Animation Trails
August 17, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

Where There’s Smoke (Part 5)

I’m hot under the collar to continue expounding upon fire-fighting cartoons, turning into the later 1930’s. Nearly all the major studios are represented this week, presenting a wide variety of characters and temperatures. So let’s fire up the boiler, and proceed full steam ahead.

Red Hot Music (Terrytoons/Educational, Kiko the Kangaroo, 3/5/37 – Mannie Davis/George Gordon, dir,) – At radio station K-I-K-O, a broadcast is in progress, at first appearing to feature a performance of a semi-symphonic orchestra. Mannie Davis imports an old, fairly unfunny bit he used more than once at Van Buren Studios, where, at a wave of the conductor’s baton, the orchestra members break into a chaotic mad dash in intersecting loops around the floor with their instruments, then as a musical pause is reached, quietly adjust their clothing back to formal positioning and retake their seats. (The bit was used as early as “Makin’ ‘Em Move” (1931), and had other appearances as well.) Then, gradually, the riffs of the orchestra get hotter – and from their instruments, smoke begins to rise, and open flames develop from clarinet holes, cracks between piano keys, etc., as the music becomes “red hot”. A water tower on the station’s roof disconnects its water pipe from the roof outlet, and begins playing the piping as a flute. The building itself begins to bend and shimmy, and music notes dance amidst the antenna wires. Below, the broadcast audience begins to react to the performance. Taxis stop in the middle of traffic to perform a “taxi dance” with one another. In New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty begins to blow into the handle of her torch like a trumpet, placing her book of tablets atop it as if reading sheet music while playing. Soon the instruments’ flames have reached the studio microphones, and the transmission antennas and entire upper floors of the station are alight with flame. The water tower shoots off the roof like a lit skyrocket. But the delighted band just keeps on playing, and the fire itself gets into the act, two arms of flame extending out from under the pianist’s keyboard, to act as flaming hands to continue the piece as the instrument gets too hot to handle.

At a fire station in town, Kiko the Kangaroo, local fire chief, snores away. The alarm bell sounds, and Kiko leaps down a fire pole. His pole is quite unusual, as it not only drops him down through two floors, but has him rise again through a second hole, then disappear down a third hole as the pole forms an arc between them. Kiko provides his own transportation to the fire, using an oversized unicycle with a second smaller wheel attached to his long tail, and multiple small kangaroos ride on the tail to tag along with him. Several snaking hook and ladder trucks soon follow. An extension ladder is also transported by two sausage-shaped dogs. As the forward end if the ladder is forced up the side of the building by the rear dog, the front dog runs vertically, until he runs out of ladder, reversing himself in mid-air, and clinging between the ladder and a window ledge, from which several persons use the dog as a bridge to transport furniture out of the building. A clever gag follows, as a bed is tossed down to a waiting crew with a net, followed by several jumpers. The net crew misses the bed entirely, which lands on the ground, closest to the building. The jumpers begin landing on the bed instead of the net, while the net crew turns their round net ring sideways, and a second net crew appears in normal position to the far right. The result is a circus act, with jumpers bouncing off the bed like a trampoline, ripping a hole through the first net as if jumping through a hoop, then bouncing off the second net like another trampoline gracefully to the ground. Kiko is next seen appearing to be hooking up a hose to a hydrant. Instead, the hose is the trunk of an elephant, who inhales to bloat up with water, then is aimed by Kiko to spray at the fire, pumped by cranking his tail. Numerous small firefighters appear from nowhere to ride ip to the building on the spray of water from the elephant’s trunk, now bent in shape to form stairs for them to ride like an escalator. Kiko next winds up inside a bathtub thrown from the building, then is doused with a spray of water from the collective fire hoses, flowing out of an upper story window. Kiko rows the tub against the current up to the window, to acquire more passengers for rescue. A flame reaches out from a window below to toast the bottom of the tub, which falls. The net crew waits below again, and repeats the closing gag from “Fireman, Save My Child” by disappearing with the tub into a crater in the earth with a crash. Out of the hole pops a fountain of water from a busted water main, launching Kiko to the roof of the next building. Kiko finally utilizes a kangaroo ability, finding a hanging wire on which to swing like Tarzan from building to building, pausing on the ledge of the radio station to pick ip characters for rescue in his pouch. He finally overshoots on one swing, and barely establishes a footing on a more distant ledge. Opening a window to get inside, he finds another room full of collected water, which almost sweeps him off the building, until another fireman appears on the ledge to offer an assist, by pushing the window shut with a stick. Looking in the next window, Kiko finds himself at the broadcast hall where the orchestra is still playing their red-hot tune, in a room now equally divided between black smoke above them, and water filling the room up to their waists. Kiko enters, and dives under the water’s surface, finding just what anyone would expect to find in a broadcast hall – a bathtub-style drain and plug. Kiko pulls the plug, then hangs on to a stage to keep from being swept in. The orchestra members disappear one by one down the drain, then reappear out of one of the fire hoses being manned upon the ground below, becoming scattered around with their instruments upon the pavement. When the room is clear of performers, Kiko lets loose and follows everybody through the drain pipe, and out onto the street, landing in a position in the middle of the orchestra members. Now out in the open and on concrete where there is nothing to burn, Kiko assumes the position of conductor, and strikes up the band again for a safe performance of their red hot number, for the iris out. Moral: An outdoor concert beats a studio session any day.


