, for the fade out.
The Jet Cage (Warner, Tweety and Sylvester, 9/22/62 – Friz Freleng, dir.) – This film presents a clever twist on the usual cat and bird plot, that you want to like from the start – but somehow the execution of the production falters, both from much more limited animation than usual due to increasing budgetary restraints, and from writer’s block of Freleng himself (who had to serve as his own writer on this film) that makes you feel he needed a few more ideas and a stronger ending to bring the film to appropriate length. On top of this, Mel Blanc is not in top form, his reads for both characters seeming to have darkened for this date, lacking in the usual vitality and verve. (Possibly, this session was miked in close time-proximity to his recovery from his auto accident – or else he was simply having an off-day,) The end result feels cheap and leadened in its pacing in several places, bring unpleasant memories of Depatie-Freleng Road Runners that were to follow, and presenting only a shadow of Tweety’s former glory.
Tweety has become discontent with his static existence, realizing he is the original “bird in a gilded cage” who never gets the freedom of the wild birds outside his window, because he’s too helpless to go outside and be at the mercy of the “bad ol’ putty tat’. Granny spots a magazine ad for a jet-propelled bird cage, allowing any bird to fly free without leaving the security of his home, which sounds like the solution to Tweety’s problem. The device is not only simple to control, but comes with miniature crash helmet for its owner. Tweety takes off, but at the cost of a chandelier (unseen to save on budget, merely indicated by offscreen sound effect), until Granny can open the door. Tweety shows off his new home to Sylvester, who is looking in at the house window. Sylvester tries a lunge at the cage, but misses, falling from the window ledge flat on his face. Tweety gets used to the controls, soaring in wide circles, and quotes another famous bird passenger from the then popular animated TV ads of Western Airlines – “The only way to fly.” A crow on a nearby wire reprises a line previously used by Bob Clampett in “The Henpecked Duck” and Bob McKimson in “Crowing Pains”: “And all this time I’ve been doin’ it the hard way.”
Sylvester begins to hatch some ideas. First, he tries to net the cage from a standing point amidst the upper branches of a tree. The jet engines are too powerful for him, and hoist Sylvester out of the tree, and face-first into a telephone pole. Sylvester then lies in wait until Tweety comes in for a landing to get the instruction book for more training on flying in fog. The brief time that Tweety is absent from the cage is enough for Sylvester to creep inside, ready to pounce on him from behind the pilot’s chair. But Tweety, re-entering the cage, is not as non-observant as he seems, and after taking off again, and without even looking behind him, announces “Pilot to bombardier. Bombs away.” A bomb bay door opens under Sylvester, depositing him after a long fall into a nearby lake. Next, Sylvester builds a miniature Nike missile, which he fires at the circling cage. His trajectory is off, and the rocket overshoots the cage, then curves back down toward the yard. Sylvester runs for cover, jumping into a rain barrel. Before he can place a protective lid on the barrel, the falling missile drops into the barrel directly behind the cat. Ducking himself inside the barrel under the lid, Sylvester extends his hand out a knothole in the barrel’s side, with a hammer and three ails, nailing the lid tightly onto the barrel – and even taking the time to re-straighten one nail to drive it in right. The smell of smoke behind him suddenly opens the cat’s eyes, and his hand emerges from the knothole again, to quickly pry the three nails loose, before he attempts to scramble out of the barrel – of, course, too late to escape the explosion.
