Animation Trails
November 23, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

We, Robots! (Part 4): Clanking Catastrophe

The 40’s progress. As the war draws to a close, there is more and more looking forward to a new life of prosperity and inventiveness. The “World of Tomorrow” becomes a common convention in modern thought – and the animation world keeps pace with its own array of far-out inventions and gadgets. This spirit permeates many entries in today’s survey, where robotic design and modern architecture attempt to solve the problems of everyday life – while, as usual, creating new problems in the process.

Mouse Trouble (MGM, Tom and Jerry, 12/12/44 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.) – The second of the cat and mouse team’s efforts to garner an Academy Award – though oddly, the studio did not capitalize on this fact for the film’s theatrical reissue in the usual manner, failing to insert a picture of Oscar in the reshot titles. Tom has decided to expand his education and bone up on his techniques, purchasing by mail order a volume entitled “How To Catch a Mouse”, published by Random Mouse Books [pun on Random House, a real publisher]. Many, many chapters provide “helpful” tips on the art of rodent-catching, but in the hands of Tom always go awry. Jerry is certainly not the average prey the authors envisioned. A standout feature of this film setting it apart from many of its kind is that consequences of previous mishaps within the film tend to linger with Tom into subsequent sequences, rather than disappearing instantly after a fade-out due to a toon’s amazing curative powers. (For example, a misdirected rifle bullet that scalps a path through Tom’s brow results in Tom wearing an ill-fitting red toupee throughout the rest of the cartoon.) A late chapter in Tom’s book suggests, “Mice are suckers for DAMES”. Tom acquires another of those mechanical marvels you can only find in cartoons – a wind-up girl mouse, who moves in a sort of sashay wobble, changing directions randomly back and forth, with a voice box which repeats over and over a sped-up version of Mae West’s famous catch-phrase, “Come up and see me sometime.” Tom sets the device in front of Jerry’s mousehole, where it works its wiles.

Within moments, Jerry is out of his hole, walking arm in arm back and forth with the fair damsel, but wondering where it is she wants him to “come up” to. Tom provides the answer, with a doll-sized fake building front, resembling the entrance to a hotel, with awning reading “Cozy Arms.” He waits behind the doorway of the fake backdrop, with open jaws, waiting for Jerry to enter. Jerry takes the bait, and escorts the attractive miss to the “hotel” entrance. (Now hold on, board of censors. Just what does Jerry have in mind going up to a hotel room with an un-chaperoned lady? Isn’t this a bit “adult” for a kid’s cartoon? Yet nobody ever gave this a second thought, the sequence running uncut in all versions I have ever viewed.) Jerry is a bit confused when the toy mouse unexpectedly reverses direction just shy of the door, but a second turn puts her back on the right path, and Jerry bows in a gesture of “ladies first” to allow her to pass him and enter. The loud sound effects of crunching and swallowing are heard within the “hotel”, as a belch produces an emission of random articles of female clothing, gears, and springs. From behind the backdrop, Tom rises, feeling the ill effects of machinery traveling down his digestive tract, and settling with a thud into his stomach. A hiccup results, in which the voice of the robot is heard, continuing to repeat, “Come up and see me sometime.” Tom grabs a mirror and looks into his mouth, where nearly all of his teeth have been shattered by the metal parts. Furious, Tom grabs the book, and rips it apart page by page in the heat of anger, still intermittently hiccuping in the mouse-voice from time to time.

Tom gives up on the book altogether, and returns to using his own destructive ideas – by planting dynamite, powder kegs, and a block-buster bomb around Jerry’s mousehole. Again, the effects of the preceding sequence remain lasting, as he hiccups once again in the girl-mouse‘s voice. As Jerry cringes inside the wall, Tom lights a match to the fuse of the dynamite sticks – but it appears to go out after only an inch. Cautiously, Tom creeps back to the fuse, and gently blows on it to get it started again. This works – too well – as the fuse burns its last few feet in a mere split second, catching Tom in the explosion. When the smoke clears, nothing is left of the house except the baseboard with Jerry’s mousehole – with Jerry safe and sound behind it. Drifting down from the sky, an object floats to the ground – Tom’s toupee! Jerry looks up to the skies, where, on a puffy cloud, bald-headed Tom sits, outfitted with a halo, white wings, and a small golden harp, utterly disgusted at the revolting development of becoming an angel. To really rub it is, he still has the hiccups, and repeats over and over the line which now fits his present situation – “Come up and see me sometime.”