Ding Dong Doggie (Fleischer/Paramount, Betty Boop, 7/23/37 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Frank Endres/Thoms Johnson, anim.) This is one of those later Boops in which Betty takes a back seat to a featured supporting character, whose name appears in typeset larger than hers on the credits – in this instance, Pudgy. For once, it is not a disappointment, and packs a lot of action (likely accounting for the fact that it seems to be one of the few Pudgys which may not have been allowed to fall into public domain). The scene opens at a local fire house, where a dalmatian (one of the few such fire dogs to be depicted in classic cartoons) patrols as a sentry before the station door, marching to the tune of Popeye’s Brotherly Love and punctuating his turns with intimidating snarls to any who would attempt to cross his path. Watching from the window of Betty’s house across the street is Pudgy, who views the display with all the reactions of hero worship. Getting the idea of the drill, he begins to copy the pacing of the dalmatian from atop the windowsill – though with Pudgy’s cherubic features, a menacing snarl is near impossible. He lets out a few appreciative yips, and is heard by the dalmatian, who beckons him over in friendly manner with a wave of his paw. What a treat, thinks Pudgy, to be invited to spend the afternoon with his hero. But Pudgy wants to make a good first impression, to show the dalmatian that he is sincere in his aspirations for a possible new career. Scampering across the kitchen, Pudgy climbs up upon a table where he finds various baking and cooking items, including a fresh bowl of chocolate frosting, a ladle, and a sieve. Pudgy hops on the end of the ladle in the bowl, flipping into the air a large spoon of frosting. He then grabs up the sieve, holding it a few inches above his back. The frosting plops down onto the sieve, while select drops of the stuff leech through the sieve holes, spotting Pudgy’s back in dalmatian fashion. Pudgy finally grabs a sugar bowl of just the right size to fit upon his head upside down as a helmet, and is ready for his debut at the firehouse. Bit there’s the little matter of Betty, who is a strict disciplinarian today rather than a musical lecturer. She catches on quickly to Pudgy’s intentions, and grabs up the pup to wipe those silly spots off him with a towel. She then insists that he lay down at the foot of her chair, and orders him not to move or try to leave the house. Pudgy sulks and grumbles – but his determination rises again when he hears the sound of a fire bell from out the window. With one quick glance to see if Betty is watching, Pudgy makes a break for it, out the window and down a rain spout to the lawn. The hook and ladder truck is emerging from the station house, with the dalmatian aboard on the tail gate. Pudgy races at top speed to catch up with the fast-moving vehicle, and the dalmatian spots him and waves him on in encouragement, holding out his paw to receive the new volunteer. But Pudgy just can’t match speed to get within reach. The dalmatian has to climb out on the far end of the extension ladder, hang from its rungs upside down, and scoop up the little pup in his helmet to get Pudgy aboard, but succeeds, and the new partners exchange a handshake (or a pawshake).

