Animation Trails
August 4, 2021 posted by Charles Gardner

Hit the Beach (Part 6)

The war is nearly over (though a couple of stragglers, probably lost in the backlog of films awaiting release, slip in with a wartime theme). With the sea lanes clearing, attention seems to shift in the animation industry to the leisure voyage, and to destinations of palm-fringed shores. To make the plots more interesting, most actual landings at such destinations tend to be by way of shipwreck, accounting for a goodly percentage of thus week’s offerings. A good cross-section of the active Hollywood studios (MGM excepted) is presented below for your entertainment and approval.

Ku Ku Nuts (Columbia/Screen Gems, Fox and Crow, 7/25/45 – Bob Wickersham, dir.) -Though not Robinson Crusoe, Fox has been marooned on a tropical islad for 20 years, where the only food supply is cocoanuts – endless, bountiful supplies of the same boring food. As Fox sits at his breakfast table one morning, addressing a cocoanut with a household-style nutcracker (only to have the nut squirt his eye full of milk), Fox cracks instead of the nut. “I hate ‘em! I HATE ‘EM!!” he roars, smashing the table to bits, and kicking the nuts lying everywhere on the floor away every which way. Several rebound off the bamboo walls of his hut, narrowly missing Fox as they fly out the window. “Nyah!”, says Fox to the flying spheroids. However, a lasr one knocks a prop out from under a wall shelf, where another couple of dozen cocoanuts are stored, all of which come crashing down upon Fox. As Fox attempts to regain his senses, the unfamiliar sounds of the strains of “Aloha Oe” are heard from the lagoon. It is Crow, in a small canoe with sail, apparently passing on a leisure voyage, maintaining the tropical mood by playing the number on a ukelele.

Back in the hut, Fox somehow finds a meat cleaver (interesting in that the island is supposed to have no meat to cleave), and holds it over his own arm, telling the audiece, “I’d give my right arm up to here for a nice, fat, juicy, roast crow”, and is so deranged he is about to sever the tie with his own limb, until he suddenly puts the brakes on the amputation, shouting himself back to temporary sanity with “WHAT AM I DOING?” Fox redirects his twisted energies toward the ultimate goal of placing the bird on a platter. Procuring an ample helping of thatching off his hut roof, he sets to work to create a grass skirt and curly wig, to pose as a hula girl. But why should he go through the trouble of making it himself, when it quickly becomes apparent that the cartoon prop ship makes deliveries to remote islands (though apparently excluding deliveries of either food or boats) – in view of the fact that Fox is also able to produce a stick of lipstick to heighten the feminine effect, a neon sign for the roof advertising “Hula Club”, and a full size Seeburg juke box (missed opportunity: they could have called it “Sea-burg”) complete with records, into which Fox throws two handfuls of dimes. He positions additional signs ourside, reading “Island boys welcome”. “A hostess for every gent”, and “No cover”. As Crow hears the music, and spies the swaying hips of Fox in the doorway, he zip-paddles his canoe onto the land, backing it into a “Free Parking” space, and enters the hut. He is soon in a romantic clinch with Fox, and gives him a whirling twirl as the first step of his dance. Fox’s grass skirt is briefly turned upside down, causing Fox to peer out from the dense brush and observe that his shorts are showing, producing an embarrassed blush.

Crow takes up a new dance step, performing a native knife dance to the accompaniment of his own primitive grunts. Fox follows his lead, but dances directly behind him with a full-sized sword. The blades flash between them every few beats, until Crow interrupts the festivities with a face-to-face warning: “Hey, blue eyes. Watch out where you’re swingin’ that thing.” Crow resumes his dance, while Fox tries a different approach – abandoning his costume, and replacing it with a chef’s hat and a book on “How to Cook Crows”. As Crow continues, Fox applies salt, mustard, and catsup upon him to taste, then places an oven in the path of Crow’s dance, with iron door open to serve as a ramp for Crow to enter. Crow dances in, and runs out of room, as Fox padlocks the door shut, and lights the fire. Setting place settings at a new table, Fox watches the sands of an egg-timer descend toward a line on the glass reading “Yum Yum”. Using his knife to cut through the iron sove-top of the oven (that’s some blade), Crow vents the oven’s air, then pops his head out to catch sight of chef Fox and the timer. Crow goes back inside, then escapes up the stove’s vent pipe. When Fox looks inside the empty oven for Crow, Crow sends down the pipe a new barrage of cocoanuts from a tree above. Fox gets a new case of lumps, giving Crow time to pick up his canoe and carry it to the beach, its anchor dragging in the sand behind. Fox is so determined to have his crow dinner, he dives right through a small peephole in his front door, landing on the beach, where he catches hold of Crow’s anchor, and hooks it around a palm tree. The tree bends to its limit, halting Crow’s paddling progress. Fox climbs the tree, and begins to haul in the anchor rope, putting Crow into reverse gear. Just as Fox is about to reach out for Crow, Crow produces his knife again, and slices the anchor rope. The bent palm snaps back, pummeling Fox in the sand in back-and forth springing action.

Fox now resorts to his best impression of Goofy in Hawaiian Holiday, charging the waves with a surfboard. He repeats identically a Goofy gag, diving into a dry patch of land as the wave recedes, and bouncing off a series of rocks in his path. When he first gets into the water, the wave transforms its white-tops into a foot, booting Fox back onto the land. Fox collides with the same palm tree, bringing down another bumper crop of cocoanuts onto himself – as well as Crow’s anchor. But Fox ultimately penetrates a wave, and groggily climbs aboard Crow’s canoe. The sight of the knife-wielding Fox sends Crow’s feathers flying off his body for a temporary shock take. But another strong wave picks up the whole canoe, zooming the duo smash into the sand. As the water pulls away, two piles of sand, in the shape of our prone heroes, are revealed. The sand on Fox’s pile is shaken away, revealing Fox buried underneath. Spotting Crow’s sandpile, Fox states joyfully, “I got him. I got him”, and races into the hut to retrieve the stove for an outdoor cookout. He lifts the sandy shape of Crow to place in the oven, but finds no bird – only sand that sifts through his fingers. Inside the hole left on the beach, Fox finds only a cocoanut, painted with a face sticking its tongue out at him. Fox is left to wail on the beach, as Crow paddles away in his canoe, crooning the last phrase of his song, “Until we meet again.”

