Fitness vs. Fatness (Part 6): I Was a (??)-Pound Weakling
A famous magazine ad for the Charles Atlas body building course used a campaign beginning with a 98-pound weakling enduring “the insult” of having a beach bully kick sand in his face in the presence of his girlfriend. (One of Atlas’s ads in fact appears to be lampooned in a shot of Goofy Gymnastics, reviewed last week.) This week, three cartoons take off from similar situations, leading characters to attempt to prove their muscular abilities against bullies for the love of a girl. And no, none of them feature Popeye! The scales are balanced with three more episodes of untamed gluttony, and a couple additional exercise programs thrown in for good measure. Something to satisfy your appetite, no matter what your diet.
Muscle Tussle (Warner, Daffy Duck, 4/18/53 – Robert McKimson, dir.) – Daffy Duck is the first to receive the Charles Atlas treatment, in perhaps the closest parallel to the ad. One of McKimson’s funniest later Daffys, this film also features interesting vocal assist from the relatively unknown Gladys Holland, who plays a nameless bubble-headed blonde girlfriend for Daffy, with all the hilarity of Judy Holliday in “Born Yesterday”. It’s a pity the character was never given a return in the series, as her reads are priceless.
Our scene opens as the duck community celebrates a sunny summer day amidst sand and surf. Daffy is encouraging his girl to pose and give a big smile, as he attempts to photograph her in her swimsuit with an old-fashioned Kodak “Brownie box” camera. The camera featured an unusual (and probably very inexpensive) viewfinder lens, which required you to hold the camera below your eye level and look downward into the top of the camera, while the image was reflected by a mirror aimed at a 45 degree angle toward another glass opening in the front of the camera – strange, huh? McKimson capitalizes on the uniqueness of this primitive technology to full advantage for his plot, as, while Daffy is looking downwards and attempting to focus, a second image appears within his viewfinder, that of a massive hunk of white duck, also blonde-haired, muscling in on his girlfriend’s attentions by flexing his pecs. Setting the camera aside, Daffy confronts his rival, stating that if he wants trouble, just start something – or just start starting something. “Look, friend,” begins the muscle duck, in a disarmingly polite and sociable Southern drawl and matter-of-factly manner, “if you-all don’t stop flappin’ that big yap o’ yours, I’m gonna have to knock your head so far down between your little ol’ shoulders, you’ll have to unbutton your vest to eat.” In disdainful overacting, Daffy responds, “Ho ho, that’s rich, I’ll say.” Entirely without malice, and only to prove he is a man of his word, the big duck carries out his promise, and Daffy is left to unbutton the chest buttons of his one-piece bathing suit, to place an order for, “One cheeseburger. Hold the onions.” (Boy, did onions get bad press at Warners.)
Now our girl duck gets her first words in edgewise. Almost equally unaffected emotionally as the bully by Daffy’s plight, she occupies herself with her compact mirror, powdering her countenance and observing her appearance through overly-large, Betty Boop-style eyes, while acting on the automatic presumption that Daffy will, as a man of honor, “do the right thing”. “Hit him, Daffy, sock the big bully,” she instructs in a high squeaky monotone. “What’s a-matter? You’re not afraid of him, are ya?”, she continues. Daffy seems the only one aware of the massive height and weight difference between himself and his rival, who towers above him and replaces Daffy’s straw sun hat with a pound atop Daffy’s head. Daffy sheepishly grins and waves to his adversary as if to excuse his girl’s forward comments, while she continues in absolute nonchalance to encourage expected violent behavior. “Sock him, then. Smash him in the mush. Give him a clunk in the head.” Daffy feigns lack of fear, but attempts to encourage appeasement of “this charming gentleman”. Continuing in her monotone squeak, but with the slightest degree of concern (for herself), the girl concludes. “Gee, Daffy, you’re an awful little coward, aren’t you? I don’t like cowards. I like big strong men, like him.” Taking the buffed-duck’s arm, she walks away with him, bidding Daffy the fairwell of, “Good bye, you scrawny little nine ppund weakling.” Daffy scoffs at her nerve in leaving and making such remark, “when it’s perfectly obvious I’m a scrawny little ten pound weakling.”
“You say you’re a ten pound weakling?” The voice comes from a nearby opportunist – a medicine show-type hawker, selling from a booth a miracle strength-giving elixir – “Atomcol” (a play on the infamous “Hadacol” tonic, containing a high alocohlic content as its primary ingredient). The ingredients label of this concoction is not alotogether different in proportions. 10% pure tap water, 90% hot mustard. The vendor offers Daffy a slug of the wonder juice “absolutely free, for $5.00.” One swallow, and Daffy is coughing and breathing fire. Behind his counter, the salesman rigs up the crowning touch to ensure a satisfied customer – two balloons black and round, with the inscription “5,000 pounds”, attached to opposite ends of a pole. To prove to himself he’s a new man, Daffy is encouraged to lift this massive “barbell” over his head. Daffy nervously laughs at this impossible thought, and with great hesitation approaches the bar. Expecting to face an immovable mass, Daffy strains with all his might, overestimating the effort needed for the task – and shoots straight up in the air, drifting back to Earth as if a floating feather. In profound amazement at accomplishing this feet, Daffy tosses the barbell aside, and returns to confront the foe.