A department store is well engulfed by the time the engine arrives – and no wonder. The store had been holding a Fire Sale. The dalmatian assists with the unspooling of the hose, while Pudgy proves too puny for such a task, trying to take hold of sections of hose in his mouth but unable to budge it, and continually getting tripped up in the hose’s loops. The dalmatian next hears yowling inside the store, and races in to perform a rescue. Pudgy follows right along. A few moments later, the dog emerges, proudly carrying a mother cat by the scruff of the neck. Her kittens emerge separately – not-so-proudly carrying a fainted Pudgy, who they leave on the pavement to gradually revive, coughing out a few rings of black smoke. Well, if he can’t rescue animals, how about property? The dalmatian waves him back inside the building, where they proceed to the rug department to save what they can of the stock. The dalmatian carries out three carpet rolls, while Pudgy attempts to transport one by standing atop its side and unrolling it along like a jelly roll (little realizing that by the time he reaches the exit, the unrolled carpet will still be inside the building). But he won’t have to wait for that, as the fire has other ideas. A group of small flames hops upon the unrolled end of the carpet, and burns away, tracing the carpet’s path right up to Pudgy, then giving him a zap on the tail. Pudgy leaps into the air, abandoning the carpet. The little flames divide into a group of five and form into a huddle, then stretch one of their own between the others as a trampoline of flame, catching Pudgy as he falls. Pudgy bounces repeatedly off the not-so-soft place to fall, yowling in pain, then grabs the cord of a light fixture in the ceiling to swing from like Tarzan, diverting himself over to a doorway, which he runs through, shutting the door behind him. The flames attack the perimeter edges of the door from three sides. In a view from Pudgy’s side of the wall, the flames trace a line along the top, bottom, and side of the door opposite where Pudgy strains with all his might to keep the doorknob closed – then converge to eat away the door right up to the knob hardware. Pudgy flees in panic, and the fire chases him up a ladder, burning it away as it goes, so that Pudgy never gains elevation, and lands with a plop back on the floor as the ladder disappears from under him. The flame takes on human-like shape again, delivering a swift kick to Pudgy’s rear, then divides into a row of flame men, who act much as students might in a fraternity initiation, taking turns down the line in smacking Pudgy on the rear, then batting him over to the next flame to repeat the process, making Pudgy run the gamut. Pudgy’s tail begins to smolder, and he climbs atop an open barrel of flour, hopping from its upper edge into a hanging bucket above, labeled “Water – For Fire Only”. Pudgy soaks his rear in the bucket, the flame going out with a soothing hiss. But below, the flames have an idea for another prank. One of them rises to the level of the bucket, propelling itself by expanding into the shape of a telephone extender, then sets the bottom of the bucket on fire. (Odd. I didn’t think fire pails were generally flammable,) The bottom burns off, and Pudgy and the water are plunged into the flour bucket below, leaving the pup in a gooey mess of dough. Unable to see and covered head to toe, Pudgy hops out of the barrel and races across the room blindly. In a shot I found frightening on first view, but which resolves with an ingenious payoff, the fire runs ahead of the poor pup, and sets up a continuous line of flame clear across the room. Pudgy gallops directly into the flame’s path, and disappears from sight in an ominously-long tracking shot, making us feel he is surely a goner. Then, the opposite end of the wall of flame is finally reached, and to our amazement, Pudgy emerges – as a fully-baked loaf of bread propelled by four running paws! (Maybe today’s toymakers could market this to the kids, as a new style of Easy-Bake Oven.) Pudgy crashes into a display, breaking up the bread loaf, and finds himself sprawled among fallen boxes of unpopped popcorn, tied with strings. One of the strings gets caught upon Pudgy’s tail, and the fire sees another opportunity. Reforming the football huddle, the little flames emerge in full football formation and call signals. Then, they blend together, to form into the shape of a walking flame thrower. Pursuing Pudgy, the thrower sets the box of popcorn on fire, sending Pudgy darting in all directions to dodge the popping kernels following him everywhere. Another group of flame men tries to block Pudgy’s route of escape, forming into a row of track and field hurdles. Pudgy nimbly leaps over each one, except for tripping over the last, and finally finds the exit door. He turns and makes a beeline toward home, while the dalmatian, seeing him depart, laughs at the way the new recruit became a washout. Pudgy races back into Betty’s house, breaking the string on the popcorn box along the way. Betty is right there with foot impatiently tapping, and seizes up the pup to administer some vigorous spanking for disobeying her. But Pudgy takes the whipping in stride, and even secretly laughs to the camera. He’s just glad to be home!


Firemen’s Picnic (Lantz/Universal, Meany, Miny, and Moe, 8/16/37 – Walter Lantz, dir.) – The trio of Stooges-like Monkeys who spun-off from the Oswald the Rabbit series have never quite left Oswald’s world, as here, where they, as operators of a local firehouse, host a firemen’s picnic for the community, ringing bells from the station house windows to summon the populace. In a group shot, cameos can be seen for Oswald, Elmer the Great Dane, and even Putrid Pete from the early days of the series. A tall giraffe in rural attire (wearing several neck collars and ties) peers into the boys upper-story window and tells them to hurry up, or they’ll miss all the fun. “Let’s get to work”, orders chief Meany, as the boys begin toting crates of food and supplies for the picnic out of their station storage. Among the supplies are several boxes of fireworks, of which Moe picks up a first crate – while smoking a cigar. “No smoking, mug. No smoking!”, barks Meany. (After all, they are firemen. Shouldn’t they be setting a good example for safety?) But Moe has his own ideas, and while it appears he has gotten rid of the cigar, he has only concealed it inside his cheek, (A dangerous trick in and of itself, since it appears to be lit.) He plods along, bringing up the rear, then inevitably trips. A pinwheel firework marked “Chaser” rests on the floor, and the cigar lights its fuse. The firework spins uncontrollably around the fire pole, then lands in a pail, igniting a blaze within the bucket. Moe slides down the fire pole and attempts to warn his partners, who are too busy loading supplies onto the fire truck to pay him any mind. Seeing no one is listening, Moe scoots back up the pole, and triggers off the fire bells on the upper floor (quite an array, including small and church-sized bells with pull cords, an alarm clock, electric and manual doorbells, a giant cowbell, and a Chinese gong!) Hearing the din below, Meany and Miny are aroused into action. Forgetting the picnic, they careen out of the station on the truck – a modern vehicle which possibly sets the world’s record for length, dragging behind it the hose at full extension, followed by the fully-extended ladder, and Miny at the rear wheel, so that it curves along around buildings for a country mile. When the tail end of the contraption finally emerges with Miny, the monkey gets a glance at the smoke now pouring out the upper floor of the station, and realizes they are heading in the wrong direction. He communicates the news to Meany by long-distance telephone line installed in the vehicle, and the whole device has to snake its way backward in reverse along the road to return to the station. Meany races to hook up the hose to a hydrant – and finds it being guarded by a tough-looking dog. Meany is tougher, and stuffs the dog into the hose, then hooks up the connection and turns on the water. Miny is rather confused to find the dog’s tail end being the first thing coming out the nozzle, and has to yank the canine loose to unplug the flow. Miny rises to the second story with the engine’s ladder, where a pair of open windows are set side by side. One of them includes a window box with planted flowers. Distracted by the pretty posies, Miny decides they are overdue for some watering, and turns the hose water upon the flowers instead of the fire. Meany appears, already inside the station, and chews Miny out for his incompetence. Miny thus turns the hose toward the windows, but somehow shoots a curve shot, which loops in one window and out the other, blasting him in the face. Without explanation as to who is operating the engine controls, the ladder suddenly begins moving, lifting Miny inside the station. The ladder bends like a serpent, transporting Miny slowly around the perimeter of the station, in one window and out the other (with appropriate tune of the same name on the soundtrack). Then, the ladder emerges straight up the chimney, resulting in a dimensional shot from above paying homage to and directly inspired by Mickey Mouse’s similar shot in Mickey’s Fire Brigade, leaving Miny stranded about ten stories above the station.

