O. Soglow’s “The Little King” would occasionally take journeys away from his surreal kingdom – sometimes in the course of his duties in affairs of state, such as in Jest of Honor (1934). But at least once, his travels were motivated by a need for pure recreation. The Cactus King (Van Buren/RKO, The Little King, 6/8/34 – George Stallings, dir., Jim Tyer, anim.), the final installment in the Van Buren series, finds our diminutive potentate aboard a private train, bearing the name, “The King’s Special”, touring the American West. The train includes custom cars for the king’s entourage (who all appear to be hoboes), including a water tank car labeled, “Ye Old Swimming Hole”, an flatbed car with two tables, a dhort order cook, and a cooking stove, marked “Hoboes’ Diner”, and a car for horses, providing them with all the conforts of home, including hammocks to sleep in. Where’s the King? Having fun playing boiler man in the engine cab, shoveling coal into the furnace. It’s a strange locomotive, however, as the boiler chamber is empty except for a single pot-bellied stove, which serves the dual purpose of providing the engine’s sole source of propulsion and a place for the King to warm himself. The front panel of the boiler also folds open to provide an extendable throne chair for the King to ride at the front of the train while reading the latest news. He also takes time out to fix a “flat”, pumping up a steel train wheel with air from a tire pump to get the train going again.
A cow on the tracks brings the Special to a halt. When the bovine won’t budge, the King throws a rock at it. With absolutely no explanation provided, the “cow” turns out to be two American Indians inside a cowhide. They capture the King, but instead of going on the warpath, merely escort him to a dude ranch. It’s hard to tell from the nonsensical happenings that follow whether the King was expected, or has merely stumbled into a situation. Several cowboys hold down a bucking bronco, which the King mounts. The King turns out to be a natural rider, and when the horse gets ornery, merely befriends him by offering it an apple. Within minutes, the King has mastered the beast, performing rope tricks and acrobatics atop his mount. The King proceeds to similarly master every animal in the corral – from a longhorn steer between whose horns the King strings a tightrope and performs a high-wire act, to a vertical pyramid of six horses standing on each other’s backs while the King strikes an acrobatic pose on top. Cowboys and native Americans alike cheer him, and the local Chief offers the King his ceremonial headdress. The King reciprocates by handing the Chief a cigar from his own special select supply box. However, the King just can’t be broken of his affinity for pranks, and despite the kindness he’s been shown, slips the Chief an exploding cigar. The Chief is outraged, and calls all braves for a scalping party. The King mounts the fastest stallion he can find and is off to the races, with the whole tribe in furious pursuit through tunnels and along mountain trails. Finally, the King spots his train puffing away down a track alongside the trail. The King leaps from his horse aboard the rear platform, and, to rid himself of his pursuers, uses most of the rest of his cigar supply as hand-grenades to blast the warriors away. As they give up the chase, the King settles down in a chair, but receives a disparaging glance of distrust from the Queen emerging from the caboose. The King remedies himself of her fish-eye stares – by offering her, what else, a cigar! He gives us a wink as she prepares to light up, and the train disappears down the track into the horizon for the iris out.
The mid-1930’s ushered in a new era of interest in finding modern and creative ways to get away from it all. A principal innovation (possibly to avoid the cost of hotels in an era of depression) was the notion of taking one’s lodgings with you – hooked to the back of your car in the form of a trailer. It’s hard to say how the marketing of such idea was best handled in a period of financial chaos, as it would seem one would have to be a pretty frequent traveler for the savings on hotel bills to outweigh the sticker shock of investing in the contraptions. But it could be that the craze was driven more by persons seeking a new form of permanent lodging rather than the mere casual tourist – a way to keep the nasty ol’ landlord from your door when your next paycheck might be a question mark.
Photos of vehicles from the period show a broad variety of makes and designs, frequently with an ultra-modern concept in mind – streamlining. While the profiles of many vehicles closely resembled perfect ovals, others glisten in chrome or aluminum and nearly resemble small cross-sections of an airplane wing. The art deco look was the order of the day.
Toons had their own take on the new fad. While I’ve yet to find any records of the real-life vehicles having any large degree of mechanization, the very lack of space inside such a conveyance probably necessitated that some equipment would have to serve multiple purposes to sustain round-the-clock living. Toons took this concept to the extreme – not only making devices inside these wheeled wonders transform for multiple purposes, but mechanizing them with the as-yet unrealized technology of robotics, so that the trailer became a veritable palace of wonders for its owner, and would do his bidding more efficiently than a manservant to fill his every need throughout the average day.
