More spooky, and not-so-spooky, doings this week, as we follow more animated instances of personality flip-flops between some of our favorite characters as their cerebral cortexes get a good working-over. You might just need to buy a “program” to figure out who is who.
Tom and Jerry experience two instances of scrambled personalities. The first was Nit-Witty Kitty (MGM, 10/6/51 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.). No science involved here. Instead, the happenstance of a mis-aimed blow of Mammy Two Shoes’s broom upon Tom’s head instead of Jerry’s renders the conked cat an amnesia victim – who thinks he’s a mouse. He terrorizes Mammy up on a chair, shaking and knocking her to the floor. Mammy even tries walking with stilts, only to have the rodent-minded cat yank them out from under her. Tom is also eating the entire household cheese supply, and flustering Jerry even further by moving into his mousehole – collapsing the legs of Jerry’s matchstick bed when he nods off for a snooze. Jerry reads up in a medical encyclopedia that amnesia effects may be reversed by another sharp blow to the head. He tries to lure Tom under a table, where Jerry waits with a baseball bat. But Jerry’s batting average is zero, as Tom dodges each swing without even noticing Jerry is there. Jerry next tries a teeter totter baited with cheese, and a bowling ball positioned to drop on one end. As Tom eats the cheese on one end of the board, Jerry drops the heavy ball on the other. Tom shoots upward and smacks his head on the ceiling. He lands back on the board, and for a moment appears to be his old self. But Jerry miscalculated, as Tom’s landing launches the bowling ball – upward and onto Tom’s head, reverting him to rodent again. Jerry now leaves a trail of cheese throughout the house, leading Tom through numerous booby-traps with heavy objects that all just miss. As Tom offers Jerry a piece of cheese, Jerry disgustedly tosses it away. It lands in an egg cup on a high shelf. A chain reaction occurs between the egg cup, a china plate, a broom, and the latch to an ironing board door, causing the heavy ironing board to crash down right on Tom’s noggin. Tom’s his old evil self, and Jerry is overjoyed. He gives Tom a kiss and returns to his mousehole, fixing his matchstick bed. As Tom waits outside the hole, who should come along but Mammy – reading the same book as Jerry, and armed with the baseball bat. WHAM!. She bops Tom in off-camera action while a helpless Jerry looks on -, then Jerry renters his mousehole in a disgruntled mood. Moments later, Tom joins him inside – a mouse again, and again collapses the legs of Jerry’s bed for the iris out.
Years after MGM gave Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera the same “boot” as their lead character had felt in his inaugural episode Puss Gets the Boot, the reins of Tom and Jerry were turned over to ex-Terrytoon director and cartoonist Gene Deitch, now operating from a new location – Rembrandt Films in Czechoslovakia. His inaugural episode placed Tom and Jerry in the abode of a mad scientist. In Switchin’ Kitten (9/7/61), Jerry plays the role of an “Igor” as laboratory assistant in the doctor’s spooky castle, helping to set the apparatus for a brain transfer machine which switches the personalities of an orange tabby and a fierce bulldog. The cat-turned-dog becomes Jerry’s friend and confidant, following wherever he goes. Meanwhile, a passing coach throws out something tied in a sack – which turns out to be Tom. It is raining the proverbial cats and dogs, so Tom seeks refuge at the scientist’s castle. Pering in the window, he sees Jerry and thinks he’s found a square meal – but fails to notice the dog-brained cat behind him. The tabby grabs back Jerry, which Tom interprets as merely wanting to do the honors in mashing the mouse – so he offers the tabby a mallet. Instead of pounding Jerry, the tabby whomps Tom soundly with it. Tom tries to appeal to the cat’s natural allegiances, showing him that he’s a card carrying union member (“International Brotherhood of Cats”), and even showing him an encyclopedia full of cat pictures – but gets unexpected reaction as the cat tears every picture out of the book, then smashes Tom in its pages. (Tom only “finds himself” by sticking his arm out of the closed book and running his fingers along alphabetical tabs on the side until he comes to “T”.) After multiple mishaps and a trip through the Doctor’s test tubes (recalling in low-budget style the laboratory equipment from The Bookworm Turns), Tom flees for his life. He tries to open various castle doors – but finds surprising occupants – like an elephant who chirps like a songbird and flaps his ears. A chicken who “baaa”s like a goat. The bulldog, who says, “Meow”. Or a cuckoo bird in a clock who says, “Moo”. Tom spots Jerry alone at a mousehole. He approaches Jerry on bended knees, begging for some kind of explanation. In the topper of toppers, Jerry enters and rests in the entrance to his mousehole. A closer inspection of the hole reveals a familiar-looking border around it, with the inscription, “Ars Gratia Artis” – and Jerry roars as the MGM lion! Tom’s reached his end – he transforms into a living rocket and blasts through the ceiling into space. Jerry-Leo winks at the audience for the final fade out.
