MGM's Tom and Jerry Cartoons
Part Six - 1951-52
Casanova Cat / Jerry and the Goldfish / Jerry's Cousin / Sleepy Time Tom / His Mouse Friday
A retread of such past cartoons as Springtime for Tom and Trap Happy, Casanova Cat may suffer a bit in comparison, but on its own it is a typically violent and funny Tom and Jerry entry. A moment you won't see on television any more is when Tom blows cigar smoke in Jerry's face, making him look like a stereotypical blackface minstrel, and then forces the poor mouse to tap dance on a heated plate.
As for Jerry and the Goldfish, I really don't have much fun watching Tom trying to cook a live goldfish in various ways. The poor little guy is almost boiled alive in his own bowl, fried on a pan, toasted and roasted over a fireplace. Luckily the film balances this out with fast and furious gags, with Tom's body being reshaped in just about as many ways as you can imagine. And it ends with one of the greatest T&J gag sequences of all time, with Tom getting his tail locked in a pressure cooker filled with dynamite. Where Jerry got the dynamite, I don't know. I guess he has a cache of weapons somewhere, just for emergencies.
In Jerry's Cousin, we are introduced to the title character, Muscles, complete with requisite tough guy derby, a voice that sounds uncannily like Tom Waits, and "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" as his incongruous theme tune. Muscles arrives at a time when Tom is at his cruelest - sadistically tossing firecrackers one by one into Jerry's mouse hole just for amusement Nothing in the cartoon can match the moment, captured here, when Tom is fed one of his own firecrackers by Muscles, but overall, Jerry's Cousin has one of those self-sustaining premises Hanna and Barbera could always come up with. They set up the situation, execute five or six great gag sequences, and then exit gracefully. One of the rare cartoons where Jerry has almost nothing to do.
Sleepy-Time Tom is an average entry, based on the usual solid premise of Tom being threatened with expulsion from Mammy's house if he disappoints her with his mouse-hunting prowess. We all know how that usually works out. His Mouse Friday is without a doubt the most controversial Tom and Jerry cartoon these days, as Jerry plays most of the short in blackface, pretending to be a cannibal. Except for historical value, it's really got little else going for it. The lack of inventive gags only serves to point out how much better some Bugs Bunny cartoons, such as Chuck Jones' Wackiki Wabbit of 1943, were at exploiting similar "stranded on an island" material without resorting to cheap racism for laughs. Perhaps the most interesting moment appears at the beginning, when the waves of the ocean literally become a helping hand, pushing Tom's raft toward the island. It's a gag seemingly lifted straight from the Fleischer Brothers 1930s cartoons, and a bit out of place in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
STORY: Tom accidentally gets a freshly washed Tyke dirty. Spike warns that if it happens again... well, you know the rest by now.
Thankfully, the series regains its footing after the empty His Mouse Friday, returning to a classic set-up and milking it for all it is worth. Slicked Up Pup is essentially a remake of 1949's Love That Pup, with a slightly different premise ("Don't wake me and my boy!" becomes "Don't get my boy dirty!") but the result is the same. As hard as Tom tries to avoid getting Tyke dirty, he can't help himself, especially with Jerry doing his best to mess things up.
The gags are all the usual ones, but as always it is the perfect timing of each gag, as well as Tom's various reactions, that keep the film funny throughout.
Despite not doing much of anything, Tyke is a funny character. For two thirds of the short, he simply looks non-plussed as Tom drops him in a mud puddle, turns him into a tie-dyed pup and covers him with tar. Finally, when Tyke has had enough (Tom has dirtied him up so badly he's had to resort to disguising the pup as a chicken, complete with feathers and a clothes pin for a beak), the cute little guy unleashes a vicious bite on the tail that would make his pappy proud. The only thing this short lacks is a superior wrap up gag. Tom deserves so much more than just being put in a washing machine.
Nit-Wit Kitty / Cat Napping
The premise is Nit-Witty Kitty is more interesting than the execution. Tom thinks he is a mouse and Jerry must hit him on the head to return him to cathood. Because Jerry now has to deliver a blow on the head to Tom in order to restore him to cat hood, the story requires for him to fail time and again. And this is just not terribly funny.