Next, Sylvester tries a magnet, tied to the end of a fishing line. Casting his line into the air, Sylvester snags the underside of the cage. The cage is briefly held at bay, but struggles to resume speed, then pulls Sylvester along the ground and right through the backyard fence, as if he were a water skier. Sylvester is dragged along a city street, missing by a fraction of an inch two trucks passing in cross-traffic at an intersection, but then coming head-on toward a bus travelling in the opposite direction. The crash animation is again saved, as we only hear the impact of the collision, while the broken end of the fishing line dangles limply from the bottom of the flying cage. Next, Sylvester produces two large paddles with handles, flapping them to serve as wings, and somehow becomes airborne, catching up with the cage in the air. “You though you outsmarted me, didn’t’cha”, taunts Sylvester. “How you gonna get me? You got your hands full”, observes Tweety. “Well now, I haven’t”, laughs Sylvester, gullibly tossing his paddles away. The frustrated cat suddenly realizes what he has done, and takes a Wile E. Coyote plummet. The final shot of the film shows Sylvester outside an Air Force recruiting office. “Earn your wings in the U.S.A.F.”, reads Sylvester, bandaged and in traction. He hobbles into the office, stating, “That’s what I’ll do – and when I do, watch out, bird.” Milt Franklyn doesn’t even provide a note of coda music to indicate we’ve reached the end of the footage – but unfortunately, we have. At least a Carl Stalling ride-out riff might have made the closing circles seemed more palatable.
Sorry Safari (Rembrandt Films/MGM, Tom and Jerry, 10/12/62 – Gene Deitch, dir.), unfortunately does not fare as well as the preceding Deitch title above. It lives up to its name in being a sorry little film, haphazardly animated, that, despite a handful of good gags, makes us long for the days of Goofy’s “Tiger Trouble.” Its only relevance here is another “fly-on” cameo for an airliner, transporting cat, mouse, and the cat’s bombastic, short-tempered master (voiced as usual by Allan Swift, who seemed to get all voice duties in Deitch’s MGM films) to Nairobi Airport to begin their trek into the interior. One other point of note is its demonstration that after several years of absence from Terrytoons, Deitch still hadn’t learned, or chose not to, draw elephants with any anatomical resemblance to the real thing – as he produces here a Nertz rent-a-elephant who looks like the ugly second cousin of Sick Sick Sidney. Even MGM’s Leo, who also appears in animated form, might have been improved by sticking to Deitch’s prior model of Stanley for Terrytoons.
A Flight to the Finish (Terrytoons/Fox, Hector Heathcote, 12/1/63 – Dave Tendlar, dir.) – Farm plowboy Hector Heathcote aspires to fly like the birds. His efforts almost don’t qualify for this article, as virtually nothing successfully leaves the ground. He studies wing design firsthand – but gets thrown out of a bird’s nest. He tries wearing a kite while being towed by a running mule – only to lose the kite on a passing tree limb, and dig a plow furrow clear across the fields, using his head buried in the ground. A set of flapping wings attached to a bicycle’s pedals runs amok through the town, costing Hector a 30-day sentence in the stocks for reckless driving. While serving his time, Hector notes a paddlewheel steamboat in the river, and decides what he needs is a similar power source. When harvest time comes, his boss Benedict investigates the disappearance of two wagon wheels and a pump engine, to find Hector emerging from the barn with a winged contraption with a powered paddlewheel serving as its tail. The device gains no altitude – as two nearby poles immediately clip its wings. But Benedict is amazed, as the paddlewheel quickly piles up behind it a bumper crop of corn. Hector becomes a hero, for inadvertently inventing the harvesting machine! The narrator asks Heathcote if this accomplishment has made him give up the dream of flight. “Oh no, sir. Not at all, sir”, responds Heathcote, lifting his hat, to reveal a beanie cap with a propeller on it. “I still have a few ideas to explore”, Hector concludes.