No Buddy Atoll (Warner/Army-Navy Screen Magazine, Private Snafu, Oct 1945 – Charles M. (Chick) Jones, dir.) – The Surrender of Japan ending WWII officially took place on September 2, 1945 – so it remains a mystery whether ths installment of Snafu ever saw an official release, or if it did, how many troops were left to see it. The film itself seems unique for the series, a bit longer in duration than usual, more in line with a standard Looney Tunes cartoon – and most curiously, not attempting to teach some underlying educational or morale-building message, but instead presenting a standard cartoon comedy-adventure. With no explanation provided of the circumstaces, two lonely rubber rafts float in the ocean. One carries Snafu – the other, an Imperial Japanese Navy officer. Both sing an extended version of “All Alone (by the Telephone)”, an Irving Berlin song from the Music Box Revue of 1924. Snafu justifies the song title by just happening to have a field telephone in his raft, which periodically rings, but never has anything to say except “Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4.” As Snafu never calls in panic for anyone to rescue him, maybe he’s been stationed in this raft as some sort of lookout or spotter. It seems more apparent that the Japanese may have floated in from a shipwreck. Both rafts converge on a small island, at furst appearing to have only a single palm tree. The two crooners conclude the song, but finally become aware of each other’s presence by hearing each other’s respective off-key yodels. They both scurry up opposite sides of the palm tree to assume a lookout. In a well-timed bit, the two repeatedly pop their heads out from the palm fronds, impossibly missing sight of one another. (Snafu’s hand even lets the Japanese officer take a look through Snafu’s spyglass, without either noticing the other.) Finally, they pop up face to face. Instead of instantly reacting, they observe the protocol of miltary identification by reading each other’s dog tags – then they assume nose to nose glowering grimaces. But neither is properly prepared yet to fight, so they both retreat down their respective sides of the tree, back to their rafts. Digging through a pile of mostly practical equipment (but including one foldable Japanese paper lantern), the Japanese procures a long sword. Snafu’s raft contains a much more eclectic array of useless contents – a guitar, a dressmaker’s dummy complete with bra and wig, a Roman-style bust, an electric pole lamp and vacuum cleaner, and a fully nude pin-up photo, with a sign that lands next to it reading “Off limits”.

Out of all of this, Snafu finds a Swiss army knife – but can’t figure out how to procure the blade he wants, or how to retract the hundred other handy-dandy attachments the device contains. Finally, out pops a shade umbrella, which lands a timely jab into the Japanese’s belly. Settling for what he’s got, Snafu starts to swing the umbrella like a champion fencer, scoring another touche with its point on his enemy. The officer counters with spinning strokes of his sword, devouring the umbrella like a buzzsaw. Weaponless, Snafu retreats to his raft, making a quick outfit change into camouflage fatigues. The officer pursues Snafu around and around the island, until Snafu passes alongside a hedgerow matching the design of his outfit – and disappears entirely into the background. While the enemy searches the brush, Snafu scrambles up the tree. In rhythm to strains from the Dance of the Hours, the officer cleaves away sections of the tree with his sword, almost slicing Snafu in two when he runs out of tree. The chase continues through thick undergrowth, the score making use of David Rose’s “Holiday for Strings”, as an entire field of tall grass is mowed away by the officer’s sword slashes. Somehow, without explanation, the island has now developed a whole new field of palm trees, in which Snafu is suddenly revealed, filling his outfit with a load of cocoanuts. Grabbing a vine like Tarzan, Snafu swings from the tree. To the musical strains of “The Army Air Corps”, Snafu opens his shurt, dropping the cocoanuts like a bomb bay. He takes out the phone again, and calls to himself, “Bombardier to Pilot. Bombs away.” The officer is duly clobbered. As he sits in a daze, the telephone rings again offscreen. Snafu enters, and hands the receiver to the officer, stating, “It’s for you.” At the other end of the line, Snafu returns to an explosives detonator he has hooked to the line, and presses the plunger, detonating explosives he has placed in the receiver. The blast obliterates the camera’s view for a few moments, and then we gain sight of the aftermath. Snafu has erected a souvenir booth, and is proudly displaying for sale the officer’s hat, coat, pants, Japanese lantern, and the sword, which Snafu sits happily polishing for the fade out. A rare happy ending for the little private.

Canine Patrol (Disney/RKO, Pluto, 12/7/45 – Charles Nichols, dir.) – This film also seems likely to have been produced with a wartime theme in mind – though marginal enough in nature that it was able to slip into a general release schedule without seeming too out of place after the war was ended. The title card (though we don’t know if the same as on the original RKO issue print) bears the added trubute, “Dedicated to the dogs of the U.S. Coast Guard”, which at least continued in operations after the war, permitting the film’s release in uninterrupted fashion. But the plot line, involving Pluto’s attempts to secure a restricted coastline against any intruder, seems more like an official military duty to prevent invasion, likely giving away that the tribute had a patriotic morale motive rather than being a mere good will coincidence.

At a patrol station, bearing plentiful signs warning “Keep out” and “No Trespassing”, Pluto marches on patrol along a barbed wire fence, waring a sailor hat in addition to his usual collar. A running gag has him march without breaking stride, while his nose bends in attempt to get a whiff of every fencepost he passes. But the dog’s military manner is broken when he stumbles over a mound of sand in his path – and the mound begins to move. The dog brushes a paw full of sand aside to investigate, and out tumbles a buried egg – out of which pops a baby turtle. The slow-reacting creature is of a friendly persuasion, and sidles up to Pluto’s face to make friends. Pluto is at first shyly pleased, and lowers his face to receive another friendly rub. But the turtle has spotted something more attractive, and begins a slow trot toward the water’s edge. Pluto remembers his duty, and lifts the turtle by the shell out of the water, placing him back behind the fence line. The turtle starts toward the water again, but Pluto draws a line in the sand, signaling to the shelled swimmer that he is not to cross. The turtle understands what Pluto is trying to communicate – but not that the rule cannot be avoided by the indirect method of merely tunneling under the line and coming up on the opposite side. The turtle retracts into its shell at Pluto’s angry barks, and Pluto tries to fool him by spinning his shell around in the wrong direction, so that when the turtle emerges, he is trotting uphill toward a farmhouse rather than down to the beach.

