Animation Trails
August 30, 2023 posted by Charles Gardner

Unpredictable as Weather (Part 21)

Los Angeles dodged another bullet last week, as Hurricane Hillary more or less passed to the East, with most of the sock of its wind speeds depleted. Lots of rain, but only for a day. Proving once again that weather can be quite unpredictable – in accordance with the theme of this article series. We return once again to the mid-1940’s for more weather-related action, or sometimes inaction (one of our films deals with the subject of being becalmed at sea, a plight highly unwelcome to seasoned mariners). Warner, Disney, Paramount, Lantz, and Terrytoons are represented. Pull up any handy umbrella, and don’t follow that old song’s advice about turning it upside-down – it just doesn’t work.

Hot Spot (Warner, Private Snafu, 7/2/45 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – Satan (voiced by Hal Peary of “The Great Gildersleeve”) receives an anonymous phone call in his office in Hades, tipping him off to some stiff competition above ground – a land where temperatures reach 180 degrees. “I’ll be right there”, responds Satan, suddenly appearing in the land of Iran, which the devil’s guidebook refers to as “the furnace of the Middle East”. “Chamber of Commerce stuff”, remarks Satan in disbelief. Satan’s gaze falls upon a camel, whom the guidebook states is the only animal who doesn’t mind the temperature. “I don’t care what you say. I’m hot”, responds the camel. Satan continues to read from the guidebook, loosening his collar and fanning himself, while beads of perspiration dot his brow. The book states that human activity here is reduced to a virtual standstill – until a convoy of ships arrives at ocean’s edge, and a swarm of soldiers begin constructing docks, and unloading cargo vehicles and massive crates at lightning speed. On the deck of one of the ships stands Snafu, responding “Standstill, my foot!” He singlehandedly lifts crates and trucks, then briefly withers from the temperature, replenishing himself with salt tablets. The devil does likewise, adding salt from a shaker to the salt already in the pills. He also remarks at the soldiers’ activity, “Why, they work like the very – – me!”

Most of the remainder of the short follows the transportation of the army cargoes over steep mountain roads and railways to aid Russia. A railroad landslide is averted by Snafu by hanging a Wile E. Coyote-style fake poster of a tunnel over the fallen rocks, then driving the train right through the image and past the slide. The devil meanwhile has reduced himself to underwear, and tries to keep cool in a bathtub with a shade umbrella and electric fan. By the end of the picture, he is dragging himself back to good old Home Sweet Hades, more burnt out than he has ever known. To his surprise, and remark of “What in hell…”, he finds the camel relaxing in his office. “I don’t care what you say. I’m cool”, states the camel for the curtain line.

Duck Pimples (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 8/10/45 – Jack Kinney, dir.), is another of those eccentric tales fit for a dark and stormy night. In highly surreal fashion, this bizarre cartoon is also a tribute to the radio drama/mystery/horror genres which were filling up the airwaves in the late hours of the broadcasting day (including such perennials in murder and/or spookfests as Arch Oboler’s “Lights Out”, “Inner Sanctum”, and the long-running CBS anthology, “Suspense”, along with any number of detective-centered whodunits). In keeping with such theme of the film, all music is provided by a single organist (or is he/she playing a novachord, which many Disney cartoons featured?) – much as many of the lower-budgeted mystery shows of the day were prone to do.

On a rain-soaked evening, punctuated by violent lightning strikes, Donald once again seeks the relative security of his living room, easy chair, and radio. An unusually calming announcer (Doodles Weaver, in surprising underplay) asks the listener to relax, let their imagination go, and turn out the lights – which Donald does. “My story begins. A woman speaks”, the narrator continues. Instead of speaking, we hear a woman’s blood-curdling scream. The lights pop back on, revealing Donald scared into a dither, shaking like a leaf. Not ready to face any more of that program, he presses a button to change the radio to another station. Another drama is in progress, with an old-timer complaining about not knowing how to swim – followed by the sounds of his bubbles as someone pushes him underwater. Donald’s trembling hand pushes another button – where another screaming lady is being pushed off a cliff. A fourth change of channel yields someone shouting “The ape! He’s behind you!” Donald’s imagination begins to run wild, as we see his easy chair momentarily transform into a huge green ape, its monstrous arms about to seize Donald, until Donald switches channels again. Donald runs for the door, which suddenly bursts open, smashing Donald into the wall. A huge, mysterious-looking man, dripping wet in a raincoat, appears in the doorway as lightning flashes behind him.. “Are you Mr. D. Duck?”, asks the man sinisterly. “Y-y-yes, sir”, Donald stammers. “I’ve been looking for you”, responds the man, still seemingly with menace in his voice. He suddenly flings open his raincoat, in a manner making us expect to see some lethal weapon concealed within – but instead, the coat lining is jam-packed with mystery magazines. Suddenly breaking into an adolescent voice timbre, and with a smile on his face, the man continues, “If I sell just six more subscriptions, I’ll win a real Moxie bicycle, with a horn, and a bell, and coaster brakes.” To add to the surrealism of the moment, and emphasize we are still seeing strange thinhs possibly aided by Donald’s rampant imagination, the man picks up Donald, and takes him for a ride around the room on an invisible imaginary bike – even showing off by riding “No hands”. This show-off move proves unwise, as the salesman crashes into the wall, scattering Donald and most of his magazines everywhere around the room. The salesman exits in a bumpy manner, complaining, “Now ya gone and bent the wheel”, fading inexplicably from our view as he goes.