While the muscle duck serenades the girl on guitar to the tune of “Down in Nashville, Tennessee”, Daffy slips up behind his girl, and whispers a “Pssst” to her. He begins to strike up muscle poses like her new boyfriend. “Gee, Daffy, what’s a-matter. Ya got a stiff neck?”, asks his girl. “There’s nothing the matter with me. It’s just that I’m a virile, red-blooded he-duck!” insists Daffy. “Hmmmph”, replies the big duck with a snap of his fingers. He grabs a steel pole, and bends it into a knot around a post. Daffy steps over to a fishing shed, using the safer, more pliable substitute of a fishing pole – but struggles with all his might just to get it to bend slightly. It snaps backwards, taking Daffy with it. The pole wraps itself in a knot around a porch post, but with Daffy’‘s arms equally entangled in the knot. “You didn’t think I could do it, did ya?”, calls Daffy from his hopeless trap.
Next challenge: the muscle duck takes a piece of chain, chews it beween his teeth, and spits out nails into another wooden post. Daffy also chews, but spits out his own teeth into the post instead. The big duck balances his entire weight on one finger placed upon the lip of a pop bottle. Daffy tries it, too, loses his balance, and falls completely into the pop bottle. Muscle duck breaks a huge boulder into pebbles with an effortless tap of a sledge hammer. Daffy can barely lift the hammer alone, and when he swings, shatters himself into rubble instead of the boulder (his disconnected beak muttering, “You’re despicable”). The contest events seemingly over, Daffy is disturbed that he must be stronger than the big guy, because he can lift 5,000 pounds. Well, why not? Daffy returns, carrying the barbell, whose “weights” bounce in rubbery fashion to emphasize their fakeness. He shows off by twirling the barbell like a drum major’s baton, then balancing it on one finger, and one toe. “Let’s see you do that”, he challenges the big duck. The muscle duck’s face registers decided unsurety that his performing such a feat is possible, but he attempts to save face by striding forward with feigned confidence, and assumes his position to attempt the lift. Giving it every ounce of strength he’s got, the bully overestimates his move worse than Daffy did, not only shooting up into the air, but into the stratosphere, where the balloons pop, sending him plunging back down upon the sandy shoals below. “Well, what do ya call that?” asks Daffy. The bully enters, reduced by the impact of the fall to a compressed size about half the height of Daffy, with his arms now practically dangling on the ground, stating, “You all can just call me shorty.”, then waddles away down the beach. “Come on, Daffy”, says the girl, now taking Daffy’s arm. “I only like ‘em if they’re tall, dark, and gruesome, like you.” Daffy shyly chuckles, and we iris out.
More information about the cartoon Muscle Tussle, click HERE!
Do or Diet (Paramount/Famous, Casper, 10/16/53 – I. Sparber, dir.) – Essentially a lift of the theme of Art Davis’s Holiday for Drumsticks – and also including character lifts from the studio’s own earlier effort, The Voice of the Turkey. Casper, down on the farm, encounters a weeping turkey (Timothy), who faces the usual problem of being lined up for a quick trip to the chopping block and then to platter for Thanksgiving dinner. Casper, as did Daffy Duck, concludes that the solution is to put Timothy on a reducing program so that no one will want to eat him. However, Timothy, despite his fear of the executioner, is not a cooperative subject for the process. Casper starts by means of improvising the vibrating reducing belt, with a strap of leather around Timothy’s waist and Casper’s own muscle power (do ghosts have muscles?) to supply the vibration. Timothy is supposed to cling to a tree trunk while Casper does the pulling with both hands from a standing position behind him. Despite Casper having hold of both ends of the belt, Timothy, who realizes the arbor is an apple tree, resorts to his basic hunger, and defying all laws of physics, somehow gets the belt fastened around the tree instead of his own waist when Casper isn’t looking, so that it shakes down apples for him to eat. Casper discovers the trick, and deliverately shakes twice as fast, causing a bushel of apples to rain down upon Timothy’s head. Casper cautions that Timothy will never lose weight if he doesn’t stop eating.