Case of the Cold Storage Yegg (Lantz/Universal, Inspector Willoughby, 6/18/63 – Paul J. Smith, dir.) requires honorable mention. On the trail of thief Yeggs Benedict in the Himalayas, Willoughby, with the use of ingenious calculations from his maps and charts, sets up a master trap for the criminal. As Yeggs attempts escape along an icy mountain ledge, Willoughby, far behind, encounters a sign on the trail reading, “Watch for Cracked Ice”. “Watch out, indeed”, says Willoughby, deciding to use this hazard to his advantage. With his umbrella, he pokes a small hole in the ledge surface. A large jagged crack line appears in the ice, and begins to chase Benedict down the path. Benedict’s ledge comes to a dead end, where a hollow tree provides a temporary hiding place for the villain. But not for long, as the crack undermines the tree, splitting its trunk vertically in two, providing two wooden slats under Benedict’s feet that serve as a pair of skis, as he topples over the side of the ledge and down a steep slope. Willoughby jots down some calculations on a slate as Benedict disappears over the snow-topped hills, and calculates that Benedict will arrive in Idaho by 0400 – next Thursday. “I’d better hop a plane”, Willoughby concludes. Willoughby proceeds to enjoy a quiet transcontinental commercial flight, while Benedict also sees the world – the hard way. As Willoughby continues to calculate Benedict’s progress from a comfortable airline armchair, Benedict’s travels begin to resemble those of “Little Johnny Jet”. He lands on the back of the Sphinx in Egypt, and skis up and down the sides of multiple pyramids, then is launched back into the air. He repeats Avery’s “Johnny Jet” gag by passing over Italy, tipping the Tower of Pisa in the opposite direction. The Eiffel Tower in France doesn’t do as good a job of ducking out of the way as in Avery’s film, and gets significantly twisted out of shape by Benedict’s impact. At Big Ben in London, Benedict crashes through one clock face and out another, taking with him part of the mainspring and the bell clapper attached to his head, chiming out the hour on Benedict’s noggin. Skipping the gutter past the Atlantic, Benedict lands in the Everglades of Florida, where the seat of his pants is nipped away by an alligator, then also hops through Cypress Gardens, upsetting a pyramid of precision water skiers. A ski-jump ramp sends him aloft again, to Sun Valley, Idaho, where Willoughby has already landed by using his umbrella as a parachute, and stands plotting Benedict’s point of landing, precision-marked with an X. Benedict descends from the mountains on another ski-jump ramp, and plants a landing directly upon the X, falling Into an open sack Willoughby is holding. Congratulations”, Willoughby says, looking into the sack, “You have just brought the skiing championship back to this country,” as the sleuth closes the case as “in the bag”.
Dumb Patrol (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 1/18/64 – Gerry Chiniquy, dir.) – Friz Freleng had either left or was in the process of leaving for his own greener pastures – so, for a brief time, the task of directing some of his signature characters fell upon his “understudy” of sorts, Gerry Chiniquy, who not only directed this farewell appearance for Yosemite Sam, but Tweety Pie’s last cartoon (“Hawaiian Aye Aye”). Chinquy’s product doesn’t have all of the former life and vim of his mentor’s past projects – but then again, as noted above, even Freleng had been seeing better days with budget limitations and changes in staff. So, his efforts at stepping into Freleng’s shoes actually compare favorably with Friz’s last efforts, and must be fairly judged in historical perspective as respectable productions for the day.
The film commemorates the 50-year anniversary of WWI. Somewhere in France, an aerodrome commandant issues orders that Baron Sam Von Shpam must be brought down. Straws are drawn from a broomstick, longest straw deciding the volunteer. The chosen pilot is Porky Pig (referred to as “Captain Smedley”), in his last appearance from the in-house studio. At dawn, Porky prepares for his flight at his locker, when a hand inside raises a brick above his head, and klunks him into a “lights-out” heap on the floor. An apology is stated from the bearer of the brick – Bugs Bunny, who informs the audience that he just has to take “Smedley’s” place, as “He has a wife and six piglets.” Bugs takes off in a biplane, bearing squadron insignia of a carrot in a ring (a play on the “hat in the ring” squadron emblem of the 94th Aero Squadron, headed by America’s “ace of Aces”, Eddie Rickenbacker). Meanwhile, over enemy lines, Baron Sam is being decorated with the Iron Cross – again – and is sick of it. What he wants is a long furlough to make whoopee with frauleins and schnapps. Bugs flies over the ceremony, remarking “There’s the little wiener schnitzel now”, and drops to Sam a “token of my esteem”. Sam receives a small bouquet of posies, tied inside a note. The message reads, ‘Roses are Red. Violets are Blue. A leghorn’s a chicken – and so are you.” Not only is Sam insulted by the poetry, but the fact that the preface of the letter spelled “baron” with a small “b”. A postscript explains, “I enclosed a big “B” in the flowers.” Sam finds it easily, as he is painfully stung on the nose.
