Back to School (Part 1)
Like it or not, the nation faces a return, after a long hiatus, to a tradition as old as the hills – face to face, classroom education. Whether it be the alma mater of a prestigious university, the advanced training of a trade or graduate school, or the little country school house or middle school, everyone of all classes is heading back to classes. And so too follow our toons, in nostalgic recollection of how they learned to be funny, that demonstrate that things haven’t changed much on the road to higher learning in nearly 100 years – if you overlook the abolishment of corporal punishment, and the advent of hand-held computers and cell phones.
The silent era again remain an inaccessible mystery for surviving cartoons on the subject, though I would not doubt that there are survivors somewhere not divulged by researching their titles alone among Terry “Aesop’s Fables”, and possibly other series as well. I am actually quite surprised at not encountering at least giveaway episode titles among such juvenile-centered series as Bobby Bumps, Dinky Doodles, or the more obscure Katzenjammer Kids. The few titles I have located (unfortunately, without viewable films to go with them) that give indication of falling within this article’s subject matter are Good Old College Days (Terry, Aesop’s Fables, 1924), School Days (Terry, Aesop’s Fables, 1926), and School Daze (Krazy Kat (Winkler?) 9/10/27). Anyone with information on these or other silent titles is invited to contribute. However, one can never be so sure that even these titles truly pertain to the subject, if later installments in the Aesop series are any indication.
An example is Bughouse College Days (9/4/29 – Paul Terry, dir.), which seems to have nearly nothing to do with education except in its title. Without any specific explanation, we can only presume that an athletic competition going on in the film is premised as being something intercollegiate, and that a bug couple wearing crowns are not real royalty, but a homecoming king and queen. Aside from these presumptions, nothing in the film would otherwise justify its title, which might just as easily have fit under the later release title, The King of Bugs. The film itself is also less than memorable, with Terry still mired in the old ways of his silent productions, making no attempt to synchronize animation to any pre-planned cues, and filming all sequences at a ridiculously low frame rate that makes them look impossibly fast when projected at sound speed (it is so bad in this installment, one wonders if this was a new cartoon at all, or merely a reissue with sound of one actually produced years before, as several later releases (such as Happy Polo) in fact were. Plot (such as it is) likewise feels tired, with a spider losing an athletic event but stealing the homecoming queen anyway, and dueling the fly hero until he takes multiple stabs in the abdomen, leaking blood, and falls from a tree to his doom. Terry would do the exact same schtick in several cartoons at his own studio to follow, and the staff he left behind at Van Buren would also do it again (John Foster’s aforementioned The King of Bugs being an example – with the spiders always taking bloody stab wounds, with no concern for violence standards that would ultimately censor these cartoons from television run).
Good Old Schooldays (3/7/30 – John Foster/Mannie Davis, dir.), is more like it – a definite sound film, sticking to its subject. It begins with a quartet of animal students skipping along to school, performing the spelling novelty, “M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i”, introduced by Frances White in the 1917 Broadway revue, “Kitchy Koo”. Other students prefer wheeled transportation, including a group piled into a soap-box wagon marked “School bus”, pulled by a pig who wears a bulls-eye target on its rear end, giving the passengers a place to aim their slingshot fire. Another pair of mice have their own private conveyance, sharing a single human-sized roller skate. At the schoolhouse door, teacher rings the bell – and oddly gets bowled over by her seemingly too enthusiastic students arriving. One kid, however, an elephant, has a more typical attitude to school – walking as slowly as he can (to the tune of “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up In the Morning”), and kicking his pile of books along like an old tin can. He reaches the door of the school, but pauses, remembering something he needs. Pulling out a sheet of paper, he writes his own excuse note, requesting that his absence yesterday be excused – as he caught a skunk. Satisfied, he finally cheers up and skips toward the door, only to trip on the front step and knock himself unconscious. The final arrival is by Mary and her little lamb (a considerable waste of filler footage), the latter of whom kicks Mary into the open door rather than going in himself.