Next, Casper has Timothy skipping rope, with the other end of the rope tied to a pipe next to the farmhouse. Unfortunately for Casper, someone has set a pie to cool on a windowsill above. Sensing the aromatic fumes from the pie, Timothy jumps unexpectedly higher, landing on the windowsill to partake of the pastry. An angry Casper snaps the rope like a whip, causing the middle of the rope to curve upwards, knocking the pie plate out of Timothy’s hands. The pie comes down with a splat on Timothy’s head – but Timothy is still happy to slurp up the last berries of the pie from off his beak. Casper is fast beginning to sense he has a hopeless case on his hands. And a sense of urgency immediately heightens, as the farmer is heard across the way, sharpening his axe for the main course. Timothy needs to shed weight immediately – but how? An idea hatches rapidly when Casper spots an old corset on a clothesline. Grabbing up the item, he wraps it around Timothy, and pulls with all his might. Timothy’s round-as-a-ball waistline is pulled to pencil-thin. Casper grabs a pot of glue, and conveniently locates a sack of feathers just marching Timothy’s color. An application of the sticky stuff, ad a pour from the sack, and the corset is concealed, leaving Timothy appearing thin as a rail. Enter the farmer, set for his task – but his eyes pop out as the disconcerting sight of a seemingly meatless bird, who coyly waves to him a greeting of “Hello, boss”. “That’s the end of my Thanksgiving dinner”. moans the farmer in dejection. Casper, watching from outside the poultry enclosure, figures the job is done. However, he didn’t allow for Timothy’s never-ending appetite. The turkey has saved one last apple from the tree, and chooses this moment to swallow it. As it descends into his torso, it pops the corset lacing stitch-by-stitch on the way down. The corset pops wide, and Timothy’s spherical figure returns to view in a rubbery bounce. The farmer turns, and reacts with glee, knowing dinner is on again. In a twinkling, he has Timothy hogtied to a tree stump, with neck extended in proper chopping position. All that can save the bird is Casper’s usual formula timely entrance, demanding that the farmer “leave my friend alone.” With the usual cry of “A GHOOOOST!!”, the farmer darts inside his farmhouse, picks up the whole structure by extending his legs through the floorboards, and runs away with the home over the horizon – with the structures’s brickwork chimney also developing its own legs and following the house away.
The final scene has Casper laying Timothy on a table for some reducing massage work, determined to start his weight loss program for next Thanksgiving. Until he catches Timothy extending his neck to nibble on a secret stash of corn ears concealed at the base of the table. Casper finally solves this recurring problem, by grabbing the flap of red skin under Timothy’s beak, and tying it in a knot around the bird’s mouth to keep it shut. He giggles as Timothy futilely struggles to open his bill, for the iris out.
Football Now and Then (Disney/RKO, 10/2/53 – Jack Kinney, dir.) – An interesting chance for Jack Kinney to again lampoon the world of sports – this time entirely without Goofy. The premise is the debate between a college-age boy and his Grandpaw over whether the modern, multi-squad, overly-trained college football teams of today are the better for all the additions that progress has wrought, or whether the old-fashioned, leather-helmeted legends of the gridiron were really the better men. As if in miraculous answer to this age-old controversy, an exhibition match-up happens to be scheduled for telecast that same day, pitting an all-star lineup of “Moderns” vs. a dream team of past champion “Old-Timers” (who somehow don’t appear to be any the worse for wear from the ravages of time). Despite the myriads of squads now available for the Modern team (including offensive, defensive, and inoffensive, split-T and Lipton Tea), the Old-Timers are fine with just one squad sufficient to occupy the field. And they bring with them something the Moderns did not reckon on – the infamous “Flying Wedge” formation (a moving triangular mass of offensive flesh with quarterback inbetween – a formation that was eventually banned from the game due to the high number of injuries incurred in attempting to break through it). In a series of hilarious escapades, reminiscent of Kinney’s Oscar-nominated “How to Play Football” (1944), the Old-Timers manage handily to hold their own against the razzle-dazzle, multiple assistant coaches and scouts at strategic positions around and above the field of play, and endless number of specialty squads thrown at them by the Moderns’ coach. For purposes of our article, the differences of the two teams’ approach to halftime is of note. The Moderns concentrate every second they are off the field to fitness and general overtraining, including bending backwards with mouths oven to receive doses of vitamins from a moving pill dispenser, sessions in steam saunas, each of the steam boxes arranged in the formation of an offensive line, and even psychoanalysis! In contrast, the Moderns handle fitness in a purer, more simplistic fashion – as a blacksmith repairs the steel cleats of their shoes, while the whole team gets invigorated by a tall cool glass of milk, freshly obtained from team mascot Bossie. As the second half winds down, communications break down between the Moderns’ coach and his scouting squad in a helicopter above the stadium, as the phone line is interrupted before hearing the number of what play to call, and the coach is unable to come up with a quarter to re-establish the long-distance call. So what’s left in the coach’s bag of tricks? Steal from the Old-Timers the Flying Wedge formation, and run it in reverse on them! The score is tied – and we’ll never learn who really won, as Grandpaw has been so influenced by recurring commercials throughout the game for a “Whirling Dervrsh” dishwasher, that he shuts the TV off to run out and buy the product!