The confusion doesn’t last long, and the creature is back on track. Pluto tries flipping the turtle onto its back – but this resourceful youngster merely pulls into his shell, then reverses himself, with head and limbs entending toward the sand instead of the sky to right himself, but leaving him with a funny walk as he adjusts to having the weight of the heavy shell on his chest instead of his back. Pluto follows the turtle’s tracks, which wind up meandering in zig zag fashion through a field of stones – making Pluto waste the effort to overturn all the stones in search for him, only to find the turtle is already in the water. Pluto pushes the youngster back onto the beach with his nose, the turtle deciding to at least make himself comfortable and snuggle into Plito’s snout like a pillow as he enjoys the ride. But Pluto fails to notice where he is walking – and ventures into a patch of quicksand. This means nothing to the light-shelled turtle, who floats atop the murky water of the pool in careless fashion, while the dog barks and struggles as he sinks deeper and deeper into a hopeless sutuation. Soon, nothing is showing but Pluto’s hat – with no dog underneath. The turtle pushes away some of the muddy sand – enough to release a last air bubble in which Pluto’s head still rests just below the surface. The turtle grabs Pluto’s collar and tries to pull – but the leather merely stretches, then snaps back, pushing Pluto’s head under, and revealing his tail instead. The turtle realizes a desperate measure is in order, and snaps his most powerful snap of jaws onto Pluto’s tail. The shock of the pain produces a massive flailing of Pluto’s limbs, which is enogh to free the dog from the sand’s grip, and launch him back onto dry land. The turte cowers in his shell, expecting the dog to be angry. But Pluto, despite a bent tail, is entirely grateful, and gives the turtle an affectionate slurp for his heroism. Pluto decides to make an exception to the no swimming rule, and harnesses the turtle as a power source so that he can patrol on water, the turtle towing Pluto in a USCG rubber raft, and letting out with a “toot toot’ sound as if a little tugboat, for the iris out.

Krakatoa (Terrytoons/Fox, Mighty Mouse, 12/14/45 – Connie Rasinski, dir.) – Perhaps my all-time favorite of the Mighty Mouse series. A season before, Terry had scored his first Oscar nomination for the super-powered rodent with The Gypsy Life, in which the spirited dancing of a gypsy girl-mouse (animated by Carlo Vinci) was featured to great advantage. I have long held the belief that Terry was thinking in terms of having lightning strike twice in the same place when this film went into production. In many respects, this episode stands out as if an effort in which the maximum resources the low-budgeted studio could muster were concentrated upon one production, as a prestige effort to attempt to vie for another Oscar certificate or (in the far flung realms of the producer’s imagination) possible gold. How else can you account for a Terry production with all of the following going for it?: (1) the return of Carlo Vinci to create another sexy female dancer, Krakatoa Katie; (2) the commissioning of an infectious and catchy original song for said star character from Phillip Scheib, in a much more pop-oriented and melodic style than Sheib’s usual sing-songs or melodrama music for other episodes; (3) one of the earliest uses of the Satisfiers chorale group on a Terry production (the same group which had produced the memorable “Little Lulu” theme for Paramount); (4) magnificent backgrounds and special effects work, highlighting vivid lava-flow and flame animation in molten-red glow against dark and moody backgrounds of deep purples, amber browns, and filled with touches of smokey black; and (5) a force-of nature plotline which, despite its humor, feels like it places the mice in realistic peril, giving Mighty a task finally worthy of his rival, Superman. Regrettably for Terry, despite finally putting his back into a production, and assuming the film was indeed submitted for Academy consideraion, the title failed to make the nominee list – and Terry would never again pack so much visible effort into making a film come out right, content instead to settle back into routine production-line output sufficient to fill the annual quota without stretching the pocketbook. Not to say by a longshot that the studio couldn’t generate some reasonable and entertaining outings along the way – it was just that they didn’t have that feel of being meant to be something genuinely special.

Our scene opens with visions of peaceful island tranquility. A local mother carries her children along the shore in baskets atop her head – piled seven tiers high. A native climbs a tall palm for morning breakfast, litterally squeezing cocoanuts to “milk” them like a cow. But the main even of the day is a public appearance by the island’s resident sweetheart, the lovely saronged Krakatoa Katie. While a quartet of guitarists strum out a hot rhythm, the natives watch entranced as Katie struts her stuff, in a seductive yet good natured display of fiery terpsichore. Fiery is right, as it is unclear whether mere coincidence, or the heat of her perforance, brings to new life what once appeared to be a dormant volcano. Just as the island’s populace begins to get caught up in Katie’s swaying rhythms themselves, a jolt sends remors through the ground, knocking a few of them off their feet. A plume of steam emits from the top of the mountain, fillowed by a rhythmic series of huge puffs, resembling the chugging of a freight train at full speed. Glowing molten rock begins to pour profusely from the crater’s edge. (A technical note that, while many of the lava effects are largely accomplished with little more than moving outlines along the trail of luminescent red-orange, the color values are so intensely realistic, they appear to accomplish more than the probably more costly efforts of the rival Fleisher production, “Volcano” from the Superman series, which to my tastes looks downright lackluster by comparison.) The earth opens in wide cracks below the mice’s feet, who scamper to outrace the crevices before being swallowed up within them. Palm trees uproot themselves and run into the sea to avoid the lava flow. Efforts to save a hut prove futile, as first the ladder to its entrance, then the whole hut, burn up like matchsticks at the touch of falling molten rocks. One mouse is pursued to the shoreline by the lava, and dives into the water. The lava follows, setting the water boiling, leaving the moise to hop from one to another bubble of hot air rising from the water to avoid falling back in. Burning cinders begin to emit from the peak like sparks out of a 4th of July fountain. A comical scene shows a mouse and his reflection below in an adjoining inlet of water, attempting to avoid the falling debris. His frantic real self begins to outrun his reflected image, and he retreats into a hut, locking the door, but one step ahead of his reflection, who pounds on the door of the reflected hut in ain hope of being admitted inside, then gives up and climbs over the reflected hut to get away.