We return to Moe, who has apparently been spending his time chasing runaway skyrockets around the firehouse. He gets in an axe swing at one, which only accomplishes dividing the object into two runaway rockets. One lands inside his trousers, and Meany has to help Moe out by inserting the hose nozzle into the trousers’ backside, inflating them like a water balloon. The other rocket lands in the remaining crates housing the principal supply for the fireworks show. Everything begins to ignite at once, and Meany makes a run for it, leaving Moe stranded within his water-filled trousers. Meany dives down the fire pole, but keeps being driven back upwards by small rockets intercepting his rear end before he can touch bottom on the ground floor. Miny meanwhile tries to climb down from the ladder, only to see the station roof being perforated with holes from dozens of flying rockets. He climbs back upwards furiously in attempt to escape, and runs out of ladder, over-climbing into thin air. He falls back down hard upon the topmost ladder rung, splitting it. This causes a chain reaction, where each consecutive rung below splits too, and the entire ladder severs in two, with Miny falling between, back into the station chimney. A few moments later, a high-flying skyrocket emerges from the chimney, carrying not only Miny, but Meany as well. The rocket explodes, in the process miraculously producing two parachutes with trapeze bars, upon which Meany and Miny perform an unrehearsed circus act. Back in the fire station, the rockets converge on Moe, perforating his bulging trousers with holes like a Swiss cheese – and releasing the pent-up water. The flood sweeps across the entire upper floor, and streams out the station windows, while Meany and Miny parachute safely to positions on either side of the station house.

Due to a largely-unnecessary censoring in the syndicated prints for TV, a few continuity shots appear to be missing, as we assume we should have seen Meany and Miny re-enter the station, and Meany shut off the water to Moe’s pants, the fire now well quenched. Thanks to an additional video imbedded below of the original opening and closing titles, we have the last shot, in which Meany is about to administer some punishment to Moe for his misbehavior, when the country giraffe again pokes his head in at the window, now thoroughly inebriated, the populace apparently having started and ended the picnic without them. “What a party! What a party! Have a good time, boys?”, inquires the giraffe in slurred speech. Meany responds by turning the mallet he intended to bop Moe with upon the giraffe producing a large lump on the giraffe’s head and knocking him out, for the iris out.


You Came To My Rescue (Fleischer/Paramount, Screen Song, 7/30/37 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Roland Crandall, anim..)m receives brief honorable mention for a lame firefighting gag. In a contest for a gold medal for best life-saving feat, the case of a fireman is presented, with a placard reading, “Fireman rescues young woman who turns out to be his old flame.” It’s not much of a rescue, as the fireman climbs a ladder to an upper story of a burning building, where a damsel who talks like Olive Oyl screams to be saved – then offers her a fan, with the parting word to “Keep cool”, and exits without carrying her down.


Pipe Dreams (MGM/Harman-Ising, 2/5/38 – Hugh Harman, dir.), also receives brief honorable mention. It is a lavish venture into the surreal, dazzling to the eye, even if it makes little sense plotwise. One of a series of episodes involving the “Good Little Monkeys” – those simians of statuary who depict the mottos, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Every night, this trio comes to life on the mantel, extolling their own virtues, and insisting that they “wouldn’t be bad if they could”. However, their curiosity always gets them into trouble nonetheless (as we will again see in a subsequent cartoon to be discussed in a later chapter of this series). Here, while vainly attempting to turn their attentions away, they are attracted by a pipe, matchbook, and can of tobacco (of “Hellz Fire” brand) left upon a shelf. After some initial difficulty getting the pipe barrel properly packed and the matches lit, the trio engage in an experiment in the bad habit of smoking. They are soon turning green, their every exhale leaving a blue haze in the air, drooped over the pipe barrel and the tobacco cannister. Whether what happens next is a hallucination or a part of their own questionable reality is unclear, but they encounter in a nearby ashtray a trio of hoboes, known as “the three cigars”, who insist that they need to get out and see the world, which will “make a man out of ya.” “What’s so good about being good? What’s so bad about being bad?”, they question, posing the monkeys an imponderable task to find a clear answer. The cigars hop aboard a train composed largely of match boxes and cigarette lighters, riding on trestles made of cigarettes and matchsticks – with the monkeys hopping on for the ride. After a brief detour to the rural community of Tobacco Road, the monkeys and the train reach a border community of dancing cigarettes, who perform mariachi music and cantina-style dance production numbers. But the sound of pistol shots disrupts the festivities, as the train is beset upon by a band of Mexican bandits and their horses, built largely of plugs of chewing tobacco and pipe cleaners. Their shots set the matchbooks of the train on fire, as well as the trestles. Both begin to burn up out from under the monkeys, who are forced to race one leap ahead of the fire to the front of the engine – then off the train to hang upon the overhanging nozzle of a tall can serving as a water tower marked “Lighter Fluid – Danger: Highly Explosive”. The train passes, but the fire following the tracks, reaches the base of the fluid can, and the scene bursts into a tremendous explosion, sending the monkeys sailing into the air. They land (or awaken) back on their shelf, where they race back to their statue pedestal, and finish their song about their life motto. On their last exhale, they still leave a small mist of leftover blue secondhand smoke, perplexing them for the iris out.