Drag-a-Long Droopy (MGM, Droopy, 2/20/54 – Tex Avery, dir.) – Droopy returns to the Western, for a classic range war of rancher vs. sheepherder, in this mini-masterpiece (one of nine films featured by Avery himself in a personal appearance at UCLA in the 1970’s). A forward announces that this is an absolutely authentic account of the grazing land battles of the early West, then adds: “We know this story to be true. It was told to us by – A TEXAN.” (Audience laughter was exceptionally strong for this gag at Avery’s live presentation – as he was right there, smiling at us, and everyone knew exactly who that “Texan” was!) Avery’s depiction of the sheep, tended to by Droopy, is what qualifies this episode for inclusion along this trail. As Droopy and his burro commence in the morning to get the flock “moseying along”, the sheep line up in a single row, forming a wide line across the prairie, and open their mouths in unison, at the ready to begin the devouring. Droopy snaps a whip, and the sheep set to work, as if a living lawn-mower cutting a swath across the land. The sheep cross a stream, not only laying the banks bare, but performing a “parting of the red sea” by making the stream water disappear as if sliced away. Passing over an Indian teepee, the covering canvas is devoured, revealing inside a group of Indians stacked one atop another so as to form the identical conical shape of the teepee itself. The flock approaches a boundary sign, reading, “Cattle Country. Sheep keep out. (This means ewe.)” The sign does nothing to deter them, as the flock passes on through, devouring the base of the post holding up the sign, leaving the sign miraculously erect in mid-air with nothing supporting it. Avery slips one past the censors, as the scene shifts to the adjacent “Bear Butte Ranch”. This Ponderosa-like spread is covered from end to end by a non-stop population of Texas steers – so prominent, that they are even seen on the porch and in the ranch house of the ranch boss (Avery’s nameless wolf), who, in a masterpiece of understatement after this display, addresses the audience with “Y’know, I raise cattle.” A bull charges up to the ranch house, attempting his best to communicate a warning to the wolf, with repeated calls of “Moo Moo Moo. Baa Baa Baa.” The wolf interrupts. “What’cha all mean, Baa Baa Baa?” Demonstrating that he can in fact speak perfect English, the bull shouts, “SHEEP, YA DURNED FOOL!” The alarmed wolf leaps upon his horse (with some difficulty), and charges toward Droopy’s advancing line, warning them to “Stay plum where y’are”. But the sheep, without the slightest hesitation, pass the wolf and his horse with the sound of a saw blade, leaving both of them with bared legs up past the knees.
After several classic escapades, including an epic shooting contest, between the wolf and Droopy to determine who stays and who doesn’t, the wolf returns to his home base to rally his cattle troops. Appearing on the porch in a cavalry commander’s outfit, the wolf announces, “Attention! We’ll stampede the cussed varmints. Wipe ‘em clean out. We attack at dawn.” The scene fades, resuming at just before sunrise. Droopy sleeps quietly near his wagon, a thought cloud revealing his dream of counting sheep jumping over a fence. The camera pans to the sheep flock, who are dreaming of Droopys jumping over the same fence. Then comes the sunrise. Along the crest of a ridge appears the wolf astride his horse, a moment later accompanied by a line of cattle extending to the horizon. The camera shifts view to the a ridge on the opposite side of the valley, where Droopy and his burro similarly appear, followed by his endless row of sheep. “CHARGE!”, commands the wolf, as the herd descends into the valley. In a voice that could be called anything but commanding, Droopy quietly utters, “Forward, men” to his flock. Camera cutting rapidly interchanges between the stampeding cattle line, and the chewing frenzy of the advancing sheep, until the two lines are nearly head to head. A final focus closes in upon the wolf and his troops. With a repeat of the “buzz-saw” sound effect heard earlier, the sheep, rather than being crushed underfoot, neatly pass over the wolf and his bovines, leaving the lot of them in a state of total nudity, wearing nothing but stubble. Droopy and his burro gallop over to the end of the sheep line closest to the camera for a parting thought to the audience – but come to a stop a little too close to the end of the sheep row. The sheep pass again, with the same buzz-saw sound heard against Droopy’s rear. Droopy and the burro look briefly back at what has occurred, then, with mild embarrassment, Droopy utters his curtain line. “You know what? The hero always comes out in the end.” The Burro turns to carry Droopy away in a tail-away shot – with the reddened butt cheeks of both of them laid bare to the camera, for the iris out.
Billy Boy (MGM, 5/8/54 – Tex Avery. dir.) – A return for Avery’s second nameless wolf – the one with the “Southern-fried” voice provided in the signature tones of Daws Butler. First appearing in 1953’s The Three Little Pups, Daws would find avenues for this voice again in Michael Lah’s Blackboard Jumble and Sheep Wrecked, for Avery again as the voice of Smedley in Chilly Willy’s I’m Cold and throughout the series that followed, and at Hanna-Barbera where best remembered as the popular voice of Huckleberry Hound. Oddly, in only this episode, Avery tries an experiment to provide a further signature trademark to the character’s voice – having him get stuck at the end of many sentences like a broken phonograph record, repeating the last word of the sentence six times in succession! The result did not come across funny – only incredibly aggravating, marking one of Avery’s few total miscalculations. (I have taken the liberty in my own private collection of editing a copy of the film to remove all the word repeats, to let the film play like a normal cartoon. I believe it drastically improves its play and appeal – to the point where one might consider including it as a bonus extra that way on some Avery collection as a “what if” example of what the film might have been.)
