Ah, the Devil’s in the details. Returning once again to the ethereal realm of devils and angels, we pick up where we left off last week, to see how the forces of good and evil coped with the outbreak of Axis hostilities and world turmoil – with a brief preliminary side-trip into a realm of pure fantasy.
“The Milky Way” (MGM, 6/22/40 – Rudolph Ising, dir.) – This Oscar-winning cartoon properly belongs in the category of space travel, although by a unique juvenile method of propulsion – three balloons and a basket. The three kittens, deprived of a dinner, set off for the Milky Way in search of a square meal. En route, however, they see an unexpected glimpse of heaven, for at least one species, as they pass “The green cheese moon, where the good little mice all go” – with each crater inhabited by winged angel mice strumming lyre harps.
“Stop That Tank” (Disney Army Training Film, March, 1942), features a short animated opening, with Adolf Hitler’s tanks being repelled by allied anti-tank guns. A direct hit reduces his command tank to rubble and launches Hitler down a crater, where he lands before a giant devil. Hitler throws a temper tantrum on the ground while the devil attempts to translate his rantings for us, complaining that he’s being oppressed because he can’t win against our anti-tank guns. At one point, however, the devil’s translation is drowned out by Hitler’s gibberish, prompting the devil to pull out a giant mallet, tell Hitler to shut up, and knock him out offscreen.
Three more wartime cartoons finish with similar endings, leading to hellish disaster for our primary character.
“Blitz Wolf” (MGM, 8/22/42 – Tex Avery, dir.), nominated for an academy award, presents Avery’s second effort for his new home studio, where he would know his greatest string of successes. A full-blown wartime spoof on Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs” (with Pinto Colvig hired to recreate the voice of the “Practical” pig), the Big Bad Wolf, who’s now taken on the name of “Adolf” and bears a striking resemblance to the man America loved to hate, attacks Pigmania with militarized contraptions such as “Der Mechanized Huffer und Puffer”. A battle royal ensues between wolf and pigs. A bomber piloted by the wolf is finally hit by the pigs’ secret weapon (a barrage of anti-aircraft shells packed with defense bonds). Blasted from the sky, the wolf tries to cling to whatever debris is falling with him – and winds up clutching his own aerial bomb.
He (voiced by Bill Thompson of “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio fame, who would later become regular voice for Avery’s Droopy) utters a string of mock-German syllables to the audience, for which translation appears in subtitle on the screen: “Call for Dr, Kildare!” He crashes amidst the explosion of the bomb. Suddenly, the background transforms to firey-red caverns and stalactites. The wolf awakens amidst flames seeping from the ground around him. “Where am I?”, he asks. “Have I been blown to……” His inquiry is answered by a group of fourteen devils on the other side of the cavern: “Ummmm….It’s a possibility!” Nominated for an Academy Award.
“Spies”, (Warner, Private Snafu, August, 1943 – Chuck Jones, dir.) – an early entry in this
series of “soldiers only” cartoons for the troops, scripted by Dr. Seuss, has Snafu bragging about knowing a pip of a military secret, but insisting his lips and brain have a “chain and padlock” so that no enemy agent will ever learn it. Of course, a battery of spies are listening by every means imaginable, and plotting to make Snafu’s resolve slip – which it does Snafu’s troop transport is eventually surrounded by German U-boats. The ship pulls out fast – leaving Snafu in the water with an even dozen torpedoes converging. The resulting crater leads Snafu straight into a boiling cauldron in the underworld. Snafu speculates, “Now who in hell d’ya suppose it was that let my secret out?” A devil-version of Adolf Hitler appears, replying, “What was that I heard you say, my little sauerkraut?” He answers Snafu’s question by showing him his own reflection in a mirror – which morphs into a horse’s rear!
“Draftee Daffy” (Warner, Daffy Duck, 1/27/45 – Robert Clampett, dir.), taken here out of time sequence, follows the same theme. Daffy’s a real flag-waver, until his number comes up with the draft board – then, he’s the world’s worst draft dodger. The “little man from the draft board” – a personification of the Mr. Peavey character played by Richard LeGrand on “The Great Gildersleeve” radio series – drives Daffy crazy with a relentlessness only matched by Droopy in pursuit of the Wolf. Daffy finally launches himself from the roof with a skyrocket (“Use in Case of Induction Only”), but his trajectory is off, and he plummets headlong into the ground. He too awakens in the land of fire and brimstone. “Say, this place looks like h—-…..Hey, it is h—-….I am in h—-!!!” Spotting what appears to be the devil, Daffy’s mood turns to braggart, saying, “Oh well. Anyway, I sure put it over on that dope from the draft board!” But the “devil” pulls off his horns, which are merely a costume hood, using Peavey’s catch phrase, “Well I wouldn’t say that,” It’s the draft man again, who pursues Daffy into the depths of Hades, still determined to serve his draft notice.