Planet Pirates (1957-58), the title of the inaugural 13 chapter Ruff and Reddy TV serial produced by Hanna-Barbera aka H-B Enterprises (remembered most for its visit to the metal planet “Muni-Mula” (that’s aluminum spelled backwards), includes a series of mid-story cliffhangers where molds are made of our heroes to produce an army of metal duplicate dogs and cats to invade earth. The final step is to place them under a metal cap that transfers to them the artificial intelligence of a robot. Reddy stands in the path of the robot assembly line to halt their progress – and doesn’t see the cap come down on his head. ZAP! And Reddy now has the mind of a robot – even to the point of seizing his pal Ruff and beginning to take him as a captive to the robot authorities. But fortunately, as the narrator shows us in cutaway view of Reddy’s skull, the effect isn’t permanent. Reddy’s skull is three times thicker than normal, and the cosmic rays bounced off like water off a duck’s back – so that Reddy reverts to his old self again in the nick of time.
Brainy Bear (Hanna-Barbera, 2/23/59), a Yogi Bear episode originally aired on the Huckleberry Hound Show, is a bit routine on plot, but makes the most of Yogi and Boo Boo’s winning personalities. As tourist season opens (with Yogi throwing out the “Do Not Feed the Bears” sign), a little “tourist” with a white goatee and google-eyed glasses arrives with a car and trailer. Yogi sees a target for a “goodies” handout. What he doesn’t see is that the trailer is a portable laboratory, and the tourist a cracked scientist with a brain transfer device and a pet chicken for one-half of his experiment. Yogi is invited in for “gobs of goodies” and invited to sit down while they’re fetched. Yogi comments that the chair (with traditional metal transfer-cap) reminds him of “the hot seat”. The scientist thinks the analogy quite fitting, as he pulls a switch. The result – a clucking bear and a chicken with an appetite for goodies. Boo Boo winds up in the midst of the confusion, as his bear buddy passes him pecking at the ground, while the chicken strikes up conversation with him, completely oblivious to why Boo Boo faints on the spot. When Boo Boo awakens, he tries to accept that the chicken might be his pal, but seeing the pecking Yogi, thinks “That looks more like my Yogi”, and takes the chicken-brained bear home to rest. The scientist initiates phase two of his test, inviting the chicken back inside – “You forgot your goodies.” Yogi cluck obliges, sitting on the chicken’s perch, but wondering, “So how come I gotta wear this tin hat?” The scientist announces to the audience that he will now attempt a human experiment – but since there are no human guinea pigs, he will volunteer. Throwing the switch, he sits in the other seat, and the volts fly again. Back in the cave, Boo Boo observes Yogi, who he has put to bed, still clucking in dopey contentment. Outside, he hears someone approaching. It’s the scientist, but talking in Yogi’s voice: “So how about them goodies?” Following him is the chicken, speaking in the scientist’s voice: “Hooray, I’m famous!” Inside the cave, everyone tries to explain to Boo Boo. Scientist: “I am a creature of the forest.” Chicken: “I am a Famous scientist.” And bewildered Boo Boo: “And I am a mixed up little bear!”
Notably, the premise for this cartoon would be milked by Hanna-Barbera for some added bucks several years later, during the short few years of HBR (Hanna-Barbera Records) production. One of the last Cartoon Series releases on the label would be “Yogi Bear and the Three Stooges Meet the Mad Mad Dr. No No”. Sounds like a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it? Or something more appropriate for one of those later years hour and a half Sunday specials? Well, it struck me that way in the late 1960’s when I encountered the one and only copy of the album I ever actually saw or held in my hand, in a Boston area department store – and I passed it up. It seems my reaction may have been a common one – as the record seems to have sold in minuscule numbers, and is among the rarest of the label’s output. Yet, thanks to the internet, I finally in recent years got the chance to hear the thing – and it really isn’t bad at all. For one thing, no one told us on the record sleeve that when they said “Three Stooges”, they weren’t talking about impersonators – it was the real thing – Moe, Larry, and Curley-Joe De Rita – in their last album project, and still in good form. Daws Butler is still there to provide the dulcet tones of the genuine Yogi. And the strange plot – with the apprentice ranger Stooges assigned to watch Yogi to keep him out of trouble, only to have Yogi fall prey to a mad doctor who again brain-transfers him into a chicken – is well peppered with punch lines and entertains without feeling too much like it’s overstayed its welcome. If you haven’t encountered this rare piece of Hanna-Barbera history, a listen is recommended – and stick around for the whole story (including the Joe Penner reference in the curtain line) – it’ll be worth your time.
