Animation Trails
September 14, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

Where There’s Smoke (Part 9)

We’ll cover (and hopefully snuff out) the last embers of the 1940’s in this instalment, allowing for some contributions from some of the wilder directors of the period, including Chuck Jones (now fully matured), Tex Avery, and a double-dose of Bob Clampett, including his farewell nod to theatrical animation, in a rare short produced for Republic Pictures. We’ll also see both Paramount and Terrytoons wade through their old memory books, assembling a potpourri of gags you’ve seen before – some from their own archives, others liberally lifted from competing studios. A further fastidious feast for the fire-fighting fancier.

Birdy and the Beast (Warner, Tweety, 4/19/45 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – Tweety, still in his early featherless “Orson” mode, faces off against a rather dopey, bulb-nosed black cat, who is definitely not Sylvester. At one point, after a pursuit involving a bulldog, Tweety wonders where the “putty tat” has gone, and goes looking for him. He fails to notice he is walking right into a “tunnel” which is really the cat’s open mouth amidst the tall grass. Facing a dark drop-off at the entrance to the cat’s throat, Tweety strikes a match to look in. “Nope. No putty tats in here.” An external view of the cat shows Tweety’s silhouette amidst light visible through the cat’s cheek, light beams emitting from the cat’s eyes, ears, and nostrils, and the cat’s eyes spiraling in red. Then, the cat’s whole face turns fiery red as smoke emits from his mouth, and he screams, jumping upwards, to knock himself out with a blow on a fence post above. Tweety crawls out of the unconscious cat’s mouth, as smoke continues to pour out of the cat’s lips. “Help! The putty tat is on fire!”, yells Tweety. He reappears a second later, wearing a fireman’s hat (bearing the number “0” instead of “1″), and carrying a hose and nozzle, the end of which he places in the cat’s mouth. He then exits the shot, to turn on a valve for the hose pressure – hooked to a tank of gasoline. The results are explosive, though only heard from offscreen. Tweety explains to the audience, “Oooh, the poor putty tat got hot as a firecwacker. He blow up, go BOOM.”

Musical Moments from Chopin (Lantz/Universal, Musical Miniature, 2/24/47 – Dick Lundy, dir.), marked a bit of a milestone. It was the first title to be released under the new series banner of “Musical Miniatures” – episodes devoted to scoring cartoons to well-known classical pieces, generally all in pantomime. (This had already been a formula successfully exploited by director Dick Lundy for a solo Andy Panda episode which had received attention in the form of an Oscar nomination the preceding year, “The Poet and Peasant”. Lundy would have lightning strike twice, also earning an Oscar nomination for this film as well.) Secondly, it was a “summit meeting” of the studio’s two top stars, Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker, paired together for the first time since Woody Woodpecker’s debut as a supporting player who stole the show in 1940’s “Knock Knock”. (Technically, the characters had appeared once in the same film between these pictures, but only for respective one-scene cameos in the allegedly “all-toy” cast of “$21 a Day (Once a Month)”. Seeing the two characters cross into each other’s worlds in interaction was a rare treat, and presented the amazing opportunity of letting them work as a team, to fight on the same side – almost a situation that Lundy might have felt a sense of being “at home” with from his days at Disney, permitting the duo to interact much like a pairing of straight-man Mickey Mouse and the more wacky Donald Duck. Lundy would try it once more in his career, in another all-star venture that comparatively went nowhere in the eyes of the critics, entitled “Banquet Busters”(1948), tossing in for good measure Wally Walrus and a nameless mouse (was Lundy thinking of Goofy, and trying to create a new “trio”?) Andy Panda would only cross paths with Woody two more times in their respective careers – as a walk-on attendee at a barn dance in “The Woody Woodpecker Polka: (1951), and in the all-star made for TV Halloween short, “Spook-a-Nanny”, aired on “The Woody Woodpecker Show”.