Still caught up in his imaginative flight, Donald picks up one of the random magazines he finds scattered across his chest, and begins reading – all about a robbery, and a set of stolen pearls. We know things are still strange, as a brief look away from the magazine pages by Donald causes two sinister hands to reach out from its pages as if to strangle him, which quickly disappear back into the magazine when Donald resumes reading. A detective is heard to break in to the gangsters’ hideout in the story, demanding to know who took the pearls. To avoid arrest, the arm of one of the crooks extends out of the magazine, pointing at Donald to finger him. “He done it”, states the nervous crook. Within a moment, the detective (voiced by Billy Bletcher) has emerged from the pages, and is giving Donald the third degree. Also from the pages emerges a ditzy red-headed dame, who begins rummaging through a chest of drawers in Donald’s room, looking for her missing pearls. Many inexplicable and surreal events occur, including the girl’s bracelets falling off her arm, and the detective dunking them like doughnuts in his hat filled with coffee, then consuming the bracelets between words of his verbal interrogation. The girl thinks she’s spotted the pearls in the detective’s back pocket – but finds only the strand of links connecting the detective’s handcuffs. The girl calls up a friend to see if she’s seen any sign of the pearls, via a phone wire strung through the detective’s overcoat, while the detective tries to place a call to headquarters on the other end of the line, using Donald’s beak as if it were a telephone receiver. Deciding to turn up the interrogation a few degrees, the detective calls for “Clark! The hot irons!” Out of the magazine pages appears a third mysterious character, who introduces himself by way of business cards stored atop his flat head under his hat – Leslie J. Clark, salesman of hot irons (reference to Disney artist Les Clark). He passes the detective an armful of hot curling irons to juggle, while the girl uses one within her curly locks. The detective passes the hot load to Donald, who nearly burns his hands, then tosses them back into the magazine, where fire engine sirens are heard, and a gush of water puts the fire out. The detective and the girl threaten Donald with a knife and axe, until yet another stranger appears from the pages of the magazine, declaring “Stop! That man’s innocent.” The Detective asks the girl who the stranger is, and she responds, “J. Harold King, the author.” (Undoubtedly a reference to the usual Donald Duck director, Jack King, possibly revealing for the first time King’s actual middle name.) The author is asked to reveal who-dunit, and names “Hennessey”. “Not you, Hennessey?”, asks the Detective. “Yes, H-U Hennessey”, the author responds (reference to Disney staffer Hugh Hennessey, though spelled incorrectly). “That’s me! I done it!”, confesses the detective. He pulls out a pistol, holding the rest of the cast at bay, while backing toward the magazine, to make an escape into its pages. Before exiting, he points the pistol at Donald, claiming the duck is the little rat who got him into this, and saus “Take that!” He pulls the trigger, but it produces only a pop-out fan instead of a bullet. Donald nevertheless keels over in fright, moaning, “Oh, they got me”, and collapses on the floor. The girl and the author run for the magazine, eager to escape the scene for fear of taking the rap and getting the hot seat. Donald awakes, and finds himself in an empty room, excepting the magazine on the floor. A ghostly voice inside his head states “Really nothing there, is there? Well, possibly, it was only your imagination.” The duck’s eyes become rather glazed, and he develops a nervous tic, as he stammers, “Yeah, uh-huh…I-magi-nation…” – as the lost pearls magically appear around his neck, for the iris out.

No Sail (Disney/RKO, Donald and Goofy, 9/7/45 – Jack Hannah, dir.) Donald and Goofy arrive at the docks, singing a duet of “A Life on the Ocean Waves”. The occasion? A planned pleasure cruise out to sea, via a new franchise available at the boat landing – a coin-operated, U-rent sailboat. Drop a coin in the slot, and a mast and sail telescope from a central box, instantly propelling the ship into deep water. So far, so good – but not very far – as the ship has a very short timer on the central box, and the mast folds up again and disappears. Donald drops in another coin, and with a sneezing sound, the sail pops out again. Another zooming lurch into deeper ocean – then the sail folds up again. Running low on coins, Donald tries again – but the emerging mast boom bashes him on the head. Donald kicks at the boom, and it folds back into the box prematurely, a light on the box reading “Tilt”. Donald turns his pockets inside out – empty.

As a hot, blazing sun casts its rays down upon the water, the ship lies becalmed in the middle of the ocean. Time passes interminably, and Donald proves that if a duck doesn’t shave in the morning, his bill will develop bristly stubble! The overheated duck calls for water. Goofy produces a glass (complete with ice cubes!) and scoops up a cupful from the ocean. “No no, don’t drink it”, shouts Donald. But inhuman Goof not only sips, but adds more salt to taste from a shaker, while a perplexed Donald looks on in wonderment. A low whistle reveals the approach of an ocean liner. Donald tries to hail it with his hat – and discovers to his surprise one last nickel had been stashed away inside it. The nickel rolls along the rail of the boat as Donald gives chase – then it plops into the ocean. By the time Donald turns around, the ocean liner is already passing, and Goofy has made no effort to have them stop to pick them up, instead merely giving friendly waves to the passengers.

