1931 and ‘32 would see some slight changes in Van Beuren’s output and approach. The Aesop’s Fables, which had been the sole bread and butter of the studio for years, were now lacking in recurring characters to provide any hook, the studio having lost access to Farmer Al Falfa, and also discouraged by lawsuit from using Disney-copyrighted mice. Waffles and Don had evolved into human form in the guise of Tom and Jerry, and the studio’s first two outings with the new duo had apparently done well. Now launched under their own series banner, increasing importance seemed to be placed upon the marketing of the studio’s new “stars”, allowing Tom and Jerry to begin eclipsing the tried and true Aesop’s series. While T&J would receive the attention of the writers for strange locales and occasionally adventurous situations, the Aesop’s series no longer seemed to inspire the writers’ limited creativity, and began to fall into a certain sameness from episode to episode. Within a few short seasons, this trend would magnify into a search by the studio for new properties, leading to the ultimate abandonment of the Aesop’s banner.
The Last Dance (11/23/31) – Waffles without Don. He is going to see his girlfriend at her house, and is followed by several rivals for her affection. He tries picking petals off a daisy to see if she loves him, and winds up commiserating with a clock in a public place, as the girl appears to be late for a rendezvous. Waffles goes back to her house, and gains entrance, though several other cats do likewise. The rivals are disappointed, however, as she only seems to have eyes for Waffles. It turns out Waffles cannot dance, but can he sing. Songs: “Narcissus” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, both previously discussed, and “Why Dance?”, a waltz which had a modest degree of popularity in 1931, but has since been virtually forgotten, even among record collectors. Victor gave it to Rudy Vallee (below), while a Ben Selvin studio group did it for Harmony, Velvet Tone, and Clarion.
A Swiss Trick (12/19/31) – Tom and Jerry in the Alps. Lots of yodeling, and no avalanches. A perilous Alpine railway ride, then a great deal of music making, in search of a rare Swiss cheese, that produces holes of equal size in those that eat it. Songs: “I Miss My Swiss (My Swiss Miss Misses Me)”, a 1925 pop, recorded for dancing by Paul Whiteman on Victor, Ted Lewis on Columbia, Carl Fenton on Brunswick, the California Ramblers on Banner and other dime store records, and as a vocal record by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare (The Happiness Boys), who cut it for both Victor and Columbia (the latter version accompanied by full orchestra). The song had not gone unnoticed by other studios, and was also featured in the 1930 Walter Lantz Oswald short, “Cold Feet”.
Toy Time (1/27/32) – Mice frolicking in a toy shop. One mouse uses a toy crane to delicately lift the cheese from a mousetrap. Mickey and Minnie wanna-bes (identified as Daisy and Oliver) have a high old time making music and dancing on drums, until along comes a cat with a hungry look to spoil their fun. The cat gets shot by toy artillery, especially a gun on a toy tank. Oliver winds up at the piano, singing and playing when Daisy says she has to go home. Songs: “Three O’ Clock in the Morning”, written in 1921 by Dorothy Terris and Julian Robledo, and recorded by Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra for Victor, then recorded more successfully the next year by Paul Whiteman for the same label. Whiteman would re-record it electrically in 1928. Meanwhile, Frank Crumit offered a vocal version on Columbia. Ted Lewis would produce an electrical version for Columbia. Bert Kaempfert would have a respectable-selling instrumental single of it in the 1960’s.
Also featured in a lively production number is “The Siamese Patrol”, written about 1907 by Paul Lincke (best know for “The Glow Worm”). Recorded in 1906 by the Edison Military Band on cylinder. Also recorded in Berlin in 1925 by Bernard Ette’s Orchestra for the Vox label. The production number as appearing in the film was modified frame by frame to fit the candy-striped world of the later Aesop title, Silvery Moon.
The film’s final number is “Goodnight, Sweetheart”, written by Campbell, Connolly, and Ray Noble. First recorded by the New Mayfair Orchestra under Noble’s direction for HMV, with vocal by Al Bowlly. Bowlly also sings on the Piccadilly cover by Jack Leon and his Orchestra. Bowlly would record a short version with the New Mayfair Orchestra as one of three grooves etched in a “puzzle record” for HMV and also released here on Victor. American Columbia gave it to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. Perfect and the dime store labels released a version billing Gene Austin as nominal bandleader. Those who wanted a vocal version could choose between a Brunswick by Bing Crosby, and a Victor by Russ Columbo. The song became a standard closing number for many dances, and became a quotable figure for Howard Duff to end his reports of his cases on The Adventures of Sam Spade radio series.