A barnyard concert, taking place inside the main barn, features Andy as solo pianist. Woody is the janitor of the place, and saunters in with rag and bucket of piano polish in the middle of the performance, to spruce up the concert grand while Andy is still playing it. Woody becomes spellbound by Andy’s music, and begins fiddling with the upper keys of the instrument, converting the arrangement into one for four hands, then plying the last chord by sitting forcefully upon the keyboard, and giving Andy a Bugs Bunny-style kiss on the forehead. The audience reacts with favor and applause, and Andy takes a few bows – only to discover that Woody still wants in on the act, as the bird pulls up a second piano and stool behind him. Woody stretches his fingers as if about to limber up for the next number – then instead plays his part in the arrangement with his feet, and by dancing on his tail feathers.

Up in the rafters above, a horse, who has been “hitting the mash” from an old corn jug, is attempting to light up a cigar, but his lighter refuses to function. The horse spots a kerosene lantern above the stage, and stumbles his way in a tipsy fashion over to it to light the stogie. He leans off a rafter to reach it, but has no support to keep from falling – so he grabs the lamp and takes it down with him, as he falls to one side of the stage. He gets his light, but so does the stage, as a fire develops below its boards. Little fireballs climb up to the stage through a knothole, and huddle together, one pointing to the leg of Andy’s piano as an objective. They race up the piano leg, and divide into two squads to encircle the perimeter of the main sound box. A quartet of them jump upon the open piano lid, and slide down it like a banister, eating the lid away in the process. Two more flames devour the coat-tails of Andy’s tuxedo, leaving only the buttons. Andy begins to perspire profusely, as he looks up to find the flames engulfing the piano while he plays. He remains determined to complete the concert, and continues playing, though in visible distress. Woody has his hands full, too, as the flames also attack his piano. Woody bats at the fireballs on the piano keys with a mop, but the flames pair-off in twos, and take turns tossing Woody back and forth across the keyboard, until Woody’s instrument collapses. Woody is tossed onto Andy’s keyboard, sliding across it for a descending scale, while Andy resolutely pounds out the last notes of the finale, then collapses across the keys as the flames fully engulf the scene. Out of the center of the sound box pops Woody, dressed in a fireman’s hat, and carrying a hose, with which he blasts water in a circle around him, finally extinguishing the fire. He then holds up Andy’s hand high, in the manner of a fight referee declaring a winner, as Andy weakly smiles to the audience, for the iris out.

Snap Happy (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 6/22/45 – Bill Tytla, dir.), features a fire mostly as a backdrop for its opening sequence, where a freelance photographer searches the city for a “scoop” to land his pictures in the newspapers. Lulu, however, is in pursuit of him as much as he pursues news, trying to get the man to take a professional photograph of her. She stands in front of his lens as he is focusing on the fire, then parts the legs of the camera tripod to continue talking to him, allowing the camera to fall, and the tripod legs to beat a staccato on the cameraman’s rear. By the time he gets the camera standing again, the whole building has already burned down. As Bugs Bunny might say, she does this same sort of thing to him all through the picture, finally lousing up an international peace conference, just to get in the shot.

Red Hot Rangers (MGM, George and Junior, 5/31/47 – Tex Avery, dir.) – The closest thing Avery every produced theatrically to a public service announcement (fortunately, that’s not saying that it’s even close.) A background, staged in classic Avery overkill, depicts a woodland forest (Jello-Stone National Park), crawling with signs everywhere, only a few feet apart, reading “No Smoking”. (One sign, for laughs, reads “No Vacancy”, just to make sure we’re paying attention.) Roaring through the main park road comes a classy-looking sedan, with a slick, careless driver behind the wheel. He takes a long drag upon a cigarette, in complete disregard of the warnings around him, then carefully aims his cigarette butt to land in a ditch along the side of the road. The butt quickly ignites some dry leaves, producing an anthropomorphic flame, having the persona of a precocious little imp. The flame proceeds over to two of the signs posted on a tree, and pulls them down, filling them with a center of dry leaves – then eats the whole thing as a sandwich. Spotting a sprouting young sapling, he uproots and takes the whole thing in his mouth, reducing it to its charred limbs, which resemble the skeleton of a bony fish. He then roars up the trunk of a tall tree in a spiral path, reducing it to a twenty-foot tall crumbling matchstick. Like so many conscientious fires before him, he then proceeds to an alarm box, and turns in a call to the fire station about himself.