It all seems to have begun with Scrappy’s Trailer (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Scrappy, 8/29/35 – Sid Marcus, dir.). Scrappy and Oopie have purchased one of the new egg-shaped wonders, which Scrappy tows along with a little flivver, while Oopie happily dances atop and inside the srreamlined buggy. (It seems to be commonplace, at least in cartoons, to show passengers riding inside the trailer compartment while it is being towed, standing and going about their business. When did traffic regulations kick in to prevent such hazardous practices?) As Scrappy negotiates a hilly up-and-down roadway in tracking-shot 3D, Oopie struggles inside to keep a stack of dishes balanced from the kitchen sink. A final hill proves too steep for the tow bar, which breaks off from the trailer’s weight, causing Scrappy to race to beat the trailer to the bottom with his car, and push it uphill from behind. Reaching the crest of the hill, the trailer free falls down the opposite slope, and into a small lake. Resourceful Oopie converts to submarine mode, using the stove vent-pipe as a periscope. The two vehicles come out on the opposite shore and shake themselves dry, then rehitch. Finding a convenient clearing, Oopie drops an anchor. Now, he sets to work on a series of levers and belted wheels inside the trailer to activate its many gadgets. The front door opens, rolling out a curved cobblestone walkway complete with bordering hedges. A box-like appendage appears in front, unfolding into a garage to keep the car for the night. In the rear, picket fencing expands like a telephone extender, and a pole telescopes upward from the fencing, ready to receive a toss from the trailer window of a pulley to hold a clothesline for the duo’s wash. On the opposite side of the trailer, a corral fence expands, and out of the vehicle steps a cow, carrying her own milking stool! Flower planters emerge under the trailer windows, and a full tree telescopes from the anchor, complete with songbirds. As a crowning touch, an upper story expands from the roof, topped with an old-fashioned weather vane.
There’s still the matter of the need for eats. Oopie has this under control, with what looks like a bedroll, but which unrolls to reveal a seven-course picnic banquet, complete with steaming hot roast turkey and ready-made place settings for everyone.
The two settle down to feast, until the local insect community takes an interest. Ants, mosquitoes, and other six-legged denizens converge to partake of the feed. Sandwiches are stolen right out of Scrappy’s grasp, and Oopie takes some powerful mosquito stings. Flies turn the sugar bowl ipside down, and bombard our heroes from the air with sugar cubes. Scrappy and Oopie climb their telescoping tree for refuge – but find a new stranger has beat them to it – a local bear. They race back to car and trailer and take off down the road, the bear close behind. The cow is still encircled in the corral fence (a notable continuity error now has her in the rear of the vehicle, though previously the corral was on the driver’s side), and Oopie has to perform some fancy maneuvers to take the cow in just one step ahead of the bear. The bear runs so fast, he passes under the wheels of both vehicles and winds up running ahead of the car. Scrappy gets out of harm’s way by pulling a lever in the car, causing the jalopy to sprout an autogyro prop and take off into the blue. Unfortunately, this leaves the trailer and Oopie behind. The trailer rolls over the bear, scalping him of most of his fur and leaving him flattened like a rug. Them the trailer rolls off a cliff, but its axles extend on telephone extenders to a roadbed below. Wouldn’t you know it, the one thing the trailer hasn’t got is its own set of brakes. The driverless rig careens down a winding mountain road and through several tunnels in tracking shot perspective, with Oopie screaming for help all the way. It reaches the bottom just ahead of Scrappy’s car, and the two vehicles crash into a tree, disintegrating the entire contraptions into debris, excepting the kitchen stove, where Scrappy and Oopie emerge from under the stove lids, and the dazed cow lets out a moo from the stovepipe.
Stop That Noise (Fleischer/Paramount, Betty Boop, 3/15/35 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Myron Waldman/Edward Nolan, anim.) – Betty is having no end of trouble sleeping in her apartment in the big city, as elevated trains chug past her window every few seconds, and a crew of construction workers jack-hammers and rivets on a new high rise throughout the day. Betty sees in her minds eye a pair of burly construction workers, turning the jack hammers directly upon her pretty curly locks. She vows to get away from it all, and packs a suitcase, then motors off in a little coupe to a quiet farmhouse way out in the country. She is at first impressed at how peaceful everything is, and settles down in a hammock to catch up on her reading. Suddenly, a sound approximating a multi-note auto horn jangles her. It is merely a trio of passing farm geese, honking in melodious tones. Odd squeaks are next heard in the tree – which originate from a population of female flies sharing the latest neighborhood gossip. A colony of caterpillars build a living ladder of legs below the hammock, allowing one to climb into the hammock and begin eating a page of Betty’s book.
As Betty shoos one insect away, a spider descends from the tree, reading the title of the next chapter in Betty’s book of detective stories – “The Spider – caught in his own web.” Finding this interesting reading, the spider rips the entire page out of the book and rises back into the tree. A mosquito scores two direct hits on Betty’s shapely leg. The bites are bad enough, but the crowning blow is that he causes a run in her nylon stocking. Satisfied with the taste, the mosquito visits the swamp, tipping off the rest of the swarm to his fresh find. (Is someone remembering Mickey Mouse’s Camping Out, discussed last week?) The mosquitoes emerge in military formation from the swamp water, noseless, but affix stingers like bayonets (a gag which would be reused by Friz Freleng in later WWII themed epics, such as Warners’ “Of Thee I Sting”). Arriving back at the hammock, the swarm divides into two squads, each taking nose dives under Betty’s rear end, causing her to painfully swing back and forth in the hammock between stings. Betty abandons the trees and dives into a haystack, where the swarm plays a “hide and seek” game trying to find her, solving the dilemma by transforming into the formation of a giant pitchfork, and scooping the top of the haystack off of Betty. Betty darts into the barn. Not only can’t she lose the mosquitoes, but she is tripped up by several pigs, and deluged in a chorus of brays, neighs, clucks and squawks from the resident livestock. Betty reaches her breaking pont, dons her hat, hops in the car and speeds home. Back at her apartment, things are as noisy as ever. But Betty opens the window wide, welcoming in the construction and train sounds like old friends, settles down on her bed, and quickly falls asleep as if being sung a lullaby. The story perpetuates a well-worn Fleischer moral – leave well enough alone.