Class begins with the students oddly singing “America (My Country Tis’ of Thee)”, a song I never recall any school using in place of the national anthem. A small bug at the window takes the last high note as a shrill whistle, and won’t stop – leading the kids to all throw their books and stray fruit from their lunches at him. An “apple polisher” presents an apple for teacher, but lingers hidden behind a corner of teacher’s desk rather than returning to his seat. When teacher isn’t looking, he reaches for the apple and takes a bite out of it himself, returning the rest of it back upon the desk – then thinks better of it, and takes the small piece of apple he has bitten off out of his mouth, swapping the piece for the larger remainder of the apple as his own keepsake. Van Buren’s resident pair of Mickey/Minnie Mouse look-alikes (the same ones that lost them a lawsuit later) perform a recitation of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” with ragtime musical accompanyment on piano by the girl mouse. Of course, the recitation degrades after the first few lines into an exhibition of poor scat singing, ending with a “poo-poo-pa-doo”. All “Minnie” gets for her thanks for sitting in is a snap of her tail by the boy, and a prank of tearing a handkerchief in sync with her taking a bow, making her think she has ripped her panties. A gag setup we will see recurrently in pre-code cartoons in this series next follows, with a kid seeming to be struggling with muscle constrictions, and signaling the teacher that he needs to “go”. General convention for such gags is that the student is never “going” to the place we assume, but has something else besides bathroom or outhouse necessities in mind. Here, the student runs outside as if heading for an outhouse, bit instead races home to a kitchen cupboard, where he retrieves from a top shelf a pot of jam, taking several messy handfuls that leave his face with telltale smears, while the orchestra accompanies with “That’s My Weakness Now”. Finally (in incredibly poor synchronization), teacher asks another student if he has written his composition. “No, but I can whistle the theme song”, replies the student in equally bad sync. Pulling out a piccolo, the student breaks into a rendition of “Ragging the Scales”, which is taken up by the other students, until the whole school building is strtching and dancing in rhythm, finally crashing down and collapsing, as all the students make a hasty exit home, presuming school is dismissed. (In the animated “500 years ago, Aesop said” gag (which by this time never had a thing to do wuth the remainder of the cartoon), a boy watching a girl states, “A powdered nose is no guarantee of a clean neck”, then gets whacked on the head by the girl’s purse for his keen observation.)
Teacher’s Pest (Fleischer/Paramount, Talkartoons (Bimbo), 2/7/31 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Grim Natwixk/Seymour Kneitel, anim.) – Bimbo rests in bed, avoiding as long as he can the calls of his mother, “Laxy Bimbo, will you get up?” The alarm clock reads 9:00 a.m., but Bimbo, without opening an eye, pushes the clock’s hands back to 8:00, to the clock’s anger. Finally arising at hearing the school bell in the distance, Bimbo grabs his schoolbooks and is off – with a few interruptions. Reaching the bottom of a staircase on the way out, Bimbo lifts the board from the last step, to reveal two frogs he keeps as pets below the floorboards. Producing a bottle full of flies our of his pocket, Bimbo offers “breakfast” to the frogs, who he first refers to as “Max” and “Dave” – a nice in-joke referening the first names of the presiding Fleischer brothers. Bimbo then exits out the front door, but stops in his tracks, realizing he’s forgotten something. He races back up the stairs and all the way to his bedroom, just to retrieve a piece of chewing gum he has left on the bedpost overnight. Descending the stairs again, he stops to offer another meal as “dessert” to the frogs, who he now inconsistently refers to as “Amos” and “Andy” (the famous radio show of later racial controversy).
At the school, the class is already running through the chorus of “Good Morning To You”, but doesn’t have their heart in it, as they end the song with a unison raspberry that bowls over the teacheer. Bimbo meanders in, passing the teacher a piece of paper. “Here’s a note”, he says. The suspucious teacher eyes the note carefully, which reads, “Please excuse Bimbo for being late”, with a dead giveaway of a fraud from the signature on the note, reading, “My father”. The teacher (played by Billy Murray) angrily crushes the note in his hands, and is about to enforce a little punishment, when Bimbo defensively dons a pair of glasses, assuming the professor can’t hit a man wearing them. The teacher gets the idea, and feigns forgiveness, with a pat on Bimbo’s head and the words “Nice baby”, but turns Bimbo around, then kicks him in the rear end over to his desk. Teacher then commences leading the class in a nonsense song that apears to be entitled “The Bulldog on the Bank”, of which I have never heard – but which must have been making the rounds at least in melody, as will be seen in further discussion below. Bimbo largely avoids the singing, sneaking into the lavatory for a drink of water mid-song, and only adding sarcastic “La La La”s between swallows. On his way out, he encounters a female kitten also out in the hall, with the recognizable facial features of Betty Boop. He follows her, then tries to impress her with various pranks and stunts. “Want some gum?”, he offers, but only produces the gooey chewed stuff from his mouth. “Can you do this?” he boasts, wiggling his nose like a snake. Betty can’t even move her own small-as-a-button dot of a sniffer. Bimbo flexes a muscle in his forearm, but a passing fly landing on it quickly flattens it. Bimbo then performs a handstand, which Betty finally indicates she can do, but Bimbo’s invitation is merely a prank to get Betty to expose her undies when her skirt becomes inverted. A teacher pops her head out of another classroom, and is aghast at the behavior of the two kids, who run off, still walking on their hands. However, the teacher, not so prim after all, waits until no one is looking, and tries a handstand herself, also exposing her bloomers.