Who else can put a stop to this chaos but Mighty Mouse? Fortunantly, today he is keeping watch on the world from the lookout station at Mount Wilson observatory. Observing a seismograph, he detects subterranean disturbances that send increasing levels of shock through our hero’s eyes and the device’s needle at unheard-of levels of magnitude. Consulting charts, he quickly calculates the epicenter, and is off like a comet to do battle with nature itself. Back at the island, the population is about to participate in one of Terry’s most impressive photographic shots. The mice enter a narrow, winding canyon fron the far end, running toward the camera. Behind them (in hot pursuit – I can’t resist the pun) is a wall of lava, which traces its way through the canyon pass. In a magnificent and genuinely frightening visual effect, the lighting in the canyon changes three times in the course of the shot, gradually changing the canyon’s ambience from darkened to ablaze in a fiery red glow. One can only presume the inspiration for this effect came from a study of the forest fire sequences of Disney’s “Bambi”. In a sillier, yet still genuinely creepy, effects shot, the lava pursues the mice through a covered bridge over a deep canyon. We have no explanation why the bridge doesn’t ignite in flames the same way as the huts and other items in this picture – yet, leaving the bridge intact allows for the memorable and foreboding image of molten lava slurping in viscous gooiness out the windows of the bridge into the canyon as the lava passes through – almost predicting the fearsome look of the Blob that would come in later years. An aside is called for at this point. We’ve been swept up in this action now for about three-minutes, and so much is happening on screen, we’ve practically forgotten something. Where is Krakatoa Katie? We’ve seen plenty of group shots, and she hasn’t shown up once since the action began. Unlike Pearl Pureheart, Terry somehow misses the opportunity of placing Katie herself in a position of peril – maybe this little oversight, or plot hole, is what lost Terry the Oscar berth for this film.

Mighty arrives on the scene at last. One half of the island’s population has reached a high cliff ledge, with the lava close behind, and has nowhere left to go. Mighty takes care of them first, swooping in under the overhanging ledge and snapping the rock cliff off mere inches ahead of the oncoming molten flow, which falls harmlessly into the canyon. Mighty carries the ledge and village folk to the safety of another nearby island, then flies back for further rescues. The remainder of the island folk are being driven by the approach of two converging lava flows into one large hut in the center of the scene. The lava flows hit from both sides, bubbling up in a high column under the hut and propelling it skyward atop the flow. (Again, cartoon physics are defied, as this hut also does not burn to a crisp like the previous one.) Somehow, the structure holds together solidly enough for Mighty to grab the roof, and lift the entire hut off the lava, carrying it also to the safety of the adjoining island. We still never see Katie, though as will be seen, she is presumably among one or the other of these groups of rescued mice, to appear in the final shots discussed below. The population secure, Mighty now turns his attention to the belching inferno that started all the trouble. He flies like a streak of light straight toward the peak. In an unusual touch, effective at again making the situation seem more genuinely realistic, Mighty’s eyes water profusely as he flies through the noxious clouds and fumes that envelop the mountain. Terry relies upon Mighty’s signature ”contrail power” – the unique ability to control and use the bright red blur trail his cape (or is it some form of jet exhaust) always leaves behind him as he soars through the sky. Mighty performs a fly-by around the mountain peak, crossing his own flight path so that his contrail forms the pattern of a knot. He then tugs at the knot, which tightens to perform a stranglehold around the mouth of the volcano. The mountain tries its best to expel further smoke, but is barely able to emit a puff in the strong grip og the contrail, and is choked off, to expire and fall limp again, hopefully to remain dormant for at least another hundred years. Mighty returns to the adjoining island, where he is greeted by the cheers of the grateful crowd. A celebration and luau is thrown in Mighty’s honor, and, of course, the entertainment is provided by Krakatoa Katie, who now can assumedly perform in peace without waking up further mountains. Mighty proves he is no slouch when it comes to dance steps, as he suddenly gets caught up in the spirit of things, and joins Katie in a dance of wild abandon, almost bordering on a jitterbuh championship, for a wild, whirling finish, leaving Katie comfortably supported atop Mighty’s shoulder for the fade out.

Simple Siren (Columbia/Screen Gems, Phantasy, 9/20/45 – Paul Sommer, dir.) – Sommer was a director with his own ideas in story choice, coming up with several interesting and curious entries in the Columbia catalog (among his best remembered being in collaboration with John Hubley on “Professor Small and Mr, Tall” (1943) and “The Vitamin G Man” (1943).) In later years, he would go on to provide his talents to many early Hanna-Barbera television productions. Here, he provides us with his own unique twist on the ancient legends of the sea. Everyone knows of the exotic tales (and tails) of Mermaids who entice sailors onto the rocky coasts with their charm and song. But one always assumes these creatures to be of exquisite beauty. What if one among them was a homely dog? This unique twist is fully exploited by this comical send-up. Along a rocky coast filled with the beautiful competition, the nameless star of our story strums a lyre in hopeless serenade to herself, comparing herself in song to the likes of Brenda and Cobina, the man-hungry duo popular from Bob Hope’s Pepsodent show, and wailing at her loneliness in being unable to snag a sailor. A local gull hails her attention by kicking her in the fin, signalling by whistling a sailor’s hornpipe that a prospect has been seen on the horizon. A little bulb-nosed sailor, adrift on a rubber raft, makes a desperate meal out of a paper meal ticket from a steak house sandwiched between two slices from the soles of his shoes. “A man! Woo Woo!” calls the mermaid, her face transforming into the head of a wolf. She tacks up a row of signs on a palm tree, including “Free Lunch”, “Free coffee with Sugar”, “And Cream”. “Free dishes”, and “Bingo to-nite”.