Weeks pass, as Donald keeps calendar with hash marks for each day on the ship’s stern. A flying fish fortuitously plops into the boat, but as Donald and Goofy argue over who gets to eat it, a passing seagull solves the problem by grabbing the fish from their hands. Our heroes take turns socking at the seagull with a club, each blow mistimed to score upon each other’s head. Donald’s cranium winds up with several lumps, but in the case of Goofy, Donald’s club develops the lumps instead of Goofy’s hard skull. A passing shark fin pokes put of the ocean at Donald’s tail. Goofy pulls at the shark fin – but finds just a fin with nothing underneath. Of course, when Donald tries to lift it, it comes compete with shark. Goofy sees the creature as prospective food, and prepares a fishing line. Propelling the line’s hook in a wide circle for his cast, Goofy unknowingly hooks Donald on the line, and casts him into the shark-infested waters. Donald struggles with multiple sharks below the surface, holding their jaws closed with his arm and feet, while tugging at the fishing line with his other hand to signal Goofy to reel him in. But Goofy is not getting the signal, as his line has unreeled off the spindle in a hopeless backlash. Goofy gets so confused in attempting to unravel it, he starts playing “cat’s cradle” with the line strewn around his fingers. Donald’s two sharks finally get things coordinated and swim together in the same direction, pulling the line out to its full extension and spinning Goofy like a top. Goof finally reels in a bedraggled Donald, inches shy of the sharks’ jaws. Donald demands to be put down, so Goofy drops him – and his bill lands straight into the boat’s coin slot, proving to be perfect fit. Goofy happily sails with the reemerging mast, while it appears Donald will make the whole voyage home balanced on his nose.

Klondike Casanova (Paramount/Famous, Popeye, 5/31/46 – I Sparber, dir.) – Despite the film’s title, the picture opens with a placid scene of a beautiful clear spring day in the countryside. Then the camera pans right to a mounted sign, reading “You are now entering the Klondike – There’s no place like Nome.” A further pan right changes the complexion of the background entirely, as we are suddenly immersed in a driving blizzard, pouring down snow upon a remote Northern town. Amidst the flurries rushing past the camera, we close in upon the Polar Bar and Grill – Popeye and Olive Oyl, proprietors. Inside, though the tables appear to be mostly occupied with patrons, the crowd sits languidly, rather bored with the tinkling piano playing of Popeye at an upright, near a saloon-style stage in the background. Popeye ends his number, and breaks into an intro riff, as out from the curtain wings struts Olive Oyl, wearing a boa hat and long pink showgirl dress with white ruffles. Mae Questel performs a full-verse tour-de-force rendition of Harry James’ recent hit, “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”, as Olive begins peeling, tossing away her boa hat into the crowd. A puny unshaven patron picks up the fallen boa and puts it on, imitating Olive’s strutting moves, until he falls into a spittoon. The number receives several interruptions, as patrons call for waiter service. Popeye, being the only employee, is forced to pause in his musical accompaniment, to set up rounds of ice cream sodas and make trays full of sandwiches, leaving Olive in the lurch, once frozen in mid-air during a high-kicking dance move, and a second time stuck in the middle of a long singing note that continues with endless vibrato during the pause. Olive peels away shoulder coverings, then ducks behind the curtain wings, removing and displaying her whole dress with one hand to the crowd. A reverse angle from a view backstage reveals that Olive isn’t really in the raw, but has on another working dress and apron underneath the outer garment – and takes a pause while the audience applauds to frantically attend to dishwashing chores in the kitchen, returning at last back in her outer dress to finish the number.

Enter Dangerous Dan McBluto, who pounds on the front door, then enters amidst a rush of snow from the storm behind him. He makes his appearance entirely in white, looking like a massive polar bear – but shakes himself, removing what is really a blanket of snow covering him. All the other patrons run for the hills, excepting the little unshaven one, who hides again in the spittoon. Singing a chorus of his favorite song, “Louise” (from Maurice Chevalier’s “Innocents of Paris”), Bluto, in French-Canadian accent, approaches the stage, and flirts with Olive, providing steps for her to descend from the stage by placing his hands out at intervals before her to support her. Popeye states he doesn’t think he’s going to like this Klondike crooner. Fickle Olive romantically shares an ice cream soda with Bluto, while a small cupid appears on a cloud above them, socking each of them on the head with a mallet, that produces hearts in their eyes. Popeye minces a wooden chair in his bare hands, and states that if he didn’t have any self-control, he’d turn green with envy – which he immediately does. Olive and Bluto suck up the last of the soda in their straws, but Olive gets the cherry from the top, and seductively holds the cherry in her teeth, inviting Bluto to come over to get it. Bluto lunges in for a kiss, but ends up swallowing Popeye’s intervening head instead – then spits the sailor out, and continues spitting, trying to get the bad taste out of his mouth. Bluto now turns on the heat on Olive, demanding a little “hug and squeeze”. In an imaginative close-up, Bluto’s front teeth rotate in place like an advertising sign, revealing their backside, on which is written the words, “Start sizzling, sister.” Olive, after all her flirtation, is not ready to go this next step, and claims that she’s suddenly remembered a mahjong appointment. Popeye tries to grab her away, and the two Romeos play tug of war with Olive’s long legs. Bluto finally uses Olive’s legs in the manner of a bent sapling, to launch Popeye through several wooden posts supporting the upper floor landing within the saloon, and straight through a wall. Popeye lands on a frozen ice pond outside, and falls through a hole in the ice. A seal appears out of the water, balancing Popeye atop his nose, encased in a giant ice cube. The cube is tossed onto dry land by the seal, as Bluto passes the frozen sailor, carrying the struggling Olive over his arm. Inside the cube, Popeye sees all, and uses his pipe as a blow torch to cut a door into the ice, setting himself free.