On a high peak several miles away rests a ranger station, where George and Junior preside. Junior busies himself with a yo-yo until the phone rings, then passes the phone to George. George misunderstands the call. “Forrest? Forrest who? WHAT!!!! FOREST FIRE??????” In a flash, the two are speeding down a mile-high mountain road, then over valley terrain on another winding path in a hook and ladder truck to the scene of the blaze, where the fire is just finishing devouring the call box and the tree to which it was attached. “Here y’are, Junior, hook up this here hose. And step on it!”, commands George. The two idiots have forgotten to take into consideration that the only source of water is a sink nozzle, back at the ranger station. Junior has to run all the way back across the forest and up the mountain peak to fasten the hose to the sink – then all the way back to George. “I hooked it up, George. Should I turn it on now?” George slaps his head in bewilderment at Junior’s stupidity, superior only to his own, and Junior repats the same run again back to the station to turn on the tap. When the water finally reaches George, the hose pressure flies out of control, carrying George aloft into the sky. Junior attempts to bring the situation under control, by winding the hose back onto the engine. He regrettably winds George up in the process, only his nose sticking out between the winds of canvas. As Junior pulls George out, the latter’s nose considerably stretched, George orders Junior to “Bend over”, delivering a traditional swift kick as punishment. The little flame skips by to taunt them. George grabs another hose, asking Junior to screw on a nozzle. Junior acts while still looking offscreen at the flame, and screws the nozzle onto George’s nose instead. Another swift kick. The flame disappears down a hole, and George calls for another hose to corner it. Junior grabs the original one, now tightly wound on its spool, and is unable to yank it loose, instead pulling only the nozzle off its end. “Just how d’ya expect to get water out of that nozzle with no hose on it?”, George asks. “It’s easy, George. Just turn it on.” One twist of the nozzle valve, and George gets blasted in the face. He falls backwards, and sits with a plop in the hole, getting his rear on fire. “Bucket of water!” he screams. Junior pulls the old mistake of grabbing a bucket of gasoline off the engine (kept in the open, with no tank?). BOOM! The pail explodes, producing the image of a sunflower’s petals on George’s rear. Junior knows the drill, and surrenders his own rear. “Here y’are, George”, for another kick.

Now, the taunting flame dances by, doing a soft-shoe routine with straw hat. (Why doesn’t the hat burn up?) George slaps a large metal pail down over him, then asks Junior to reach in and grab him. (Is this a new punishment George has devised? A hot-hand?) George does as he is told – except the flame has set out a lit firecracker under the center of the pail. “I got him, George. Look”, says Junior, proudly displaying his catch under George’s nose. BLAMM! Junior plucks George’s nose off his face, and snuffs it out in an ash tray as if it was a cigarette butt, replacing the remains on George’s face. “I’m bent over, George.” Punishment again. The flame again passes by, as if riding an invisible bicycle. The boys pursue him up a tree, where he lounges on the far end of a branch. “He’s out on a limb now, Junior. All ya gotta do is saw it off.” Junior saws, of course choosing to cut at a spot that puts both of them in for the same fall. The flame simply dodges out of frame, while the boys fall about twenty feet. George lands first, then screams as the shadow of Junior looms overhead. POW! Junior lands hard into the earth, flattening George completely out of camera view. He rises, leaving in the earth the imprint of two large butt cheeks! (One of the more adult gags Avery ever got past the censors.) George is finally located, flat as a pancake upon Junior’s rear end. The flame again trips by, this time jumping rope. Junior creeps behind and aims the hose at him. The water jet engages in a unique pursuit, following the flame in a winding path over hill and dale, over fences, around trees and rocks, on a veritable obstacle course that almost ties it in a knot. However, the flame finds an old sponge, and merely holds it above his head, to suck up all the water securely, then tosses the sponge away. The boys resume the chase, tracking the flame into – what else – a dynamite shed. WHAMMO!!. The shed disappears, leaving only a charred crater, and our boys, fallen and frazzled on the perimeter. But in the center is the flame, fallen and turning blue – then poofing out of existence, to become transparent, as a rising angel playing a harp. (A return to the 1926 gag of Mutt and Jeff’s “Playing With Fire” – someone had a lo-o-ong memory!)