The Rocketeers (1/30/32) – Tom and Jerry are going to take a rocket into the stratosphere for the International Experimental Society. Even Old Sol looks a little worried as to how far this rocket is going to go. The rocket only goes up so far, then does a complete 180 and falls into the drink, landing pertly at the bottom of the sea. Tom and Jerry disembark, and find themselves in an undersea world full of mermaids – which doesn’t displease them at all. They wind up in an undersea nightclub, hosted by a rather buxom mermaid who greets them, “Hello, Suckers”, in her best impression of Texas Guinan. Our heroes sing a duet about wanting to own a fish store, in voices that resemble Les Rice and Artie Dunn. Eventually, they surface, but everyone dives back into the water to join the mermaids. Song: “Oh, How I’d Like To Own a Fish Store”, written in 1930 for Universal’s Technicolor tutti-frutti, “The King of Jazz”. One recording is known, by Dick Robertson and the Don Hall Trio on Victor.
A Romeo Monk (2/20/32) – We begin with a monkey giving himself a shave with a straight razor, which he drops on the elephant’s trunk, leaving soap in his eyes. Foster and Bailey miss an obvious gag opening by not having the elephant remember the incident for revenge at the end of the cartoon. The monkey travels through the jungle from vine to vine, and engages in some degree of courting, even crossing species by dancing with a hippopotamus. Songs: a return for “Minute Waltz”. And a first-time-out for “Now’s the Time To Fall In Love”, a song from 1931 which became intimately associated with Eddie Cantor, though Cantor didn’t record it until a session with Decca records in 1941. Recordings contemporary with the song’s creation included Gene Kardos, on Victor, Victor Erwin on Banner, Perfect, et al., Ben Selvin on Columbia and under various pseudonyms on Harmony and Okeh. Both Selvin versions feature clarinet solos by a 22-year old Benny Goodman. In England, the song was recorded by Jack Payne on Imperial.
Rabid Hunters (2/27/32) – Tom and Jerry go hinting after a nervy rabbit, who almost seems an anticipation of Bugs’ Bunny. We know that Frank Tashlin worked for a while at Van Beuren, and even produced a comic strip called “Van Boring”. We don’t know if Tashlin might have contributed some inspiration to the wascally wabbit that appears in this cartoon, and later trans-pollenated the ideas to Warner Brothers. Song: “Milenburg Joys”, first recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings for Gennett in 1923 (issued 1925). The group was at this point integrated, including the flamboyant presence of pianist Jelly Roll Morton. Other early versions of this jazz classic included “Busse’s Buzzards” for Victor (a spinoff from Paul Whiteman’s aggregation, led by trumpeter Henry Busse, known for the hits “Hot Lips” and “When Day Is Done”), Ted Lewis for Columbia, the Cotton Pickers for Brunswick (a slightly-augmented version of the Original Memphis Five). The Tennessee Tooters for Vocalion (basically the same personnel as the Cotton Pickers). Boyd Senter on Perfect and Pathe, the Varsity Eight on Cameo and Lincoln. Later versions include McKinney’s Cotton Pickers for Victor, Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra for Brunswick, and a country version by Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys for Decca Champion. It eventually became a part of the standard repertoire for nearly all traditional jazz bands.
Fly Frolic (3/5/32) – A fly is wanting to get together with his sweetie, whose name is implied to be “Minnie”. With help from other flies, he gets the window open, and they are able to go to the coffee pot cabaret, where a spider sings the main song of the cartoon, “Kickin’ the Gong Around”. The spider kidnaps the girl and takes her to his lair. An inevitable chase ensues, as the flies swarm into his abode, delivering a sound beating. Songs: “Go In and Out the Window”, and the spider’s song mentioned above, taken from a Cotton Club Revue – the sequel to Cab Calloway’s famous “Minnie the Moocher”. Recordings included Cab himself on Brunswick, Louis Armstrong on Okeh and Columbia, and Gus Haston on Victor. Roy Fox performed it on English Decca. ARC had a vocal version by Dck Robertson (who possibly supplies the vocal used in the cartoon as well). Calloway would keep the number in his repertoire, performing a stereo version for Victor. It was even revived by neo-swing group Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in 1997.
The Cat’s Canary (3/26/32) – A cat swallows a canary, then finds that when he opens his mouth, all he gets is chirps. Dr. Shotz is unable to help him. An x-ray reveals the canary capering about the cat’s rib cage. Eventually, the canary is liberated from the cat’s inside, to the relief of the cat, who wants to sing with his buddies on the fence. Songs: “The Battle Cry of Freedom (Rally Round the Flag)”, an 1862 civil war song, which was not only popular in the North, but with a new lyric became popular in the South. Recorded around 1910 for Victor disc and Indestructible cylinder by the duet of Byron G. Harlan and Frank C. Stanley. It would receive various revivals during celebration of the war centennial, including a single and album appearance for Little Golden Records.
Next: Van Bueren 1932.