“Double Chaser” (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 6/27/42 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – In a quick wrap up to a dog-chases-cat-chases-mouse threesome, the mouse, with a can of black paint and an apple fallen from a tree, creates a fake cartoon bomb, and lights the apple stem with a match for full effect.
The dog and cat take one look and head for the hills. The mouse, still holding the “lit” apple, chuckles to the audience in self-satisfaction.
Surprise! An explosion fills the view with smoke, dissolving to the mouse in halo, robe, and angel wings floating upwards through the clouds, holding a blown-apart applecore, which he turns to with a surprise-take as we iris out.
“Seein’ Red, White, and Blue” (Paramount/Famous, Popeye, 2/19/43, Dan Gordon, dir.) – Bluto tries draft-dodging here, too – but unlike the later Daffy episode, sees his duty by the end of the cartoon. The odd moment for our purposes, however, comes in the middle of the film. Bluto jumps from a high building to get disabled. Popeye tries to catch him, but they both crash through the sidewalk inti a deep hole. A ladder emerges from the pit, as a distant, complaining, little-guy type voice (Jack Mercer), growing ever closer, is heard from the hole: “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Imagine one’s own home being cluttered up with a lot of strange people dropping in all over the place when you least expect them. And very uninvited, I might add. By the way, who did invite you? No, never mind that. I’ve never been so humiliated in all my born days. Now get out. Get out! Twenty three skidoo. Out, out, out, out, out! And I warn you. If this incident occurs again, you’ll have the devil to pay!” Popeye and Bluto emerge and exit, chased away by a puny devil in polka-dotted shorts! Just for an added touch of oddness, an angel materializes from nowhere, kicks the devil back into his hole, tips his halo to the audience, and disappears.
“Ration Bored” (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 7/26/43 – Emery Hawkins/Milt Schaffer, dir.) – Woody is pitted against a cop when he siphons gas from a police car for lack of a ration book. A chase ensues amid garage supplies, with the cop hiding in a stack of tires – but ultimately winding up with a tire rolling on each arm and leg, and Woody riding him on his back as a human auto. The one thing he doesn’t have, however, is brakes. They roll down a hill, straight into a large gasoline storage tank, and a shattering explosion. The explosion dissolves to a scene of heaven, with an office made of clouds and a sign reading, “Wing Rationing Board”. The cop emerges from its door, dressed as an angel, and pleased with a small pair of golden wings on his back. But another form emerges from the door – enveloped in huge wings ten times the cop’s size. The wings part, and it’s Woody, spreading them wide in a showy display. The cop gets angry again, and the two continue the chase, diving in and out of the clouds, to Woody’s traditional laughter.
Bill Tytla, a powerful director from Disney’s ranks, would give us one off the best-known images of Satan in the “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria” finale to 1940’s Fantasia, which is so well known it virtually needs no description. Less documented, however, is Tytla’s move to the East Coast upon leaving Disney, doing stints at Terrytoons anonymously, and then gaining the director’s chair at Paramount/Famous.
“The Green Line” (Terrytoons/Fox, Mighty Mouse, 7/7/44 – Eddie Donnelly, dir.), gives him his closest chance to recapture the “Bald Mountain” vibe. A tale of a curious village, divided by a painted green line on the street. On one side live nothing but mice – on the other, cats. As long as property rights are observed, there is peace – well, sort of. A few renegade cats watch for any possible slip of a mouse over the line, which would render them “fair game” for the cats’ appetites. But even when in tipsy condition from a trip to the local cocktail bar (in a scene currently censored from the CBS version), the mice may wobble – but still are too crafty to give the cats their chance for a conquest. A frustrated cat fresh from the same bar smashes on the ground a bottle of “spirits” – and out pops a devil cat. “How long is this going to go on?”, he demands to know. (Be patient, Devil – the cartoon only runs six minutes!) Anyway, he tempts the cat to break the rules and help himself. But the minute the cat crosses, he finds the mice are militarized, shooting little machine guns from mouseholes and under manhole covers. Total war breaks out. Mighty flies to the rescue. However, just as he seems to have the cats subdued, he is surrounded by a wall of thrown pitchforks. The devil cat, resembling for all intents and purposes his Fantasia counterpart, stands majestically on a rooftop, pitching away. As Mighty frees himself and flies toward him, the cat breathes fire at him like a dragon. Finally, the cat sprouts the same bat-like wings as Disney’s Satan, and engages Mighty in a furious aerial battle. (There’s an amazing shot during this scene of Mighty flying straight at the camera, filling the screen with his face in the most evil sadistic grin of his career – he’s getting as much of a charge out of this as the cat did with his evil schemes!) But ultimately, Mighty deals a telling blow, sending the spirit into a dive like a crippled airplane and crashing into the ground in flames. The cats and mice kiss and make up, and everybody’s happy.