The scene opens at a quiet farm, where our denim-overalled wolf chews on a morning breakfast in the farmhouse. An anonymous note is slipped under the front door. It is the kind of note typically left with an abandoned waif, asking him to please take care of a little billy goat. As with Hortense the ostrich in “Donald’s Ostrich”, reviewed early in this series, the note adds that feeding won’t be much trouble, as the goat “eats anything”. Thus, Avery provides his own take on the ostriches and goats we have previously seen in this series with bottomless pits for stomachs. Opening the front door, the wold is greeted by an enthusiastic “Baaa” from little Billy, who marces into the room, his teeth already as busy as one of Avery sheep from Droopy’s flock. Chewing a trail in the carpet, the goat detours up the sofa, carving a line through the upholsterty, then devours a wall of wallpaper sheet by sheet. Climbing arop a table, the goat munches on a calendar, chewing the skirt off of a picture of a sweet young girl. He then passes a globe, reducing its sphere to the shape of an apple core. One devoured set of drapes, and the goat returns to the wolf, polishing off a pair of the wolf’s overalls for desert, and leaving him standing in flannel underwear. “Now there’s a pretty hungry little billy goat”, understates the wolf.
Attempting to feed the goat real food, in the form of some “moo cow milk”, does nothing to lessen the goar’s appetite. Ignoring the milk itself, the goat is more interested in chewing up the glass, kitchen utensils, plates, napkins, and anything else he can get his teeth on. “Y’all ain’t got no more table manners than a blue-nosed mule”, remarks the wolf. Taking Billy outside, the wolf drives an eyebolt into the ground to tie Billy to with a rope. But Billy is one step ahead of him, and is already eating the rope to bind him. “Oh no, you don’t Billy”, says the wolf, placing his shoe on the rope to keep Billy from further devouring it. Billy not only passes the shoe, but eats it in the process. Half-barefooted, the wolf makes sure to count his toes. He finds the usual ten – on one foot! “They’re all there”, he sighs in relief.
The wolf finds something larger to tie the goat to – the base of an old farm windmill. Only a second after the tying is finished, he hears the telltale sounds of crunching. Billy stands where the windmill once had been, munching on the last bits of the girders which supported its weight. The wolf looks up, to find the windmill’s blades still spinning high above, attached to nothing.
Try as he might, the wolf can’t find any place strong enough to secure Billy. He rows to the middle of an island with Billy in chains, and locks the other end of the chain to a tree at the island’s center. He turns around, not only to find Billy already free, but eating the very theater screen on which the film’s image is being projected, leaving a gaping hole, and cutting away the entire lower half of the wolf’s image. In another scene, the wolf locks Billy in the trunk of his old car, then attempts to start the engine to drive Billy away. The engine won’t turn over, and when the wolf lifts the hood, Billy us seen inside swallowing the last cylinder head of the engine. The wolf shuts the hood, then remarks to the audience, “Motor’s missing”. Even sending Billy away tied to the back of a horse provides no solution – as the horse returns, denuded and minus all hair from Billy’s clipping. The horse exchanges Billy, placing him on the wolf’s back, then shoos the wolf away at a gallop with a whap to his rump. The wolf returns a few seconds later, also denuded, and can only react with a disdainful, “Copy cat!”
The wolf finally hits upon a masterful idea. He introduces Billy to the end of a rail on a trans-continental railroad track. “Take a chaw on that, Billy.” The goat obliges, apparently hetting his fill of his daily supply of iron, as he disappears down the track and over the horizon. “Don’t forget to write, hear”, calls the wolf in gentle sarcasm. That night, for the first time in days, the wolf settles down to sleep peacefully. Who should appear coming back down the track line but Billy – now eating up the opposite rail. Dozens of souvenir travel stickers of the type people used to stick to their luggage are stuck to his fur, indicating he reached the end of the line, and is now making the return trip. The wolf, who had just pulled down the windowshade to shut out the moonlight, is awakened by increaing light in his room, and opens his eyes to find the whole farmhouse devoured around him, with Billy chomping on the last splinters. With amazing reserve of character, the wolf reacts with feigned politeness, playing at a welcoming greeting to the returning goat, and alleging that he sure did miss him. While stating this, the wolf’s actions speak louder than his words, as he carries Billy into the barn, then emerges with Billy tied to a long rocket, now stating that he is sorry that Billy has to be rushing off again. The wolf lights the fuse, and the rocket soars into space, making a direct hit onto the moon. To the wolf’s wide-eted shock, the full moon, to the sound of crunching heard from thousands of miles away, is quickly reduced to a half, then a crescent, then disappears from the sky entirely. As the night is reduced to pitch blackness, the wolf strikes a match in the dark, lighting his face long enough to bid us, “Good night, y’all.”
You can watch BILLY BOY on Facebook.