Back in the class, the professor asks in musical rhyme a series of quiz questions. “Who’s the greatest man in history? Answer quickly if you can.” Four students come up with entirely different answers: “Julius Caesar.” “Charlie Chaplin.” “Rudy Vallee.” “My old man!” Another question about where to find bugs, beetles, and other pests receives a punch-line answer from the fourth student of “In your hat.” At his desk, Bimbo suddenly begins crossing his legs in a clenching fashion, and the situation is revisited again of whispering a request for excusal to the teacher. “Allright, but make it snappy”, says the teacher. Bimbo proceeds to a closet door – but it is not a water closet. Instead, for no apparent reason, Bimbo’s sudden irresistible urge was only to perform a musical number, Gus Edwards’ “School Days”, with Bimbo emerging with a large banjo. He miraculous transforms the instrument into a saxophone, slide trombone, bass fiddle, and a trumpet with a seemingly limitless set of nested horns inside. The class, and even the professor, join in, with a montage of shots of chaos in the classroom, featuring two unique gags involving a geography globe. In one, the continents on the globe raise and lower off the globe face in rhythm, tapping a rhythm to match the song on the sea water around them. In another shot, Bimbo produces a straw, and drinks the globe’s oceans dry, leaving only the roots of the continents visible as deep canyon walls down to the earth’s core. An entirely surreal shot depicts the silhouetted heads of several students being bombarded by visible letters “A’, “B” “C’, and “D”, math equations, and the repeated word, “C-A-T”. The final shot shows the professor with Bimbo draped over his knee, administering corporal punishment in the form of a spanking. However, the professor is getting nowhere, as Bimbo has a textbook inserted inside the seat of his pants, allowing Bimbo to painlessly and casually eat his lunch in utter nonchalance through the ordeal.
All currently known film prints of this cartoon suffer from a massive synchronization problem, which appears to be the result of several breaks in the soundtrack negative, throwing things entirely out of whack. I present below a newly-corrected version restoring the original sync to the film, and also adding my attempts to restore original titling. A notable feature of this production was its release during a short period of approximately two to three months during which contemporaneous Paramount features were all being released with a new motto referencing the Western Electric soundtracks, stating “Western Electric new process noiseless recording”. What exactly was “new” is unknown, as audibly, the tracks seem to present no noticeable difference from tracks which preceded them or which followed. Even the size or location of the track is unlikely to have changed, as Fleischer would continue to use the “Movietone” tall and narrow frame format to permit room for the soundtrack for a considerable time to follow, as would other Paramount productions. I have taken the liberty of inserting the new process indicia upon the cartoon’s restored titles, though it is as yet unknown if Fleischer was let in on the new developments or if they were strictly reserved for feature projects, or whether any use of the ‘new process” by Fleischer would have been delayed in being shown to the public until cartoons released much later, due to the time lags that sometimes occurred between the commencement of animation and actual release date on a congested booking calendar. Since no original uncut rints have surfaced from this period, there is so far nothing to prove my speculations wrong.