“Book Revue” (Warner, Daffy Duck, 1/6/46 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – A return to the bookshelf in the same manner as “Good Little Monkeys” (reviewed last week), but with souped-up ‘40’s timing. Daffy (doing for no apparent reason his best impression of Danny Kaye), has gotten the Big Bad Wolf arrested for menacing Little Red Riding Hood. The Wolf rips out of a cover marked “Escape”. However, he trips over Jimmy Durante’s nose, protruding from the cover of “So Big”(a 1924 Edna Ferber novel). He slides down another book cover, marked “Skid Row”, and struggles not to fall into the flaming cavern on the cover of the next book – “Dante’s Inferno.” But just as it seems he will get out – someone holds up a singing Frank Sinatra in front of him. Like a “bobby soxer”, he swoons from the music, and faints right into Hades. Daffy and Little Red celebrate with a victory dance, only to have the wolf reappear out of the cavern to complain, “Stop that dancing up there! – – you sillies”, for the final shot.
“Back Alley Oproar” (Warner, Sylvester the Cat/Elmer Fudd, 3/27/48 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – a dressed-up-for-Technicolor remake of Porky Pig’s “Notes To You” (1941), but with a better ending. Sylvester is an endlessly-singing alley cat, serenading in the back yard, while Elmer tries desperately to shut him up to get some sleep. As Sylvester engages in a mock Spike Jones number (punctuated with pistol shots, exploding firecrackers, breaking bottles, etc.), Elmer sneaks up behind and attempts to blow Sylvester up with dynamite. But the fuse is too short, and it goes off instantly as Elmer lights it. Elmer finds himself floating on a small cloud in a heavenly pink sky, with robe, halo, and angel wings. “Oh well,” he observes, “At weast now I can get some west and welaxation.” Not for long, Elmer. A chorus of voices rises from below. Sylvester has kicked-the-bucket too – but has divided into nine separate numbered “lives”, all singing a massed version of the Sextet from Lucia Di Lammermoor. Each floats upwards past him on separate clods, one stealing his halo. Having nowhere else to turn, Elmer jumps off his cloud and is heard crashing back to Earth, as the chorus concludes its finale.
“Wild and Woody” (Lantz/United Artists, Woody Woodpecker, 12/31,48 – Dick Lundy, dir.) – Woody Woodpecker starred in the most Westerns of any theatrical character (by the 1960’s, it had become a positive rut). In his first (and possibly best) Western epic (only rivaled by 1953‘s “Hot Noon, or 12 o’Clock for Sure”), Woody traps outlaw Buzz Buzzard in a pot-bellied stove and tosses in a crate of dynamite. The blast obliterates the stove, and transforms Buzz into a transparent spirit, who flits effeminately over to one end of the saloon, where Woody appears dressed as a hotel bellboy before two elevator doors. He clicks a clicker, and the first elevator opens – run by a little angel who asks, “Going up?” Obviously not, as Woody slams the door in her face. He clicks for the second elevator – opened by a large devil, who announces, “Goin’ down!” Woody pushes Buzz in, clicks his clicker, and the door closes, taking Buzz you-know-where. Woody trademark laughs for the iris out.