Now comes Avery’s only PSA. George and Junior, amidst the trunks of a burnt-out forest, return to the scene where the original cigarette, still burning, was carelessly thrown. As strains of “America the Beautiful” play in the background, George reminds us, “Here is the little thing that caused the whole trouble. If people would only stop and think. One little cigarette can burn down a whole forest. Anyone who would take one of these, puff on it, and then throw it away careless-like, oughta have the lickin’ of his life!” Only Junior notices that George is illustrating the point, by himself puffing on the butt and throwing it away. Junior stomps on the butt to make sure it is out once and for all, then rolls up his sleeves at George’s suggestion of appropriate punishment. “Okay, George. Bend over.” He takes George over his knee, and begins what will likely be a long process of soundly spanking George’s rear, for the iris out.

It’s a Grand Old Nag (Bob Clampett Productions/Republic, Charlie Horse, 12/20/47 – Bob Clampett, dir.) – Clampett’s last fully-animated theatrical, produced for Republic Pictures in Trucolor. Though it was supposed to initiate a series, Republic unfairly pilled the rug out from under the project after only one episode. We may bemoan this turn of fate – but then again, were it not for its occurrence, there may never have been a Beany and Cecil. Charlie Horse (voiced by Stan Freberg), is a farm-bound plow horse, until he’s “discovered” by Mister Retake, director of Miracle Pictures (“If it’s a good picture, it’s a Miracle”). Retake makes an offer Charlie can’t refuse: “You’ll make lots of hay, and that ain’t money” – and a chance to play opposite his screen idol, Hay-dy La Mare. What Charlie doesn’t know is that he’s just been fast-talked into becoming the latest in a series of stunt doubles for the real star, conceited Ciro Van Snoot. (This was perhaps the first cartoon to utilize the concept of the double taking the lumps – to be followed later by many other studios, including Walter Lantz’s direct successor film, “A Horse’s Tale”, Bugs Bunny’s “A Star is Bored”, and The Flintstones’ “Monster From the Tar Pits”.) Charlie takes the brunt of death-defying chasm jumps, and a marauding Indian attack (receiving an assortment of arrows in the rear-end resembling a peacock’s plumage). Then comes “Ciro’s Serenade Scene”, where the star plays guitar and sings to Hay-dy, who looks down from a balcony in the upper-story of a barn, rose clenched in her teeth and waving a fan. Ciro, in macho fashion, takes a drag on a cigarette, then tosses the butt away as he begins to sing. It lands on a stack of fresh hay, which ignites, setting the barn on fire. Hay-dy is trapped above, and Mister Retake shouts through his megaphone for someone to save her – “She’s got yet another year to go on her contract.” Ciro turns literally yellow, and slinks out of the scene. Charlie, however, transforms his straw hat into the shape of a fireman’s helmet, and shouts, “Stand back! I’ll save her!” – then asides to the audience, “And I will, too.” Whether a budget cutting measure, a writer’s block, or purely meant as a surprise, Charlie revs up to charge at the flames, just as a studio worker passes before the camera, transporting a movie poster for an upcoming production. By the time the poster is past the camera, Charlie already has Hay-dy safely in his arms on the ground, and completes his thought to the audience – “And I did, too!” Wedding bells are in order, and the film closes with an idyllic evening at home for Charlie and Hay-dy, climaxed by the arrival by stork of their first offspring. Make that storks, as the skies are filled with them, dropping foals with parachutes by the dozens. Charlie, still influenced by his Hollywood experience, vainly tries to bring a close to this unforeseen development by pointing a megaphone to the skies and hollering “Cut! Cut!” to the storks, all to no avail, for the fade out.