Popeye’s The House Builder-Upper (Fleischer/Paramount, 3/18/38 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Seymour Kneitel/Abner Matthews, anim.), receives another honorable mention, though we arrive a little behind the real action. Olive sits upon the stoop of what used to be her residence, now reduced to sticks and ashes. She weeps, moaning that all she was trying to do was clean her dress with a gallon of gasoline. The volunteer fire department arrives, consisting of Popeye in the same self-towed fire-wagon used in “The Two-Alarm Fire”, but this time accompanied by additional volunteer Wimpy, who, as usual, sits atop the wagon, doing nothing but eating hamburgers. Popeye reflexively hooks up the hose to a hydrant, grabs a ladder, and gallops into Olive’s yard, shouting “Don’t shoot the water ‘till ya’ sees the fire in their eyes” – then gets a good look at what is left of the place. “I thinks we’re a little late”, Popeye apologizes. As Olive continues to cry, Popeye reassures her, “I’m sorry we couldn’t get to your house-warning – but don’t worry. We’ll build you a house.” (Wow. Too bad all major city fire departments don’t arrive with this kind of guarantee. It’d put fire insurance companies out of business.) The remainder of the film is a series of hammer-and-nails misadventures, as Popeye and Wimpy turn carpenter, and attempt to construct a new residence. A few memorable moments include Popeye’s roofing technique, dealing shingles as if from a deck of cards, with the sailor commenting that he plays solitaire shingle-handed, and hopes he gets a full house. Wimpy does his best work when there is a hamburger attached to the handle of a saw, to give him incentive to lift it for a bite while sawing wood at the same time. Wimpy destroys more than he builds – for example, painting himself into a corner, then making an exit by sawing a hole through the wall. When all seems in readiness, a main section of the roof starts to collapse. Though Popeye tries to hold it up, shouting for someone to “Get me a safety pin”, the collapse brings the whole structure down in a rubble heap. Popeye refuses to take defeat for an answer, and consumes his spinach. Dividing into a half-dozen Popeyes, he attacks the rubble heap like a whirlwind of hands, in a matter of moments reconstructing the entire house in a style better than the one before. “All set for the first mortgage”, boasts Popeye, inviting Olive into the model home. But the mere shutting of the front door brings the whole thing down again – spinach or no spinach. Olive once again wails, while Popeye closes with, “There’s no use in cryin’, cause I’ll keep on tryin’”.


Moth and the Flame (Disney/RKO, Silly Symphony, 4/1/38 – Burt Gillett, dir.) – Our story opens outside the darkened windows of “Ye Olde Costume Shoppe” on a typical evening, where a community of moths (depicted as the equivalent of little people with wings) lingers around the flow of an old gas lantern outside the store. Two moths separate from the group in their own independent flight – a young male, depicted as a bit of a country bumpkin, and his girlfriend, a shapely, alluring female. They chase each other around playfully, landing on the window sill, then peer into the latticed glass window of the shop. Inside, they see all manner of costumes, which to a moth’s eye, transform into a smorgasbord of fine food. The boy discovers that one small pane of the latticed glass has been broken, and is merely stuffed closed with tissue paper. Pushing the paper through the hole, he provides an entrance point for himself and his girl – and for the rest of the moth community, who seize the opportunity to follow them inside. The insects waste no time in having at the choice goodies on the hangars, racks, and clothing dummies within. One group eats away the dots off a polka-dot dress, while a second devours the furry hat off a British grenadier costume, reducing it to an apple core, then devours the moustache off the dummy’s face upon which it is worn. A stuffed bird on a hat is reduced to chicken bones. And even a picture of a costume in a pattern book is chewed off the pages. The young boy and girl settle down upon a hat pin to sample some fine plumage, the girl exchanging a kiss for her share. She tries to lure the boy into another chase for a kiss, hiding behind the cover of another pattern book, but the boy becomes distracted by a view of a bowler hat, which to him looks like a Christmas plum pudding. Dessert is in order, and the boy wanders to the hat and begins munching away, while the girl stomps her foot in frustration that she was passed up over a free meal. Suddenly, an unusual phenomenon is observed by the girl upon the cover of the book behind her. Her shadow appears to be dancing! She turns the other way to look, and observes the bright, bouncing flame of a large candle, depicted in the shape o a muscular, handsome male with suggestion of a villain-type moustache, jiggling and laughing at the sport of manipulating the girl’s shadow.