Racing to a sea chest labeled “Spouse Traps”, she encircles a clearing with bear traps, and places a picnic blanket and turkey dinner over the top of a deep pit to bag her victim. Drifting into sight of the lagoon, the sailor pulls out his compressable spyglass (which squirts water into his eye as he opens it), and spots the palm tree signs, the girl with her back turned, but mostly the turkey dinner. Aroma trails from the meal (blown in the sailor’s direction by the mermaid with a set of bellows) beckon his nostrils, and even carry to him a sample of the gravy for tasting. As the sailor follows the gravy sample, his lips extended for slurping, the mermaid takes advantage by stealing a smacking kiss. One look at her “kisser”, and the sailor dives back in his raft, paddling away like mad. The mermaid produces a rod and reel, and casts her hook at the sailor, snagging his outfit. The sailor pulls in the opposite direction out of frame – so as to maintain the film’s G-rating, as a tug on the line reveals a chain of all the sailor’s clothing on screen, including his polka-dot shorts. The determined sailor foghts back, regaining his wardrobe, and pulling the mermaid off the reef, where she bounces along the top of several other rocky crags along the coastline. Dragged onto another strip of land, she is pulled by the line over the trunk of a palm tree, to which she clings in a final attempt to reel in her catch. The sailor has also found something to cling to – the periscope of a sunken submarine in the bay. The mermaid finally wins the tug of wat, but hauls in the submarine as well, knocking her and the sailor out of the tree. She pursues the sailor along the beach, but returns to where she had been, falling into her own pit-trap previously under the picnic blanket, the hole of which has somhow filled with water. Rising from its depths comes what appears to be a small periscope. No, it is not the sub again, but the severed neck of the roast turkey from the picnic dinner, the bird now stuck upon the head of the sailor, who climbs out of the pit and wanders about blindly. The mermaid casts her line one final time, but only reels in the turkey, which knocks her backwards into her own chest of traps, one of which snaps to barely miss her nose.

The mermaid turns to the heavy artillery. With the aid of a war surplus submarine detector radar, she tracks the progress of the sailor. He is swimming below the surface, trying to hold his breath. A passing electric eel advertises in neon on his side. “Try Sam’s Seafood”. As the sailor reads the sign, he accidentally swallows a minnow. Indigestion gives him a stubborn case of hiccups – alerting the mermaid’s radar detector. Using a springboard planted between some rocks, the mermaid launches a barrage of depth charges anywhere that the hiccups are heard. A lucky shot blasts the sailor out of the water, and the wave behind him swats him back toward shore. The mermaid waits with an outfielder’s glove, catching the human fly ball. “Dream thing, my dream thing”, she repeats over and over, as the scene fades away, dissolving to a scene of the sailor, asleep on his belly on a municipal park bench. A passing cop on the beat inquires as the sailor jolts himself awake. “Bad dream, mate?” The sailor nods. “Lucky it was only a dream”, the cop continues. But was it? A taxi cab pulls up to the bench. The driver opens the door for his fare – and out from the cab pours a flow of sea water, in which the mermaid has been riding! “You’re my dream boy, you fascinating brute!”, shouts the mermaid, as the chase resumes again down the city sidewalk, trailing the characters in perspective while the iris out closes upon the scene. However, the iris closes between the sailor and the mermaid, leaving her pounding on the black screen to be let back in as the image fades to total blackness.


Fair Weather Fiends (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 11/18/46 – James Culhane, dir.), has been once previously visited in out early “Unhealthy Appetites” article. It follows in the wake of “Wakiki Wabbit”, as another tale of shipwreck and the mind-bending effects of starvation upon otherwise civilized man (or beast). It also plays on an early trait first exhibited in Woody’s “Pantry Panic” (1941), demonstrating that Woody could turn cannibalistic if deprived of normal food for a time. In fact, this same idea had just been revisited by Culhane a mere half-year or so before the release of this cartoon, in an episode entitled “Who’s Cooking Who?”, which introduced the character of Wolfie (a wolf with an odd patch of red hair) as a foil for Woody and rival for the title of World’s Biggest Appetite. This film might be viewed as a sequel to said prior episode.

Aboard the S.S. Palsie-Walsie, Woody and Wolfie have somehow patched up their differences and become friends. The main factor that seems to have made this possible is an unexplained and unexpected change of their fortunes from famine to feast – leaving them in a position to plan a long ocean voyage together, in a ship jam packed with all the food they can eat. (We don’t know if only the Wolf, or Woody himself, has somehow come into some dough, but if Woody is a mere invitee, you can hardly blame him at jumping at the chance to experience his dream come true – all food, with no labor.) Wolfie comments “Pretty soft, eh, pal?”, while passing turkey legs to Woody, from tables piled high with goodies as the two lounge in deck chairs at the rear of the ship. But this scene of bliss is too heavenly to last long in a Lantz cartoon – and so up from nowhere springs a sudden combination of typhoon and waterspout (animation reused from “Sliphorn King of Polaroo”). An old-fashioned slide intertitle, of the type out of silent movies, observes, “Day after day the storm mounted in fury – then suddenly it dismounted.” Washed ashore on a tropical beach, the two pull themselves out of half-burial in the sand, and compare notes on how hungry they are. Woody shows that he is “skin and bones” by tugging his feathers open, to reveal nothing but a skeletal frame underneath. A watery spurt from under the sand reveals the presence of a shellfish, and the two burrow down until they find it. ‘Beat it, this is mine”, snarls Wolfie, pushing Woody away from the newfound prize – an oyster. However, when Wolfie pries it open, all he finds is pearls – an entire necklace, but no meat – which, under the circumstances, he disdainfully tosses away. A sole resident of the island is next observed – a gooney bird – who in any event, might be something edible. The bird is surprised to be approached from both sides by two traveling mounds of sand – followed by two sets of jaws which snap at him each time his back is turned. As the hands of Woody and Wolfie next try to grab at the bird (who spots both of them by sprouting two heads a la Screwy Squirrel), the bird makes a substitution of a Hawaiian guitar in his place on the sand. The searching and curous hands of our heroes, having no idea what they are now feeling above them, feel around freely along the neck of the instrument, managing between them to pick out a sped-up rendition of “Aloha Oe”, while the playful bird dances a hula above. Then the bird makes another substitution – setting a large mouse trap in place of the guitar. “YEOWW”, shout our heroes in unison as the trap snaps upon their hands, while the bird watches them sail halfway across the island through a spyglass.