“A Mutt In a Rut” (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 5/27/49 – I. Sparber, dir.) – This unassuming, lacking in finesse Noveltoon, featuring a character called “Dog Face” who appeared in only one other film, A Self Made Mongrel (1945), turns out to be of some influence to at least two other cartoons, who built on the ideas with more aplomb. It itself is derivative, taking a heavy leaf in plot setup from Pluto’s Judgment Day (also reviewed last week). Dog Face is forced to share his home with a homeless kitten taken in by his owner on a snowy night. Despite several mean tricks by him, the kitten stays, and the owner reprimands him. Angry at his lot, Dog Face mutters, “I wish I was dead.” The kitten chooses this opportune moment to knock a heavy vase over, konking the dog and knocking him out. His transparent soul departs. It would be hard to believe that anyone by this time would remember Terry’s Golf Nuts from 1930 (see last week) – but somehow Famous comes up with the same idea of a shaftless elevator (this time with flapping wings) as a means of transportation to the afterlife. Dog Face disembarks atop a cloud, and spies the towering gates to “Dog Heaven”. Looking through the gates, he sees several dogs with wings flying and playing harps.
One dachshund is too long, and has to have his flight assisted by a balloon tied to his rear end. A carousel offers other dogs various comforts – like robotic hands for a back scratcher, sprays of scented flea powder (sending the fleas floating skyward as miniature angels too), and a bone dispenser in the manner of a carousel “brass ring” chute. Dog Face comments, “Dog gone, what a wonderful life. It’s sure the cats – without cats.” Digging his way under the gate with his paws, he tries to get in on a free meal, piling up steaks from a giant tower of them just being served. But a police bulldog angel stops him, inquiring, “Where are your wings?” He is brought before judge St. Bernard, and charged in a string of gibberish double-talk with “Felineous assault” upon the kitten. In a straight lift from Pluto’s Judgment Day, an all-kitten jury unanimously rules him guilty. A horned, toothed elevator appears, swallowing him, and taking him down below. A cat devil puts him on furnace duty, with flames from the furnace door getting him in the rear end between each scoop. A “Good Rumor” cat (wordplay on “Good Humor” ice cream”) appears, and Dog Face begs him for something cool – but the “ice cream” stick is actually red hot. Spotting a fire hydrant, he attempts to open it’s valve – but it develops a face and the personality of Jimmy Durante, yelling “Let go of my shnozzola”. The valve cap finally pops – and he’s got fire inside too, imitating Durante’s signature line, “Hot – cha, cha, cha, cha, cha!” Finally, a giant cat dressed as a chef flattens Dog Face with a spatula on a huge grill, morphing him into a hot dog. At last, Dog Face awakes in the same manner as Pluto in “Judgment Day”, with a fireplace ember burning his rear end in the living room. As with Pluto, he befriends the cat, rocking him in a cradle while feeding him on each side between each rock.
“Mouse Mazurka” (Warner, Sylvester the Cat, 6/11/49 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – Set in the mythical land of Slobovia, Sylvester pursues a Russian-style mouse. The mouse gets an idea to spook Sylvester, emptying a bottle of nitro glycerin from a shelf and filling it with tap water. He then reveals himself on the shelf, casually tossing the bottle with one hand up and down in the air. Sylvester cringes at every throw. A high toss, however, lands the bottle on another shelf above – and dislodges a second bottle, filled with real nitro glycerin. The mouse now tops his psych-out of Sylvester by drinking the entire contents of the bottle – then proceeding to launch himself off the shelf in swan dive. Sylvester has to dive in with a feather pillow for a life-saving catch. The moue, however, devotes the remainder of the cartoon to placing himself in hair-raising peril, leaving Sylvester to be his rescuer. Finally, the mouse breaks into a Russian-style bouncing dance, take one powerful bounce – and is blown to kingdom come! We see the mouse transformed into an angel with robes, wings, and halo, floating among the clouds, completely at a loss as to how he got there, and shrugging his shoulders to the audience. Back on Earth, a narrator goads Sylvester that now, he’ll never catch that little mouse. Sylvester snidely laughs back, “That’s what you think!”, and runs to the bottle shelf, finding another bottle of real nitro glycerin. Swallowing the contents, he duplicates the mouse’s dance – and is blown up too! In heaven, a new arrival materializes, to the mouse’s shock, as Sylvester, an angel too, chases and pounces at the mouse from cloudbank to cloudbank.