Post-War Inventions (Terrytoons/Fox, Gandy Goose, 3/23/45 – Connie Rasinski, dir.) – As so often it was for Gandy and Sourpuss, it is bedtime, but Gandy won’t turn off the light, reading a fascinating book on post-war inventions and the world of the future. Sourpuss insists he hit the sack – but as usual becomes tangled up in Gandy’s dreams the minute their eyes close. Sourpuss seems to awaken on a cloud, but can’t find Gandy. A trail of the goose’s footprints leads to a massive exhibition hall, the gates of which open, to reveal Gandy in a fancy suit as if a tour guide/dignitary, welcoming Sourpuss to the world of tomorrow. Inside, massive machines hum in self-operating precision, emitting rainbow-colored glows as they churn out production of products unknown. Sourpuss comments that “It’s colossal – stupendous…” In fact, “It’s big.” Gandy shows Sourpuss a bottle of pills, each of which contains a full-course dehydrated meal – just add a drop of water. Sourpuss gets things backwards, devouring with gluttony about seven or eight pills by swallowing them, then asking for the water. He nearly bursts as the dehydrated contents fill his insides, forcing him to eject orally course after course (many oddly animated as live animals rather than cooked ones). Sourpuss collapses exhausted into an easy chair, and tells Gandy to “Do something.” Gandy pulls on a velvet cord, and a traditional metal-man style robot appears (with a downturned section of plumber’s pipe for a nose, and cylindrical-can body), dressed in a butler’s outfit. The butler politely serves a cocktail to Sourpuss, then departs. But Sourpuss never gets to enjoy the concoction, as Gandy pulls again on the cord for another demonstration. The three visible walls of the room and ceiling panel all flip or slide away, replaced by the walls and ceiling of a modern kitchen. Sourpuss is suddenly seized by a pair of robotic hands attached by hinged rods to the wall, then is mixed into flour and water, rolled out as dough, and placed into a pie pan along with sliced apples.

Sourpuss hops around for a few moments, trying to get free of the pie crust. When he finds he is now in the kitchen, he foolishly asks, “Where’s the bathroom?” Another cord pull by Gandy, and the room is again transformed into the desired location. But Sourpuss still can’t escape the robots, as more mechanical hands grab his head and apply a shampoo and rinse. Gandy returns with a large box atop a wheeled base, labeled “Home Barber”. The front of the box has two wooden panels resembling the halves of medieval stocks, and Gandy closes them upon Sourpuss’s head, then turns a crank to activate the machine. Unseen snips and whirring occur inside the box, as Sourpuss cries “Let me outta here”. Gandy is distracted by 3-D television images of beautiful young women who float past him in the air, and Sourpuss has to pry his own head out of the device. As he pops inro view, a mirror appears above the box opening to show him the results of the barbering – leaving him absolutely shorn of head fur! The remaining events of the cartoon do not concern robotic devices, but place Gandy and Sourpuss on a wild rocket ride through the Big Dipper, prompting a battle with Ursa Major. The two awaken to find themselves battling a pillow instead of a bear, and disgusted Sourpuss slams the inventions book over Gandy’s head, leaving the dimwitted bird laughing for the fade out.

Baby Bottleneck (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky and Daffy), 3/16/46 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – What to do when old Doc Stork gets so pressured by post-war demand for babies, he drinks himself under the table at the Stork Club? Call for Porky Pig and Daffy Duck to revolutionize production. As dispatch manager, Porky supervises over a modern assembly line, where babies roll off the presses in a conveyor belt. (A crying baby hippo asides to the audience, “I’m only three-and-a-half seconds old.”) The assembly line features numerous robotic apparatus. A first device applies talcum powder to each infant with a powder puff, then flips them over with a spatula to evenly coat their other side. A second box emits two to three robotic hands at a time to fold diapers around each child, fastening them with a safety pin. This device is confused when a baby turtle appears, still in its shell. The box develops a face that briefly thinks things over, then brightens with an idea. Prying open the shell, the diaper is applied to the baby hidden inside, then the shell is snapped closed around him. The next device is a robotic hand holding a hose, from which each baby is fed a dose of milk. The turtle presents an awkward situation again, as the hose nozzle is inserted into the neck-opening of his shell, causing the baby to pop out from the shell hatch to bail out the dripping shell interior with a pail.

