I’ve really mixed myself into an omelette on this project, which promises to be my longest trail to date, with more and more discoveries hatching. Yet the studios’ creativity kept finding new garnishment to vary the flavor for even the most discerning palate – suitable to grace the table of even their newest stars.
The Egg Cracker Suite (Lantz/Universal, Oswald Rabbit, 3/22/43 – Ben Hardaway/Emery Hawkins, dir.) marks Oswald’s final appearance in a starring role – now redesigned as a gray rabbit much in the manner of his last previous appearance, Happy Scouts, and in the form we would most frequently know him in comic book appearances in “Walter Lantz’s New Funnies”. (For the record, this was not his last film appearance for Lantz on the big screen: he would appear again in a walk-on cameo as part of the square dance crowd in The Woody Woodpecker Polka, and also in an odd automotive theatrical commercial with Andy Panda which has been spotlighted in a Thunderbean Oswald DVD.)
Essentially, this is Lantz’s remake and update on Disney’s Funny Little Bunnies, with Oswald cast as chief Easter Bunny over a troop of supporting rabbits. The first stop on their Easter morning march is the chicken coop, where Oswald serves as musical conductor to a clucking symphony of egg laying hens (audible evidence would indicate some vocal “moonlighting” of Disney’s chicken expert Florence Gill for another studio).
But the grand finale note is saved for Florabelle – a female ostrich, who lays a whopper, leaving the hens to whistle in envy. Outside, each of the rabbits are collecting the eggs from an egg chute. The smallest of the bunch is the last – and gets saddled with the mammoth egg, which nearly flattens him. Next comes the boiling vat. Oswald dips batches of eggs in hot water, then relaxes briefly while setting an “egg timer” – a cuckoo clock which, at the appointed time, yells “TAKE ‘EM OUT! TAKE ‘EM OUT!” On to the paint department. Various bunnies obtain color from local flowers. Some by putting the blooms through wringers. Others by “milking” the color out like a cow. Oswald has his own method, placing miscellaneous blossoms into a press, where all colors of the rainbow are squeezed out into individual pails. The bottom of the press bears a sign: “Technicolor”. Painting begins, with a rabbit spinning an egg on a rotating platform and painting spirals – but having one egg hatch into a chick, who is none too happy at getting colorful convict’s stripes. The little rabbit with the ostrich egg is having his troubles dunking his burden into a colorful dye pot, as the egg won’t roll up the ramp – then plops in when he least expects it to splash him with color. Finally, the baskets are assembled, and taken to Bunnyville Airport – where they are loaded on WWII style bombers. Little bunny is last with his finished egg, which never quite makes the flight – as it hatches into a baby ostrich, who tosses the little bunny into the plane instead. Over their destinations, the planes’ bomb bay doors dump a barrage of baskets to Earth below, their bows ballooning as parachutes. The little rabbit is included in the aerial drop, but waves us a fond farewell for the fade out. A high-budgeted cartoon with unusually careful checking on the inking and painting compared to the studio’s often-irregular norm of the day, and a lively Darryl Calker musical score. Fun!
Eggs Don’t Bounce (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 12/14/43 (IMDB claims 1/28/44), I. Sparber, dir.) marks the screen debut of Margé’s Little Lulu, fresh off the pages from The Saturday Evening Post (which gets prominent screen credit on her cartoons). While original titles for this film have not yet been unearthed, it presumably followed the format of all other Lulus to follow, giving the character the only “rotating star” seen to date except for the studio’s biggest moneymaker, Popeye – placing Lulu in a position of unusual prestige. (Only one other Paramount character would be labeled a “star” – purely on the wishful thinking of her creators – being Little Audrey, the “substitute” little girl Famous came up with when it tired of paying royalty checks to Margé.)
The film is given extended length to establish the character, and takes awhile getting started, placing Lulu in miscellaneous vignettes to make things reminiscent of her one-panel strips for the Post. But ultimately, Lulu is sent on an errand by domestic servant Mandy (sort of Mammy Two-Shoes with a stereotypical face, and voiced as usual by Lillian Randolph) to get some eggs at the market, with the warning, “and be mighty careful not to disintegrate ‘em.” She and her dog obtain the eggs, but no sooner leave the store than finds herself in trouble crossing a busy street. She narrowly escapes the heavy traffic with her fragile burden, and thinking herself safe, rests on a park bench. The city council needs to appropriate a better budget for upkeep of city property, as the seat of the bench snaps in two underneath her, launching her dog and the eggs skyward off the respective halves of the bench. In mid air, the dog manages to round up all of the flying eggs – save one. He reaches for the last stray – and drops all the rest, with the last egg smashing on his head upon landing. With the money for eggs spent, Lulu helplessly tries to figure how to reassemble the shells like a jigsaw puzzle, while the voice of Mandy haunts her thoughts, leading to a dream sequence where a giant Mandy pursues Lulu through a dark world of eggs, to an original tune, “Now Ya’ Done It!”. The dream is engagingly surreal, with Lulu swept away in a flood of egg yolks, mixed into a whirlpool by an egg-beater, herded at pitchfork’s point by deviled eggs, and even meeting a giant egg Santa Claus who writes her off the “nice” list. The scene returns to reality, as Lulu trudges dejectedly homeward. But she brightens with an idea – to borrow some eggs from local hen Henrietta.