“Heavenly Puss” (MGM, Tom and Jerry, 7/9/49 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.) – Combining elements of “A Mutt in a Rut” and “Pluto’s Judgment Day”, Hanna and Barbera transcend from mere borrowing into creation of something memorable, lasting, and liberally nuanced with personality and new twists. We sense things will be a little bit different in this episode, as the mood begins with somewhat more ominous tone. Tom’s in an unusually sinister vein today – as he greets Jerry’s morning attempt to snitch a cracker by almost taking his arm off with a carving knife. Jerry flees up a flight of stairs – but Tom pulls up the stairway carpeting from its tacks and starts yanking the rug to bring Jerry down. As Jerry runs furiously to keep pace with the moving rug, he reacts in shock at what’s above – Tom is inadvertently pulling with the rug an upright piano on the next floor, rapidly approaching the staircase. Jerry just manages to dart out of the way as the piano whooshes down the staircase. Tom reacts too late, and has nowhere to run. The piano top smashes him into the wall. The piano rolls back a few feet, and its lid pivots open – revealing Tom stuck to it, flatter than a pancake. He collapses on the floor – and his transparent soul rises up, as the entrance to an escalator (a new twist on Dog Face’s elevator) dissolves into view in the wall.
Tom steps onto the escalator – a towering golden structure spiraling endless stories tall, leading up into the stratosphere (beautifully animated in perspective). At its top, Tom finds a gated golden train station, with sign reading “Heavenly Express.” At an information booth, a gentle-voiced old conductor cat checks reservations of the day’s arrivals. First in line: Tom’s old rival Butch, as to whom the conductor reads, “Cause of decease – lost fight with bulldog.” Butch is permitted to board – wearing bandages, an arm sling, and with a set of bulldog dentures still embedded in his tail. Next applicant: “Struck with flatiron while singing on a backyard fence” – and he has the head lump to prove it. The next cat “didn’t see the steamroller coming”, and walks past in flattened condition. “Fluff, Muff, and Puff” turn out to be three kittens emerging from a water-filled sack, leading the conductor to comment “What some people won’t do.” Now it’s Tom’s turn. He tries to sneak by unnoticed, but the conductor quickly points out his record – whole life spent persecuting an innocent little mouse. He is denied passage, but told that the Express doesn’t leave for an hour. Given a blank “Certificate of Forgiveness”, he is informed that if he can obtain Jerry’s signature on same within the hour, he’ll be permitted to pass. If not – – – the conductor demonstrates on a heavenly tv screen. A picture of torrential flames appears on the set, clearing to a view of a huge devil bulldog with pitchfork and a boiling cauldron, shouting to the camera, “Let me have ‘im!. Send him down. Give him to me now!” Tom’s eyes nearly pop out of their sockets in terror. Reminded again he has only an hour, Tom is setnt back to earth in a puff of smoke.
A celestial clock only Tom can see ticks off his time. Tom prepares a large cake, reading, “To my pal”, and presents himself at Jerry’s mousehole. Before he can even fill Jerry in on the setup, Jerry devours the cake. Tom grabs him back out of the mousehole, insistently presenting him with the certificate and a pen. Without even reading the document, Jerry squirts ink into Tom’s face, and runs back into the wall. Seeing he’s getting nowhere, Tom hatches a desperation plan. Hiding behind a chair, he practices writing Jerry’s name on the carpet, then is about to commit a forgery on the document. But a heavenly light shines upon him, and the conductor’s voice cautions him, “Uh uh uh uh! It’s back to Jerry. Tom knocks at his hole again, offering a slice of cheese, but clearly pointing out the paper as a condition. Jerry stops and reads it – and realizes he’s being offered a bribe. In moral outrage, he tears up the paper! Tom is furious, and grabs a fireplace poker to smash Jerry with. Seen only to Tom, a blast of red smoke appears behind him – the devil bulldog appears, sadistically encouraging him: “Atta’ boy, Tom! Hit him and lets go!” Tom trembles and shakes his head no, and the devil fades away. Tom runs offscreen with the paper bits – and returns a moment later with the paper patched together with Scotch tape. He engages in a desperate display of visual pantomime to tell Jerry of the consequences if he doesn’t get his signature, and pleads for mercy.