The animation of the flame is perhaps the most sophisticated ever attempted in the history of animation, superb in detail and suggestion of form without harsh outlines, and resonating a brilliant golden glow whenever seen. The girl is intrigued at having a new male pay her some attention, and primps herself to turn on the charm, approaching the flame slowly with a seductive walk. The flame beckons her with fiery hands that pantomime for her to come hither. The girl flies up to the top of the candlestick, and hovers, posing to show herself off at her best, while the flame attempts to reach for her. She circles around him in come-on fashion, and soon has the flame spinning loops around its wick, melting the candle down rapidly to a short stub, but never quite laying hands upon her. The moth perches upon one of the earpieces of a set of spectacles and frame left on the old work desk. The flame leaves the safety of his candle, and makes a dive for the glasses frame, missing the moth again, but burning up the frames to leave only the glass lenses rattling around on the desk. The moth next perches upon the nose of an old theatrical mask (the type one would see in the credits of a Three-Stooges short, frozen into an outlandish happy-face to depict a comedy). There, she performs an alluring Can-Can dance to keep the attention of the flame and prolong the chase, which she is enjoying immensely. The flame leaps to a curtain on the wall and up it, rising to a position behind where the mask is hung on a nail, and surprises the girl by popping out the mask eyeholes to grab wildly for her. She is startled, and falls off the mask’s nose, landing with some discomfort upon her posterior on the desk below. The mask above begins to disintegrate from the flame’s heat, and cleverly is transformed from a smiling comedy mask to a frowning tragic one, before disappearing in flame entirely. The flame meanwhile leaps down to the surface of the desk to pursue the girl. This fellow is becoming a pest, thinks the girl, and she takes position behind a rolled-up parchment scroll. As the flame approaches, she unties the string holding the scroll wound, and lets it unroll over the flame, flattening him underneath. The paper is revealed to be a policy of fire insurance! The policy appears to have done its work, as all is momentarily quiet, and the girl lands upon the parchment, snapping her fingers as if to say, “So there”, and pauses to powder her nose to regain her composure after her harrowing experience. But she hasn’t seen the half of it, as a ring of brown spreads under her feet and through the parchment. The flame is far from snuffed out, and burns through the paper, once again lunging for her menacingly.

The girl flees to another position – not the choicest perch to be had under the circumstances, as it is a box full of matches. The flame jumps into a bottle of ink near the parchment policy, turning a mightier blue in the process, then reaches out at the girl again. The girl attempts to fend him off with a stick – make that a matchstick, and regrets her mistake as the flame seizes upon the flammable tip, then spreads into the full contents of the matchbox, further growing in power. The girl flies vertically upwards to avoid the rising arms of the villain – and gets caught in a spider’s web in the rafters of the ceiling. Meanwhile, the boy moth is just polishing off the last morsels of the derby – its hat-size label – and finally spots the activity going on on the desk nearby. He zooms at the matchbox at the base of the flame, pushing its cover closed. This only holds for a moment, as the flame pops out the other side of the cover. The villain gets a burning touch in upon the boy’s rear, sending him racing to a sink with a dripping faucet, to douse his rear end in the intermittent drips. As the flame continues to leap in attempt to reach the girl, the boy moth flies up to a high shelf, upon which he finds a glass of water to tip over upon the villain. The matchbox is doused, but not completely, as the flame struggles to reburn his way out through the cover. The boy tries again, tipping over another bottle on the shelf. But he does not read the bottle’s label in advance – reading “Benzene”. With a roar, the flame quadruples in size, its huge looming face rising to the level of the shelf, and staring our hero right in the eye. The flame lunges at the boy, who barely escapes to another shelf on the far end of the store. There, the boy sees below the rest of the moth community, still lunching upon the stock-in-trade. Finding a box of moth balls nearby, the boy uses them to his advantage instead of detriment, by tipping the box over, dropping out its contents upon the surface of a service bell on a desk below, rendering it a fire alarm for the other moths.

The other moths dart inside the brim of a fireman’s hat upon a display, then emerge out the top, each taking with him enough material for a miniature fire hat of their own. They divide up in squads to battle the blaze. One group (who must have seen “The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives”), obtains a set of bagpipes off a dummy for a Scottish wardrobe, and fills the bag with water at the sink. Another fills a metal funnel at the same watering hole, plugging the funnel’s spout with the rear end of one member of the crew. The bagpipe brigade pumps water sideways at the flame to knock his height down, while the funnel squad carries its load over the villain, then pulls out the member serving as plug in the spout, to dampen the spirits of the villain from above. Other groups of brave volunteers begin to join in from all sides. One squirts jets of water from behind the villain with fireplace bellows. Others use a rubber glove from above, milking the glove’s fingers of water hidden inside. A perfume atomizer provides more sideways spray. Then, a final assault is made by carrying a top hat full over the villain. The villain is fed up with these efforts to extinguish him, and rises to meet the top hat, unaware of its contents. From below, he rips away the flat top surface of the inverted hat – and is surprised to be met with an emerging wall of water, which drenches the matchbox, finally leaving nothing in memory of the event but trace wisps of smoke, and a charred container of burnt-out matchsticks. The boy extricates the girl from the spider web, and they land within the pull ring of a windowshade, looking on to see that the villain is no more. The girl offers a kiss in reward, but the windowshade rolls up, taking the girl with it before the boy can embrace her. No worry. She pops out from the windowshade material on the roller above, and the boy flies up to meet her, where she grabs him in a firm armlock and lets loose her kiss, leaving the boy resting exhausted over the curve of the roller, for the iris out.