With the bird ruled out as a food source, our two heroes become unhinged, and visualize each other on a garnished plate. “I know where I can find some food”, declares Wolfie. “Yeah? Well so do I, Palsie Walsie”, replies Woody. “You go thatta way, and I’ll go thisa-way”, announces Wolfie for their attack plan. The two pretend to scurry in opposite directions, but merely circle and meet behind a tree. “Look what I found”, shows Wolfie around one side of the trunk, holding up Woody’s rear end by the tail feathers. “So what. Look what I found”, says Woody, showing off Wolfie’s rear end around the other side of the tree, also suspended off the ground. The scene is delightfully ridiculous, as neither character has his feet on the ground, with both defying the law of gravity. Both take a bite upon their respective prize, sending each into shrieks of pain and a hasty exit in a whirl around the tree. So what next? Woody conveniently finds tacked to a tree a “Fishing” sign shaped like a fish. (Was this the gooney’s doing? Is he the local game warden?) Woody unhooks the sign, ties it to a line (more props grom nowhere), and casts it in Wolfie’s direction. Wolfie is so hungry, even after a wooden bop on the head, he’s ready to eat anything. He pours catsup on the sign, then attempts to chew – but Woody yanks the sign away, leaving him to feast on only sauce. (Well, what’s wrong with that, Wolf? It at least has calories. You should be glad you remembered to carry your condiments with you.) The “fish” is slowly dragged by the line across the sand, with the gullible Wolf following. It suddenly disappears into a bush, into which the Wolf leaps – straight into a concealed cooking pot. Once in the simmering water, Wolfie detects an appealing aroma, and responds, “Soup”, while Woody stirs with a ladle “What kind is it?”, Wolfie asks. “Creme de Wolf. Try some”, responds Woody, handing Wolfie his own leg. The predictable painful result follows, punctuated by question marks appearing in the Wolf’s eyes. As the wolf soars through the air, applying bandages to himself, Woody laughs below – until the Wolf falls directly on top of him. The Wolf seems to catch Woody inside part of a hollow tree trunk – then sends the trunk through another prop appearing from nowhere – a bread slicer. (Gooney has just got this island littered with random stuff.) Wolfie searches one by one through the slices, but finds nothing with feathers for a chewy center. As he scratches his head in closeup, the camera pulls back for a surprise reveal that Woody has slipped a meat grinder under his feet, into which Wolfie is about to be ground. Barely escaping the device, Wolfie approaches Woody for the kill, grabbing up a shaft of wood for a club. In an escalating game of lethal weapon, Woody and the Wolf one-up each other by producing from Gooney’s ever present library of leftover props a knife, a woodsman’s axe, a scimitar, a headsman’s axe, a flame thrower, a cannon, and a pair of Sherman tanks. They converge upon a clearing in the middle, where the ever-enterprising Gooney is now operating a “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers” stand on the beach. (Is this a new franchise, or does he specialize in visitors like Woody and the Wolf every day?) Instead of getting paid for his wares, Gooney has to make a hasty exit – as the tanks collide head-on into his booth. “Food!”, the protagonists exclaim in unison, and both dig in to get their fill. All is forgiven, as each declares the other their “pal” again, and hands more food to each other in gentlemanly fashion. Except for Woody, who still holds a grudge, and slips Wolfie his own leg again for a final chew, to Woody’s trademark laughter.

The Island Fling (Paramount/Famous, Popeye, 12/27/46 – Bill Tytla, dir.) – The film begins with a rendition of “Poor Robinson Crusoe”, a pop song which appears to have made the rounds circa 1937, recorded domestically by Ozzie Nelson on Bluebird, Dick Porter on Vocalion, and in England by Billy Cotton and Nat Gonella. It is delivered by man Friday (Jackson Beck trying out the “Rochester” voice he would come to use regularly for Buzzy the Crow), testifying to how badly his master needs to “woo so”. Friday keeps everything “tidy”, sweeping sand under the rug of the hut – allowing for a surprise cameo by Herman the Mouse, who sweeps the sand back out again from underneath. Robinson is portrayed in this tropical epic by Bluto, busy reading the latest edition of “Lovey Dovey Stories” magazine. (Is his subscription delivered by air mail, or carrier pigeon? Maybe message in a bottle?) Friday spots a raft on the horizon, and telephones a report on it to Robinson – from across the room. Its passengers are Popeye and Olive. Sighting Olive through a telescope, Bluto oogles her legs, stating, “Them pins bowls me over.” He obtains comfortable cushions, a bottle of champagne on ice, and a book of “etchings” to set a romantic scene, from his “Hope” chest (this being a Paramount picture, there is of course a second chest marked “Crosby”). He also selects a cologne, choosing between “Night in Paris”, “Morning in Brooklyn”, and “Schlamiel No. 49″. Greeting the castaways in a limousine (an old battered flivver, powered in the manner of the Flintstones by Friday’s feet through the floorboards), Bluto kisses Olive’s hand up to the shoulder, while clutching Popeye’s hand in a crushing vice-grip. “Oh, boy. A real friendly handshake”, comments Popeye.

Inside the hut, Bluto sets out a table of food for Olive. While Bluto pitches the woo, Olive seems to have eyes only for clam chowder and liverwurst. Popeye enters, admiring the room’s decor as “some hunting lodge.” “Ya like huntin’?”, inquires Bluto, then outfits Popeye with all the hunting gear he has available, and shoos him out the door to go on and hunt. This ruse fails to keep the sailor away from the lovemaking session for long, as Popeye returns momentarily, carrying on his shoulders the carcasses of a tiger, giraffe, hippopotamus, lion, moose, alligator, elephant, shark, and sea serpent! Bluto next sends the sailor off on a quest with a phoney treasure map. When he finds an X Bluto has painted on the ground, Bluto encotages him to “dig deep”. As Popeye burrows himself in a hole, Bluto fills the hole’s entrance with a pile of heavy boulders. Bluto returns to the hut, just in time to find Popeye reappearing through the floorboards, to tell Bluto, “Thanks for the tip”, and reveal he has found a real treasure chest. Bluto empties out the gold, tosses Popeye in the chest instead, and challenges the sailor, “Find your way outta this!” Locking the chest and battering it as flat as he can, Bluto tosses it outside. Popeye struggles to free himself, but can only get his legs and head out of the gaps in the chest’s lid, giving him the appearance of a turtle trapped in its shell. A pair of alligators (animated in wild distortions by Jim Tyer), advance in an attack. Backing away from one, Popeye is swallowed by the other.