After several moments of jaundiced deliberation, Jerry finally relents, and starts to sign – but the pen seems to have no ink left. Meanwhile, the celestial clock is striking, and a voice from above shouts “All aboard!” Tom grabs the pen, shakes it vigorously, and gets its ink flowing again in a massive blot and streak all over the wall. Jerry finally signs, and Tom whisks up the document and races for the escalator, overshooting its steps before he can board. But he gets only about five steps up when the whole thing disappears, and a trap door opens in the floor below him – a one-way path to the “other place”. Tom waves us a timid “bye bye”, and falls – down, down – and right into the boiling pot. The devil holds Tom inside the pot with his pitchfork and laughs uproariously. As Tom struggles, the scene dissolves – to find Tom on the carpet in the living room in front of the fireplace, pantomiming running in his sleep. In a direct lift from “Pluto’s Judgment Day”, an ember from the fire pops onto his tail, causing him to awake with a shriek. He looks around, and realizes it was only a dream. Tom races to Jerry’s mousehole and knocks, and when Jerry pops his head out, Tom grabs him up in his arms and begins kissing and hugging him. The iris out freezes in place to focus on Jerry, who can only look at the audience with gestures as if to say, “What happened?” Hanna and Barbera would remember this film in their television days, loosely reworking it (with a borrow or two from “Satan’s Waitin’”, discussed below) into Pixie and Dixie’s Heavens To Jinksy, for the Huckleberry Hound show.
“Mice Capades” (Paramount/Famous, Herman and Katnip, 10/3/52 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.) – Written about recently in a couple of articles on this website (and starting to get the attention it has long deserved), this debatably best of the Herman and Katnip series centers on another well-thought out psych-out of the fiendish but gullible cat. As in “Mouse Mazurka”, it involves a bottle – this time full of vinegar. But Herman switches labels, applying one marked “Poison” over the original one. While Katnip is out cold, Herman tips the bottle on a shelf above and pours its contents into Katnip’s open mouth. Katnip sputters to life, reaching for the dripping bottle – and faints dead away when he reads its label. Donning some powder and a fake halo and robe, Herman appears above his head, announcing himself as one who has come to lead Katnip to greener pastures. Katnip, convinced he’s deceased, allows Herman to shut his eyes, as the mice load Katnip into a dumbwaiter, and lift him into the attic. Upstairs, the mice have all donned angel costumes, layered the furniture and trunks upstairs with cotton batting as makeshift clouds, and strung up wires so they can appear to fly past playing little harps. As Katnip emerges from the dumbwaiter, he sees a fake entrance the mice have built to the “Pearly Gates”.
One mouse greets him solemnly, “Peace, brother.” Katnip informally replies, “Duh, likewise I’m sure!” Seeing mice “flying”, Katnip becomes anxious to try too – but crashes onto an old chest, realizing he hasn’t got wings. From a high podium, Herman suddenly appears in judgment over Katnip: “No wings for you, cat. For you — the Fiery Furnace!” Other mice open a floor grating, inviting Katnip to “Step down.” Below, other mice are stoking a fire in a real furnace, whose flames are distantly visible to Katnip. The cat pleads for mercy, and Herman agrees to give him one more chance to return to earth and atone for his sins against the mice (similar to the “forgiveness” angle of “Heavenly Puss”), and tells him “And if you feed them, you shall win your wings.” Katnip joyously leaps back down the dumbwaiter, and immediately starts laying out a feast for the mice. Unfortunately, he runs across the bottle – with the “Poison” label now starting to peel off, revealing the “Vinegar” label below. Katnip morphs into a giant lollipop, marked “Sucker.” As the mice remove their costumes and prepare for the feed, Katnip greets them – with a double-barreled shotgun. They dart back into their hole, Katnip aiming the rifle inside at them. In a feat of super strength, the mice bend the gun barrels into a “U” to point back at Katnip inside the wall. Katnip fires – and blasts himself. Lying prone on the floor, Katnip’s real, transparent angel emerges from his body – and is still vengeful, grabbing up Herman in his paw. But Herman reminds him, “Uh Uh! Remember the fiery furnace!” Katnip panics, seeing only image of himself standing in flames trying to cool himself with a small fan. Remembering Herman’s words on how to win his wings, Katnip is finally seen as ghostly slave to the mice, who get their feed after all and ad-lib commands to the cat (“This spoon is dirty!”), while Katnip races around to wait on them hand and foot.
“Pill Peddlers” (Terrytoons, Fox, Heckle and Jeckle, 4/1/53 – Connie Rasinski, dir.) – A nice surprise throwaway gag here, in one of the best Heckle and Jeckles. Vitamin pill hawkers H&J vie for customers against a champion bulldog running a gymnasium. The gym is in the lower floors of a tall skyscraper, and H&J race for the elevator. Missing the car, the bulldog jumps in the next adjacent elevator. The lights of the elevator cars are first seen through the windows of the skyscraper, both heading up – but suddenly start zigging and zagging sideways, diagonally, and across-each other’s paths in an impossible race. Inside their car, H&J watch the light panel as the lights progressively blink red for each floor in a downward descent. However, when the last floor’s light is reached, the red indicator does not stop, but keeps dropping lower and lower, disconnected entirely from the wall, until it hits the floor. The door of the elevator flies open. There, amidst a background of flame, is Satan. H&J react in shock, Heckle shouting, “Whoops! Too Low!”, and slam the door quickly to go back the other way.