A female mannequin with robotic arms takes up each child over its shoulder, getting them to burp. Porky waits at the tail end of the production line, distributing each baby for transportation to various destinations – but can’t figure out the intended owner of an egg that slips through without an address label. He asks Daffy to sit on the egg to hatch it out so they can determine who it belongs to. But Daffy has an aversion to being any egg’s surrogate mother, and refuses to sit. A battle royal ensues, in wild off-model animated distortions conceived by Rod Scribner, with the chase leading atop the conveyor belt. There, our heroes run right into the gamut of robot machinery intended for the infants, and are stripped like newborns, outfitted with baby bonnet and diaper (the latter wrapped around Porky so tight, he is bound to Daffy as if they were all one baby). Then, the two are jet-propelled by a rocket shaped like a stork into darkest Africa, where they are delivered to a mother gorilla. Daffy instantly starts crying like an infant, and when the mother checks the diaper, she finds the second head of Porky, who greets her with a shy, “Boo.” The gorilla instantly picks up a phone, and calls the radio show of then-current star “Mr. Anthony”, a brain-boy with reputation for solving nearly any predicament. “Mr. Anthony? I have a problem!”, the gorilla wails, for the iris out.

Hair-Raising Hare (Warner, Bugs Bunny. 5/25/46 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) – Bugs just can’t sleep. He has the strangest feeling he is being watched, and peers around from his rabbit hole into the darkness of the forest, looking for unknown eyes with a candlestick. The eyes, however, are nowhere to be found – as they are viewing remotely, upon an experimental television monitor hookup, from the stone walls of a mad-scientist’s castle. The scientist is none other than Peter Lorre, and the reason for his unusual television viewing is a need to serve dinner to his latest creation – a huge red hairball of a monster with long claw-like fingers and wearing tennis shoes – whom Warner fans would ultimately come to know as Gossamer (first-named in “Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th 1/2 Century”). To obtain wild game, Lorre has invented a full-size, life-like female rabbit robot dressed in evening attire. Winding her up, he sets the robot off into the woods. Just as Bugs is about to dismiss his premonition as mere imagination, the robot struts by, showing off her stuff in come-on fashion (while the soundtrack plays a rendition of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” punctuated with mechanical clanks for percussion). Bugs disappears into his hole – then suddenly reappears, spellbound by what he has just seen. Assuming a walk step that mimics the rigid moves of the robot, Bugs follows her back to the castle as if drawn by a magnet. The second he walks into the castle’s open door, Lorre leaps to bar, chain, and padlock the entrance. Bugs addresses him to comment, “Ya don’t need to lock that door, Mac. I don’t wanna leave!”

As the robot comes to a standing halt, its intended service performed, Bugs takes hold of one of its hands, addresses it as “Baby…”, and begins to kiss her hand vigorously. The robot’s head suddenly begins to whirl, and within a few seconds, every spring within her has unwound, and she lays in a heap of disassembled parts. Bugs, still holding one detached robot arm, lets it fall to the floor, then expresses his reaction to the audience: “That’s the trouble with some dames. Kiss ‘em, and they fly apart.” The story progresses as Lorre introduces Bugs to “another friend”, letting Gossamer loose. After numerous chase gags and horror vignettes (including the memorable lines: Bugs to audience – “Is there a doctor in the house?” Shadow from audience – “I am a physician.” Bugs to Shadow – “Eh, What’s up, Doc?”), Bugs frightens away Gossamer, by giving him the same sense of “being watched” that Bugs experienced – pointing out the strange eyes of “PEOPLE!” watching from the audience. As Bugs attempts to wrap things up for the viewers by reciting stage direction, “Exit out her-o…..”, the reassembled rabbit robot passes by again. Bugs attempts to ignore it, dismissing it as “Mechanical” – until the robot breaks its own behavioral rules, and plants a kiss on Bugs’ cheek. “Well, so it’s mechanical!”, shouts Bugs, re-assuming his mechanical-man walk, to follow the robot wherever she may lead, for the iris out.