Kannibal Kapers (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Krazy Kat, 10/27/35 – Ben Harrison/
Manny Gould, dir.) – We can’t be really sure if this title belongs in this article at all, as it may begin as a day-trip rather than a full vacation – but the exotic nature of its ultimate destination, coupled with its outstanding musical score, make it hard to resist. Krazy is enjoying a day of sunshine at the beach, floating around with an old life preserver. The floatation device gets away and is suspended at the top of a wave, which Krazy climbs. Suddenly a huge fish appears in the wave, getting the preserver stuck round his neck. He takes off for the open sea, dragging Krazy along for the ride. Krazy winds up astride his back in a display of water skiing without skis, getting a bit seasick at all of the sudden action. Finally, with a flip of its tail, the fish tosses Krazy ashore into the heights of a palm tree on a tropical island. A gorilla in the tree complains at getting klunked on the head from Krazy’s arrival, and, placing Krazy on a palm leaf, pulls a vine, which shoots the leaf down the trunk of the tree like a descending elevator. Krazy lands in a pot at the base of the tree, where a stereotype cannibal chef smacks his lips, then places Krazy on a plate and under a lid to present to the chief. The chief has his throne in an unusual setting – a cannibal night club – the Cocoanut Grove. There, a cannibal band (led by a blackface look-alike to Paul Whiteman) strikes up an original Joe De Nat tune, sung entirely in nonsense scat lyrics, probably titled “Ummba Ummba”. This lively piece, which permeates the score for most of the cartoon, is heavily influenced by the scat, mock-instrument vocals of the Mills Brothers (as in their number “Jungle Fever”), with a dash of Ellington influence as well. The piece was so good, De Nat found means to give it a second life a few years later, used again to great advantage in the jazzy Color Rhapsodies masterpiece, Swing, Monkey, Swing.
Krazy is presented on a plate to the chief, but waves off any effort to eat him with a run of scat-singing double-talk. The chief’s girlfriend, definitely a Mae West type, takes a liking to the fresh newcomer, and finds he’s quite a dancer. She even falls for his scatting line and responds with a big kiss right under the chief’s nose, uttering her only line of normal dialogue: “Big boy, ya got me.” Stereotypes are played upon, with trios of native dancers whose heads bounce on spiraled coils of wire around their necks, and of plate-lipped natives whose extended lips quack like ducks. Krazy winds up standing in for the orchestra leader, doing a brief impersonation of Ted Lewis, and conducting the band into a musical frenzy, which gets a bit out of hand, bouncing Krazy around from one instrument to another, destroying most of them and upsetting the band members no end. The band gang up and surround Krazy, who waves them a sheepish, “Hi”, then runs. One last orchestra man whose instrument is still in one piece – a guitarist – grabs Krazy as he passes, threads the cat’s feet into the guitar strings, then uses the instrument like a bow with Krazy as the arrow, sailing him back to the ocean to splash into the water at the horizon line, as the film irises out.
Scrappy’s Boy Scouts (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Scrappy, 1/2/36, Art Davis, dir.) – Scouting is a traditionl summer pastime, and pretty much counts as a vacation when it involves overnight hikes and camping. So we’ll be including a few on the subject. In this, one of the earliest known to not only deal with scouting, but to actually bear the seal of approval of the scouting organization (rare original titles exist in private hands showing the boy scout insignia instead of Scrappy’s face behind the titling), Scrappy is troop leader in charge of his own regiment, proceeding in marching formation to a scouting jamboree. Little Oopie is too young and puny to be a scout yet, but decides to give it a try anyway. He grabs a pair of trousers from his dad’s closet much too big for him, and takes in the belt a mile before they’ll fit. He also finds an old camping hat, also oversize, which droops down over his face until he braids his patch of hair into a vertical corkscrew to suspend the hat above his eye level. He presents himself to Scrappy, announcing he wants to join. Scrappy performs an army-style physical. He places Oopie on a scale to check for minimum weight. The scale whirls around to 300 pounds! – because Oopie has stuffed his trousers with iron horseshoes. Scrappy listens for Oopie’s heart through a stethoscope – and somehow gets radio static, then an announcer from station A.W.O.L. Scrappy concludes that Oopie’s just not the type. As the troop marches off for the campgrounds, Oopie decides at least they can’t stop him from playing scout, and “recruits” a troop of his own – consisting of three neighborhood dachshunds, whom he attempts to teach close-order drilling (that is , when they are not dancing, goofing off, or engaging in dogfights behind his back). Scrappy and the troop meanwhile make camp in the hills. Scrappy raises the troop flag up a pole by means of a sledge-hammer blow as if ringing the bell on a carnival high-striker. He puts his men through the paces of archery practice – only to hang suspended from a tree by errant arrows which missed the target.