However, Henrietta is in no mood to share her newly-laid nest of eggs – even when Lulu tries to bribe her with delectable ears of corn. Lulu resorts to subterfuge, having her dog run distractions with costumes and parlor tricks outside Henrietta’s barn door to draw her attention while Lulu slips up behind the nest and pulls eggs out from under the hen. Henrietta catches her in the act, and plasters both the culprits with a can of green paint. But paint might be Lulu’s answer after all. As Henrietta racks up her eggs with a pool rack (borrowing the “Fine Feathered Friend” gag from the preceding year), we see a mysterious tall farmhand, in stereotypical blackface, enter the barn with “mouth waterin’” for fried chicken. Wielding a sharp axe in Stepin’ Fetchit-style slow motion, the stranger contemplates whether to eat first the leg, the wing, or the neck, carving one of Henrietta’s tail feathers in two. Henrietta runs in a flurry of feathers from the barn, and the eggs are for the taking – by a blackface Lulu, who was standing on the shoulders of her dog in the farmhand costume. Running home at full speed with the new bag of eggs, Lulu reaches the steps of her home – and just shy of the door, catches her foot on a step, trips, and smashes the eggs again. Mandy arrives at the door, but is too busy laughing at the sight of Lulu to punish her. Henrietta’s eggs weren’t the eating kind, and Lulu’s face is surrounded by a dozen newly-hatched chicks!
Cilly Goose (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 3/24/44 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.), stands out as one of the finest and funniest of the early Noveltoon releases. This may account for the fact that all currently known prints of this title (including a 35mm I once viewed at UCLA) feature the unusual re-release opening, “A Paramount Champion – Brought Back By Popular Demand”. Trade releases which have been previously printed on this website regarding 50’s Paramount schedules have referred to several Popeye re-releases as “Paramount Champions”, but I’ve yet to see physical evidence of any reshooting of the credits on any print paralleling this one. Was this the only Noveltoon to get issue twice?
A mama goose (Cilly) waits expectantly to lay her first egg, Her nest is already equipped for the new arrival, with a rocking horse, a large child’s block, and a book of fairy tales. When the egg is laid, she runs around the farmyard, anxious to show off her accomplishment and brag at how wonderful it is. But the animals around her don’t find it so wonderful, and all seem to have outdone her considerably. A hen puts her in her place by laying a tower of eggs, A mama pig has a dozen piglets suckling in the mud. And as for Mr. rabbit – one look at a nearby hill reveals the entire countryside covered in his personal creations. Dejected, Cilly returns to her nest, resigned to the reality that no one will view her handiwork as important. She aimlessly flips through pages of the fairy tale book – and happens upon the story of the Goose that laid the golden egg. Well, why not? With the help of a can of gold paint, Cilly refashions her egg into something that no one can belittle or overlook. She is suddenly the talk of the barnyard – and the world. A fox reporter imitating Walter Winchell (even copying his signature teletype sound effect between “Flashes” by means of a woodpecker pecking on a paddle) announces the news to the nation. Cilly receives honorary degrees from colleges. Makes the cover of Cluck magazine. Launches battleships (getting soused on the champagne from the broken bottle). Has her image carved on Mt. Rushmore. Tours New York on the back of a fire engine riding with the silhouetted figure of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. And finally is booked into Madison Square Garden for a personal appearance to see her lay a golden egg – live, (Who is her press agent? How did Cilly let herself get roped into this one?) While armed security stand guard outside her dressing room, Cilly paces nervously inside, realizing things have gone too far.