Cat Napping, which has Tom lazing on a sunny afternoon on a hammock, ends 1951 on a pleasant note, being the only short of the year without a word of dialogue, not even from a radio. It may not be a laugh riot all the way through, but it is worth sitting through for the shot of Tom, still fast asleep, being launched into the upper stratosphere via a well-stretched hammock.
The Flying Cat / The Duck Doctor
The Flying Cat is another wordless episode in which, through a contrivance that can only be called "contrived", Tom learns how to fly. That is the only distinguishing plot point in this otherwise typical chapter of the series. During the course of this cartoon, Tom gets cut into several pieces, set on fire, flattened and pierced in the butt with nails. Being hit face on by a speeding train is only icing on the cake.
The Duck Doctor is a bit of a misfire because the violence is displayed too realistically. From the moment Tom shoots a little duck out of the sky, it is exceedingly hard to feel any sympathy for him. To top it off, Tom continues to shoot the duck, wounding him several more times throughout the film. It takes most of the comic edge off the usual gags.
(1952)With Tom, Jerry, Nibbles/Tuffy
STORY: Tom must guard a banquet table from marauding mousketeers in Ye Olde France.
The Oscar-winning cartoon of 1951, which makes me wonder how accurate the release dates are that I am listing. Perhaps this cartoon was submitted to the Academy in 1951 yet not released until later?
Anyway, The Two Mousketeers is essentially a gussied-up remake of 1949's The Little Orphan, which also won an Oscar. The Little Orphan was a quasi-remake of 1946's The Milky Waif crossed with 1945's The Mouse Comes to Dinner. Which just goes to show you that when it comes to the adventures of a mouse and a cat and a younger mouse, there aren't that many plots to go around. It ends on a disturbing note of Tom being beheaded by a guillotine, followed by Nibbles' classic "Pauvre, pauvre, pussycat...C'est la guerre!" ("Poor, poor pussycat... that's war!").
Smitten Kitten / Triplet Trouble / Little Runaway / Fit To Be Tied / Push Button Kitty / Cruise Cat / The Dog House
It just may be that by 1952, twelve years after Puss Gets the Boot, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had completely run out of fresh ideas or even fresh variations for their cat and mouse team. With the exception of Smitten Kitten (a cheater using footage from "Tom falls in love" shorts), the rest of the 1952 shorts are all good, but watching and reviewing them feel a lot like watching and reviewing the 1951 shorts, or the 1950 shorts...
Triplet Trouble, in which Tom find three little kittens to be more trouble than Jerry ever was, features Mammy putting Tom in charge of a situation while she steps out for a while. Bless her po' heart, dat woman never learns! While she's gone, the kittens set their eyes and evil ways on both Tom and Jerry. Features a glorious finale with Tom turning a rolling dessert cart into a flying machine using pies and watermelons as his weapons of mass destruction against the evil kittens.
Little Runaway is one of those shorts where some sort of animal, this time a seal, befriends Jerry and gives Tom all sorts of fits. As such, it is funny, but there is nothing new here. Fit to Be Tied is a Tom, Jerry and Spike cartoon (could be my favorite sub-genre of Tom and Jerry films), this one borrowing the plot from the earlier The Bodyguard, in which Spike promises that all Jerry has to do is whistle and Spike will show up and help Jerry out of trouble (aka beat the snot out of Tom). This time around, the signal is ringing a bell, but the results are the same. Push Button Kitty is has Mammy replacing Tom with Mechano, a robot cat that, within three seconds of being turned on, proves more efficient in catching Jerry than Tom has shown over 69 previous cartoons.
Sadly, Push Button Kitty was the last theatrical cartoon to feature Mammy Two-Shoes. Why she had to go, I don't know, and the series would never find a replacement character nearly as good. In a later television incarnation (the Tom and Jerry Tales series), Mammy would be a white woman named "Mrs. Two-Shoes". Again, I have to ask... was this really necessary? If you don't want to revive a great character, don't revive her. Changing her name and race is even more insulting than any supposed racism of the original character. But I digress...
Cruise Cat has Tom as the resident mouser on a cruise ship while The Dog House ends the year with more Tom, Jerry and Spike fun as Tom (with unasked for help from Jerry) destroys Spike's new dog house again and again, with the expected pummeling from the bulldog as his reward.