Back at his home, Oopie has paused in his play, saddened again, and fingering in the dirt the words “I wish I wuz a boy scout.” The sky darkens, and rain begins to fall. Instead of running for home, Oopie appears to sense impending danger for Scrappy’s troop, and summons his dog squad to race off toward the campsite. A strange continuity error occurs here, as the scouts, originally seen pitching multiple tents at the foot of the hills, are now up on a mountain peak, and all attempting to huddle from the storm into one tent they’ve brought along. A bolt of lightning hits the mountainside, knocking away the entire spiraling trail by which the scouts had made their ascent, reducing the peak to the shape of an applecore. The wind blows away the tent, and the troop appears stranded to face the elements. In another surprise continuity jump, Oopie and his dogs appear from nowhere in the scouts’ midst, having ascended the hill before the lightning bolt. Oopie orders his dogs into formation, and they assume the roles of three live rubber bands, from which Oopie catapults the scouts in groups of three back to the campground clearing below. Another strange continuity hole is that we never actually see Scrappy or Oopie using the dog-apults – but suddenly, only the dogs remain on the peak. Two of them fling each other, and the third dog rolls up into the shape of a tire and merely rolls himself back into the valley, hitting a bulls’ eye on the archery target, which cues the sun to rise and the storm to end. The boys unanimously elect to administer the boy scout oath to hero Oopie, who recites the actual boy scout pledge for his induction. The cartoon closes with the troop celebrating around a campfire at night – again given special titles in the rare original, as the campfire animation is continued while the Charles Mintz production lettering and Columbia logo are superimposed in stencil over the animation, and remain in place while the animation fades out. Possibly the only instance where the Mintz studio was singled out for a prestige sponsored project ahead of the other major producers.
In My Gondola (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Color Rhapsody (Scrappy), 9/4/36 – Art Davis/Sid Marcus, dir.) – For some reason, unlike the instant fame of Mickey Mouse when he graduated to Technicolor, the addition of rainbow hues did not always equate to success and fortune for the mainstay characters of other studios. At Warners, Daffy Duck, and eventually Porky Pig, would make the color jump seamlessly and maintain their stature. Late in the game. Popeye would also become a major and longstanding color attraction, spurred on by the three Technicolor two reel “features” produced by Fleischer. But not so with others. At Iwerks, Willie Whopper would receive three glorious outings in Cinecolor – then fall back into routine black and white formula films. Lantz provided his star character Oswald Rabbit with three ventures in two-strip Technicolor – and couldn’t seem to get a rise out of the audience if he had put jacks under their seats. Oswald would receive one full Technicolor appearance, which had to wait until the 1940’s, as a seasonal special, long after his series was already out of production. When Van Buren went to color, all of its reliable properties – Tom and Jerry, Cubby Bear, and the Little King – were completely abandoned, never receiving a single color cel. And then there was Columbia. By 1936, Krazy Kat seemed to be considered largely on the wane, receiving fewer and fewer releases each season, and dropped altogether inside of four years. But there was still Scrappy – the studio’s only original creation and semi-dependable bankroller. As color became available, the obvious thought was, why not upgrade the product? Actually Charles Mintz was ahead of the game in this thinking, launching Scrappy into color a year before Mickey Mouse, in one of the few ventures to win the studio some prestige – Holiday Land (1934), a two strip Silly Symphony-like pageant of the year’s holidays. The result was impressive and promising, even though Scrappy’s usual slightly brash persona was a little dampered for the occasion, making him something of a background attraction rather than central to the film’s action.
Nevertheless, it earned the studio an Oscar nomination – in a day and age where Disney films held at least two-thirds of each year’s nominee berths. But where to go for a follow-up? The studio seemed to have little idea. No further Scrappy appearances would be made in two-strip color. When full Technicolor became available, Mintz would directly lift the idea from Disney of placing atop the billing of his “Color Rhapsodies” series the titling, “Scrappy presents”, as had Mickey’s name appeared on the Silly Symphonies. But Scrappy himself continued to churn out hit and miss efforts in black and white – periodically entertaining, but making few waves in the industry. Only three times would he make appearances himself in Technicolor. Gondola was by far the finest. Other, massively weaker ventures included Doctor Bluebird (featuring a literally blue Scrappy laid up with a busted leg, administered back to health by a revue of sickeningly cheerful bluebirds), and The Merry Mutineers, a surreal cartoon where Scrappy (and in his only color appearance, Oopie) barely appear, letting the sailor figures aboard their toy boats, all celebrity caricatures, come to life and wage a naval battle with each other in a park pond. Why the lack of impact? Possibly, bad plot choices, focusing the late efforts on subsidiary characters while the nominal lead gets nothing to do. Also (particularly in the case of Doctor Bluebird), an tendency the studio was all-too-often guilty of in its color productions – to be too ultra-cute in its odd vision of matching the appeal of Disney, rather than sticking to the gag-laden, surreal and quirky world that had risen Scrappy to semi-prominence in the first place. Merry Mutineers odd premise might have worked better in returning to Scrappy’s original ilk if they’d just written Scrappy an active part in the battle to let the audience remember who he was – but lack of such inspiration scuttled the whole affair. Thus, the blink-in-time color career of Scrappy came to a quick and final demise, and Scrappy would soon suffer the same fate as Krazy Kat, being phased out of production entirely by the advent of the Frank Tashlin takeover of studio production.