The Electronic Mouse Trap (Terrytoons/Fox, Mighty Mouse, 9/6/46 – Mannie Davis, dir.), has been visited a few times in this site’s columns. Amidst the post-war atmosphere of revolutionary inventions and innovations, a genius cat, wearing a college mortarboard to prove his intelligence, serves as leader to a gang of supporting cats, reminding them of the old adage, “If you can build a better mousetrap, the mice will beat a path to your door.” Inspired by his inventiveness, the cats construct a mechanical marvel – a bright red “Creature” who appears to be half construction crane and half dinosaur, rolling on treads, but with a long beaded neck approximating a brontosaurus, and a bronto-style head with large lips. The device is further equipped with several secret weapons. Its eyes emit a powerful paralyzing ray, rendering its victims glowing and rigid, helplessly bouncing their way toward the beast’s mouth, where a powerful vacuum awaits to suck them inside the metal monster. The device is sent out on the prowl into the woods, and happens upon a mouse cocktail lounge in the trunk of a tree. Turning on its paralyzing ray, the creature stiffens into submission all the mice at the bar within, sucking them out of the tree with the vacuum – and taking in their glasses of short beer to boot. One mouse briefly evades the ray, and tries to escape the lounge with a wedge of cheese, A direct hit from the ray melts the cheese all over him before he is helplessly captured. Several mice hide inside another hollow tree, but the trap’s eye-rays follow them around corners within, doing their usual work to send the mice bobbing out of the tree into the trap’s suction. A small band of mice attempt a revolt, charging the beast with small swords. Since they’re coming anyway, why even bother with the eye beams – as the trap simply sucks them inside as willing victims. We then see a cutaway view inside the body of the metal beast, revealing what happens to the mice inside. They are deposited from the creature’s neck onto a conveyor belt transporting empty egg crates of one dozen each. Each mouse is neatly deposited into a compartment of each carton, and sealed up inside, the cartons tolling off the other end of the belt out of a hatch in the trap’s rear. There, waiting cats transport loads of the crates away for warehouse storage upon railroad-style luggage dollies.

Who can help in this situation? At a distance away, upon the head of the statue of “The Thinker”, sits the “greatest thinker of them all” – Mighty Mouse. He is deep in concentration, and inside his “mind’s eye” (seen as an in-turned eyeball in an x-ray view of his brain), Mighty picks up a visual image of the trouble on a projection screen – without anyone even calling to him for help! Based upon this psychic revelation, Mighty is off to the rescue. Seeing him coming, the cats turn to another secret weapon – a pill-sized capsule under glassm under a sign reading “Atom Bomb”. Loading the pill into the nexk of the machine, the cats have the monster launch the pill at Mighty. A nuclear explosion occurs in mid-air – but Mighty calmly dusts himself off with a whisk broom, none the worse for wear. What a mouse! A pull of a lever, and the robot shoots a wall of flame at Mighty from its mouth. Mighty battles back at the flames, socking them into submission. But he is now close enough to the trap to be sucked in by its vacuum. The happy robot smacks its lips in delight at having swallowed the tasty treat – until Mighty emerges through one glass eyeball of the robot, then socks his way back into the robot’s head through the other eyeball. (This shot always seemed shockingly violent to me – even though the creature is a machine – as the beast was so life-like, it felt strange that Mighty would resort to the low blow of blinding his victim, villain or no.) Mighty then pushes the head of the robot around, causing it to tie a knot in its own beaded neck. The knot causes a short circuit in the electrical system, the trapped energy of which spreads down the neck of the creature, back to the control levers on its body, manned by the cats below. An explosion occurs – and the cats are filled with the paralyzing energy of the beast’s ray, bouncing helplessly around the room. Mighty waits at the front door, to sock each helpless cat as he emerges outside. The mice escape their crates, and Mighty receives his usual ovation as “a real champion.”