“Satan’s Waitin’” (Warner, Tweety and Sylvester, 8/7/54 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) A direct homage to “Heavenly Puss” – but reversing the destination. Sylvester chases Tweety on power wires over the streets, then up the fire escape of a tall building. He catches Tweety, then tries to skid to a stop – but overshoots the roof ledge, finding himself standing on air twenty stories above the street. He tries to clutch Tweety for support – but only gets his tail feathers, then plummets. In desperation, he flaps the two small feathers with each hand – and begins to rise. Back on the roof, Tweety sees Sylvester’s hands rising above the ledge – and thinks Sylvester came back to return his feathers. He grabs them back out of Sylvester’s hands, and the helpless cat lands flattened on the sidewalk pavement. His soul rises up. In a clever tweak of the “Heavenly Puss” idea, two escalators appear – one going up, the other down. But the “up” escalator has a velvet rope across it – so Sylvester has to take the other one. In another reversal of the “Heavenly Puss” sequence, Sylvester travels down, down a long red spiraling escalator path, arriving before a devil bulldog at a judge’s bench. Looking up his record, the dog remarks, “My, we’ve been a BAD pussy cat, haven’t we?”
However, he advises Sylvester’s soul that it’s too bad cats have nine lives, and he’ll have to wait on a bench until the other eight show up – but the Devil assures him that “I’ll hurry them along!” Back on Earth, the remaining portions of Sylvester are finally reviving. The devil appears to him, congratulating him on having nothing to worry about, as he still has eight lives left. Encouraged, Sylvester resumes the pursuit of Tweety. A series of misadventures ensue, as the devil goads Sylvester to take more and more risky chances, including several at an amusement park, each resulting in one or more lives joining life one waiting below. Finally, Sylvester gasps in realization that he has only one life left. He finally ignores the devil, refusing to chase Tweety – “I don’t want him!” he shouts, and runs for his life. In a final scene, he plans the remainder of his days, storing supplies to lock himself in the night into a bank vault – the safest place he can think of. But later that night, a pair of bank robbers show up, one cautioning the other on being careful with the nitro glycerin to blow the safe. The nitro is ignited – to a tremendous explosion. We return to the escalators of hell, with the bank robbers riding it. “You used too much, Muggsy”, says the first one to the other. Right behind them, also riding down, is Sylvester’s ninth life, disgustedly remarking, “Now he tells him!” Later poorly reworked (with the forced addition of new cast members to pose in the Tweety and Sylvester roles) as a Dogfather Cartoon, Deviled Yeggs (Depatie-Freleng, UA, 1974).
“The Hole Idea” (Warner, 4/16/56 – Robert McKimson, dir. and animator)- This cartoon, about a nutty little professor’s invention of the “portable hole”, has been extensively reviewed in a “Baxter’s Breakdowns” article on this website. Only the ending fits our present trail. Nagged by his irritating wife for the unpteenth time, the professor lets one of his portable holes land directly in the path of his wife. She falls in – and seems to take an exceptionally long time to land. “My that was a deep one, wasn’t it!” quips the professor. But in similar fashion to “Seein’ Red, White, and Blue”, a commotion is heard within the hole, followed by a roar of flame, and the wife is tossed out by Satan himself, who begs the professor, “Isn’t it bad enough down there without her?”