Mississippi Hare (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 2/26/48 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.), features a short sequence of fire-fighting, of sorts, on a miniature scale. Bugs, posing as a riverboat gambler, has raised the ire of the notorious sore-loser, Colonel Shuffle. They engage in a chase down various decks of the riverboat. Whenever they reach a doorway, being gentlemen of the South, each pauses to hold the door open to let the other pass through. This continues, until Bugs reaches the door of the boiler to the engine, and holds it invitingly open. Colonel Shuffle habitually passes through and enters, but Bugs does not follow. Outside, smoke from the smokestacks forms into the word, “Yipe!”, as Shuffle emerges below, clambering up to the main deck, the seat of his pants on fire. He reaches a water cooler on deck, with a cup dispenser alongside, selling cups for one cent. All he has on him is a ten dollar bill. Nearby, Bugs lingers against a wall, and asks “Ehh, what’s cooking, doc?” “I seem to be in a terrible quandary, sir”, responds Shuffle. “Could you change a ten-spot, sir? I’d prefer a profusion of pennies.” Bugs begins calmly and deliberately inspecting the bill, holding it up to the light to look through the paper. “Are you sure it’s a good one? Lots of counterfeits around, y’know.” Meanwhile, the Colonel keeps helplessly hopping in pain from the blaze continuing on his trousers. “Aw, well, ya gotta trust somebody”, Bugs finally relents, and reaches into one of his invisible “pockets” for some change. “Let’s see now – a dollar ten – a dollar twenty – a dollar twenty one…”, as he finally reaches one of the desired copper cents. “Thank you, sir! Keep the change!”, Shuffle responds hastily, grabbing the penny to insert in the coin slot. He quickly fills the paper cup, and sits in it for soothing relief – then rises with pistols blazing, shooting a silhouette of Bugs in bullet holes in the wall behind the rabbit, to resume the chase.

The Big Flame Up (Paramount/Famous, Screen Song, 9/30/49 – I. Sparber, dir.) – Lots of old ideas mixed with some new, at a fiery tempo, amounting to one of the better entries in the color series. We open as usual with the firemen (all species of animals) snoring away another evening, their inhales and exhales rolling and unrolling their blankets over themselves and their bunks. A turtle stays awake to listen for alarms, whiling away the hours by playing checkers with himself on a board grid etched on his lower shell (a lifted piece of animation, originating from The Old Shell Game). In the town, a blaze has erupted in the tall tower of the “Fire-Proof Storage Co.” A fireball (who, although he talks unlike his live-action counterpart, facially resembles Harpo Marx, consisting of a red face with yellow head flames resembling Harpo’s fright-wig), spots an alarm box on a pole nearby, and., as any mischief-making flame will do, again turns in his own alarm. At the station, a long-nosed bird receives an electric jolt from the phone wire, and pecks on the alarm bell (long before such doorbells appeared in “The Flintstones”). The turtle pulls a lever, which spring launches the firemen out of their beds, into a tumble which neatly places them into their pants and boots. Herman the mouse cameos, emerging with a small axe from a mousehole with sign above reading “The Chief”. The firemen slide down a pole (actually the long neck of a giraffe). The last crewman, an elephant, gets stuck in the hole, but Herman hops on top of his head, and stomps him through the opening. We next get a couple of aged gags newly drawn – a snaking, mile-long hook and ladder truck emerging from the station (looking like a poorly-drawn copy of “Hook and Ladder No. 1″ from Terrytoons, without the competing studio’s rubbery elasticity), and the old 1930’s cat-for-a-siren gag aboard the engine. Dipping back into the silents, we get a kangaroo with extension-ladder in its pouch, lifting two Joeys with seltzer bottles to spray carbonated water into the windows. We get another old chestnut, with a fireball consuming a ladder right behind a pig who is scaling it. The ladder does not fall to the ground, however, but defies the law of gravity, remaining in air while consumed – and a slight twist is added, as the fireball opens its mouth wide to seemingly consume the fireman, but instead passes over him, reducing him to a smoked ham. A variant on a gag from Scrappy’s “The False Alarm” is next used – firemen throw all types of furniture out of upper story windows. However, there are no waiting firemen below to catch them – only the fireballs, who catch and carry each item right back into the conflagration. As other firemen spray water into the windows, a fireball inside lounges in an easy chair, and dodges the deluge by popping open an umbrella above him (a reworking of a gag from Gabby’s “Fire Cheese”).