Mouse Menace (Warner, Porky Pig, 11/2/46 – Arthur Davis, dir.) – Though Davis may have worked on the anonymous finishing-up of a few leftover Bob Clampett projects before the release of this cartoon, this film would mark his directorial debut at Termite Terrace. Original credits received the usual “unkindest cut of all” when Warner fixed up the film for Blue Ribbon theatrical re-release, but over the years, black-and white images of two of the three cards have surfaced, apparently from a negative version, possibly in 16mm. With the aid of some Photoshop software, I have recreated these titles as best as possible, reversing image from negative to positive, and choosing a color scheme to “colorize” the black and white images to shades suggested by the gray-tones. For completeness sake, I’ve also created the missing card 3 to give Davis the credit he is due. These “new” old titles are included below for your enjoyment.

Davis must have seen possibilities in the mouse of this short as a potential recurring foil for Porky, as Davis’s career as a Warner director (excepting a sole 1960’s entry) began with the character, and ended with him also (in Bye Bye Bluebeard (1949)). The mouse is an unstoppable force of nature, twisting his way out of the metal mesh of a rodent trap, and leaving behind notes torn off a calendar about “Stone walls do not a prison make…nor iron bars a cage.” He similarly leaves notes on every other kind of trap he has sprung, commenting upon the cheese left as bait, and being selective – “You know I don’t like Swiss” and “Are you kiddin’?” Porky is worn to a frazzle chasing him, and even breaks a mirror in the process, the mouse rubbing it in with “Seven years bad luck.” Porky decides he needs a cat. He disappears out the front door of his house down the road, and returns no more than a second later, apologizing, “F-Flat tire held me up, folks.” A conventional cat, however, is no match for Mr. Rodent, and exits hastily, tied to a space rocket and waving bye-bye. A mountain lion exits on a pedestal, as a “mounted” lion. A tough-guy professional hit-man cat from the underworld has a bowling ball dropped on his head, and, without losing his cool, simply packs everything up in reverse, and sensibly departs. There is only one recourse left. If live assassins can’t do the task, bring in a robot. Porky slaves in his garage, and produces his own rendition of Frankenstein’s cat. Activating his switches, the robot begins life acting like a real cat, rubbing up against Porky’s ankles, and bathing itself with its tongue. But the real test is whether he’ll catch a mouse. Porky provides a wind-up toy rodent for a tryout, and the cat makes short work of the toy, crushing him in three pounces, then swallowing him. The invention is ready for the big time, and sent into the house to face the terror of terrors. The mouse sees the robot coming, and sets up the same bowling ball he used on the last cat.

Being made of metal, the robot feels no effect from the blow, and the heavy ball flattens on one side from the unyielding force of the impact. The mouse can see he’s finally up against a tough cookie, as a flame thrower, dynamite, and revolver bullet fail to phase the robot in any manner. The mouse attempts to retreat into various holes, but repeatedly has his exit blocked by the heavy fall of the cat’s metal paw across the hole. With no genuine exit left, the mouse produces a fake one, painting an electrical socket black to resemble a hole, and fooling the cat into thinking he has entered same, with an inscription above the door: “Through this portal passed the most beautiful mouse in the world.” (A mimic of an inscription above the stage door of the theater of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities”, referring to beautiful girls passing through.) In a clever reaction-shot, the buttons on the robot’s back bristle as if the ruffled fur of an angry arching cat, and he swipes his paw at the fake hole to gain entry. His metal makes contact with the electrical current, and the cat is lit up in x-ray Technicolor, while the mouse adds insult to injury by placing a sign in front of him, reading “Used car – Below ceiling.” In another clever chase gag, the mouse sets up a trip-wire for the cat at neck level, causing the cat to lose his head unit on the floor. As the cat’s torso reaches around blindly for its missing head, the mouse pushes into position on a counter above him a pop-up toaster. The robot attaches the toaster in error, and walks around like an idiot with toast slices alternately-popping out of its fake noggin. Finally, the mouse locates a wind-up toy mouse of his own, which he stuffs with a full load of powder from the insides of several sticks of dynamite, and a dousing from a bottle labeled “Nitro-glycerin. 100% proof.” The cat takes the bait as the toy exits the mousehole and winds down in the center of the kitchen. The cat pounces – and Porky’s entire home explodes away. Porky, it turns out, has been waiting out the whole affair in a storm cellar, and emerges to find, “My house – ruined!” But there remains standing a small doghouse, leading Porky to console himself that he still has a place to live, and he’s rid of that mouse. But, a small panel opens on the side of the doghouse, revealing the mouse in a newly-constructed mousehole. He asides to the audience for the curtain line: “Should I tell him?”