Bluto scales a mountain peak, with Popeye on his heels. Bluto drops a large icicle into Popeye’s pants, and Popeye shakes out from his pantleg the same, reduced to ice cubes. Olive is deposited atop the mountain above, where she comes face to face with three bears locked in a cage at McBluto’s Fur Farm. The bears snarl menacingly at her, then unexpectedly interrupt their savageness to perform a radio jingle to a microphone for Mc Bluto’s furs, setting new lyrics to current radio jingle “Pepsi Cola hits the spot.” Popeye finally reaches the top of the mountain, except that he has been set up by Bluto, who tricks him into gripping upon an extended tree branch – which is not fastened to the cliff face at all, but merely held down by the weight of Bluto’s foot. Bluto steps off the branch, allowing Popeye to fall off the cliff, headed for jagged rocks below. Popeye goes for his spinach, and almost loses the can, as it drifts in the air mere inches above the reach if his fingers. He of course obtains a grip on it just in time, and its powers allow him to develop air brakes, coming to a stop a mere inch above being speared in the rear by a rocky peak. Then, he twirls his pipe like a propeller, launching himself back up to the fur farm. After exchanging a few socks, Bluto releases the three bears upon Popeye from the cage. Popeye battles the bears, while Olive encourages Popeye to “Knock them on their bear-skins.” Olive suddenly receives an armful of three fur coats, as the bears find themselves reduced to suits of red flannel underwear, and beat it for the hills. The final shot shows Popeye and the fur-clad Olive riding a sled, with Popeye cracking a whip and ordering the beast of burden ahead to “Mush”. That beast is Bluto in harness, running on all fours like a dog. From nowhere, as an extra passenger, rides the little unshaven guy from the saloon, in a sling fastened to the sled harness behind Bluto. Dissatisfied with Bluto’s speed, the little guy produces a pin from his pocket, and needles Bluto’s rear end to make him pick up the pace. The little guy smiles to the audience, for an iris out.

Who’s Cooking Who? (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 6/24.46 – James Culhane, dir.) – A semi-remake of Woody’s “Pantry Panic” returning to the theme of good-guy cannibalism when faced with starvation – only this time with better gags. In the interim between the two cartoons, Tex Avery had adopted and refined the genre to a science, with his MGM landmark, What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard?, such that James Culhane now had a model to build upon to smooth out the rough spots in the original Woody effort, and heighten the timing.

The short opens with voice-over by Woody, reading from a storybook of “The Grasshopper and the Ants” (with a bit of an obvious nod to the Disney picture). Woody stops when he gets to the part about the Grasshopper spending the winter cold and hungry – and tosses the book away as just a lot of hooey. A passing line of ants carrying food tidbits along the ground attracts Woody’s attention. To Woody’s surprise, the last member of the line is the grasshopper, also carrying food (voiced in as close imitation of Pinto Colvig as the Universal lawyers would allow). The grasshopper explains that he learned his lesson – something Woody still does not want to hear. Ignoring the advice, Woody settles into a hammock for a long snooze. Perhaps too long, as an intertitle announces it is now six months later. The same hammock is then revealed, but the entire scene is blanketed in snow – Woody included. Woody emerges from a snowy lump in the hammock, announcing he’s hungry.

Woody retreats to his home, but, unlike Pantry Panic, his cupboard is bare. Signs in each food receptacle announce such things as “Empty”, “All Gone”, and writing inside the bottom of a cooking pot states (a la Tex Avery), “Dark, isn’t it?” Woody asks the audience if anyone will step into the lobby and get him a candy bar – only to be physically pushed out of the frame by another sliding intertitle. The title repeats the gag from “Pantry Panic”, announcing that Starvation is staring Woody in the face – and the same sight gag is repeated, as the hooded figure stares at Woody across the empty dinner table. A howl is heard outside, and Starvation announces “That is the wolf at your door.” Woody instantly pulls out a cookbook – “How To Cook a Wolf”. Woody ventures outside, masquerading as Little Red Riding Hood. The two meet, with the Wolf imagining a cooked Woody (while starting to sprinkle salt on Woody in real life), while Woody imagines a cooked wolf (and starts pouring ketchup on his leg). A booby-trapped “basket of goodies” sucker-punches the wolf, while Woody leaves a trail of signs to “Grandma’s House”.