“His Better Elf” (Universal/Lantz, Woody Woodpecker, 5/19/58 – Paul J. Smith, dir.) – In a rare fantasy-themed episode, Woody meets a little green version of himself – a woodpecker leprechaun. Promised three wishes, Woody, tired of his humble surroundings, wishes for “Gold, gold, GOLD!” The leprechaun says he’ll find his gold at the end of the rainbow, and flies him there in a scene that, at first, makes you wonder if you’re watching a Little Audrey dream from Famous Studios. But this is a Woody cartoon, and there’s one snag. He finds gold all right, but when he takes it outside, realizes he’s exiting a bank – with the alarm sounding. A police chase ensues, with Woody eluding the cops for several minutes, but finally winding up in handcuffs between two minions of the law. Woody whispers to the floating leprechaun that he wishes he was out of there. Wish 2 is fulfilled by substituting in place of Woody in the cuffs – a skunk. The officers are so panicked, they can’t seem to find their keys, and run crashing and bumping into each other with the skunk in tow down the street. Back home, Woody is no better off than before, and the leprechaun prepares to take his leave. “Just a minute, gnomey!” says Woody, reminding him that he has one wish left. “Out with it, my boy”, encourages the leprechaun. With sadistic glint in his eyes, Woody shouts, “GO TO BLAZES!!” The leprechaun’s face falls into a dour, pathetic stare, as the background instantly morphs into a descent of the leprechaun into the bowels of Hades. But this is no new experience to the leprechaun, whose face changes expression to grumpiness, as he is met by a large devil-woodpecker, who cheerily greets him, “Welcome back, O’Toole! So I see you wore out your welcome again!”
“Now Hear This” (Warner, 4/27/63 – Chuck Jones, dir.) – Debatably the most eccentric of all Warner Brothers’ cartoons – literally defying verbal description. What is perhaps oddest is that the explanation for the whole affair is hiding in plain sight. Buried in a bizarre presentation of credits is a walk-on by a devil – with only one horn. We get so many zonked-out graphics in the opening sequence that we don’t even give this sight a second thought. Suddenly, in overly thick modern outlines with hardly any backgrounds, we meet an old-time Britisher, holding a bent green ear trumpet to one ear to listen through. He comes across a new looking bright red trumpet on the ground. Pooh poohing his old appliance, he tosses the green one over his shoulder, where it neatly lands in a trash can marked “Keep Britain Tidy” (a play on then prevalent anti-littering campaign slogan, “Keep America Clean”). From the minute he begins using the new horn, the Britisher’s life becomes a surreal nightmare of outlandish Treg Brown sound effects and impossible happenings, leaving the old man anything from frustrated to devastated. By the end of the film, he rediscovers the wastebasket, dumps the red horn on the ground, and retrieves his old beat-up green one, happily limping off while listening to the strains of “Rue Brittania” through it. Suddenly a spurt of flame erupts from the ground. It’s the devil again, looking all around, then finally spying the red horn. Picking it up, he screws it into the socket where his “horn” was missing, smiles, then disappears. A “mystery man” who’s randomly appeared all through the picture presents a sign with a moral: “The other fellow’s trumpet always looks greener.”
“Devil’s Feud Cake” (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 2/9/63 – Friz Freleng, dir.), is a blatant “cheater” integrating old clips into some new wraparound loosely based on “Satan’s Waitin’”. A “parachute” turns out to be a plain old knapsack, causing Yosemite Sam to crash from a plane escape through the ground, and into the same escalatored Hades Sylvester visited previously. “What the devil is your name?” asks Satan. Yosemite answers, and begins bawling. Looking up Sam’s record, Satan announces he could use a man like Sam, to capture a certain rabbit he’s long wanted to have down there, and if he captures Bugs, he’ll be set free. Of course, the old clips show Yosemite always losing, but Satan keeps giving him just “one more chance”, until Yosemite gets fed up, telling Satan, “get him yourself!” Exiting the shot, he returns in a devil suit, and announces, “I’m stayin!!” The whole thing got redone in even more extended use of clips, as the first part of The Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981).
“Pink Panzer” (Depatie-Freleng/UA, Pink Panther, 9/15/65 – Hawley Pratt, dir.) – A tale of neighborly escalation, as Pink and a human neighbor are goaded on by an omniscient voice (Paul Frees) into battle, building from a minor squabble over a borrowed lawn mower into militarization with cannons, tanks, and integrated live action footage of military artillery. Amidst the shot and shell materializes the goading voice – the devil himself, dancing with glee,, who turns to the audience and says, “You know, it might be a good idea to return that lawn mower you borrowed!”
While angels haven’t made the scene much in recent animation, Disney provided us in 1997 with a feature appearance for the Lord of the Underworld, in “Hercules”, where James Woods gave us a sterling performance as the frustrated ne’er-do-well of the gods, Hades, non-ably assisted by his bumbling sidekicks, Pain and Panic. Woods continued his role in the subsequent television series of the same name – continuing to impress with his wit and timing.
This concludes our little jaunt into the afterlife. Now to get back to enjoying some life in the present tense.