Real Gone Woody (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 9/20/54 – Paul J. Smith, dir.) – Some brief gymnasium gags heighten the chase sequence of this Woody/Buzz Buzzard classic, written by Michael Maltese, setting Woody and Buzz as typical teenagers of the 1950’s, in high-school rivalry for the affections of a girl (the debut appearance of Winnie Woodpecker). At the Updale High Sock Hop, Buzz horns in on Woody’s dancing, by stuffing a basketball down Woody’s pants, then tossing him into the hoop for two points – also placing on the floor below him a spike strip, to deflate the ball like a whoopee cushion under Woody’s bottom. Woody retaliates, grabbing an armful of Indian clubs from a rack and tossing them into the air, then whistling for Buzz with a challenge to fight. Buzz walks into the shot to answer the challenge precisely on cue, and is soundly bopped on the head by each of the falling clubs. Woody hops on a bicycle seat to make a quick getaway, not realizing he’s landed on a stationary exercise bike. Buzz approaches with a baseball bat, and takes a swing at Woody’s cranium. Woody leaps off the bicycle seat in the nick of time, the bat striking the spring-supported seat, which bounces the bat backwards for repeated blows upon Buzz’s face. Perhaps someday we’ll examine the rest of this cartoon in greater detail – a high-energy personal favorite.
All Fowled Up (Warner, Foghorn Leghorn, 2/19/55 – Robert McKimson, dir.), features Foghorn in a minor program of exercise. After a typical morning of exchanging destructive practical jokes with the Dawg, Foghorn vows to “pay a visit to that dawg and gently break him in two with my good right arm.” Holding said arm up for a muscle flex, instead of producing a bulge, the arm sags like the curvature of a swayback horse. “Hmm, don’t look so good”, observes Foghorn. He decides he needs exercise to build himself up. While engaging in a labored series of push-ups, he observes a hen crossing the barnyard on a pair of legs that appear several sizes too small for her. It is of course Henery Hawk who is providing the propulsion, attempting to carry his prize of the day home. (This gag was lifted straight out of Henery’s first official appearance, in Chuck Jones’ “The Squawkin’ Hawk”.) Foghorn grabs a dish, and tosses the intruding hawk away upon it as a Frisbee passenger, with the Dawg across the yard briefly mistaking him for a “little man from Mars.” When Henery explains what happened, the Dawg wisens him up that Foghorn is an “overstuffed, fat, flabby slob of a chicken.” Seeing Foghorn bending down a tree branch to use as a cross-beam for his next exercise, Henery and the Dawg concoct a chicken trap. At the tree limb, Foghorn exerts himself to perform a series of chin-ups. To his surprise, he finds his head rising above the bar, without utilizing his arm muscles at all. “Well, looka me. Chinning, no hands. I must be stronger than I thought I was.” In reality, he is rising only because Henery has propped up a cooking pot underneath him on an auto jack. Piling a few logs against the jack base, Henery lights a match, and then the logs. “This boy can’t be serious”, thinks Foggy aloud, until the heat reaches him, and he takes off like a comet, with Dawg snickering while watching him through binoculars. More pranks follow, with Foggy finally covered in cement when a gag to coat Dawg’s home from a cement mixer backfires, with an extender chute from the mixer pouring the goo on Foggy instead. As Foggy assumes the frozen pose of the Thinker, he is carted away on a wagon by Henery, who comments, “Of all the kinds of chickens in the world, I had to catch me a Plymouth rock.”
A Bicep Built for Two (Paramount/Famous, Herman and Katnip, 4/8/55 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.) – (ORIGINAL TITLES NOTE: All existing television prints of this title curiously open in a jump cut from the reshot title card to the middle of a panning-shot pursuit of the cat after the mouse. Such an edit would usually suggest that the original title was presented as either an animated shot, or integrated into a portion of the opening background, as opposed to the more traditional Paramount opening of an iris in from black. Anyone potentially having information as to how the original Paramount print really opened is heartily invited to post comment here.) Katnip finds himself in one of those “scrawny little weakling” love triangles, as he spies a beautiful femme sunning herself in a lawn chair, and loses all interest in chasing Herman, replacing as his favorite pastime serenading the girl on guitar to the tune of “I’m In the Mood For Love” (from Every Night at Eight (1935)). He does not realize the girl already has a suitor – with a size and build nearly identical to Bluto’s, and the voice of Bluto, too (Jackson Beck). The muscle-bound heavy enters with candy and flowers. Spying Katnip, he grabs away both his girl on the chaise lounge, and Katnip’s guitar, leaving Katnip attempting to steal a kiss from thin air, and collapsing upon the ground. The bully begins his own basso serenade of the girl, to the old standard, “Heart and Soul”. Katnip challenges, with a “put up your dukes” pose, but one sock by the bully knocks Katnop a city block away, at the feet of Herman, who gives him a hearty horselaugh. “What’s so funny?”. snarls an angry Katnip. “If you want to take care of that bully, you’ll have to get rid of those flabby muscles”, says Herman. The inverted sagging muscle gag used three months earlier by Foghorn Lefhorn is again repeated – but this is not surprising, considering the gag had appeared long before, including in Bugs Bunny’s “Bunny Hugged” in 1950. “And look at that bay window”, says Herman, pointing to Katnip’s belly. A close-up reinforces the verbal pun, visualizing such a window around his midriff. “I can build up your muscles in no time at all”, volunteers Jerman. “Oh boy, when do we start?” responds an anxious Katnip. (If this sounds like it is beginning to follow the formula for a Buzzy cartoon, short of the catch-phrase “That sounds logical” – you’re right.)