Looking at a poster of herself on the wall, she sees her image transform into a roast goose on a platter. The doors to the arena entrance open, and Cilly is pushed out with the procession of guards into the spotlight. Inside the arena, a humongous platform has been constructed, at the head of a tall staircase, on which rests a nest connected to a long spiraling chute, leading down to a huge soft velvet pillow. Attendants take Cilly’s royal style robes and leave her to climb the stair alone before the masses, settling her tail into the chute high in the nest above. Cilly attempts the faintest of smiles to the public, but her face betrays a sick quality brought on by her sense of impending disaster. Begrudgingly, she strains, strains again, and with an impact that hits her like a multi-level twitching chain reaction, an egg emerges. Cilly can’t look, knowing she is about to be revealed as a fraud. A spotlight follows the egg down the long-long chute, but the chute obscures the egg from the camera’s view. With a small bell-tone, the egg comes to rest on the pillow, and to Cilly’s bewilderment, a cheer goes up. She finally peeks with one eye, and, wonder of wonders, there below is a real solid gold egg! Amazed at this result, she wonders if the feat can be repeated, and tries again. Another case of chain-reation jitters – and another gold egg meets the first below. Cilly’s so happy now that she really gets into the swing of things, as her laying jitters take on a conga beat. Down the chute roll more eggs, first singles, then in pairs, then three at a time, then four, then in egg crates, and finally a mass jackpot of golden eggs pile up below. Cilly stands to rally the crowd in cheering for her – but the crowd’s mood has changed, as gold fever sets in.
The audience rushes the arena, fighting over the eggs below the platform. More members of the crowd climb the platform, intent on taking the source herself. Cilly leaps off the platform and out the door of the arena, with the crowd in pursuit. She resorts to disguise as an old lady – but another case of laying jitters hits, and a gold egg pops out from under her dress to betray her. The crowd grab her and place her head in a wringer, attempting to squeeze out of her all the eggs they can get. At this moment, the scene transforms back to Cilly’s nest in the barnyard, where Cilly has merely caught her head between boards around her nest. It was only a dream. Well, maybe not entirely, as her still-normal egg hatches a fine young gosling, with one notable unusual feature – a prominent buck tooth, in solid gold!
Animation of the title character is exceptional, and a fine example of making a line drawing “act”, running the gamut of emotions and expression, without ever uttering a word of dialog. The dramatic buildup of the arena sequence is also an exceptional piece of work for the Paramount boys, making you really feel for Cilly’s plight, as well as celebrate in her short-lived euphoria. This title grabbed me from first viewing, and it still scores big-time no matter how many times I see it. A winner, or as they said, Champion.
Contrary Condor (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 4/21/44 – Jack King, dir.) – One wonders if egg collecting was a current fad of 1940’s “egg-heads”, as three different studios would turn out cartoons about it within a span of four years. Sniffles’ “The Egg Collector” discussed last week, was the first. While Sniffles was a mere amateur, Donald claims to be a pro, mounting an expedition into the high Andes (following in a series of “good neighbor policy” shorts and features promoting Latin America produced by Disney and several other major studios at the time) in search of the rare Condor egg. A nest is located with two giant eggs – as big as the Duck himself – and apparently unattended. As Donald attempts to lift one, the other egg hatches a noisy youngster. As with Sniffles’ Little Brother Rat, Donald thinks the solution to his racket is to put him back inside the shell. But seeing the approaching shadow of the Mama bird, Donald thinks better of the idea, and uses the eggshell for his own hiding place, booting the baby bird out. Mama lands, and while baby tries to signal her of Donald’s presence, she merely settles herself down on the eggshell. Inside, Donald swelters from the sudden burst of heat, checking a scientific thermometer which registers over 300 degrees. He converts his tail feathers into a fan for temporary relief, then wipes beads of sweat off his brow. They splatter inside the egg, their heat causing the shell to crack further – until Donald is about to be crushed by the condor’s mammoth weight. Grabbing a shard of eggshell, Donald plants it where the feathers are the thinnest – and Mama leaps off with a yelp. With the aid of a feathered Tyrolean-style cap, Donald adds plumage to his tail and poses as a second chick – turning the real chick green with envy when Mama starts showing favoritism in the wrong direction. Mama tries to give flying lessons – but flight has never been something within Donald’s natural bundle of talents. After much stalling, he fakes a broken wing; then, to get mother off of his case, he rigs a decoy condor out of some plant plumage and drops it tumbling helplessly into a canyon, splashing into the river below. Mama weeps on the riverbank at the loss, while an evil-grinning Donald attempts to make off with the remaining unhatched egg. But little condor remains on the watch, and climbs over him on an upper branch, lifting the egg from Donald’s grasp. Donald races at the chick, lunging for the egg – but overshoots the cliff, and drops into the canyon himself. He just manages to save the egg from cracking, and is discovered in the river with it by Mama, for a tearful reunion. The final scene is at nightfall, with Mama holding fast to her two “babies” in the nest, to Donald’s mumbling frustration, while a narrator states “So you can see how difficult it is to get the egg – without getting the bird!”