The Famous animators dig further back to retread a Fleischer gag from “The Two-Alarm Fire”, having one fireman shoot at a row of flames shaped like shooting-gallery ducks, knocking off each one with appropriate bell-clang effects. Herman reappears, soaring above the fire in a pelican’s beak filled with water, on which he rides atop a small life-preserver, whole manning a fire hose pumping from within the puddle. One of the fireballs taunts him, but takes a direct hit from the water jet, and is knocked to the floor, unmoving and flattened. Two other fireballs, wearing the hats of ambulance attendants, enter with a stretcher, carry the fallen flame outside, and hook him up to a pump nozzle – attached to a service-station tank of gasoline. The unconscious fireball revives, buffed and bearing a strong new set of fiery muscles, and beats on his chest to let out with a Tarzan yell. Herman gives one of his own first aid – a fallen elephant, whose foot he pumps, causing the elephant to “let out the bad air” in a flow of smoke from his trunk. Some more old gags, as a dachshund chops at a fireball with his axe, dividing it into four little ones, who pursue and attack, transforming the dog into hot dogs. A hippo is pursued on the roof by a fireball riding a small bicycle. “Jump! Jump!” calls a net crew far below. The hippo jumps, overshooting his target, and leaving a silhouette hole where he lands. A fireball converts to bouncing ball for the song “There’ll Be a Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight” (with new lyrics, rewritten to remove all the racial stereotype dialogue which plagued the original Fleischer film of the same song title – lyrics which caused an audience seeing the film at a screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to clam up in their vocalizing halfway through the first chorus). When we return to the animation, our talking fireball rounds up the rest of his gang on the roof, and says, “C’mon. Let’s get ‘em.” The flames leap off the roof, several of them piling one on top of the other, to grow into a huge fireball, who grabs a flame thrower as added artillery, and takes off after the firemen, with other smaller fireballs following behind. The firemen take the hint for a quick exit, and scamper back onto the engines in retreat. (Look for one little dog who stumbles in the chase – he is interestingly a precursor in design of a character yet to be – Hebert the foxhound, later to appear in “By Leaps and Hounds” (1951).) The crew and engines zoom into the fire house, with the fireballs right behind. The ending is a straight lift from “The Parrotville Fire Department”, with the firemen running out and shutting the rear doors, then circling round the station to close the front doors on the flames. “We trapped them. We trapped them”, the crew shouts musically like a bunch of kids in kindergarten. Of course, it is the flames that have the upper hand, and the station is reduced to matchsticks. (In a shot which is either blacked out by UM&M or just badly processed so that it is virtually unreadable against the night sky background, the upper rafter beams are presumably twisted into the shape of letters, we assume reading, “The End.” Old corn, decently popped.