The wolf arrives, learning from a note on the door that Grandma’s gone to the Palladium.
Donning Grandma’s outfit and jumping into bed, the Wolf reads up from a book, “New Ways to Cook Red Riding Hood.” The camera pulls back for a surprise reveal, as Woody’s already lit a fire under Grandma’s bed and is fanning the flames with fireplace bellows. The wolf leaps out of bed, landing in the fireplace kettle. As Woody fans the flames in the fireplace, the wolf grabs him into the pot and switches places with him. Woody switches back with him – and before they know it, both of them have sneaked out of the pot and are fanning the flames simultaneously. The fight moves to the kitchen stove. While the wolf thinks Woody’s inside, Woody returns to applies mustard and a bun to the Wolf’s tail and takes a bite. The Wolf attempts to put Woody in a meat grinder (a prop borrowed from “What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard?”), only to have Woody substitute the wolf’s tail for his own person amidst the grinding gears (particularly expressive animation of the painful results is likely contributed by Emery Hawkins), Woody appears in a chef’s hat, announcing a meal of waffles, but opens a waffle iron which the wolf, on closer inspection, finds is empty – until Woody slams it down on the Wolf’s face (perhaps the most violent scene in the film, as the wolf whimpers pathetically, emerging with his face waffle-dimpled). Woody adds insult to injury by pouring syrup on him. The close shot on Woody pulls back for another “surprise reveal”, as he suddenly finds himself standing in a pan, and the Wolf slams down a lid. While the pan cooks in the stove, the Wolf sets up condiments on the dinner table using a bowling alley pin-setter. But the pan when taken out of the oven appears empty – until Woody appears, hidden in the lid, and gives his trademark peck to the Wolf’s head. The wolf tosses a spear at Woody, catching it in his neck feathers and pinning him to the wall. In another surprise reveal, the spear starts turning, and we now see hot coals placed under Woody, with the Wolf turning the spear like a rotisserie. The scene now dissolves, with Woody still spinning, but back in his hammock on what is still a spring day, getting wrapped up in the hammock ropes from being spun in the wind. It’s all been a dream. As the hammock splits and releases Woody to the ground, Woody sees the ants and grasshopper pass again with another load of food. Woody wastes no time in learning from his lesson – joining the ants’ food parade, but laden with his own choice of entree – the wolf, all tied up, being carried on his back. Woody gives his signature laugh, and we iris out.

The Johnstown Flood (Terrytoons/Fox, Mighty Mouse, 6/28/46 – Connie Rasinski, dir.) – The national weather bureau, with all its array of barometers, anemometers, etc. has nothing on an old mouse named Joe in the city of Johnstown. The old codger spends his days seated in a chair, with one foot raised upon a table, encased in a display frame of glass. His toes, corns, and bunions are more accurate in weather prediction that a hundred weather stations combined. One toe reacts like an alarm bell when rain approaches. Another reacts in similar fashion at the approach of tornadoes. A bunion throbs when zero weather s approaching. But what is happening when all his toes, corns, and bunions go off at the same time? The storm of storms – combining many past Terry images, and a few new ones. A zipper opens on a cliyd back to begin the deluge. Rain comes down in buckets, then as cats and dogs, then as raining pitchforks. The blowing cloud-god face from “Wreck of the Hesperus” reappears, while a new image converts a cloud into a cannon to provide the boom of thunder. In one of the strangest throwbacks to animation styles of old, Joe emerges from his home, mounting a “horse” to spread warnings of the storm. The “horse” may possibly be the last appearance of one of the cylinder-bodied mechanical robot horses from Terry’s Van Buren days – and this long after the studio’s artists were fully capable of drawing realistic equine sequences!

The dam bursts, and the valley is massively flooded, with houses and farms washed off the map. A dog is swept away in his doghouse, and as the roof of the small structure is blown away, we see the dog bailing water with a pail, little realizing his home has no floor anyway, so his task will be endless. A mouse sails out of his home in a bathtub, propelled by a showerhead pipe fixed within the drain hole to circulate water leaking into the hole. A radio distress call goes out to Mighty Mouse, who transforms into his familiar form by taking a swallow from a jug labeled “Atomic Energy”. In what regrettably seems one of his shortest appearances and simplest solutions to a problem, he quickly zippers closed the cloudbanks, penetrates a hole through the clouds to gain access to the flood waters below, and engage in a display of hypnotic electric rays from his eyes and fingers, which stop the flood waters in their tracks, and make them reverse course, running the animation backwards to put all the buildings and farms back where they found them, then re-seal the dam to its original state. The mice cheer from the valley below, as Mighty flexes his muscles atop the dam, sparks of atomic energy emitting therefrom, for the iris out.