Swooner Crooner (Warner, Porky Pig, 5/6/44 – Frank Tashlin, dir.) – As if production demands weren’t tough enough on cartoon hens in the past, Porky Pig really kicks things into high at his “Flockheed Eggcraft Factory” – dedicated to 100% war work. Now the hens don’t get ro merely sit in their comfy box nests on the wall, but punch time clocks, and take their place on a massive line of conveyor belts, where there nests pass over the production area and the hens deliver their “output” through bomb bay doors into the boxing machinery – sometimes in singles, sometimes in dozens of eggs at once. Only one thing can grind the efficiency of this operation to a halt – the number 1 heartthrob of any 40’s bobby-soxer – FRANKIE! A pencil-thin crooning rooster, parodying the youthful image of the great Sinatra, swoons the ladies for a loop, and causes them to abandon their posts, until Porky finds nothing in the nests but signs reading “Absentee”, and others reading “Ditto”. Outside, he witnesses the source of the trouble, and the effect – an entire farmyard of hens fainted dead away.
Next day, a want ad in the entertainment section of the paper announces “Rooster Auditions” to keep the hens producing. Porky endures performances by chicken counterparts of Nelson Eddy, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante, and Cab Calloway – and is entirely unimpressed. But one ray of hope remains – a baritone rooster in Hawaiian shirt, fedora, and smoking a pipe – the feathered equivalent of the earlier-generation idol that started it all – Bing Crosby! A singing competition commences between the “old groaner” and the new poultry on the block. Surprisingly, neither command a lead over the other, Instead, “Bingle” draws first blood by getting a swooning hen to lay eggs while under his spell, and Frankie proves he can accomplish the same feat by serenading another hen. The egg count gets larger and larger with each new cadenza, some hens laying a pyramid of eggs all at once. And even a newborn chick lays an egg five times its size (responding, “Whew!”). The contest goes far into the night, until everywhere you look, Porky’s farm is covered with piles and piles of eggs. “Th-that’s swell fellas”, says Porky, asking how they managed to get the hens to lay all those eggs. “It’s very simple, Porky”, the two vocalists respond in unison, and each directs a few characteristic notes at Porky himself in demonstration. Porky breaks into a fit of giggles – and produces the first pile of pig eggs in zoological history! Crammed with sight gags, this little gem earned Warner an Oscar nomination – but alas, no statue.
Here’s a clip:
Happy Go Nutty (MGM, Screwy Squirrel, 6/24/44 – Tex Avery, dir.), deserves honorable mention for a “throwaway” gag – literally. When Meathead the dog tries to tell Screwy off, Screwy responds, “Aw, go lay an egg.” Meathead sullenly leaves the scene, then returns momentarily, pointing with pride to a newly-laid egg in his hand. Screwy reacts with shock – but puts the prop to good use, throwing it squarely in Meathead’s face.
Birdy and the Beast (Warner (Tweety), 8/19/44, Robert Clampett, dir.), also deserves brief mention for an egg gag and a lift from the early Disney The Musical Farmer, reviewed in Part 1 of this article series. A cat, seeking to catch Tweety, lies on his back with his body concealed in a tree trunk, and a makeshift nest in his mouth, in hopes that Tweety will walk right into his open jaws. As a finishing touch, he nails a sign on the tree trunk above him, reading “Home Sweet Home”. Tweety takes an immediate interest – however, the real estate market is competitive, and a passing hen shoos Tweety to one side and claims the nest for herself. She settles to rest in the nest for a few seconds, then Tweety hears the sound effect of a slot machine registering a jackpot. The hen leaps up from the nest, revealing a full load of eggs inside it. In the same fashion as the hen in the early Mickey cartoon, she repeatedly clucks, “Look what I did! Look what I did!” The cat finally reveals himself under the straw, smiling a broad embarrassed smile, with the eggs in his mouth resembling two rows of oversized teeth. Tweety asides to the audience, “I like him. He’s silly”, then slaps his wings against the cat’s cheeks simultaneously, smashing all the eggs in the sorry cat’s mouth.