Porky the Fireman (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 6/4/38 – Frank Tashlin, dir.) – Tashlin recalls his days at Van Buren with this one, revisiting a few themes previously touched upon in “Hook and Ladder Hokum.” The scene open with the old gag again about opening the doors of the station house to let the engine out, then driving it instead through the side wall. In a point of view shot from the driver’s seat, the engine races through city streets – then comes to a dead stop to let a mother cat and several kittens pace across the road. Resuming the race to the fire, a multi-story theatrical boarding house looms ahead on the road, fully engulfed, with a repeat of the “Hokum” gag where flames shooting from the windows form the letters “HELP”. Fire chief Porky Pig brings the engine to a quick stop – tossing himself and the entire body of the engine right off the chassis and wheels, resulting in the fire crew having to carry the body back and remount it atop the chassis. A time clock on the side of the engine keeps track of the crew’s working hours, as they all punch in for duty. This clock, however, serves double-purpose, as, after Porky punches in, its hands spin like wheels, and a drawer opens up from the bottom, paying off like the jackpot of a one-armed bandit, Porky collecting the change in his hat. Many hoses are aimed at the windows, and the flames from the windows now respond with the letters, “Thanks, boys”, then form into a pair of arms clasping hands high in a congratulatory salute. A little dog from the crew is introduced for a long-running gag. Porky orders him to turn on a hydrant, but the nonchalant dog is hard of hearing. At his own leisurely pace, he traces a path along the hose to Porky, following every curve and loop of the hose in matching step, rather than traveling in a straight line. “What’d you say?”, he mumbles when he reaches Porky’s end. Porky angrily repeats the command, and the dog saunters back to the hydrant in the same slow meandering way he arrived. When the water is finally turned on, Porky receives only one drop. Porky runs for a fire bucket, and tries a different hydrant, surrounded by dogs sniffing, whom he has to shoo away (a likely remembering of Meany’s encounter with a dog in the Walter Lantz film above). Tashlin repeats the old gag of Porky filling a pail, racing to a ground-floor window, but having the flame reach out to grab the bucket and dump it on Porky.

Various characters now attempt to exit the building. A fat lady pig calls for assistance from an upper-story ledge, and is heard by the slowpoke dog. At his usual pace, he traces the hose again, then mounts a ladder from the engine. “What’s you say?”, he asks again. “I said get me down. Pot me on the street”, shouts the lady. “Oh”, replies the dog, obliging by lifting her off the ledge, then simply dropping her off the ladder to the street below, similar to Flip the Frog in “Fire-Fire”, but without a net. Porky follows up the ladder, but a traffic signal halfway up diverts him to a side-track extension, while the dog slowly meanders down in the opposite direction. An old man, who looks like a dead-ringer for Tashlin’s farmer in “Hokum”, calls for help from another window. “Don’t worry. I’ll save you”, calls Porky, entering the window. “Don’t worry about me. Go save grandpa”, states the man, then jumps out the window without assistance, his beard billowing to form a parachute for a soft landing. Outside, a fire hose is aimed at a humanized flame in a window, who plays a game of hide-and-seek with the water, leading it in curved path in and out the windows, but finally being doused in a curve from off the roof. Porky pulls a variation on the old misdirected hydrant water gag from the Oswald cartoons, encountering another hydrant which shoots water from the side opposite where the hose is attached. Porky tries to outsmart it by attaching two hoses, then turning on the water, only to get sprayed in the face from a jet of water at the top. Porky decides to investigate as to the cause of the trouble, and lifts the hydrant from the ground. He receives a squirt in the face from a hand holding a squeeze bulb and atomizer, which disappears into the hole in the pavement. A moment later, a manhole cover opens nearby, and we discover the slowpoke dog, still carrying the bulb and atomizer in his hand. A bearded lady next needs assistance, and Porky, atop the extension ladder, commands his crew to “Wind her up fast.” Their cranking sends the ladder in curling loops throughout the building, then out a back door to dump Porky on the street. A troupe of acrobats perform a unison leap from windows on three stories of the building. They land on the street, forming into a human pyramid one-by-one, the last troupe members carrying a banner reading “The Flying Leroys.” A man with a valise falls through the air, yelling, “Help. Someone catch me. Get the net ready.” He falls into and through a cloud of black smoke, and is converted into a black-faced Stepin Fetchit, falling in slow-motion while sitting on his valise as a seat, drawling in equally slow speed, “I shoo hope y’all catch me.” Porky repeats a gag from Donald Duck in “Mickey’s Fire Brigade”, scooping up little flames in a pail, and dumping them into a goldfish bowl – converting the goldfish into blackfish. Next, a tribute to Buster Keaton in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”, as one wall of the building falls upon a column of nine fireman shooting water – and misses every one by framing them precisely within the holes of the wall’s windows. The scene dissolves to a montage of repeated previous shots, then time lapses to the aftermath – with the building leveled, with only lingering wisps of smoke rising from its foundation. Amidst the crumbled brick and wood, the flame peeps out from the floorboards of the ground floor. From nowhere, emerging from the perimeter circle of fallen brick, the entire fire crew appears, pounding the flame with hose water from all sides. Suddenly, the flame emerges into view in the middle, carrying his own high-pressure hose, and knocks off the firemen around him one-by-one with its blast. When they are all blasted away, the fire throws out its chest, beats upon it, and utters a mighty Tarzan yell of victory, for the iris out.