College Capers (Van Buren/Pathe, Aesop’s Fables, 3/15/31 – John Foster, dir.), plays upon the conventions of the “college film” genre that had swept through 1920’s Hollywood, in such varied films as “So This Is College” from MGM with a very young Robert Montgomery and the ukelele scat singing of Cliff (Jiminy Cricket) Edwards, Fox’s “Cheer Up and Smile” with a pre-Blondie Arthur Lake, and the perennial musical, “Good News” in its original black and white version for MGM (a sad casualty in having its last Technicolor reel missing, though Turner Classic was occasionally kind enough to screen it anyway with apologies), also featuring Cliff Edwards’ strumming again. The cartoon begins with various animals, most in traditional oversize “raccoon” coats that were a stereotypical fad of the college set, singing the 1925 hit, “Collegiate”, most popularized by a band which had actually sprung from a college aggregation, (Fred) Waring’s Pennsylvanians on Victor. Many modern movie fans (myself included) first learned this song without its lyric, from the memorable one-finger piano rendition performed by Chico Marx in 1932’s “Horse Feathers”. As the students file in to the lecture halls, one student wearing a heavy coat just can’t force the width of the garment through the door of the classroom, so is forced to take it off – revealing inside only a skinny hound with a pencil-thin torso. Leaving the coat in the corridor, we discover it is not the traditional raccoon at all, but is actually composed of a flock of live squirrels, who make a break for freedom in various directions. Inside the classroom, a Germanic professor-dog thumbs through a reference book, while the globe on his desk develops a face, and begins sneaking peeks over his shoulder to see what he is reading. Obviously used to such intrusive curiosity, the professor, without looking up from his reading, raises a yardstick, and smacks the globe a sharp blow, producing a lump on its “head” and causing it to droop unconscious at the side of the desk. The professor addresses his class as “Stooges and students”, and utters some Germanic gibberish which translates to taking roll call. The class responds with a chorus of “We’re here because we’re here”, and are abruptly ordered to “Sit down” by the Prof. For no reason except to feature a musical number, the rhythmic snoring of a hippo who has fallen asleep in class prompts other students to produce musical instruments out of their desks, and accompany the snores to the tune of “Sweet Jennie Lee”, another popular song making the recording rounds. In a clever surreal shot, one aisle of students appears to consist of the college rowing crew, with the forward desk occupied by their coach, playing a ukelele instead of calling through the traditional megaphone. At the coach’s command, the others in the aisle perform movements as if rowing an imaginary scull – and the entire row of desks travels backwards through the classroom, propelled by the mere suggestion of movement and a vivid imagination.
But what would a college picture be without “the big game”? At the back door of the school appears the football coach, who holds up a ball in his hand and blows a whistle. At this cue, the entire building empties of attendees, the structure shrinking in size in the process, as the students race into a large funnel attached to a hose. At the other end of the hose is a mouse operating a sort of vacuum cleaner apparatus, who shoots the students out the other end of the hose to neatly pour them into rows of the stadium grandstand. One last student, an elephant, briefly gets stuck in the hose, then spurts out, making an impact on the grandstand that momentarily jolts all the others of the student body up into the air. The game begins, with a considerably mismatched match-up. The visiting “team” seems to consist entirely of one man – a huge hippopotamis, who makes the ground shake with every step. Despite a variety of species represented among the classmates in the stands, the home team has curiously recruited members of only one species – mice – but lots and lots of them, well over the number of players that could normally be fielded in a regulation game. On the first play, the hippo charges forward with the ball in hand, lowering it to nearly ground level and stretching the ball into the shape of the barrel of a steamroller, flattening each mouse that attempts to tackle him. Changing tactics to concentrate on his forward run, the hippo picks up passengers, in the form of the entire mouse team leaping atop him and attempting to bring him down.