Lost and Foundling (Warner, Merrie Melodies (Sniffles), 9/30/44 – Charles M. (Chick) Jones, dir.). A few years had now passed, and Chuck Jones was learning – at a gradual but continuing pace – how to be funny. He has been quoted as considering 1942 a turning point, where he heard the unusual sound of audience laughter to his cartoons. He now had a few classics under his belt, including The Dover Boys at Pimento University (1942), and My Favorite Duck (1942), discussed above, among others. And Sniffles, though appearing less frequently on the screen, had also been in development. A breakthrough title was The Brave Little Bat (1941) in which the 1940-style Sniffles meets his look-alike counterpart in a bat who simply doesn’t know when to stop talking (a trait presumably adapted from an earlier Friz Freleng rodent, Little Blabbermouse, who appeared in two cartoons). It seems a fair guess that the bat got more laughs than Sniffles did in that episode – because by his next appearance, Sniffles had become the bat – not with wings, but adopting the bat’s same voice and personality. Sniffles would remain in this guise throughout the remainder of his short screen career, and among at least some afficionados may be better remembered as the aggravating fast-talker who always seems to have his nose in someone else’s business. (His only modern cameo, in Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries’ “The Tail End”, was in this jabbering mode.) At a minimum, the change allowed for faster pacing, and inclusion of an increasing amount of gag material along the way.
Sniffles thus redeems his 1940 yawn-fests with this semi-classic. We open at the nest of a large hawk up in the mountains. Precariously balanced on the rocking nest of the musically snoring bird (snoring “Rockabye Baby”) is a small egg. In a revisit to the cliche from Harman-Ising’s The Lost Chick, the egg topples – but Jones takes its obstacle course far further than Harman-Ising did. The egg rolls from limb to hollow lower branch of tree and under two roosting birds, disturbing them so that one smacks the other for upsetting its slumber. Off another tree limb for a plummet into the petals of a flower for a soft landing. The egg rolls along a mountain road, missing the tires of a truck by briefly rolling into the ruts in the road left by other vehicles. It rolls onto a bridge but faces another truck, which misses again due to pushing up loose boards in the bridge, angling one board enough to let the egg fall through the crack. (The road department better get to work on that structure – imaging what would have happened if the truck was going the other way.) Down a slope into a valley the egg rolls, and across a river by means of perfect timing to roll onto a floating log, then missing a waterfall by rolling off the log and onto the opposite bank. And finally into the the underground hole of Sniffles (who seems to have picked out a home for this cartoon from the same designer/decorator as Bugs Bunny – complete with RFD mailbox reading, “S. Mouse”. The egg neatly rolls into Sniffles bedroom and under him while he rests. Sniffles finally arouses and stretches – then notices the new arrival. Nervously, he runs to an encyclopedia. The page he reads from states, “No, silly. Mice don’t lay eggs.” With a sign of relief, he returns to the egg, which chooses this moment to hatch a small fledgling. Sniffles finds him adorable, referring to him as a “baby chicken”, and realizing the bird is an orphan, decides he’ll have to mother him – correction, father him.
The passage of seasons is depicted through four parallel shots of the exterior of Sniffles home, with Sniffles emerging from his hole to give the young bird piggy-back rides. The bird learns to talk by summer, stating, “Whee! Giddyap! Hi Ho. Sliver!” But as each season progresses, the bird grows notably larger. So much so that by Winter, the whole ground rumbles at the effort to push him through the mousehole entrance, even knocking down the mailbox – and the bird is so heavy, that Sniffles falls back into the mousehole under his weight, bird and all. Having named the bird “Orville”, Sniffles observes theres something awfully strange about him, as “Chickens don’t get as big as you are.” But figuring maybe he’s a special kind of chicken, Sniffles once again consults the encyclopedia – this time finding a huge illustration of “The Hawk”, with description of its food as including rodents, topped with a small illustration on the next page of “The Rodent” – looking exactly like Sniffles, complete with scarf and pork pie hat. A dazed Sniffles bluffs as Orville reads over his shoulder. “The silly things they do write in books nowadays.” Seeing a hungry look developing in Orville’s eyes, Sniffles ties to appease his taste buds with offer of a “nice, big, thick, tender, juicy bowl of – mush”. He wheels in the food, but Orville grabs the bottle of Worcester sauce and pours it on Sniffles’ arm instead. Narrowly missing his intended seasoned mouthful, Orville tries to play it cool, feigning sleepiness. He retires to bed, but his feet emerge frim under the covers, wielding a knife and fork. Sniffles too is restless, carrying a large pin to bed with him as a defensive weapon (causing Orville’s feet to time-step an impromptu exit like a pair of vaudeville dancers). Sniffles races to the living room, putting out eight cups of coffee, tuning the radio to loud march music, and reading a book titled “Wake Up and Live”. The bird counters these by retuning the radio to a soothing lullaby, pouring by way of a funnel a dose of “Opaltime for sleep” down Sniffles’ throat (a parody on the product “Ovaltine”, a drink that seemed to be touted in various years as capable of doing anything, down to the contradictory purposes of either gaining weight or losing weight), and offering Sniffles a soft bed (really two large bread slices and a pickle for a pillow). Sniffles succumbs, and lies helpless in the sandwich. The bird is about to chomp – but is haunted by visions of how kind Sniffles was in raising him over the year. He just can’t do it, and, gently placing Sniffles back in his real bed, wails near the book table at his inability to act like a hawk. The encyclopedia flies open as he pounds the table, to a page they didn’t read, describing a certain superior hawk that does not eat rodents – easily identified by a red spot under his wing. Orville races to a mirror to check. The scene dissolves to next morning, as Orville wakes Sniffles excitedly, filling Sniffles in, and displaying a red dot under one wing. A delighted Sniffles celebrates by taking Orville on another piggy-back ride. But a rear shot of the two reveals Orville’s surprise secret – a can of red paint and a paintbrush hidden in Orville’s hip pocket. (Do hawks have pockets?)