But for once, we now bask in a glimpse of the color legacy that might have been. Scrappy (dressed in a cute sailor suit), his rarely seen girlfriend Margie (who seems to have had a longer life on movie posters than on the screen), and a completely redesigned Yippy (younger, cuter, and more pup-like) tour Venice in V.I.P. style in a piloted gondola, while feasting on a deluxe box of candies. (Yippy tries for a lick, wiping a row of fancy designs off the chocolates, but one glare from Scrappy and he reverses the lick, restoring all the candy coatings.) Margie smacks Scrappy with a stolen kiss, while a wide array of local gondolas pass around them. While the subject of gondolas dated far back in animation (including the Mutt and Jeff reviewed last week, and Van Buren’s “Venice Vamp”, among others), the Mintz crew works overtime to come up with some new and unusual designs for the craft. A three-seater passes by, with each seat segment connected by an expandable concertina, playing its own musical accompaniment. A little boy rides a mini-gondola with handle in the manner of a street scooter. A two seat-model teeter-totters two sleeping passengers like a see-saw. A gondola equipped with a center refrigerated compartment delivers milk into a home that is also semi-underwater, with tables, nightstand, and bed all afloat. A bathtub doubles for one captain’s rig, propelled by three ducks tied in harness. A flower vendor hocks his wares by skating on the water with two tiny gondolas strapped to his feet as water skis.
Now for the film’s central action. Scrappy plucks a blossom from the water to give to Margie. But attached to its other end is a live lobster. Scrappy notices the critter just before handing the flower to Margie, and, not wanting to spoil the romance of the moment, ducks the lobster behind his back. It unfortunately drops down his pants. Scrappy swats at his bell-bottoms to attempt to ward off the crustacean’s claws, while Margie hands Scrappy a flute to request a serenade. Scrappy obliges with an obligato, but the lobster, blindly flailing about, encounters other musical instruments in the gondola’s cabin. His claws are now seen through Scrappy’s pants, playing a concertina, to the amazed eyes of Margie. Scrappy tries to distract her by switching to a mandolin – but the lobster doubles too, and grabs a violin and bow. A curious Yippy noses too close, and gets bashed on the bean with the violin, then a sock in the jaw from the lobster’s claw. Yippy takes the stance of a dancing prize fighter, and dives into Scrappy’s pants for an all-out brawl. Margie grabs the flute and smashes at the melee in Scrappy’s rear, causing the lobster to grab the flute and dive into the sea, with Yippy close behind in pursuit. The two swim to the ocean bottom, and the lobster ducks behins a rock, the end of the flute barely visible. Yippy catches up and grabs a bite upon what he thinks is the flute. But when he tugs, Yippy finds he has chomped down on the nose of a swordfish. Yippy releases his hold, and gives the swordfish’s nose an affectionate slurp in a desperate effort to make amends. But the inevitable pursuit commences – the swordfish choosing a unique means of attack. Instead of merely spearing with his nose, the fish arches into a circle and flies into a blurring spin, his dorsal fin assuming the role of a rotating buzzsaw.
Yippy is pursued through a flotsam-filled sea, including several floating logs which the swordfish slices and dices nicely. Yippy finally collides with and is cornered against one of the underwater poles supporting the floating city. The swordfish ceases his rotation, and decides to use his sword after all to administer the coup de grace. In a surprise off-the wall sight gag, a fish ambulance, strapped to the back of a swimming fish, arrives on the scene with siren wailing and bells clanging. A smaller fish emerges from its rear bearing a stretcher and a doctor’s bag. Instead of administering some kind of aid to Yippy, the “doctor” fish opens his bag and produces a pencil sharpener, which he applies to sharpen the swordfish’s nose to a razor point. Then, he takes a stick of charcoal and draws a target “X” on Yippy’s chest to give a clear guide where to strike! Revving up like an outboard motor, the swordfish lunges. But a small fish net dips into the water, scooping Yippy up in the nick of time, leaving the swordfish to crash into the submerged pole – bending his sword in three places. The net, of course, is held by Scrappy, who rescues his pet back into the vessel, where Yippy slurps happy kisses upon Scrappy and Margie to be safely back.
The final sequence has our trio wrap up a busy day with a peaceful stop at a local night spot for some music and a heaping plate of spaghetti. Various techniques on eating the local specialty are demonstrated, ranging from the basic slurp to one local who places a fork upright in his hair, fastens one end of the noodles to it, then rotates himself on a swiveling stool until the fork is full. Yippy does a “Lady and the Tramp” with another patron, slurping on opposite ends of one noodle. He comes up with a small porion of noodle rolled in a spiral, which he finds will unroll to full length by blowing on it like a party favor – and upsets a fat lady out of her chair by tickling her in the back with it. Scrappy and Margie share a waltz to the mandolins of an old Italian band, plating the old melody, ‘Neapolitan Nights”. and the trio reboard their vessel and sail off happily into the moonlight for a charming iris out. A lilting Joe De Nat score of classic Italian ballads and some nice atmospheric backgrounds crown this production. Ah, if Mintz could have kept this up, the studio’s and its star’s reputation might have achieved a much higher regard to the present day.
Tin Can Tourist (Terrytoons/Educational, Farmer Alfalfa, 1/22/37 – Mannie Davis/George Gordon, dir.) – the first of two Farmer Alfalfa trailer vacations to occur within the same year. (He must have brought in a bumper crop at harvest time, to be able to afford so much time off.) In this one, he travels with his dog Puddy the Pup. Alfalfa’s driving skills don’t necessarily follow DMV regulations for trailer-hauling, as he crosses s lake by popping his car inside the trailer shell, then rowing the rig across with oars out the windows. He transitions highways by driving his vehicles onto the upper deck of an auto-carrier, then rolling out onto a crossing bridge leading to the other road. He also could use a traffic cop’s recommendations upon the safe entrustment of a vehicle to others, as he leaves Puddy to man the steering wheel, while he goes inside the moving trailer via an extendable staircase between vehicles. An interior shot shows the trailer’s insides completely bare except for a panel of buttons.