Better Late Than Never (Terrytoons/Fox (Victor the Volunteer), 3/1/50 – Eddie Donnelly, dir.) – What a pile-up of old Terrytoons material. This so-called launching vehicle for a one-shot character couldn’t have been realistically expected to launch any series – what in the world could they do with the persona-less character for an encore? We open in the bedroom of an apartment, where a certificate of the wall displays Victor’s credentials as a volunteer fireman. (Did Paul Terry have a similar display on his own bedroom wall?) Victor is asleep in bed, with only his nose on the alert for trouble. It begins to sniff vigorously at a suspect aroma. Victor is aroused, and spots through a telescope a fire in a tall building downtown. Atop its roof is a sweet young thing, who might as well be Pearl Pureheart (dress and all), except that she has no mouse ears or nose, and is definitely her human counterpart – right down to the voice, in which she sings various strains of “Save me”, “Help me”, etc. in variants that range from operetta to bebop. She is pursued atop the roof by a large flame-man, whose efforts to capture her look more like dance choreography, timed to match her high-kicking steps. The plot, if you will, is nothing more than an expansion of the prolonged sequence from “Hook and Ladder No. 1″, where the fireman dilly-dallies with every possible detail of a morning routine before being willing to respond to the fire alarm, (although in this instance, the payoff doesn’t have Victor go back to bed again). Between his grooming efforts, Victor runs outside in his flannel underwear to summon the rest of the fire brigade by sounding a large circular-shaped tubular bell (which, by the time he’s through bonging it, has been bent into the shape of the outline of the liberty bell). He then returns to his morning routine. A strange reuse is made of already-retraced animation originating from The Old Fire Horse (aka Smoky Joe), discussed in an earlier installment of this series. Shots are combined from two different sequences of the same film – a first sequence having the vengeful Smoky taking the crew on a false alarm joyride on the old horse-drawn wagon, and a second sequence involving the new mechanized engine in a race to the fire with Smoky, now on foot carrying a ladder and pails. What is odd is that, by combining animation from both sequences, we are actually seeing the same fire crew in two places at once – riding on both engines! Another hook and ladder truck snakes out of the station in animation lifted from “Fireman, Save My Child”, while shots of the engine pivoting in making a turn are lifted from “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”. That oft-repeated shot of every car in town following the engine (still flipped) is repeated in color, swiped from “Hook and Ladder No. 1″.

Another old shot of the engine hitting the curb and launching four ladders up against the wall is repeated from “Fireman, Save My Child.” We also get a remake of a remake – the shot of four firemen shooting water hoses from the roof across the street from “Fireman, Save My Child”, but in the “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” variant with others from the burning building using the water as bridges to get across the street. At last, a little new animation. Victor is still at the morning calisthenics, but finally decides the time has come to put on his slicker and hat. He races outside to his car, stumbling several times in the process, and tears off down the street – only to stop, then shift into reverse to drive back to the house, and up the stairs to his bedroom again. There, he searches through a chest of drawers, shelf by shelf, until he comes up with his one missing piece of clothing – a shiny star-shaped badge. He then runs down to the car again, but finds more excuses for delay. First, he is low on gas, so stops at a service station for a self fill-up (the car developing a face, and sucking up the fuel from the gas pump like a baby nursing on a bottle). Next, Victor stops off to get his boots respectably polished at a shoe-shiner’s chair. Finally, Victor makes a purchase at a florists’ shop, obtaining a bright bouquet of blue posies to present to the lovely lady (if she’s still alive to present them to by the time her gets there!). Back at the fire, one fireman gets tangled up in the hose while another turns on the hydrant, resulting in water jetting out the heel of the first fireman’s shoe. Another on the inside of the building gets the old gag of having the flame-man steal buckets of water away to throw at him, then is pursued by the flame down a hall. An original gag has him round a corner to attempt to enter a room, but finding the door immovable, as the flames stand inside the room with a shoulder braced against the door, preventing it from opening. Two additional firemen appear outside the room, and repeat the Mickey, Donald, and Goofy gag of using the first fireman as a human battering ram to break the door down. However, the crafty flames on the inside step away from the door just before the ramming impact, causing the firemen to zoom through the doorway without resistance, then out the window, and hard onto an extension ladder outside. Their impact begins breaking off all the rungs of the ladder, and splitting the ladder in two as they descend rapidly. Below, two firemen position a safety net. But the three falling firemen miss the net entirely and fall hard upon the pavement, while the net crew mistakenly catches all of the falling ladder rungs. What is happening to the heroine? After a lot more dancing, she finds herself in a “Tillie Tiger” position – at the top of a flagpole, with the flames burning away the pole from underneath her. The pole crumbles, and the heroine begins to fall, raising a gasp from the crowd below. The girl continues to sing opera all the way down – even throwing in some needless coloratura trills for a finale to her vocal. Below, Victor is finally within range, steps on the gas, and reaches the sidewalk at the exact split second that the girl falls squarely into his arms. He sets her on her feet, and presents her with the posies. “My hero”, she responds, and plants a big kiss upon Victor. Victor’s face turns a fiery blushing red – and the heat of his hot blood ignites his fire hat, turning it into a twin of Donald Duck’s charred outline hat in “Fire Chief”, for the fade out.