House Hunting Mice (Warner (Hubie and Bertie), 10/7/48 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.). An ingenious updating of Dog-Gone Modern (1939), substituting Jones’ new stars Hubie and Bertie in place of the two curious puppies. The two wise-guy mice visit the “House of Tomorrow”, designed by F. Lloyd Wrong. A canned voice bids them welcome over a loudspeaker when their presence is sensed by their stepping upon a pressure-sensitive doormat. Bertie is spooked, but Hubie sets him in the proper mood, with a reassuring word: “Mechanical, see? Mechanical.” Signs and push buttons invite them to try out the modern appliances. They are first attracted to an automatic phonograph. Pushing a button, they activate a turntable which rises from a hatch in the floor. On the opposite side of the room, a juke-box-like arm on a record selector picks up a record from a rack with a u-shaped claw, then does something that no juke-box would do – hurls the record like a Frisbee disc across the room. The fragile shellac disc is caught by a pair of robotic hands which emerges from the turntable unit, one hand wearing a baseball catcher’s mitt, then is gently placed upon the turntable, where a tone arm plays a waltz. The mice begin to dance, caught up in the spirit of the music, until Hubie spots another button, to test an automatic sweeper. Redrawn with sharper timing, a sequence is lifted from “Dog-Gone Modern”, as a wall panel opens, with a mechanical device lighting a cigar, puffing on it with a vacuum suction, then tapping ashes off the cigar onto the floor. A buzzer sounds, as an automatic sensor activates a wall closet, which opens to reveal a robot, built of a metal pole with arms attached across its top and a pair of wheels across its base, plus a rising and lowering dustpan mounted upon the pole’s lower half, capable of raising trash to the rim of a refuse can. The robot swoops into the room, carrying a large broom, sweeps the ashes into the dustpan, then empties the dustpan into a trash can next to the robot’s closet, finally disappearing back inside the closet door. Well, an interesting demonstration, but there’s more buttons to push. Bertie spies a master control panel, and begs for the chance to push a button himself. Though Hubie insists you’ve gotta be smart to push a button, he relents and allows Bertie to choose one. He lives to regret this decision, as Bertie selects an automatic washing device. From behind Hubie, a large vacuum nozzle emerges from the wall, over a hamper of dirty clothes, The nozzle sucks up all the linens – and takes Hubie too. Bertie cringes at the sounds inside the wall, while lights on the control panel shift cycles from “mangle” to “iron”, “fold”, and “starch”. Hubie emerges from the wall with the rest of the wash, bound and folded like a fresh shirt back from the cleaners.

Some sound face-slapping is in order to teach Bertie some discipline. But Hubie’s corporal punishment session is quickly interrupted, as the mice finally find a device perfectly suited to their own needs – a cheese dispenser. This gadget, however, still has a few bugs in it. Press the button, and a wedge of cheese shoots out a hatch in the wall – but lands with a plop on the floor, crumbling to bits. The mice might not mind this serving suggestion – but they never get the chance to sample the goodie, as the cleaning robot is activated by the mess, and sweeps the whole thing up into the trash can. So, try to outwit the system. Bertie waits in the center of the room, carrying a plate, as Hubie pushes the button. Out comes the heavy cheese, as Bertie calls, “I got it. I got it.” Plop goes the wedge, flattening Bertie underneath the plate, and still breaking the cheese into fragments. “He got it”, comments Hubie in underplay. Out comes the robot again, this time sweeping Bertie up with the plate and cheese, depositing all in the trash can. Bertie climbs out and trues to escape, but is swept up once again. He becomes caught up in a game of peek-a-boo with the robot, the robot’s pole “head” peering out of the closet every time Bertie pokes his head out of the trash can. It’s up to Hubie to attempt a rescue. The clever mouse grabs a fragile vase, and carries it up the stairs to a second story window, where he tosses it out the window to the pavement below. The gullible robot follows the sound of the crash up the stairs, and jumps out the window too, with an even louder crash heard offscreen. Bertie thanks Hubie with profuse handshakes and compliments o him using his smarts, until the front doorbell is heard. The mice answer it, only to be greeted by the recovered robot, who sweeps them both into the trash can.