Booby Hatched (Warner, 10/14/44, Frank Tashlin, dir.) – Our scene opens on a barn in the middle of winter. As cold breezes and wafting snow blow through a cracked window pane, a Mama Duck inside the barn trembles with cold, her teeth (fine dentures these ducks have in their bill) chattering. She stands up from her nest to reveal the eggs she is trying to hatch, which also tremble and instantly turn blue. Mama rushes the eggs to a candle to see what’s going on inside. The first egg reveals silhouette of a duckling trying to keep warm with a miniature pot-bellied stove inside his shell. Inside the next, a duckling sneezes. Mama blesses him, “Gesundheit!”. and he responds, “Thank you.” The duckling in the third egg performs a classic figure skating routine. And the fourth is on skis and performs a ski jump, but makes a crash landing, leaving cracks in his eggshell. Mama returns to the nest and aligns the eggs in a neat triangle with a pool rack (again borrowed from “Fine Feathered Friend”). But sitting on them does nothing, as a nest thermometer reads, “Cold as a brass monkey”. She decides extreme measures are in order. Turning up the flame of a kerosene lamp, she places her rear end as close to the flame as she dares. Sweating and removing her scarf, she succeeds in making her tail a glowing red hot. Returning to the nest, she is about to set her fiery bottom upon her expected brood – when they all pop out of their eggs simultaneously, yelling: “DON’T DO IT!!! We’ll come out.”
Did I say all? Well, not quite. As Mom takes her ducklings out for their first stroll, a leftover is discovered by the camera in the nest – a half-hatched duckling, with only its feet sticking out of the shell. “Hey, who turned off the heat?” says a muffled voice from inside. Blindly, he tries to follow Mama, who has reached the pond and dived in with the rest of her offspring. One touch of his foot in the icy water, and the egg-bound duckling races back to the barn and the heat of the kerosene lamp. But the lamp goes out. “Darn this fuel oil shortage”, the duckling complains. He determines to seek out someone to sit on him – “with a nice warm – – – disposition.”
Back at the pond, Mama takes inventory of her youngsters by name. Four names are of interest: “Franklin” and “Eleanor” (names of the current President and first lady), “Winston” (Churchill, no doubt), and “Leon” (free plug for Mr. Schlesinger). But when she reaches the unlikely name of “Robespierre”, there is no responding quack. Counting on her fingers to make sure her math isn’t in error for attendance roll, Mama goes into a complete panic, and with an endless stream of screams, “ROBESPIERRE!!!!!”, scours the entire barnyard and vicinity in superspeed motion for any sign of her wayward son. A trail of small webbed footprints is finally discovered leading into the deep woods. Ahead, we follow Robespierre trudging though a blizzard. “This is the saddest part of the picture, folks”, he asides to us. Behind a tree, a wolf appears, holding up a sign with his own comment: “An; he ain’t whistling Dixie”. The duckling wanders into a cave, encountering a sleeping bear. “Yippee, it’s Mama. With a fur coat yet!” The duck darts underneath the bear’s bottom. In ultra-low key read reminiscent of many a Tex Avery cartoon, the bear sleepily looks under his leg, and unemotionally remarks, “So I laid an egg.” The wolf appears, and takes care of the situation by planting a stick of dynamite under the bear, blasting him to the ceiling while the wolf steals the egg away. Landing in a heap back on the floor of the cave, the bear is still hardly phased, merely remarking, “Dreams like this worry me, y’know?” The remainder of the film becomes a game of chase and keep-away, as Mama appears, gives the wolf a series of Moe Howard-style eye pokes, and tries to save junior, but almost gets faked out by the wolf (in reprise of a gag from “Wily Weasel” and “The Henpecked Duck”), taking home a white doorknob instead. One more eyepoke at the wolf’s door, and Mama is inside, rescuing the floating egg from the wolf’s stewpot. But Robespierre finally pops out of the shell, complaining, “Aw, Maw! Just when I was getting warm!”, and hops back into the pot, using the shell as a raft to sail around in the comforting steam.