Their effort is futile, as the hippo leaps over the goalpost carrying the entire team with him, and lands for a touchdown, with the mice momentarily trapped in the folds of his fat. A first-aid crew proceeds with a stretcher across the field, picking up the players flattened by the steamroller drive with a spatula like so many pancakes. A mouse walks over to a large rat trap full of rodents, with a sign saying “Substitutes”, and opens the trap’s door to release another swarm of vermin for the next play – including a little mouse released as an afterthought as the water boy. This time, the hippo kicks off to the mice. Receiving the ball, the mice form into a “flying wedge” in unusual fashion – vertically, standing on each other’s shoulders. The hippo charges directly into the formation, knocking it apart from the middle – but one mouse breaks free, carrying the ball, and ducks under the turf comprising the field’s surface. The hippo also converts to an underground defense, diving into the dirt, while the other mice attempt to slow him by hopping on top of the traveling mound concealing his person. The hippo and ball carrier play a sort of “blind man’s bluff”, each trying to find or avoid the other by criss-crossing the field in aimless spirals and loops. Of course, the mouse finds the goalpost first, and crosses under it, appearing on the surface for a touchdown. The hippo finally pops out from the ground, scattering the mice atop him, but pants in total exhaustion. Now, this should only mean from what we’ve seen that the game is tied, and that a deciding point needs to be scored. But alas, the writers have run out of time – or maybe ideas – and so it must be presumed that the exhausted hippo declares a forfeit. The final shots show the grandstand emptying onto the field (now inconsistently containing all mice instead of the various species we saw in the cartoon’s first half – go figure), and the crowd carrting on their shoulders the victor, as well as the torn-down goalpost, with the tired hippo suspended from his trousers upon the crossbar, for the iris out.
Country School (Lantz/Universal, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, 5/5/31 – Bill Nolan/Walter Lantz, dir.) – Only recently reiscovered in sound from an old TV distribution print. Oswald is hurrying so as not to be late to school, when he encounters a traffic sign on the road stating to go slow in the school zone. Presuming this applies to pedestrians too, Oswald smiles, and takes his sweet time for the rest of the trip in slow motion. His schoolmate, Mary Lamb, is also skipping toward the schoolhouse, with her lamb insisting on following. She tells the lamb to go home, and when the wooly creature hesitates, Mary’s voice develops into a gruff male basso, yelling “G’wan beat it!” The lamb backs off a few paces, then bleats, “No-o-o–o-o-o”. Oswald intervenes, about to deliver a sock to the lamb, but the lamb retracks its head and tail into its torso like a turtle. Oswald relents, “I’m sorry”, and delivers a kiss to the place where the lamb’s head had been. Instead, the lanb shifts position inside it’s own body, with his tail coming out the hole where his head should be – right where Oswald kissed. Infuriated, Oswald delivers a swift kick to the lamb, so powerful the screen flashes with light and dark, then comes back into focus to reveal the lanb converted into a steaming bowl of lamb stew. Mary doesn’t even take offense at this development, apparently satisfied herself to bid the lamb good riddance, and reminds Oswald they’ll be late. Mary slides in the front door of the school just in time to call “Here” for attendance roll, but Oswald is a few seconds behind the call. Quietly, he attempts to tiptoe in without the teacher noticing, but one of his shoes persists in squeaking. Taking no chances, Oswald removes both shoes in the aisle and proceeds – but the shoes follow him under their own power, squeaking as loud as they can all the way. The teacher spots him, and calls his name again. Oswald responds with a belated “Here”, as one of his shoes kicks him in the rear end, into his seat.
The teacher begins conducting a chorus of “Good Morning To You” from the class. When the line “We’re glad to see you” is sung by Oswald, a hippo in the seat behind him (who has the recognizable laugh of Pinto “Goofy” Colvig), lets out with a raspberry behind Oswald’s head, then sprouts angel wings to suggest he didn’t do it, leaving Oswald to take the teacher’s dirty looks. We again get a student request from a small cat for leave to “go”. Instead of relieving himself of water, he runs to the nearest well and drinks his fill, ending the drink with a satisfied, “Ahhhh.” A lengthy organ rendution of “Three Little Kittens” is conducted by the teacher, with Pinto Colvig doubling to also provide the voice of the cow schoolmarm. At the end of her song, the hippo gives another raspberry that is blamed on Oswald. “Oswald, come here!”, shouts the teacher. As Oswald hesitantly rises from his seat, the hippo slips into Oswald’s pants an inflated balloon. Oswald can’t nderstand why he is barely able to maintain a footing as he proceeds down the aisle, his rear end nearly floating from the gas bag in his trousers. The teacher takes hold of Oswalf across her lap, and administers a spanking corporal punishment – exploding the balloon. The force of the explosive impact blasts away the teacher’s dress, leaving her standing in her undies. Hiding behind a cloth used to cover the organ, she says “Class dismissed.” In another pre-code gag, all the kids make a beeline for what looks like an outhouse, with separate boys’ and girls’ entrances. A cutaway view by the camera, however, reveals that the interior of the outbuilding is merely the coat room, where the boys and girls fight over whose belongings are whose, for the closing curtain.