The Eager Beaver (Warner, 7/13/46 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) – Among a clan of busy beavers (busy, that is, when the camera is looking, although they at first are caught fast asleep by the narrator, who has to verbally nudge them awake to save their reputation) lives Eager Beaver, a young newbie anxious to get in on the wood-cutting action, but overlooked by his peers as meddlesome and too puny. The narrator talks of the beavers’ primary occupation in “Damming a river”. The beavers misunderstand the narration, and begin casting comic-strip style swear words at the water (!?X$*%!), then are overcome with embarrassment when the narrator reprimands them. They begin the actual task at hand, but a foreman suffers from a case of indecision in directing the placement of a key log from a crane, endlessly giving the operator directions in placement that contradict themselves, merely shifting the log back and forth in position. Meanwhile, Eager attempts to join the activity. He aims his axe at a first tree, but is blocked from swinging by a prototype Charlie Dog, who at first seems determined to “save that tree”, but really only wants to rescue a bone he has buried under it. Now the path is clear for an axe swing, but Eager is beaten to it by several swings of other beavers’ axes, barely escaping the scene with his own head still on his shoulders. It is the same story wherever he goes – excepting for one “trunk” he successfully chops, downing instead of a tree a telephone pole, and a lineman. One of the larger beavers directs his attention to a humongous tree on a mountain peak, which none of the other beavers seem to be paying attention to, and shouts “WHY DON”T YOU CHOP THAT TREE DOWN??” This is with good reason, for the tree seems unchoppable. Eager’s small axe gets nowhere, not even making a dent. He goes for some heave artillery, raiding a dynamite shack and setting off the explosives around the tree trunk. All the blast does is expose an ultra-long root system embedded in the mountain peak – but the tree doesn’t budge an inch.

Back at the dam worksite, the foreman continues to be confused as ever, but a warning is received from a messenger bird, who squawks unintelligibly with vigor. On the screen appears a subtitle – “English Translation: There’s a flood coming. Get moving, stupid!!!!” The beavers shift to double speed, placing logs into the dam from both riverbanks – all except the key log the foreman has been fussing over, which remains hovering above on the crane, while all wait for the foreman to finish his directions. Above on the mountain peak, Eager scratches his head, pondering what to do about his own designated task. A cutaway view of his skull shows motors and gears spinning around in his brain, until a light bulb lights on which appears the word “Idea”. Reaching into his pocket, Eager handily produces a small matchbox, on which is written the words “One termite.” He slides the box open, revealing a ravenous bug that is all teeth. In a split second, the bug has chewed through the massive tree trunk, then yells in a tiny voice “Timber!” The tree topples onto one side of the peak, and is briefly motionless. Eager jumps onto one end of the fallen log, trying to start it sliding down the hill. It suddenly gives way, taking Eager with it for the ride as it plunges off a cliff, toward a deep canyon below. With superhuman effort, Eager takes hold of the trunk, and gives the massive tree a mighty flip in direction, so that he appears to be holding it as one would an umbrella by the pole, and the tree’s limbs extend outward like umbrella fabric, forming a huge parachute by which Eager is able to gently sail down to safety in the canyon below. Still carrying the tree in his arms, Eager’s safety does not last long – as immediately behind him, filling the canyon’s walls, comes the onrush of a solid wall of flood water, towering about 20 stories above his head. Still carrying the tree, Eager engages in a winding foot race, staying only mere steps ahead of the raging waters behind him. The scene returns to the dam, where the whole beaver community nervously awaits the completion of the foreman’s signals – a wait that it seems will go on interminably. Panning back upstream, the camera picks up Eager, the tree, and the flood waters, as they approach the drop-off point of a high cliff above the beavers’ valley. Eager leaps off the cliff with the tree, with the water close behind. Sailing through the air, Eager again gives the tree a flip in reverse direction, pointing its upmost branches downwards. Now the branches neatly fold like an umbrella closing, and with precision aim, the giant tree falls into the hole intended for the foreman’s key log in the dam. Eager lands atop the inverted trunk, the impact of his landing and additional bounces hammering the tree firmly into place to complete the dam, just as the flood waters hit the dam wall from behind. The structure holds, and the flood waters are halted and corralled. To Eager’s utter surprise, he finds himself carried upon the shoulders of the beavers of the community, hailed as a hero. The only ones not joining the festivities are the foreman and the crane operator, as the foreman offers a few final directions, then at last is satisfied with the log’s position. “Okay, Mac. Let her go!” shouts the foreman – only to have the log dropped directly upon himself, burying him completely in the ground, for the iris out.

Considerable space has recently been devoted on this website to the anniversary of the release of Make Mine Music (Disney/RKO, 8/15/46), a Disney “package” film of musical shorts Rain and lightning appear three times in the film for dramatic effect. In “The Martins and the Coys”, the ghosts of each family of mountaineers, all of whom have come to rest atop respective clouds for their clan, produce a thunderous uproar in the sky from their “ghostly cussing” at the wedding of their last surviving kinfolk, believing it will break up the best dang feud in these here hills. As it turns out, they really have nothing to storm about, as the honeymoon is quickly over, and the “happy” couple fight “worse than all the rest did, and they carry on the feud just like before.”