Hearing the calls for help as Olive is pursued inside the hut in a chase around the walls in three-dimensions (lifting a camera idea from Tex Avery), Poeye strains inside the chest, finally popping out from under the lid his spinach can. A dose of his secret weapon, and Popeye develops muscles with a picture of a battleship on the side, inscribed “Big Mo” (reference to the powerful U.S.S. Missouri). He makes short work of the garors, turning his captor inside out, and socking the other into a matched set of luggage. Bluto is tying Olive to a stake, but Popeye engages him in battle, as the action takes them and the stake into the river, where they do some log rolling on the wooden post while Olive is still tied to it. The pole goes over a waterfall. Popeye lans on a ledge below, grabs Olive off the pole, and socks Bluto into a tall palm tree, where a female gorilla catches him. “A man – and a live one, too”, she proclaims amorously. Bluto heads for the hills with the ape in pursuit, “You ain’t gonna make a monkey out of me,” he shouts Popeye harnesses the flivver to his raft, fashioning a paddlewheel in place of the rear tires, and he and Olive motor back to civilization in style, as Olive vows she’ll take Coney Island over any phoney island from now on. Appearing in the back seat is a stowaway – Friday, who has brought along his wife Saturday, and his two children, Sunday and Monday. The latter two sing their names, for a closing musical cue using Bing Crosby’s hit song from the film “Dixie”, “Sunday, Monday, Or Always” (changing “or” to “and” for the unison final notes).

Uncultured Vulture (Columbia/Screen Gems, Phantasy (Cinecolor), 2/6/47 – Bob Wickersham, dir.) – A less than stellar installment, also previously visited in my “Unhealthy Appetites” article, this cartopn is highly derivative of “Fair Weather Fiends”, and released only three months later – coincidence, or quick plagiarism? It also heavily borrows tropes from Tex Avery’s “What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard?” (an inspirational cartoon which also heavily influenced the style of “Fair Weather Fiends”), but exceeds the level of the Woody film’s highway robbery by virtually ripping off the Jimmy Durante-voiced lead character from the Avery epic. A newspaper headline (in a paper that must have no news to report except for a nostalgic retrospective) runs a story about a professor still missing, after being lost for ten years. There must be a very industrious paper boy running an exotic route, because the paper has by a miracle been delivered to a vulture on a desolate tropical island, so barren it appears to consist entirely of a single palm tree for its contents. “I know where he is. He’s right down there”, ponts the vulture from his post in the tree top. Below staggers the professor in the heat of the mid-day sun. If he has been lost for ten years here, we can only hope the fishing has been good, or the cocoanuts plentiful – or else how has he survived on an island so empty? But today there seem to be no calories in sight, as the professor moans for “Food! Food!” The vulture waits for him to bump off, hoping for a square meal himself. How long has this been going on, and how long have this pair survived without sustinence? Oh, well, this is the level of thinking a plot through you get, when you churn out a carton in three months.

The vulture tries the direct approach, rolling out a cooking pot. “Why don’t ya face it?” he addresses the Professor. “You’re shakin’ hands with the grim reaper. Why don’‘t ya’ give up?” “Why don’t you quit heckling me?” asks the Professor. “Go on. Kick the bucket”, demands the vulture. In another case of convenient prop location, the Professor finds a metal pail, and kicks it onto the vulture’s beak. The vulture returns to his tree, but plants a wooden sign next to it, pointing upwards to “Nice fat juicy cocoanuts”. In the palm fronds above, the vulture protrudes his rear end to resemble a cocoanut. The professor climbs, carrying a drill to tap the cocoamut milk. “Oh, no ya don’t, bub!”, shouts the vilture, grabbing the drill and bopping the Professor on the head with it. Landing on the ground, the professor is stiil conscious enough to pull an axe on the vulture. The two chase each other aroud the perimeter of the beach, spinning the whole island like a top. As their energy wanes, the two stagger dizzily.

Weakened from the effort, the vulture begins to hallucinate, spotting a transparent beachfront stand advertising hot dogs and cold drinks. He steps behind the counter and helps himself. But when the perplexed Professor tres the same thing, all he finds is air. The buzzard returns to the now invisible stand, and asks for return of the 5 cent deposit on the pop bottle. The bottle he is holding disappears, and an unseen cash register rings to reveal a nickel floating in mid-air. The vulture takes the nickel, walks a few steps, then spots another invisible object, into which he deposits the nickel – a slot machine. Pulling the “handle”, the vuslture lowers his derby, which fills up with a jackpot of nickels! “How’d you do that?”. asks the Professor. “First, ya gotta get dizzy”, instructs the vulture. He spins the Professor like a top, only as a ruse to get him to fall into a cooking pot. As the vulture sets out a picnic bklanket and utensils, it is the Professor’s turn to hallucinate, viewing the vulture in roasted form. He slips out of the pot and takes a bite of the vulture’s feathers. When the vulture complains, “Ya crazy or soumethin’?”, the Professor wanders away, then phones ip the buzzard on a phone concealed in a compartment of the palm tree, to apologize for his behavior. It is merely a ruse to get the vulture close to the tree trunk, so that the Professor can tie him up. Producing the axe again, the Professor chops at the vulture, who shimmies with his ropes step by step up the tree, while the Professor keeps chopping segments out of the tree trunk. When there is nothing left but the top palm fronds, the vulture emerges out of them carrying a ukelele, and wearing the fronds like a hula skirt. His dancing entrances the Professor just long enough for the vulture to “kabong” the Prof with the ukelele. The scene fades to the cooking pot, the Professor now inside, with ropes tied around the pot and to his neck so that he can’t jump out. As the vulture seems to finaly have the upper hand, a blimp lands upon the island, bearing letters on the side reading “searching party”. Assuming rescue has come at last, the Professor taunts the vulture, “You thought you was gonna get to eat me”. The vulture investigates the arrival. To his and everyone’s surprise, the searching party is not what was expected – it is a party of vultures, who have been searching for the bird. The group spots the pot, and in unison asks, “Dinner ready?” Realizing resistance is futile, the Professor grabs a salt shaker and begins to season himself, as we iris out.