In a gymnasium, Herman begins Katnip’s training with the barbells. Katnip can’t even budge the heavy weights – until Herman fastens attachments to the ends of the bar, suspended by a cable and pulley system running to the ceiling, and attached to a winch motor. Herman shifts the motor into gear, and the bar is lifted above Karnip’s head – but keeps right on rising, lifting Katnip off the floor. Then Herman cuts the cable with a pair of heavy shears. Katnip and the barbell fall, the bar making a hole in the floorboards, and a fallen Katnip prone in a position where it appears the descending bar has sliced off his head as it fell through the flooring. Of couse, Katnip’s head is merely submerged in turtle fashion under his collar. Herman tries to escape out a mail slot, saying, “So long, muscle brain”, but Katnip grabs him back, complaining that he doesn;t feel any stronger. On to phase two – chin-ups. As Katnip makes a hearty effort to accomplish the exercise to a count of ten, Herman slips sticks of dynamite into the pipe on which Katnip is chinning. BOOM! Katnip is blasted through the ceiling, landing outside the gym doorway with the pipe wound several times around his neck, just as Herman slips out the mail slot again. “I’m gonna give ya’ just one more chance”, Katnip shouts.
On to stretching exercises, with coiled springs and handlegrips, fastened on the other end to the wall. While Katnip tugs away, Herman uses a hacksaw to cut a circular hole around the mounring for the springs on the wall. The mounting and its surrounding plaster bounce repeatedly against the back of Katnip’s head, temporarily knocking him out. Herman takes advantage of this interlude, rolling from their rack two heavy iron balls for the “shot put” Olympics event. He rolls one ball into each of the sleeves of Katnip’s gym shirt. As Katnip revives, Herman convinces him he has delivered on his promise. “There y’are, Katnip. Muscles of iron.” Katnip knocks on one of the balls with his fist, and hears a metallic clank. He is now ready to face his foe.
Back at the chaise lounge, the bully’s serenade continues. “That’s my girl”, challenges Katnip, clanking on one of his new “iron” muscles to prove he is prepared to back up his challenge. Having never seen such a muscle, the bully starts to back away, and becomes cornered against a fence, pleading, “No. No!” Katnip rears back one arm in preparation to take a first swing at the bully – and the shot put rolls out from his sleeve into his hand. The bully stares in amazement, as the second shot put repeats the same roll into Katnip’s other hand. “A wise guy”, shouts the bully, and advances without fear. Now it is Katnip backing away, with the metal shot still in his hands. As the bully prepares to swing. Katnip improvises with what he has – and brings his two iron-laden hands together, smacking the bully from both sides in the head, flattening his skull into a pancake. The bully collapses, and, to our shock as well as Katnip’s, we find that the big cat is dead, as not nine, but ten (?) ghost cats rise up from his fallen torso. Knowing he has won (though completely unconcerned about beating a murder rap), Katnip holds the shot puts up with his hands, menacingly clanking them together again. Though already dead, the bully’s ghosts make a run for it, travelling in perfect bowling-pin formation. (We knew there was a reason for the extra ghost.) Katnip takes careful aim with one of the metal balls, and launches a shot down the sidewalk, scoring a strike, that disperses all the bully ghosts. To the victor belong the spoils – and so Katnip turns to claim his girl. To his surprise, she is now playing the guitar, and singing “I’m in the Mood for Love”. But her serenade is not directed to Katnip, but to Herman, seated atop the lounge chair. Well, everyone to their own tastes.
Muscle Beach Tom (MGM, Tom and Jerry, 9/7/56 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.) Using the widescreen Cinemascope process, this film suffered greatly in old pan-and-scan TV prints until comparatively recently when the “scope” prints were restored for DVD. Tom’s girlfriend is nearly cut out of the pucture altogether on television prints – always being on the wrong end of the screen. To an underscore making heavy use of themes from Esther Williams’ “Dangerous When Wet” (a film in which Tom and Jerry shared with Esther an extended animated sequence), the film opens with a long and brilliantly-timed panning shot of a typical day at Muscle Beach, California – typical for cats, that is. Nearly every form of exercise is being displayed by the feline hunks in bathing trunks. Four cats engage in barbell lifting. One cat with the largest set of barbells keeps bringing the weights down upon the heads of two shorter cats, and bouncing one of the weights up and down against the flabby paunch of a fourth cat. Two other cats lift a single set of barbells in tandem, stacked upon each other’s shoulders like a totem pole and handing off the weight to one another for further lifting. Another can exercises with dumbbells, extending his arms sideways, while his torso expands and compresses with pleats like an accordion. Another cat’s bathing suit bounces upwards and downwards with the sound effect of a slide whistle upon each stretch, while yet another cat’s neck extends which each lift of a dumbbell by his arm, as if he were a living automobile jack. Into all this commotion strolls Tom, accompanied by a sexy female feline. Tom is carrying all the basic equipment for a leisurely day at the beach, incluing blanket, umbrella, picnic basket and transistor radio. He drops his gear – right on top of a sleeping Jetty, whom he overlooks entirely. Jerry struggles free, pulling out from under the pile his miniature beach blanket, and resettles himself nearby. Tom sets up the beach umbrella – and plants the pole in the middle of Jerry’s blanket, tearing it. Next, Jerry is being deluged in the waste from Tom’s lunch – a rotten tomato, a bread crust, and a banana peel. Jerry climbs a portable table Tom has brought along, approaches Tom, and smacks the cat in the face with the banana peel, so hard Tom’s false teeth are briefly knocked out. Jerry assumes a fighting pose, attempting to stand up for his rights. Tom sticks the inflation hose of a beach ball into Jerry’s mouth, then releases the ball’s air into Jerry, sending him soaring over the bay as a deflating balloon.