Betty Co-ed (Fleischer/Paramount, Screen Song, 8/1/31 – no credits) – Not to be confused with Betty Boop – for once, no sign of the trademark curls, the pouting lips, or even the interchangeable dog ears or earrings. Betty here is the universal sweetheart of every campus in the nation, as sung in an in-person appearance integrated into the film by Rudy Vallee (who also does not appear to receive a written screen credit on the titles). In fact, the whole titling is unconventional, as the film opens with an animated shot of Betty leading cheers atop a pyramid of male rally-rousers, before we even see the Paramount mountain (or the U.M. & M. Card in television prints). After the exceptionally brief titles, we see a student with a monogrammed “F” on his chest (Freddy the Freshman?), walking along the street with candy and flowers, dreaming of Betty. A misstep causes him to drop the candy, which spills out onto the sidewalk. Freddy attempts to rescue the goodies with a whisk broom, but sniffs one before repackaging it, winces his nose, and thinks better of the whole idea, leaving the filthy stuff where it lies. He reaches a sorority house (someone tell me if the letters on the door have any significance – perhaps something in Hebrew?), and sniffs at his remaining gift of a floral bouquet. The flowers react by taking a smell of each other, suggesting that they are wondering if they have offensive body odor. But a sneeze from Freddy quickly removes such a problem, by blowing away all the petals. Well, Betty’s gift is just going to have to be Freddy’s company. Despite a bell on the door specially labeled for “Betty”, Freddy attempts to gain entrance to the house with a series of secret identifying knocks on the door. All he gets back are a series of knocks from the other side, and a few raspberries.
He finally uses the bell, which sounds a series of loud ringing alarms – presumably booby-trapped. A pair of upper-classmen appear, and scoop Freddy up in a blanket, from which they proceed to bounce Freddy into the air as if on a trampoline. Freddy loses his pants on one bounce, tries to hang on to a subway handle that appears in mid-air from nowhere, then springs from another bounce tossing flower petals like a queen of the May. (Are these the same petals he blew off in the sneeze?) He ends up hung out by his trouser belt from the limb of a tree, while various bugs and animals perform an impromptu version of “Collegiate”. The tree finally walks back to the sorority house upon its roots, depositing Freddy before the door. Betty finally appears, just returning home, and passes right by Freddy to enter the house. Freddy knocks again for her, but gets jeered from all the windows of the house, as the entire male student body already appears to be inside keeping Betty company. Rudy Vallee makes his appearance and sings with the bouncing ball, then Betty appears atop the lyrics to dance for the boys atop a piano, with college pennants jumping off the wall to join in the dance. We finally get a few shots that show us the results of higher education, showing a continuous stream of freshmen entering the college through one door, then exiting in caps and gowns with diplomas out of another. A second shot shows the robed graduates entering the door of a “post-graduate” school, then emerging out the other door as trained street sweepers! The final shot is a borrow from “College Capers”, with three racoon-coated cheerleaders turning to reveal their skinny, scrawny bodies visible within the coats as seen from the back.
Freddy the Freshman (Warner/Harman-Ising, Merrie Melodies, 2/20/32 – Rudolf Ising, dir,, Isadore Freleng/Paul Smith, anim.) – Credits are again presented unusually, pained on the back of a broken-down fliver which moves away from the camera. The car appears to pay direct tribute to the musical “Good News”, where a similar car with various messages painted on it was a featured prop. It is Freddy’s vehicle, complete with pop-out motor, and a rumble seat which curves around to catch Freddy when a backfire jolts him from the driver’s seat. He is heading for a pep rally, where the title song is performed. Freddy’s “raccoon” coat is also alive like the one in “College Capers” above, nut instead of squirrels, divides into a flock of little Wilbur the Cats, making a cameo appearance from the Bosko series. Random gags during the rally have a trio of owls shouting “Hoo-ray” for their “Night School”. Complete with a monogrammed “H”, a dead-ringer for Horace Horsecollar is a featured dancer, and gives brash Freddy the raspberry, only to have Freddy use him as a tackling dummy, placing the horse’s torso considerably out of joint.