Two sequences harken back to tried and true Sam scenarios, merely changing their settings to an aviation angle. Sam has as much trouble starting his plane as he usually has getting a horse to obey (a routine he originally picked up from Red Skelton radio skits. “When I say, ‘contact’, I mean CONTACT!” he shouts, slamming the prop of his craft with a mallet. The plane kicks into hear and takes off without him, Sam chasing after with the usual, “Whoa, plane!” shouts. Once plane and pilot are finally united, a return is made to old routine previously used in “Wild and Wooly Hare”, as Bugs disappears into a cloud cover above him. “Sam shouts that he saw Bugs go in there, and gives him the count of three to come out. Before he can count up to three, he fails to watch where he’s going, ad slams right into a mountainside.
Acquiring a new plane, Sam searches the skies, challenging Bugs to show himself and fight, if he’s not yellow. Bugs obliges, by appearing right on Sam’s tail. Instead of using any weaponry (which Bigs, in non-violent form, seems to have not brought along at all), Bugs revs up his engine, and carves through the body of Sam’s plane with his own plane’s propeller, leaving Sam standing upon his top wing and falling, shouting “You’ll pay for this.” A third plane is acquired, featuring a large open gunner’s turret. Actually, it is the hole for a turret, but with no railing mounted on for a gun to pivot. Sam instead prefers to carry a hot machine gun as if it were a racketeer’s Tommy gun, freely mobile in his hands. The pitfalls of such a choice of independent weapon and lack of synchronous firing mechanism to match with prop rotation are demonstrated vividly, as Bugs manipulates his plane to make passes past the Baron above, below, and on all sides. Sam’s bullets follow each pass in a stream – except Bugs’s skillful flying allows Sam’s trail of bullets to carve away piece by piece at the various components of Sam’s own plane, until all that is left is Sam, the gun, and one wheel, upon which he crashes to the ground, riding away in shaky fashion upon the bent wheel like a unicycle. Shall we try a fourth plane? Sam chooses a larger bomber, and positions himself high above Bugs’s craft. “Bombs away”, he shouts, opening a bomb bay door. Five large bombs fall out – but so does Sam. Apparently, all are off target, as Bugs’ plane is no longer seen. But Sam can only comment, “Oh, no”, as he falls behind a hill of the countryside below, the bombs heard exploding all around him.
Sam finally springs a secret weapon. The craft at firth appears to be a small monoplane with an elevated command tower rising from the cockpit area. As Bugs passes close by. Sam pulls a lever, and the plane begins to grow telescopically, sprouting three tails, four wings, eight extra motors, and twelve machine guns! “Say your prayers, rabbit!”, Sam shouts again, as he pushes the control lever to “Full Power”. The revolutionary invention still needs work, as a design flaw causes the massive motor power to rip the plane entirely apart, leaving only Sam in the wingless control tower. Sam falls helplessly, as Bugs observes that he is heading right for an ammunition dump. The explosion is heard offscreen – then a surprised look passes over Bugs’ face. “I’ve heard of Hell’s Angels [reference to Howard Hughes’ 1930 epic starring Jean Harlow] – but I never thought I’d see one.” Rising into the sky, a transparent ghost of Sam appears, wearing wings and playing a harp – but dressed in the same red devil suit he wore at the close of Devil’s Feud Cake, for the fade out.
We’ll try a wrap-up of the “silver era” theatrical cartoons, next time.