50’s fireworks begin next week.


  • I predict a brisk sale in Victor the Volunteer merchandise.

    The line for his red flannel FunkoPop forms here!

  • A wonderful selection this week. Your description of “Red Hot Rangers” had me laughing as hard as the cartoon itself did!

    That screening of the “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” with the old minstrel show lyrics at the LA Museum of Art sounds awkward and embarrassing, and I wish I could have been there to see it.

    Miracle Pictures and its motto (“If it’s a good picture, it’s a miracle!”) featured in “Hollywood Boulevard” (1976), a low-budget spoof of low-budget films. I seem to remember seeing that slogan in another cartoon, but I can’t think of which one it might have been. It’s too bad that Charlie Horse didn’t have a whole series, but somehow I think the Republic Pictures management would have had little patience with Clampett’s penchant for sneaking in controversial material.

    The most interesting thing about “Better Late Than Never” is that, at some point while dancing atop the burning building, the soprano evidently exchanged her red panties for lavender ones. I agree that Victor the Volunteer was a weak character with no potential for future cartoons, unless perhaps they made him another kind of volunteer, in a hospital, a playground, a soup kitchen, etc. But even then we’d still probably have to watch him go through three minutes’ of morning ablutions every time. Even Good Deed Daly offered more possibilities — or at least he would have, if they had thought to give him a magical Boy Scout knife with attachments that could get him out of any predicament, however far-fetched. Assign Jim Tyer to those scenes, and then you’d really have something.

  • “Swooning the Swooners” (Fox/Terrytoons, Farmer Al Falfa, 14/9/45 — Connie Rasinski, dir.) opens with a concert by the crooning crooner Frankie, a lanky alley cat, for an audience of hysterical bobbysoxer kittens. “You’re all that I need! You’re all I desire!” he croons in his opening number. “You’re the spark and you’re the flame that sets my poor heart on fire!” At this point, a kitten’s heart begins to throb so violently in her chest that it bursts into flames. A pair of red-sleeved arms emerge from offscreen to douse the flames with a hand-held fire extinguisher.

  • George and Junior are one of my favorite cartoon comedy teams.
    They never fail to make me laugh no matter how many times I watch them.

  • “The Chipper Chipmunk” (Fox/Terrytoons, Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, 9/2/48 — Mannie Davis, dir.) is a dialogue-free cartoon, in which Jim Tyer unexpectedly discloses a talent for animated caricature: Gandy is a generic straight man here, but Sourpuss has exchanged his Jimmy Durante voice for the mannerisms and oiled fringe of Oliver Hardy. Their picnic in the park is continually interrupted by the japes of a hungry and mischievous chipmunk.

    As the two friends roast marshmallows over a small conical barbecue, the chipmunk inserts Sourpuss’s tail into the flames, and it burns like a fuse all the way down to its base. Once aware of what’s happened, Sourpuss scrambles about while Gandy helpfully fetches a bucket of water for him to sit in. But just as the cat is about to squat down over it, the chipmunk swaps the bucket for the burning barbecue. Yeow! No matter which screen comedian he’s impersonating, poor Sourpuss just can’t get a break.

    • Usually Durante he is! Who else was he imitating?

      Oh, I responded to that stuff you wrote on my Curbside and Nolan articles, Paul.

  • “Water for Fire Fighting” (Halas & Batchelor Productions, 1949) is a 60-minute animated instructional film commissioned by the Home Office for use in training fire brigades in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, it’s never been made available to the general public on home video.

  • Boy, did Tytla go down.

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