The second half of the film is devoted again to a football game. Cheerleaders leap and yell from the sidelines, losing their pants in the process, which perform independently of them to please the crowd. The opening kickoff is received by a pig from the home team, who accidentally swallows the ball, until a teammate boots it out by kicking him in the rear end. Freddy plays quarterback (pretty rare that a junior classman would hold such a star position on the varsity squad), and races forward with the ball, while a dachshund shapes itself into a “V” ahead of him, forming a one-man flying wedge. The play works for a touchdown, although the dog gets wound in a spiral around the goal post. Violating the rules by never showing the home team passing possession to the opposition by a kickoff, the game progresses, with the home team still in possession. Freddy calls out signals in a basic “1, 2, 3,…” but stutters on “4″, predicting Porky Pig, until he clears his head by giving a whistle. Another play seems to have the ball lost in a fumble, with all the players racing to get under it. This college could certainly use some groundskeepers, as a large pond-sized puddle appears in the middle of the field, from which a helmeted water bird appears to catch the ball, then rises from the water to reveal it it’s a long legged cross between a duck and a stork. Freddy pursues it (on a convenient wooden door also left on the field, which he uses as a raft), then tackles the bird’s legs – which only topples the bird over the goal line for a TD. Three Jewish parrots cheer with “Oy”s, adding for no apparent reason the name “Ginsberg”, while an effeminate rooster joins in with “Oh, goody goody.” The grandstand erupts in a chant of “Hold that Line” on the next play – actually, we mishear their reading, as on the field, Freddy is clinging to the tail of a lion who has the ball. A tug from Freddy pulls the lion’s skin off, revealing him in his undies. Another free ball is caught behind the home team’s end zone by Freddy, just short of disappearing into the team’s outhouse. Now Freddy has to run the length of the field back the other way. Grabbing a picket fence, Freddy shapes the slats into a loop, manufacturing for himself a makeshift set of tank treads. He races forward like a hamster in a wheel, neatly rolling over and under his opponents who can’t stop him. But again, need for a groundskeeper becomes evident, as the treads unravel upon colliding with a pole in the middle of the field supporting a clothesline. Freddy jumps up into an old pair of bloomers on the line, using it as a breeches buoy. An opponent knocks him out of the garment, but he lands in a pair of long underwear, and races with his feet inside the red flannels to the final touchdown where the other end of the line is fastened to the goalpost, for the iris out.
School Days (Ub Iwerks/MGM, Flip the Frog, 5/14/32 – No credits) – (Editorial note: Internet prints reviewed for this article all appear to have visible continuity breaks in several places from likely censorship of certain gags pre- or post-release. Thus, some potentially juicy pre-code ideas (as if there aren’t nough already in this picture) may be missing from this discussion, and may perhaps be better filled in by the exhaustive reasearch of the ongoing Thunderbean restoration project, if they remain extant at all.) Morning bell rings at a little country schoolhouse, rung by the vigorous yanks on a pull rope of one of Iwerks’ most recurring character models in one of her earliest (if not first) appearances – a nameless lanky woman with a Marge Simpson hairdo, glasses, long nose and prim ankle-length attire, whom I like to refer to as “the old crone”. She would appear again and again as a foil for Flip, often as a figure of authority (such as the hotel manager in the notorious “Room Runners”) or just as an overly amorous but over-aged romantic to make any suitor wince (as in “Circus”). She seems to be the only Iwerks creation to make the crossover from the Flip black and whites to the ComiColor fairytales, appearing at least twice in color, in “Don Quixote” and “Mary’s Little Lamb”, the latter of which will be reviewed in a subsequent article. Flip meanwhile is a happy, whistling student leaving his house ready for a day’s education – until he discovers that his dog is following. “Go home”, Flip comands. But the determined dog grabs a few pickets out of a wooden fence, and uses them as a form of camouflage to continue to follow Flip. When Flip hears suspicious sounds behind him, he turns to look, but the dog darts into a convenient space in the fencing of another property, his wooden pickets concealing him as if a gate in the existing fencing. The plan works until the fence is passed, and Flip turns again to spot the same “gate” now hanging on nothing but air. In frustration, Flip grabs a rope attached on one end to the nose of an old construction steam roller, and ties the other end around his dog’s neck to make him stay put. (Sounds like a waitimg recipe for disaster already, doesn’t it?)