However, the Terry boys have been taking some lessons from Scrappy, as pushing a button definitely makes things happen. A first press raises from the floor a coat rack for Al to change into an apron and chef’s hat. Another button replaces it with a full iron stove and stovepipe, complete with steaming coffee pots and extendable griddle for pancakes. Puddy gets a fast-food lunch by Al flipping pancakes out the roof and down the staircase to Puddy in the car. Through with breakfast, another button sprouts a kitchen sink out of the wall to wash the dishes. Another button lowers the side panel of the trailer, extending an awning, revealing picture windows, and even providing an artificial lawn extending over the roadway, self-mowed by an automated lawn mower. After lawn mowing is completed, Al goes back inside, and a pole raises from the roof of the trailer. A vacuum sucks all clothes but Al’s underwear off of him from above, and runs the garments up the flagpole for air drying. Having little regard for public decency, the rear of the trailer opens, and a bathtub extends into the fresh country air, as Al applies the scrub-brush liberally to his person. Maybe open-air bathing is not the greatest idea, as the vehicle hits a rock and the bathtub flips out and onto the farmer, leaving him to scramble to catch up with the trailer, carrying the inverted tub like a turtle shell.
The remainder of the film becomes more standard formula, with Al and Puddy reaching a trailer camp. A passing bee is attracted by Al’s pancake breakfast, and rounds up his friends from the local hive. Al and Puddy are pursued and hide in the trailer, but the bees make entry through the stovepipe. The stove comes to life and runs about frantically with an insides full of bees. Al is pushed inside by a flanking maneuver of the bees, and takes his share of stings, while Puddy closes the stovepipe vent, trapping the bees inside. The stove runs outside, where Al is rescued out of the grating, and Al and Puddy run for the car and speed off down the road, while the stove and its remaining cargo of bees run a distant second, tying to catch up for the iris out.
Trailer Thrills (Lantz/Universal, Oswald Rabbit, 5/3/37 -Walter Lantz, dir.) – An original song, “Get a Trailer”, accompanies the opening sequence, featuring Oswald in possession of a new car and trailer rig (both vehicles personified with facial features, instead of using a robotic mechanized model). A notable portion of the song lyric states: “You don’t have to pay a cent, to the landlord for the rent. You can even snub the gent – if you get a trailer,” Oswald reaches a road junction with two billboards pointing in different directions – one to the Sea Shore, and the other to Paradise Valley. While the trailer tugs at the car hitch to take the road heading for the sea, Oswald looks at a travel brochure for Paradise Valley, boasting of “Fishing- and how!”, and makes the choice of destinations against the trailer’s wishes. The car stops at a traffic signal, with signage different than the usual “Stop” and “Go”, instead reading “On Your Mark”, “Get Set” “OK”. But the car and trailer continue to have their differences, and the trailer won’t budge – until the car blows exhaust smoke in the trailer’s face. The trailer continues to endure indignities, as it is dragged through a deep river (sign reading – “Bridge Out – Back in Ten Minutes”), then receives a face full of mud from the car’s tires on the opposite bank. The road to Paradise Valley is finally reached – spiraling up a mountainside (the sign stating, “No foolin”!) A rainstorm breaks out, which develops into a blizzard (accomplished with superimposed live action footage of stage-style fake snow), as the terrified little car drags the heavy trailer up precarious mountain slopes.
At the crest of a snow-capped hill, they encounter another sign: “Dangerous Bridge – and we don’t mean maybe!” The car tests the strength of the wooden boards with its tires, and proceeds cautiously ahead across a mile-high canyon. At intervals, it pauses to test a few more boards ahead before proceeding. On its second such test, the boards ahead seem solid – only the ones the car is already standing on start to buckle beneath them. Several boards bust away, leaving Oswald and the trailer dangling from the car, which struggles to keep a footing with its forward tires. Now the boards ahead begin to collapse one by obe, with the car hopping from one board to the next as the old ones fall away. This can only keep up for so long, and the car and trailer finally fall and separate. Oswald winds up straddling between the two vehicles over a precipice, as the car and trailer careen down separate roads on adjoining mountains. As the car’s road steers away, Oswald winds up inside the trailer, which tries desperatey to keep at least one wheel on the pavement of the winding mountain road. (At one point, the trailer loses its grip and sails in mid-air above the canyon, reacting to its plight with a verbal “Oh BOY!!!!”) Oswald is tossed about within the trailer, making several excursions out its doors and windows on the end of a Murphy bed. At last, Oswald falls out, getting caught in one of the trailer’s tires, which falls off the axle and bounces Oswald down the hillside while the trailer follows. Car, trailer, and tire finally arrive at the foot of the hill in the valley below – their destination reached. But alas, the travel brochure must have been a bit out of date – because all that is left of the fabulous fishing grounds is a dry lake bed, littered with fish skeletons. As Oswald takes in this distressing sight, the trailer whacks him on the head with its fender as if to say, “I told you so”, while Oswald performs ballerina steps in a cockeyed daze.
A musical note: Lantz pulls a recognizable tune out of the comparatively sparse Universal music library for use twice in the soundtrack of this film: “There’s No Two Ways About It”, written by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh for the obscure musical, Top of the Town from the same year, featuring Doris Nolan, George Murphy, Ella Logan (of Finian’s Rainbow, who performs the tune), and Hugh Herbert. While the original feature is virtually unknown, the song has been immortalized for most of us by its use as a featured production number in Hal Roach’s Our Gang Follies of 1938 (which also leased out a second number from the same feature for its night club sequence – “That Foolish Feeling”).