Magoo Meets Frankenstein (UPA, 1960 – Gil Turner, dir.), is one of the last Magoos attempted to be released to theaters by Steve Bosustow without the benefit of Columbia Pictures distribution – and probably edited in running time from its theatrical version to fit a TV schedule. A mad doctor in a Transylvanian castle pulls the switch on another brain transfer machine, again using a chicken on one end – on the other end, the Frankenstein monster, who after the bright lights lets out with a “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!” Pleased with the results, the doctor seeks a human subject for the next test. Enter European tourist Magoo in his old Baker Electric, mistaking the castle for the local Hilton hotel. Seeing a crocodile-infested moat, Magoo sees only an “olympic swimming pool” full of bathing beauties. A croc crawls out on the bank and rears up to pounce on Magoo, but Magoo thinks he’s a bellboy and stuffs his luggage into the crocodile’s jaws, telling him to be careful with that – “It’s genuine alligator.”
The doctor flings wide his door, and Magoo is greeted by Frankenstein’s “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo”. Magoo finds this quite inviting, and says he’d love to have a cocktail. Magoo mistakes a lab table for a bar and attempts to seat himself – but the doctor wheels the brain transfer chair under him as the “seat of honor.” Before Doc can pull the switch, Magoo is up again, toasting a skeleton who he refers to as “M’Lady”. The doctor tries to stop him from swallowing a fresh potion, but winds up downing it himself, cracking his glasses and sending steam out from under his moustache. Magoo next decides to try the pool, and has to be fished out by the doctor from the crocs – who of course take their share of nips off the doctor instead. Finally, Magoo is back in the brain transfer chair, thinking he’s in the hotel barber shop. The doctor places a brain transfer cap on Magoo – but Magoo declines. “A bowl haircut?” It may be continental, but not for Magoo. He exits the chair, dropping the transfer cap onto the doctor’s head just as he pulls the switch. The doctor gets zapped, and somehow a short-circuit occurs that lights up the whole castle like a fireworks display. At the closing, a departing Magoo waves goodbye to the “hotel” staff, as doctor, monster, and all the crocodiles answer the goodbye with a parting, “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!”
Science Friction (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 12/3/63 – Sid Marcus, dir,) – Our scene opens on test tubes and bunsen burners that seem to be mixing some highly scientific formula – but its just a goofy professor (voiced by comedy veteran Benny Rubin) mixing a dry martini (which he turns his back to the audience and downs before speaking to us). Introducing himself, he describes his passion of crossing animals to get something else. His latest subject is a gorilla, but he hasn’t decided yet what to cross it with. As he speaks, the gorilla keeps grabbing the professor’s pointer stick and bopping him on the head with it. When the professor pulls the pointer out of reach of the gorilla, the gorilla just pulls a bar out of his cage cell and whomps the professor in the same way. A knock on the door reveals magazine salesman Woody, whom the professor, in a thought-cloud brainstorm, realizes as a perfect specimen – to produce the world’s first flying gorilla. Woody announces that if he sells enough subscriptions, he’ll get a free camping trip. The professor offers to cut out the middleman by acting as scoutmaster for a camping trip of his own – merely camping for the night in the middle of his laboratory. He beds down in the middle, while having Woody and the gorilla lie down on respective laboratory beds. His lullaby to Woody is not very subtle: “Rock a Bye, Woody. Don’t try to escape. When you wake up, you’ll look like an ape.”
But sleep does not come, as nobody trusts each other, and everyone keeps one eye open. The professor nevertheless slips brain transfer caps on Woody and the gorilla, and creeps over to a wall switch marked “600,000 volts” to plug them in. But a wide awake Woody follows behind, first snipping the cap’s electric cord, then inserting the loose wire into the professor’s shoe for a high-voltage hotfoot (depicted in some colorful animation a bit reminiscent of Max Fleischer’s electrocution gag in “Mr. Bug Goes To Town”, including the professor briefly morphing into a braying donkey). Some predictable chase hide-and-seek ensues (one good sight gag having Woody open a seemingly endless string of doors, only to find the professor’s beaten him outside, to greet him by slamming the brain transfer cap down on him). Eventually, the professor succeeds in tying Woody to the lab table. But the waiting gorilla has put up with enough. He removes his transfer cap and slams it down on the professor, then plugs the caps into the high voltage himself. Woody and the professor get the juice. As the lights come back on, the gorilla is greeted by Woody, who has acquired the professor’s hairdo and glasses, plus his personality. Outside, the professor, now possessing Woody’s topknot, flies happily through the skies uttering Woody’s laugh – until his long nose pierces and gets stuck in a flagpole for the iris out.