As the class sings a chorus of “Good Morning to You”, Flip sneaks in late, creeping under the feet of several classmates down the aisle to his seat. He briefly upsets four students from their chairs in the process, the last being a girl – and Flip pops up at his desk to report his presence, wearing the girl’s bloomers over his head, much to her embarrassment. Another decidedly risque gag has the teacher searching for her music sheets for a singing lesson, and coming up instead wuth a magazine or catalog marked “Phooy”, depicting a girl bent over in her underwear. (Was this an early-day version of “Victoria’s Secret”?) Teacher blushes at the laughter of the class, then the lesson begins, with Flip pumping and performing on an old foot-pedal pump organ. Several classmates sound the note “Do”, but one kid stutters to get it out, prompting another to stick him with a tack in the rear end, producing a loud “DOOO!” Curiously, the melody performed is the identical tune to the “Bulldog on the Bank” number performed in “Teacher’s Pest” discussed above, with different lyrics (what was this song going around?). Four students recite the alphabet to it, the last being a black kid with a basso voice, who reaches for a low note on “Z”, sinking so low as to crash though the floor in his effort.
Outside, back at the steamroller, Flip’s dog tugs repeatedly at the rope, and of course gets the vehicle rolling down a steep grade. Being tied to its nose places the dog in an instantly precarious position, but he manages to make a powerful leap, launching himself up upon the engine’s boiler chamber and out of range of the heavy rolling cylinder. The destructive vehicle flattens several trees, chomps a wooden post fence into another one made of flat wooden pickets, and upsets a country outhouse to flip the structure and its occupant upside down. The engine finally hits an immovable tree stump and is stopped just short of reaching the schoolyard. The dog flies off the top of the engine, snapping the rope, then slides down the school’s playground slide to land at the school’s front door. Creeping into the classroom, the dog sniffs at the feet of various students under the desks, in an attempt to locate his master. The smells of the first two pairs of shoes are unfamiliar to the dog, and, even worse, a third student is barefooted, turning up the dog’s nose from their odor. “Whew!”, declares the dog, and manages to kick up enough dust from the school’s floorboards to bury the child’s feet like so much doggie-do. Finally, a familiar pair of footwear is sniffed out, and the dog climbs into the seat of Flip, much to Flip’s surprise. While the dog covers Flip’s face in friendly slurps, Flip tries to hide the mutt by pushing him down below desk level. Except that the dog’s tail continues to protrude. The tail taps out a rhythm on the desk behind Flip’s, raising the attentions of the teacher. She raps her yardstick on the desk five times as a warning of her authority, but her raps are answered by two more taps by the dog, creating the rhythm and response of “shave and a haircut, two bits”.
The dog is discovered, and promptly tossed out the window by the teacher. A laugh, followed by a raspberry, greets the dog from outside, where he’s observed and jeered by a passing skunk. The dog gives chase, as the two circle and then enter the schoolhouse. Running under the desks of the students, the two upset the kids from their seats again. They continue the chase on the teacher’s podium, running back and forth between the teacher’s legs, until she decides to hide by leaping into a drawer of her desk. Flip is at the blackboard trying to solve a difficult addition drawn in chalk thereon. In a quick bit of visual legerdemain, the number “549340″ is inverted as the passing dog and skunk pivot the blackboard upside down on the wall, with the number somehow converting to a manuscript version of the words, “o nerts”. The dog finally corners the skunk at the dunce’s stool, but the cornered critter, rather than employing his natural weaponry in the usual manner, comes modernly equipped with a water pistol, from which he sprays odorous skunk juice upon the dog. The odor trails fill the entire school house, and without even the decorum of a call of “Class dismissed”, the kids head for the hills. Several items of the school’s furnishings quickly follow out the door, running under their own power, including the desk carrying the teacher. Flip is the last to escape, closely followed by his reeking dog. Passing an open excavation ditch at a construction site, Flip stops the dog, holds his own nose to impress upon the dog the immediate problem, and points into the ditch to instruct the dog what he must do. The dog happily obliges, by unzipping and removing his fur coat like a winter garment, tossing it into the ditch. Flip grabs a shovel, and refills the hole to bury its smelly contents well. The final shot shows the two observing a mass exodus from the site, as all the worms unearthed from Flip’s efforts emerge from the dirt fill, and also make tracks in all directions to parts unknown to escape the gas attack, for the iris out.
More higher, and lower, education next time.