In “The Whale That Wanted To Sing At the Met”, storm clouds and thunder briefly light the sky for a tragic touch, as Willie the whale is harpooned by a misunderstanding impresario, who believes Willie’s marvelous voice is produced by three swallowed opera singers. Most interesting is Jack Kinney’s use of rain in “Casey at the Bat”, providing both drama and comedy to the well-known ending of the classic poem. Kinney contrasts the tranquility of a peaceful public park on a spring day, filled with laughing children at play, to the scene in Mudville where there is no joy, just after mighty Casey has inevitably struck out. The stands are deserted, and the once sunny ball park now withstands an epic downpour from a blackened, lightning filled sky – the kind of weather Casey could only wish had happened before he came to the plate to cause a cancellation of the game he has just blown. Casey alone remains in the park, weeping profusely from his position still standing at the plate, with the baseball he couldn’t hit resting on the ground before him in one of numerous muddy puddles that have developed throughout the field. After blubbering in his own tears for a few moments, Casey’s face turns to an expression of rage, and he wields his bat high above his shoulders, ready to vent his frustration upon the helpless baseball before him. He picks up the cork sphere, tosses it up, and swings with all his might to belt it out of the park. But he still can’t hit it! He tries again, and again, and again, but the ball eludes his rusty-gate swing every time. The ball bounces on the ground, and Casey pursues it – but his swings are always one jump behind the ball, and as the bat hits the marshy puddles of the infield and then the outfield, the gushes of wwater continue to propel the ball constantly out of his reach, all over the field. The illumination of the scene fades out, until all we see are continuing blasts of wind-driven rain across a black screen, and narrator Jerry Colonna puts a halt to one of his interminable long coda notes, to realize, “Well, what do you know? The game is over.”

Racketeer Rabbit (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 9/14/46 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – Another atmospheric rainy night leads another cartoon star to seek shelter in a strange location. Bugs Bunny, carrying a hobo’s bindle stick, enters the unlatched front door of a large abandoned manor house, its windows boarded and shuttered, though extended neglect has left the shutters and boards largely in tatters. As Bugs peers inside, the door hinges moan noisily. “Heh. Sounds like Inner Sanctum” (another reference to the popular spook radio show, which opened with similar sound of a creaking door). “Not a bad place to spend the night”, observes Bugs after giving the place the once-over. He produces from his hobo’s bundle a large drill, with which he carves a hole in the floorboards of the living room, producing an instant rabbit hole. Prepared for anything, Bugs further reaches into the bundle, acquiring a nightcap and an already-lit candle in a standish, then descends into the hole as if it has been custom-drilled to produce a staircase into the basement, ready for a good night’s sleep. It won’t, however, be a peaceful night. Far down the road, a police chase is in full progress, pursuing a getaway car with two gangsters inside. Both cars proceed at full speed with guns blazing, skidding around curves, and finally reaching the old hose. The two mobsters screech to a stop and race inside. The police also stop, and take cover behind trees, firing their rifles and pistols at the building windows. We see inside the house our first close-ups of the gangsters – Edward G. Robinson (going by the name of “Rocky”) and Peter Lorre (referred to as “Hugo”). Robinson takes pot shots at the cops with a revolver. Lorre mans an automatic Tommy gun, but is driven backwards by the force of the gun’s recoil, until Robinson assists by improvising a wooden bracing behind Lorre’s back to brace him into firing position at the window. As the gunfight rages, a sleepy Bugs rises from the hole, his eyes half-closed, and crosses the room, entirely oblivious of what is in progress. He reaches the line of fire from the Tommy gun, and casually ducks his ears under it, remarking “Low bridge”. He reaches a bathroom, emerges again with a drink of water, and ducks under the gunfire again, returning to get more rest in the hole.

After a fade out, the gunfight is somehow over, with the hoodlums victorious. Lorre reminds Robinson that they haven’t split up their stolen money. The two open a satchel, and Robinson begins a rigged count: “One for you and one for me. Two for you and one, two for me.” Bugs awakens again, and rises at the edge of the table, asking “What’s up, Doc?” Carelessly assuming Bugs is one of his gang, Robinson passes Bugs a dollar bull. Bugs is suddenly wide awake, and brightens. Engaging in a series of quick-changes, Bugs appears in various disguises and outfits all around the table (including dressing as an Indian chief!), each time receiving another dollar bill, until the whole stack of loot is depleted. Now out of costume, Bugs proceeds to the front door, counting up the bundle of cash in his hand, and adding, “Gee, Rocky, you is certainly kind-hearted.” However, Robinson is already ahead of him, and appears from outside, forcing Bugs back in the house at gunpoint. He demands to know what Bugs did with the dough, but Bugs insists he never carries large amounts on him. Robinson attempts to give Bugs the third degree under a hot lamp’s glare. Bugs responds, “Well, how nice”, and changes costume again to a beach sunbather’s swimsuit. “Talk”, insists Robinson. When Bugs won’t, Robinson points his gun in Bugs’ face. Bugs breaks into a non-stop but completely incomprehensible babble of gibberish. Robinson plugs his ears, then shouts, “Aw, Rocky’s fed up”, and tells Lorre “Take this mug for a ride.” Another opportunity for a Bugs costume change, as he announces “All ready”, dressed in the garb of a turn-of-the-century motorist’s coat and goggles. He, Lorre, and the getaway car disappear into the night, while Bugs suggests they stop somewhere for a hamburger.