Don’t ask how Hubie gets out for the next scene – but the brainier mouse has another clever plan. Finding this house equipped with everything, Hubie locates a crate full of dynamite sticks, and pushes them off a high shelf to make a mess on the floor. The robot of course dumps the contents into the trash can. Then Hubie drops from the shelf a lit candlestick. The robot deposits this in the can as well. Flame + TNT = BOOM!! The robot staggers forward, its component parts barely holding together by strands of electrical wire, strung like a string of beads, and collapses on the floor. Its disconnected robot fingers manage a last desperate push of a wall button marked “Repair Service”. Out from the robot closet comes a second robot, heavier and cylindrical in shape, with a crane beam for a head. Some heavy-duty clanking and clunking is heard offscreen, and within a few moments, the repair robot returns to the closet, followed by the cleaning robot, as good as new. Well, back to square one. But Hubie’s been saving his best gag for the piece de resistance. Returning to the automatic phonograph, the two mice hammer some two-by-fours across the floor hatch for the turntable, nailing it shut so it cannot rise into position. They then press the button for the record selector. For those of you who’ve never been around records of the 1940’s – or records at all – they were not flexible discs like lightweight modern vinyl, but rigid, fragile shellac and quite heavy in weight. With no catcher’s mitt to receive the discs tossed across the room by the record changer, each record smashes into the wall, breaking instantly into a hundred pieces. The cleaning robot is right on the job – but begins to feel the wear of the situation, as the record changer tosses discs faster than he can sweep them up. Before long, the robot’s dust pan is stacked as tall as the robot itself with broken record bits, the robot staggering under their massive weight. It just barely gets the load over to the refuse can, filling it to overflowing and burying the can in the dumped load, then rolls exhausted into the closet. A moment later, the robot emerges, wearing a fedora hat and an old coat, but minus its broom, carrying instead a traveling bag, as it hangs a sign on the closet door reading “I quit”, and departs for robot opportunities unknown. Hubie attempts to exchange congratulatory compliments with his partner on their witty victory – but Bertie is nowhere to be found. Still set on getting to push a button, he presses a last control yet untried, reading “Spring Cleaning”. The closet door opens again, out of which emerges an entire platoon of mopping, sweeping, and scrubbing robots, including a little one with pail and scrub brush bringing up the rear. “Yipe”, reply the mice, scurrying in frantic panic to get out of the way. Everywhere they run, some broom or mop seems to be ahead of them. Dodging right and left, they suddenly find themselves in a race with a carpet being rolled up behind them, and are caught in the rolling rug. The final scene takes them outdoors, where the robots pin all the rugs up on a clothesline, and engage in a session of old-fashioned carpet beating to get the dust out. At the end of the clothesline, Hubie and Bertie have also been strung up by clothespins clamped upon their tails, and are likewise being whomped in the rear with the carpet beaters. Between blows, Hubie calls to Bertie, “Hey, Bert. C’mere!”, and administers more trademark face-slapping to Bertie, for the iris out.

Woody Woodpecker’s Solid Ivory (Lantz/Universal, 8/25/47 – Dick Lundy, dir.) receives only the briefest of mentions, for a device attached to a pool table called “Automatic Re-Rack”. A press of a button, and a pair of robotic hands appear, holding a pre-assembled triangle full of new pool balls, which is plopped down on the table as the wooden rach is removed. One hand disappears and reappears with the cue ball, neatly flipping it to the player on the other end of the table with a flick of a finger.