More 40’s and 50’s rays next week.


  • “Kanaka boys from everywhere
    Come around to stand and stare
    At Katie, Katie — Krakatoa Kate!”

    The Kanakas were Pacific Islanders who were brought to Australia in the 1800s to work in the sugarcane fields of North Queensland, essentially as slave labour. This was controversial at the time, not out of any concern for their rights, but because the practice was believed to undercut the wages of white workers and thereby lower their standard of living. Most of the Kanakas were repatriated in the early 20th century under the White Australia policy. “Kanaka” is just the Hawaiian word for “person”, but among Pacific Islanders today — especially Fijians, who made up the majority of Kanakas and who speak an unrelated language — it’s now considered an ethnic slur. Be that as it may, “Krakatoa” is a favourite of mine as well, and certainly the best-made Mighty Mouse cartoon for all the reasons you enumerated.

    However, it contains not one, but two great songs whose hit potential was never exploited. “Krakatoa Katie” is such a catchy and memorable number that it overshadows the opening ballad, “Oh Lovely Island of Krakatoa”. Wouldn’t I love to hear that sung by Doris Day with Les Brown’s Band of Renown. As for “Katie”, I can easily imagine the King’s Men performing it, but I wonder how it might have sounded in a cover by the Mills Brothers — or Spike Jones!

    There’s no mystery as to why Katie didn’t need to be rescued. She has a boyfriend with an outrigger canoe, and they must have gotten out of Krakatoa while the getting was good. I’m sure he was humiliated when Katie dumped him for Mighty Mouse, but he ought to know by now that she ain’t no lady when she starts to shake her sarong!

    The animation of Katie dancing on the beach was reused in the 1949 Terrytoon “Comic Book Land”, in which Gandy Goose and Sourpuss enter the pages of an issue of Hula-Hula Comics during a dream sequence. No sign of Plastic Man’s sidekick, but then he was never in the comic books anyway.

    A wonderful selection of cartoons this week, most of which I’ve never seen before, or at least not in a very long time. The ending of “Ku Ku Nuts” reminds me of these lines from Edgar Allan Poe:

    “I stand amid the roar
    Of a surf-tormented shore,
    And I hold within my hand
    Grains of the golden sand —
    How few! Yet how they creep
    Through my fingers to the deep,
    While I weep — while I weep!”

  • “Terry would never again pack so much visible effort into making a film come out right”

    I might be mistaken, but I think that’s the inscription on Paul Terry’s grave.

    With all due respect to Katie.

    Simple Siren was a surprise treat that I’d never seen before. Too bad the Fox and Crow series couldn’t routinely reflect that kind of nutty liveliness.

  • There’s a brief but memorable scene at the beach in “Mighty Mouse and the Wolf” (20/7/45 — Eddie Donnelly, dir.). After having been foiled by Mighty Mouse in his attempts to abduct Little Red Riding Hood, Little Bo Peep’s sheep, and the Three Little Pigs, the wolf decides it’s time to call in reinforcements. He ducks into a phone booth and tells the operator to “Get me the Boardwalk in Atlantic City! I wanna talk to a couple of wolves!” There, on the New Jersey shore, a pack of zoot-suited wolves have lined up along the boardwalk to ogle a bevy of 1940s pin-up girls lounging on the sand. To use the contemporary parlance: Hubba hubba!

  • Is it just me but does the vulture in The Uncultured Vulture drawn so inconsistent here .Some scenes he has a super long beak and small head, some scenes a giant head with a much smaller beak and everything in between. Must had been the feeling at the studio when it was shutting down i.e the heck with quality control.

  • I wonder if “No Buddy Atoll” was not a source of inspiration for John Boorman’s “Hell in the Pacific”, with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune.

  • I just watched “Simple Siren” again (I quite like it) and noticed something curious about the second quatrain of the mermaid’s opening soliloquy:

    “I’m like Juliet without Romeo,
    Eleanor without ‘My Day’.
    I’m the Brenda of the briny,
    Just a lonely Lorelei!”

    There is an abrupt shift in the animation just before and after the second line (which refers to the newspaper column that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote for many years). Also, “Day” doesn’t rhyme with “Lorelei”. It almost seems as though the line was clumsily interpolated to replace an earlier one. Could it originally have referred to something more scandalous, perhaps a Hollywood romance that Columbia didn’t want to get sued over? A box of Scooby snacks to whoever can solve this groovy mystery!

  • There’s clearly a host of reasons why WHV didn’t option to include “The Island Fling” in their recent Popeye DVD releases, racial stereotypes and legal implications with the Herman character being chief among them. Even so, the short marks a pivotal time for Paramount and the newly established Famous Studios, being released at the dawn of the Post-War era, as the studio is just assembling it’s staff with fresh, seasoned talent.
    Just noticed quite a bit of (uncredited) animation by Jim Tyre throughout this cartoon. Tyre was already an established employee at Famous by the time this short was released. Did Tyre personally request to not be credited for his work on this cartoon, or did the studio decide on it for some reason?

    • For the record – The Island Fling was indeed included on the recent Warner Archive Collection blu ray Popeye The Sailor The 1940s volume 2.

      Also, many animators went uncredited on cartoon shorts they worked on at all studios. It was more unusual for animators to actually get credit back then. Why Tyer (note spelling) didn’t get credit here I cannot say, but his status at the studio was falling – and Terrytoons was on his horizon.

      • Thanks, Jerry. Just went back to the article announcing the release of WHV’s Popeye Vol. 2 set and noticed that it indeed was included and, I presume, presented unedited. I had a feeling that this must have been one of Tyer’s last shorts for Famous shortly before joining Terrytoons.

  • The “Island Fling” still of Popeye holding a shovel epitomizes the subtle homoeroticism that always existed between Popeye and Bluto. Dig how they’re looking at each other.

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