Another fade, and without explanation, Bugs returns to the house, minus Lorre. He wakes up Robinson, who, half asleep, thinks he is “Hugo” returned. “Does Hugo have a cottin tail like this? Of course, this one’s fifty percent wool”, asks Bugs. “The rabbit!” Robinson reacts with a start. More hijinks include Bugs giving Robinson the “dough” in the form of a batter whipped up at lightning speed in the kitchen. Another costume change renders Bugs a dead-ringer for additional Warner gangster actor George Raft (with signature tossing of a coin), announcing to Robinson that “It’s curtains for you” – then slapping down on Robinson’s head a set of window curtains mounted on a curtain rod. “Oh, they’re adorable”, remarks a bewildered Robinson. Finally Bugs launches into his master prank – an impersonation of cops outside the door, prompting Robinson to beg Bugs to hide him. Bugs first repeats the old “hide-em where they don’t fit” bit from “Tom Turk and Daffy”, then stashes Robinson in an old trunk. He puts Robinson through a grueling incarceration within its wooden frames, first pretending to dissuade the cops as to his whereabouts in the trunk by performing a magician’s knife-plunging act, thrusting razor-sharp swords through the trunk, nearly rendering Robinson a living shish kebab. He drags the trunk downstairs, then back upstairs, for a bouncy ride for the mobster, then pretends to fight off the cops, asking Robinson to “hold my watch” during the fight. The “watch” is in fact a time bomb, which violently explodes, blasting the trunk apart board by board, to reveal a bedraggled Robinson. “You’re safe now. The police are gone”, says Bugs. “Yeah? Well which way did they go?“, asks Robinson. “They went that-a-way.” Robinson frantically yells, “Help, police! Don’t leave me with that crazy rabbit!”, and disappears pursuing the imaginary cops down the road. Bugs turns to the audience, transforming his lower lip to a protrusion matching Robinson’s, and closes with “Some guys just can’t take it, see? Yeah, yeah, yeah!”

More blasts from the heavens, in ‘47, next time.


  • Satan both sounds and looks like Harold Peary in “Hot Spot”; he must have been an awfully good sport to take on that role. I liked “The Great Gildersleeve”, but I’m afraid I’ll always think of Peary as the guy who recited all the flavours of Faygo pop in the TV commercials he made for the Detroit-based beverage company when I was growing up.

    Given the multiple allusions to Disney animators in “Duck Pimples”, I wonder if “Dopey Davis” — the jittery crook who’s the first to emerge from Donald’s magazine — could refer to Marc?

    That still of Bluto with the ruby-lipped female wolf isn’t from “Klondike Casanova”, it’s from “I’ll Be Skiin’ Ya” (1947), which I guess you’ll be getting to next week.

    I don’t recall ever seeing “Racketeer Rabbit” before, but many elements from it would later appear in Freleng’s “Bugs and Thugs” (1954): characters named Rocky and Mugsy, going for a ride, Bugs hiding the crooks from an imaginary cop, etc. I think the latter cartoon is funnier, though “Racketeer” certainly has its points, especially its hilarious celebrity caricatures. But what happened to Hugo?

    The time-reversing powers displayed by Mighty Mouse in “The Johnstown Flood” could have saved him a lot of trouble on other occasions. He could have just waited until the Swiss Cheese Family Robinson had been eaten by the cannibals, then turned back time and saved them without having to cut short his vacation in Miami Beach. The Wreck of the Hesperus? Let it get wrecked, then turn back time and tell the captain to keep his ship and his daughter safe in port until the storm passes. Krakatoa? Go back in time and evacuate the island before the volcano starts to erupt, and then use the extra time to “make time” with Katie.

    I wonder if “The Johnstown Flood” might have inspired the climax of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve, in which Superman turns back time (by orbiting the earth at faster-than-light speed) in order to prevent a dam from bursting.

  • “DON’T SPIT ON THE FLOOR! Remember the Johnstown Flood!” — Nickelodeon magic lantern slide.

  • The fanciful dream sequence in “The Golden Hen” (Terrytoons, Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, 24/5/46 — Mannie Davis, dir.) has Gandy and Sourpuss chasing Gandy’s valuable “post-war hen” through a surreal landscape inside a candy egg. At one point, the hen challenges Sourpuss to a duel with pistols. They take three paces and turn. Sourpuss’s pistol emits a flag with the word “Bang” on it, while the hen fires her pistol over the cat’s head, creating a dark cloud that proceeds to pour rain upon him. Sourpuss tries to run from it, but the cloud follows him around wherever he goes. The hen helpfully hands him an umbrella; but when he takes it, lightning strikes, causing the cat’s insides to light up like an X-ray photo.

  • I remember the version of Duck Pimples that aired on the Disney Channel in the 90s as part of their package shows cut out all the knife play, leaving an already surreal cartoon utterly incomprehensible (and very short!)

    • The original Mickey Mouse Club did nearly as bad. Their edit decided Pauline was too sexy for the tiny tots – and cut her out of every scene, except for occasionally seeing her arm sticking out of the detective’s trench coat.

  • It’s kind of a shame about Olive Oyl in “Klondike Casanova.” Just when they seem to have nailed the character–Olive is funniest when she acts sexy–they redesigned her and made her pretty and dull.

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