The House of Tomorrow (MGM, 6/11/49 – Tex Avery, dir.), presents Tex’s first visions of the future. Two spot gags deal with robotic devices. The first is an automatic sandwich maker, mounted to the corner of a dinner table. It looks something like the face of a futuristic transistor radio with glowing eye units, and has two robotic hand/arm extensions, with which it takes up carving knives, first slicing into convenient slices a long casing of lunchmeat, then a loaf of bread to match. Dropping the knives and pushing the two stacks of slices together, it shuffles the meat into the bread as if manipulating a deck of playing cards, then “deals” sandwiches all around to the four place settings spread about the table. In the modern bathroom, an automatic shaving device is demonstrated upon Dad. More robotic arms appear from a box on the wall, one hand raising Dad’s nose while the other applies lather. Then a razor is produced, while the narrator comments on the smooth shave provided – “It removes everything.” The machine lives up to this boast, by erasing from Dad’s face not only his beard, but his mouth, nose, ears, and every last hair on his head.

Future a la 50’s, next time.


  • It’s interesting to see “Post War Inventions” and “The House of Tomorrow” side by side, as it were, since they both cover much the same ground and even have similar gags in common (e.g., automated barbering, blonde in a swimsuit on TV). As much as I love Terrytoons, even I’m a little surprised that I find the Terry cartoon much funnier and cleverer than an MGM Avery. Tex must have really hated his mother-in-law.

    I’m intrigued by all these mechanical wind-up toys depicting seductive female animal characters. Did anyone ever really make such things? If so, there’s bound to be someone in the furry community who collects them.

    I guess the multicoloured, fire-breathing mechanical rhinos that charge out of the broken TV screen in “Post War Inventions” would count as robots too, wouldn’t they?

  • “The Fifth-Column Mouse” (Warner Bros./Schlesinger, Merrie Melodies, 6/3/43 — I. Freleng, dir.): Life is good for a community of brown house mice, until a cat invades their home and forces them to run for cover. The cat, alternately displaying German and Japanese characteristics, captures a simple-minded grey mouse and promises him unlimited cheese if he can persuade the brown mice to accede to his rule. The grey mouse then gets up on a soapbox to make a speech advocating a policy of appeasement, sung to the tune of “Blues in the Night”. Next thing you know, the mice are waiting on the cat hand and foot. But when he expresses a desire for a “nice, fat, juicy mouse,” that’s going too far. Over a montage set to “We Did It Before, and We Can Do It Again”, the mice gear up for the war effort, selling mouse war bonds and building a factory marked “Secret Weapon”. The secret weapon? A robot dog, which chases the cat through the house to the tune of Strauss’s “Perpetuum mobile”. The cat flees through the window where it first came in, but not before a mouse shaves it bald with an electric razor — all except four tufts of fur spelling dit-dit-dit-dah: V for victory!

    “We did it!” cheer the brown mice in triumph. “We dood it!” cries the grey fifth column mouse — and gets pelted with a faceful of limburger.

  • MOUSE TROUBLE is my favorite of the seven Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoons. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t stop laughing when Tom kept hiccuping “Come up and see me sometime!”

    • Same here. That’s my favorite vintage Tom and Jerry cartoon.

  • Ah, Baby Bottleneck. One of Clampett’s finest and one of the all time great Looney Tunes shorts. I wish he remained at Warners for ten more years!

  • Baby Bottleneck is one of my favorite cartoons-TV of Tommorrow is not (and I prefer Tex to Bob; if John K wants to fight me, TRY IT!)

  • An interesting anomaly regarding MOUSE MENACE:
    It would appear that foreign AAP prints have the original audio of the cartoon’s opening title (similarly to some prints of TWEETIE PIE). It’s trimmed, and someone’s talking over it, but if you listen very carefully you can hear that it seems that a jazzed-up arrangement of “Jeepers Creepers” once opened the cartoon.

    • That’s because the B/W 35mm negative struck in the ’50s to make TV prints from was made from a 35mm source with original titles. There are several cartoons where this is the case (the aforementioned TWEETIE PIE and MOUSE MENACE, BABY BOTTLENECK, THE MOUSE-MERIZED CAT, OF THEE I STING, CROWING PAINS, LIFE WITH FEATHERS, and few others).

  • That fabulous (metal) hat-rack-shaped robot was a reoccurring character (sometimes in multiple) in WB films. How many times DID he (and/ or….”they”) appear??

  • Too bad the warnings weren’t heeded and now technology has taken over the human mind and soul.

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