Don’t get burnt up, but there’s lots more to come.

8 Comments

  • “Pipe Dreams” — what a weird cartoon! Makes me wonder if those monkeys had something other than tobacco in their pipe.

    I think Dalmatians are rare in early cartoons for the same reason that leopards were rare: all those spots were just too troublesome and expensive for Ink & Paint. It’s no accident that animated Dalmatians had to wait for the advent of cel xerography to come into their own.

    Mustachioed villains in early Disney cartoons are often rumoured to have been modelled on Walt Disney himself. I’ve read that about “Moth and the Flame”, but the flame strikes me as more of a generic Latin lover type; the music that accompanies his initial appearance bears this out. However, at one point (around 2:45) the flame briefly sports protuberant rounded ears and heavy eyebrows, assuming a likeness of Clark Gable!

    Not surprisingly, there really was a Flying Leroys acrobatic troupe, who toured the Midwest with the Russell Bros. Circus in 1932. I’ve been unable to find out anything else about them, but evidently at some point in their travels they made an impression on someone who worked at Termite Terrace.

  • Porky the Fireman is one of my all-time favorite Tashlin cartoons. I always get a kick out of the slow-walking fireman, and the music is some of Carl Stalling’s best.

    • Com-PLETELY agreed ..the fireman was a dog, but not a Dalmatian for the time saving reason Paul mentions above..the theme for the dog is “Boulevardier from the Bronx”,a song that was used in some thirties Leon Schesinger Productions/Warner cartoons including the title cartoon set in a baseball stadium with a largely chicken cast (also the first cartoon with the Merrie Melodies theme)..and from one of the parent studio’s musicals, I believe, but I don;’t know which one…

      Tashlin’s montage in that was one of his great trademarks..Clampett’s “Goofy Graceries”(3/29/41) also uses that trope at the end… Steve C.

      • “Boulevardier from the Bronx” was introduced in the 1936 WB musical “Colleen”, starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. Joan Blondell and Jack Oakie sing it in the movie.

  • Another honorable mention: After Grampy is elected mayor in “The Candid Candidate” (Paramount/Fleischer, Betty Boop, 27/8/37 — Dave Fleischer, dir.; Myron Waldman and Lillian Friedman, anim.), we see how his inventions lead to civic improvement. In one scene, a man runs out of a burning house toward a fire hydrant; but instead of activating a stream of water, he pulls on a lever that moves his house to one side, leaving the flames burning in place until they fizzle out. This would abrogate the need for any fire department at all. Personally, I’d have preferred to see what Grampy did to placate the constituent who complained: “There’s not enough bathing girls on the beach! Do something about that, or we’ll impeach!”

  • “A Waif’s Welcome” (RKO/Van Beuren, Rainbow Parade, 19/6/36 — Tom Palmer, dir.) doesn’t involve a fire brigade, but a house fire forms a pivotal part of the story. A middle-aged couple take in a homeless orphan on a cold winter’s night, much to the chagrin of their spoiled and mischievous son Junior, who subjects the waif to a series of practical jokes. Finally, as the waif is knocking down wooden soldiers with a toy air cannon, Junior conceives a plot so diabolical that he transforms into a horned red devil at the very thought of it. While the waif goes off to retrieve the cannonball, Junior fills the cannon with matches, so that when the waif fires it, the matches fly through the air and ignite the sheet music on the piano. The flames spread to the piano keyboard and begin to play a stormy virtuoso showpiece reminiscent of Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz”. The waif tries to put them out with a pillow, but it catches fire; then he puts on boxing gloves and attempts to beat the flames out, but they retreat into the interior of the piano and blaze all the higher. Father notices the conflagration and douses it with a bucket of water (which is really bad for the piano, but it’s better than having your house burn down). When he asks who’s responsible, Junior blames the waif: “He did it! He was playing with matches!” This is the last straw: father throws the waif out into the street and tells him to go back where he came from. Refusing to submit to this injustice, the waif climbs up onto the roof of the house and calls down the chimney in a scary voice, pretending to be Junior’s conscience. This frightens Junior into confessing, and the waif is welcomed back for a happy ending, though he seems to have adopted some of Junior’s mischievous qualities. He’ll probably need them to survive in that house.

  • I find it rather intresting that “Pipe Dreams” has a similar premise to “Wholly Smokes”, another Tashlin directed Porky short which also came out the same year. Both smoking cartoons even have small montages at the end.

  • What was Porky taking in those Tashlin cartoons? What big eyes he has!

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