Porky and Gabby (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 5/15/37 – Ub Iwerks, dir.) – Sidekicks were becoming all the rage since Mickey Mouse successfully acquired Donald and Goofy. If the idea worked for one studio, why not others. Oswald the Rabbit at universal would consequently acquire a short-lived partner, The Dumb Ckuck. At Warners, Porky Pig already had Daffy Duck – but Daffy’s antics were so outlandish and aggressive, Porky would himself eventually be cast as sidekick to the duck. So the writing staff tried for something else – and came up with an often grumpy and hot-tempered billy goat named Gabby (sort of Donald Duck with horns), who would appear in several episodes – most notably Porky’s Badtime Story and Get Rich Quick Porky. In the subject episode here, Gabby gets his only chance to have star billing alonfside his mentor. Curiously, the film is not truly a “Termite Terrace” production, but one of two “farm out” titles produced at the studios of Ub Iwerks, who was looking for new work with the loss of both his MGM distribution deal to Harman and Ising, and the eventual demise of his “States Rights” distribution scheme for the ComiColor fairy tale series. But a considerable amount of Warner influence is present, as Warners was smart enough to send two of its up and coming younger men to work with Iwerks for assistance – Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett.
Porky and his buddy Gabby have packed their old Ford sky-high with camping equipment, and are headed for the great outdoors. Not that this brings about any sunniness to Gabby’s disposition, who gets even grouchier when a frying pan falls out of the supplies to conk him on the noggin. To put another fly in the ointment, a slow moving vehicle, in the form of a moving van, hogs the road ahead and blocks their path. Gabby leans heavily on the old bulb horn of the flivver, yelling for the driver to move his heap out of the way. As Porky finally finds clearance to pass, the van driver extends a wooden bar he uses to signal left turns, catching Gabby on the bar. As Gabby fusses and fumes, the laid-back driver tells him to take it easy – “Don’t get excited.” Gabby of course becomes twice as irritated, throwing a tantrum while yelling the radio catch-phrase, “Excited! Who’s excited? I’m not excited!” The van driver lowers the bar and drops Gabby in a mud puddle. Porky, finally noticing his friend is missing, backs up the car – and runs right over Gabby – twice. Ah, the beginnings of a perfect day.
Our hapless pair next face a steep hill. The radiator cap of Porky’s car burps water like the top of a percolator. Inside the engine, all four cylinders droop and fall out of their chambers. Porky realizes they’ll have to get out and push – music to Gabby’s ears (that is, the funeral march). The car won’t budge another inch until Gabby butts it from the rear with his head. It rolls down the other side of the hill at full speed as out heroes pursie on foot. Reaching the bottom of the hill, the car starts up the side of another twin – runs out of speed, and free-wheels backward. Porky and Gabby play a back and forth game of dodging the oncoming car, then chasing it up the opposite slope again. At last, the car hits them, tossing them into the air – then catches them in its seat while rolling back the other way, just as the engine kicks in and finally gets them out of the valley. They reach a likely camping grounds, and Porky prepares to set up the tent, leaving Gabby to unpack the supplies. Gabby pulls and tugs on the ropes binding the bundles together – and topples the whole car sideways, which rolls over him, leaving him under the heavy supplies. Meanwhile, Porky is bugged by a huge insect (maybe a bee, but the drawing looks more like a giant horsefly). The bug causes Porky’s tent to topple, and Porky suffers several bites while under the fallen canvas. He shouts for Gabby to bring the fly swatter. Having no idea where he put it, Gabby grabs the next best thing – an iron shovel. He whomps Porky silent under the canvas, then, slowly looking underneath to see if Porky’s okay, releases the bug instead. Gabby pursues the insect to the tail pipe of Porky’s car, then whacks at it with full force with the shovel. From the front end of Porky’s car, we see the whole motor block knocked through the radiator, left to protrude about three feet ahead of the car.
In the final sequence. Porky runs short on rope to tie down the tent to its stakes. He calls to Gabby for more rope. Gabby finds a piece, and tugs on it from within the supply pile – not seeing that it is attached on the other side of the pile to the starting mechanism for an outboard motor. The motor kicks into gear, and flies like a small helicopter every which way, buzzing our heroes and making them duck for cover. After several near misses threatening to carve our heroes into sawdust, Porky and Gabby run for the car. In an unusual step of keeping continuity, when Porky turns the starter, the engine, still protruding from the radiator, spins in a spiral and is swallowed back into the car to somehow run perfectly, and the two take off down the road in a blur, with the flying outboard in hot pursuit. But who should be hogging the road ahead but the same moving van. “Get out of the way”, yells Gabby, “We’re comin’ through!” The outboard menacingly brings up the rear, and, with nowhere to go with the van blocking the path, van, car, and outboard collide in a dust cloud. The van is wrecked, and its driver left in a temporary daze. Gabby considers it the driver’s just deserts, and laughs with sadistic glee at his fate – but the driver comes to and bops Gabby again with the turn-signal bar as the scene irises out.