The Egg Yegg (Columbia/Screen Gems, Fox and Crow, 12/8/44 – Bob Wickersham, dir.) – The third studio to tackle the subject of egg collecting, as with Donald Duck and Disney, tries to tie in the subject matter to current events of the day – in this case, S. Crow has just become the unlikely recipient of two refugee eggs of unknown origin from some presumably war-torn foreign land. Crow would seem under normal circumstances the last choice as a suitable parent model – but, this being the war, he for once seems to be willing to do his part and stay on the straight and narrow. That is, of course, until Professor Fox, egg collector, appears on the scene on a scientific expedition. He comes fully equipped with the latest in hi-tech – an apparatus labeled “Egg Guide”, that appears to be one-half radio receiver and speaker, and one half divining rod. The hyperactive voice of John McLeish (Goofy’s “How To” narrator) emanates from the speaker, leading Fox on a “warner/colder” merry chase (probably later remembered by Friz Freleng for Bugs Bunny’s directions to Elmer’s “Wabbit Detector” in Hare Do (1949)), ending in the machine leading Fox to Crow’s tree with overzealous calls of, “Bully for you, man. Bully!” Fox next pulls out a stethoscope attached to an unusual gauge to identify the type of egg in question. Amidst settings ranging from “good, “bad”, to “indifferent”, and including others such as “fried”, “too young”, and “hard-boiled”, the gauge’s needle whirls to “You got me, pal.” To further make his task simpler, the rear of Fox’s truck contains a hydraulic elevator platform that shoots him up rapidly toward the hole in the top of Crow’s tree. When in trouble, Crow always has one ever-reliable source of information – the “ency-crow-pedia”. Looking up egg collectors, the book advises that they are sentimentalists, extremely susceptible to reminiscing. (Obviously, the authors never encountered Donald Duck on his Condor hunt.) Crow goes into action, producing at the foot of the tree an upright piano. Tinkling the ivories, he plays gay ‘90’s style music – and distracts Fox from his quest – long enough to receive a “request”and a tip in his coin kitty if he will play “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing”. The moment is entirely gratuitous to the plot, but one of the high points in Fox and Crow personality animation, as voice actor Frank Graham harmonizes with himself for a multi-track vocal duet between the characters. Crow climaxes the number by holding up a sign to an invisible audience, reading “The Honey Boys, Fox and Crow”, and having the two of them improvise a dance step and take bows like they were on a Vaudeville stage. He himself calls for an “Encore”.
Surprised, Fox whispers to him, “Encore? What’s our next number?” Instead of a song and dance, Crow improvises a second act for Fox to perform a feat of daring. Crow binds Fox’s hands and arms and attaches a cap with a small wheel on top to his head. He then lifts them skyward on Fox’s elevator platform, to which he has tied a wire. Announcing to a still imaginary audience, Crow declares that his partner will descend 9,000 feet on the wire balanced on the wheel on his head. Placed upside down on the wire, Fox exclaims, “9,000 feet?” and stares down. The other end of the wire is hooked to the open power box of a high voltage telephone pole. And just for good measure, Crow stuffs into Fox’s mouth a lighted stick of TNT. Fox mumbles, “I’ve never done this trick before. Help! Help!” A kick from Crow, and Fox is off. Halfway down the wire, he passes through a cloud, and intercepts a large flying bird, but still remains headed for oblivion. On the platform, Crow heightens the drama by playing a spirited drum roll on a snare drum. But his playing gets carried away, and in the process he accidentally nudges the lever controlling the platform, so that in descends rapidly. At the other end of the wire, the angle of descent changes, so that the wire becomes level just shy of Fox making contact with the voltage box. Then the angle reverses, and Fox rolls backward along the wire, straight at Crow – making contact just as the dynamite explodes. After a fade out, we discover that both have somehow survived the explosion, but a slightly-charred Fox now has the upper hand, announcing that the next act will be by “the inhuman cannonball, Mr. S. Crow!” True to his word, Crow is stuffed into a large cannon, and shot into the heavens, to land inside the Big Dipper. Fox finally retrieves the eggs from the tree, and studies them with a magnifying glass. But study period doesn’t last long, as the eggs hatch – producing two huge gooney-looking ostrich-style birds in gaudy colors, towering over Fox, who upon spying him shout “Daddy!” Fox’s scientific interest will have to take a necessary hiatus, as he heads for the hills, with the two rambunctious youngsters in hot pursuit. (Advance apologizes on current video sources on the internet, which have somehow doctored the last third of the soundtrack so than many lines of dialogue are obscured by repeated music.)