Tom now turns his attentions to his girlfriend – only to find her beach chair empty. Looking around, he discovers her applauding tough cat Butch, lifting barbells and showing off with coiled spring chest expanders. Tom tugs at the expander coils, then releases them, knotting Butch up in the springs. Butch walks over to an anchor stuck in a sand dune, and hooks one of the handles of the expanders on the anchor’s pointed tip. He then hooks the other handle around Tom’s neck, and releases his grip on the springs. Tom flies past the anchor, into his beach umbrella, and the umbrella lodges into the wooden post of a volleyball net as if someone had just thrown a giant dart. Tom attempts to return for a fight with Burch, but Jerry reappears on the scene from behind the volleyball post, and harnesses the loose handle of the expanders (the other still around Tom’s neck) to a cleat on the pole. Tom nearly reaches Butch, but is pulled backwards by the springs. Tom clutches for anything, grabbing Butch’s tail, and pulls all the fur off of it as he is yanked backwards out of frame. Tom crashes into the volleyball post, taking the place of part of it as the impact knocks the wood away – then is crushed into a pancake by the upper weight of the other half of the pole. Tom pries himself loose, his red bathing suit making him look as though he has assumed the shape of a crab in its shell – which sight scares away a real crab who just happens to be crossing the beach.
Back at the girl, Butch is again demonstrating his barbell lifting prowess. Tom cuts in, bumping Butch aside with a twitch of his hips, and lifts the same weight with equal ease. Butch ups the ante, by moving on to a bigger barbell. Tom walks right past him to an even bigger one, and lifts that, too. Butch also skips a level, and shifts his attention to a bar with mammoth disk-shaped weights. He struggles and strains, but finds himself unable to lift it. Tom again shoves Butch aside, takes hold of the bar, and in one dramatic move that locks him into a fully-extended position with one loud “click” of his skeletal structure, lifts the barbell high over his head. But Tom’s face is frozen into an expression of extereme pain, so we know he’s in trouble. Slowly, a motionless Tom keels over to one side, his head falling upon the lower bar weight. As with Goofy in his gymnastics epic, the upper weight comes loose from its mounting pin, landing atop the second weight and crushing Tom’s head flat inbetween, as the shot fades out.
The film resumes with the transistor radio playing lively bongo-rhythm music, while Butch and the female cat vigorously dance. (Is their step the swim, or the Watusi, or none of the above?) Even Jerry joins in, using the banana peel as a partner. Tom cuts in, by digging a grave-sized hole for Butch in the sand. Butch reappears from the hole, and swings Tom as his partner, right into a beach trash can. But Tom spies a vendor’s ballons tied to a post on the pier. Tom cuts the strings to obtain three balloons – one long one to shove inside the chest area of his bathing suit, and two smaller ones to insert in his suit sleeves as “muscles”. The heliun inside is more than he counted on, and he begins to float away, until he grabs the rope of another beach anchor, tying it around his waist to keep himself weighted to the ground. Dragging his tether weight, he confronts Butch (who is just flexing a heart-shaped arm muscle at his girlfriend), and attempts to prove he actually has the bigger muscles. Butch smacks him a blow on the head, causing the balloons to shift into Tom’s trunks, floating him upside down. Another blow reverses the balloons back to their original positions. Butch puts up his dukes for a fight. Tom responds by swinging his waist – causing the dragging anchor to swing around, knocking the pins out from under Butch, and burying him face-first in the sand. As in the proverbial stories of the beach bully, Tom kicks sand upon Butch, and the battle is won. Or so Tom thinks. Butch is disposed of, but not yet Jerry, who is munching on celery from the pucnic basket. Tom flips the basket lid for a quick smack upon Jerry’s head, stunning the mouse and causing him to fall into the sand. Time for a final come-uppins. Jerry unties the anchor rope around Tom’s waist, causing Tom to briefly float upward into the beach umbrella. Tom covers this givaway of the source of his muscles by climbing hand over hand down the umbrella pole. But Jerry’s not through yet. He fastens the helium hose from the balloon-vendor’s tank inside Tom’s collar and onto the largest balloon, then turns on the gas. Tom over-inflates, and Jerry produces a pin, puncturing the balloon and sending Tom sailing over the bay just as Jerry did before. With no one else left, Jerry becomes the center of attention of the girl cat, as Jerry shows off some weight lifting of his own, with a popsicle stick and two tomatoes for weights. Unfortunately, one lift, and Jerry’s muscles lock just as did Tom’s, repeating the gag of keeling over and being pinned between the weights, for the iris out.