Trailer Life (Terrytoons/Educational, Farmer Alfalfa, 8/20/37 -Mannie Davis, dir.) – Farmer Al again has the trailer craze, with model that at least isn’t the traditional oval profile – his looks more like someone flipped a standard trailer sideways, with the oval faces on top and bottom and the cylindrical surfaces on the sides. The ring of Al’s morning alarm clock finds him camped out in a quiet desert. Of course, the farmer’s rig comes equipped with all the modern conveniences. The farmer’s bed mechanically shifts upright at a right angle, dumping Al out in standing position, then disappears like a Murphy bed into the wall. A mechanical arm emerges from another wall and drags the farmer over to a mirror. There, a second mechanical hand pops out with a toothbrush, automatically brushing Al’s teeth. A showerhead sprays water in Al’s face for a rinse and wash at the same time, while the metal hands dry his face with a towel, even screwing it into Al’s ears. An automatic shave tops off the morning grooming. Over to the wardrobe closet, where more mechanical arms sieze Al, drag him inside, and after some fierce inner vibrations, shoot Al out dressed in his usual farmer overalls. To the kitchen, where more hands automatically dispense the already-brewed coffee, and dunk his donut for him, then top off breakfast with a mellow cigar. As Al finally relaxes, he at least does one thing the old-fashioned way – tunes his radio to the latest news. A bulletin announces that Chief Little Big Bad Egg has escaped from the reservation and is on the warpath. Farmer Al is not afraid of Indians (or for those who prefer, native Americans), and dons a Daniel Boone cap and arms himself with his trusty shotgun.
As he takes his position at a window, Al opens the shutters, only to find himself staring face to face at the Chief looking in. Al’s rifle melts in fright, and Al takes a deep gulp in fear. But the scowling visage outside suddenly peels away, and Al finds it was just a wanted poster attached to a cactus outside. The poster provides more information on the Chief – “Not Dangerous – But Slightly Cracked”. Al breathes a small sign of relief, and decides it’s safe to hit the road for some traveling. He starts up his car, and proceeds only a short distance, when the car comes to a halt with the sound of a blowout. Inspecting the car’s front end, Al finds one of his front tires penetrated by an arrow – then another sails in and deflates the other front tire. A third hits the hood, and deflates the engine compartment! With the sound of war whoops, the Chief makes his entrance, running in circles around the trailer and taking pot-shots with a rifle. (I thought he wasn’t dangerous? Maybe only because he’s a terrible shot.) The farmer jumps back inside the trailer, and exchanges gunfire through a window, while the Chief takes position behind a rock. Several shots from the Chief’s rifle misfire, hitting buttons on the master control panel inside the trailer. One activates the shaving device, which shaves all the fur off of Al’s coonskin cap, reducing it to a fez. Another hit on the buttons activates the cigar dispenser, which extends its hand outside to deposit the cigar into the Chief’s mouth as a prize for good shooting. Al pokes his head outside, and can’t see the Chief. But suspicious movements from a Saguaro cactus reveal his whereabouts, and a rifle shot at it from the farmer temporarily knocks the Chief out. The cigar dispenser hand reappears, taking the cigar out of the Chief’s mouth and giving it back to Al for better shooting.
Al steps outside, closely inspecting the prone figure of the Chief to see if he’s dead. Suddenly, the Chief, who’s been playing possum, opens his eyes and makes a wild face at him. Al jumps in fright, as the Chief chases him back to the door of the trailer. Al attempts to barricade himself inside. The Chief politely rings the doorbell. “Me work-um way through college. You want-um buy magazine?” Al’s head pops out for a split second, to yell “NO!”, then shuts the door again. The Chief rings again, curling his pigtails up like a little girl, and in effeminate voice asking, “Is my father in there?” “NO!”, Al again replies. A third ring, but this time the Chief runs around the other side of the trailer, before Al can yell his reflexive “NO!” When Al finds no one at the door, he steps out to look around. The chief comes around the trailer from the front, beating him back to the door, and locks Al out, telling him to “SCRAM!” Now in command, the Chief starts looking over the panels of buttons. Pressing one, he gets his battered top hat polished, plus gets another cigar. So far, so good. But a third press activates the shaver, which trims off the Chief’s braids. Hitting another panel of buttons, the chief passes a china cabinet, where more mechanical hands thrust into his own a tall stack of dishes. The chief struggles to balance the topheavy pile, finally stumbling into a washing machine. More hands thoroughly suds and drench him, dump him out, place his hat on his head – then the entire stack of dishes on his hat. The cigar dispenser short circuits, stuffing seven of them into the Chief’s mouth at once. A bathtub appears from nowhere under the Chief, while a kitchen cabinet throws tomatoes at him. The chief winds up in the stove where the coffee was brewed, with the robot hands pouring coffee on him and pushing donuts into his face. From outside, we see the Chief burst through the wall, leaving his silhouette-shaped hole behind, as he runs for safety into the desert. Al scratches his head, not quite sure what occurred inside to cause the retreat. Again, the cigar dispenser appears, placing another cigar in the farmer’s mouth. Only one drawback this time – it explodes, leaving a blackened farmer for the iris out. Another wild and lively mid-30’s Terrytoon, on which animators soon to be bound for MGM (possibly Dan or George Gordon or Joe Barbera) probably worked, which, to its credit in a rare move for Terrytoons, doesn’t reuse a single gag or shot from “Tin Can Tourist”.
More trailer madness next week – and the advent of a new genre: the cartoon travelogue.