Pardon the time code:
Baby Bottleneck (Warner, Porky and Daffy, 3/16/46 – Robert Clampett, dir., has been discussed in depth in my previous post, “Holy Matrimony! And a Stack of Storks (Part 2)”. In its relevant portions for this article, Porky and Daffy serve as substitute supervisors of the stork delivery service when the real stork is overworked by an unprecedented demand for babies. Manning an assembly line operation, they churn out new arrivals of all species. But while Porky sorts babies for delivery, he finds an egg missing an address tag. In order to find out who it belongs to, he orders Daffy to sit on it until it hatches. Daffy will have no part of this, apparently not wanting the stigma of motherhood. Porky fights a battle royal to attempt to push the fowl’s bouncing bottom onto the egg – even holding onto Daffy’s leg until the panicky duck stretches it a mile long. But in the intensity of their battle, they fail to notice they are entering the final delivery assembly line, where they are bundled together in bonnet and diaper as if one baby, and rocketed to a waiting mother gorilla in Africa. Seeing the weird two-headed baby, Mana gorilla phone calls for help to then current radio problem-solver, John J. Anthony, with the catch-phrase, “Mr. Anthony?…..I have a problem!”
The Golden Hen (Terrytoons/Fox, Gandy Goose , 5/24/46 – Mannie Davis, dir.) – I’ve heard folks refer to some Screen Gems cartoons as being written as if a “stream of consciousness”. This one’s so far out, it’d have to be described as a “stream of unconsciousness”. Gandy’s efforts to build a two-dimensional “post war chicken” out of wood result in a somehow-living contraption that lays eggs to order – any color you show it – including Faberge eggs with peepholes. The hen crawls into the peephole of one of its own eggs, and Gandy and Sourpuss follow – into a universe where rabbits (as well as out heroes) fly, candy canes dance or become big bertha cannons, and the wooden hen transforms randomly into the witch from Hansel and Gretel. It makes no sense whatsoever – but in a weird surreal way that often plays more disturbingly than funny. John Foster wrote the script (this is a script?), and perhaps was channeling the creepiness of his 1930’s Van Buren days such as in Wild Goose Chase. But it feels like this randomness would have been better suited for a 1930’s film than in the “modern” 40’s – or perhaps should have been saved 30 more years for a psychedelic “trip” in the 60’s or 70’s.
Chick and Double Chick (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 8/16/46 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.) again mixes Lulu with eggs – but this time as their defender. Papa Moppet assigns Lulu and her dog to guard an incubator. A makeshift burglar alarm (consisting of a string tied from the incubator drawer to an alarm clock) is triggered, and one eggshell discovered empty. Outside a chick is located, but can’t communicate who the culprit was. An alley cat basically reveals the answer to the $64 dollar question by making a lunge for the chick, but finds himself face to face with Lulu’s slingshot. In a quick cover-up of his motivations, he digs his claws into the ground, and generously unearths a worm for the chick’s breakfast, them slips away with his tail curled high over his head to resemble an angel halo. “That cat will bear watching”, says Lulu. Not long afterward, the cat makes a second attempt to reach the incubator, but passes a mysteriously canine-looking “chicken” sleeping on a nest. Suspecting something rotten in Denmark, the cat gently lifts a fake nose cone of the “bird”’s snout, revealing the nose of Lulu’s dog. To put this guardian to the final test, the cat holds up a worm for the “chicken” to eat.
The sight makes the dog turn green, and he collapses. The cat grabs an axe, and attempts to do the dog in – but Lulu is also hiding in the nest and snatches the dog away just in time. The cat runs for it again, and Lulu, now thinking the coast is clear, slips the chick back inside the barn. But the cat is there ahead of her, and the chase is on again. The chick is discovered inside the cat’s mouth, with the cat’s slanted eyes resembling the hands of a cuckoo clock reaching the hour, and the bird popping out on the cat’s tongue. The cat is chased outside – but the barn just has too many entrances despite Lulu’s frantic efforts to board them all up (a bit reminiscent of Oswald Rabbit’s The Wily Weasel). The cat finally reaches the incubator through a loose floorboard, and pulls eggs out one by one to put in a sack. In reality, Lulu is sitting below, and passing every egg handed to her to her dog. The cat slips back under the floor with an empty sack – and Lulu is one step ahead of him, placing at his exit point a stovepipe with a skyrocket attached to it. The cat is trapped in the stovepipe, while the dog lights the skyrocket. After ricocheting off several objects, the cat is blasted into space, and the rocket explodes – leaving a string of 9 transparent cat angels, all holding their tails in the same “halo” manner as seen earlier in the cartoon.
Next Time: We’ll try to get the “Bugs” out of this subject.