Mad Scientist (3/3/64), an episode of Hanna-Barbera’s “The Magilla Gorilla Show”, is, save for embellishments of the character’s unique dialog style, nearly the identical plot to Woody Woodpecker’s “Science Friction” – a mad scientist seeking to cross a bird and a gorilla through brain transfer. This mad doctor wants the bird (a pigeon), to have super strength – but gets nothing on the bird’s side as the bird flies the coop out the window. However, as with Woody’s episode, the experiment isn’t a complete failure – as Magilla flies home to Peebles’ Pet Shop under his own power. A few good gags pad out the episode: Magilla referring to the Doctor’s castle as in the style of “Early Bela Lugosi”; Magilla trying to rest in an electric chair – and getting chewed out by the doctor for wasting electricity; and Magilla reprising a Bugs Bunny gag by holding up a picture of a “screw” and a “ball” behind the Doctor in the middle of his rants.
Monster Fred (Hanna-Barbera, 9/24/64), a misnomered 5th season Halloween-themed episode of “The Flintstones”, shows some signs of the series already getting tired in its material after only a few short years, really having only enough genuine plot material for about half an episode. While early seasons of the show could produce regular laughs even from incidental dialog sequences, this episode frequently gets lost in dialog that merely fills time without delivering punch lines, and also lacks the spontaneity of facial expressions and movement exhibited by earlier episodes, as if the characters’ actions have become merely formulaic and “set in stone” on model sheets. Nevertheless, the episode attempts to present the brain transfer to end all brain transfers. After some filler exposition, the first central plot point is revealed: Fred’s reservation of an alley for the boys’ bowling night has drawn unlucky alley 13. Barney warns Fred that the last bowlers to use that alley wound up with the “bowler’s bends”, but Fred pooh poohs Barney’s worry as silly superstition. A black catasaurus crossing their path, and Fred walking under a ladder, further convince Barney that evil will befall them. At the alley, mysterious things happen. Fred’s ball hits the head pin but crumbles into dust while the pin stands. Barney’s ball zig zags inbetween the rows of pins without hitting a single one. Then Fred finally hits a strike – but the ball bounces off the back wall of the alley, ricochets upward into the sign giving the number of the alley above Fred, and back down again to conk Fred on the dome. Fred’s briefly out like a light, and when he cones to, talks in infant’s babble like a three-year old. Barney props Fred up against the wall and looks up physicians in the phone book. While a considerable amount of time is filled (or is it wasted) on a little goofy doctor who accomplishes nothing, Barney ultimately finds a phone listing for “Mad Doctors”, including a Len Frankenstone. (The “Len” reference signals a parody of the “Ben” of then-popular medical drama, Ben Casey.)
Arriving at the doctor’s laboratory, Barney and Dino (who’s been waiting in the car listening to “Beagles” music) push in Fred. Inside, a cohort of Frankenstone’s attempts to dissuade him from his latest project of evil genius – a brain transfer device with large descending rock helmets, and a device built into the ceiling that strikes two boulders together like flints to produce an electrical spark. Seeing Fred and Dino, the doctor wheels both of them into his laboratory, leaving Barney in a waiting room. A pull of the switch – and Dino emerges talking like a cured Fred, while Fred runs into the waiting room on all fours. The wives arrive to view the mess, and Wilma moans “I’m married to a dinosaurus!” After Barney catches Fred (who’s leaped out the window to chase a cat), he accompanies Fred and Dino back to the lab for a reverse procedure. Another zap, and Dino emerges his old self – but now Fred and Barney’s personalities are switched! The girls give Frankenstone a “piece of their mind”, and its everybody back to the lab. As the switch is pulled again, the voltage branches out beyond Fred and Barney’s helmets and hits the girls too. Now the girls are the boys and the boys are the girls. If at first you don’t succeed. Now with four helmets, the switch is pulled again on the boys and the girls, while Dino waits on the sidelines with the doctor’s friend. We don’t hear precisely what happens to the Rubbles and the Flintstones – but Len’s pal starts barking like Dino and Dino speaks in the pal’s voice to chastise Len once more. Shall we try for six helmets? (Len comments, “My electricity bill’s gonna be murder!”) One more bolt from the flints – and finally, everyone’s talking in their normal voice. Len’s pal congratulates him: “You did it! What do you say now, doctor?” There is still one side effect: Len’s personality is gone, and he has now become a duplicate of Fred’s – answering in Fred’s voice: “What do I say? Yabba Dabba Doo!!” The episode should have appropriately ended here, but continues for another five minutes on not one, but two grafted-on endings that the writers couldn’t seem to decide between, with Fred ultimately conked on the head again, and another mad doctor to visit for a “here we go again” ending. Still, taking the genre to its extreme managed to save this episode from oblivion and render it overall memorable through the years.
Next time: More TV mental madness, some of the last theatricals, and a double-dose of Mickey Mouse spectacle in a surprising pair of spine-chilling comebacks.