Release date: September 20, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Singing Alley Cat).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Manny Perez.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky's sleep is consistently disturbed by a loud alley cat who pesters Porky by singing joyfully to popular musical songs.
A truly amazing short, there are those who aren't aware that the cartoon was merely an improved remake of this short: Notes to You, where the original story concept was conceived by Mike Maltese.
Instead of Elmer and Sylvester, Porky plays the role of the disturbed sleeper, and Sylvester's role is just a one-shot alley cat. For the time this short was released, it was a breakthrough in terms of Warner Bros. humour going as far as to the next level, thanks to the genius of Michael Maltese.
The storyline is merely simple: an alley-cat disturbs Porky's sleep. Only Maltese would go beyond a simple storyline by giving the cat an identity, such as his love for singing. Personally, I feel the short was the first time where Porky really had a three-dimensional personality, and not just the cute, straightforward stuttering character that he had been interpreted for the past six years at Schlesinger. Instead, Porky shows a much more darker side, he intents to kill the alley cat so long that he can no longer be disturbed. Porky is definitely cast perfectly as the disturbed sleeper, and Maltese certainly makes use of the character well, making him more prominent in the short, especially by taking Porky to a new level that no-one had attempted before.
The scenery, too, is identical, though the layout work here, compared to the Hawley Pratt layout contrast slightly. Though a lot of the animation is parallel, since the scene in the remake was animated by Virgil Ross, the latter short shows an improvement in terms of animation performance.
The cat warms up his vocal chords as he blows on the harmonica to prepare for his performance of Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville. Porky awakens and finds he is disturbed by the racket the cat is making, and starts to throw out pieces of items from his home. The cat manages to dodge the objects flying towards him, but one gag centers on an inanimate vase object which halts, and the cat struggles to dodge past it. Its a great little gag that never made it in Back-Alley. As the cat breaks down into finale, the vase flies past hitting him, from the other side.
As Porky tosses the book outside, supposedly hitting the alley-cat off-screen, Porky turns to walk back to his head, muttering "Take that you old cat!". Just as he walks back, the alley cat throws the book back but this time with a different title: "The Return of Fu Manchu". It's a wonderful gag delivery, as the latter book title is accurate. Maltese's approach to the gag also makes it a lot more comical, for the gag feels like a homage towards the 1930s shorts of book characters coming to life, but in this short it is accomplished well in this bizarre twist.
And so, after a series of musical numbers; Maltese takes a little break from musical sequences, and gives Porky the chance to shine by his attempt to dispose the cat. He pours a bowl of cream by his porch to entice the alley cat, and if Porky's plan succeeds, he'd shoot the cat at the spot with his shotgun.
But, Porky is sleepy, and ends up snoozing while the alley cat slurps up the bowl of cream. Afterwards he clashes on a cymbal waking up Porky, and ends up on the run as Porky attempts to locate him outdoors with his shotgun.
The following scene is typical of Friz, when you watch a scene which requires some comical timing, as well as Carl Stalling's little music cliches to match the action of the animation, and without any popular song reference, in a short which is full of them.
Porky is looking out for the alley cat, and he tiptoes by a fence, looking for the alley cat. As he walks through an empty space from the fence, the alley cat mimics his movements. Carl Stalling does a steady job by defying Porky and the alley's cat's personalities with little musical themes. For Porky's tiptoe, Stalling orchestrates suspenseful music to emphasise the careful and sturdy pace he is going at. For the mimic scene, Stalling uses the xylophone touch to add a comical touch to the alley cat. It's a wonderful scene with great characterisation.
Note the three screenshots I've took for a small scene, which grabbed my attention in terms of animation, as well as Friz's timing. The whole scene is done by perspective animation, and the alley cat turning from one side of the fence to the other, is very cleverly animated.
As he makes a turn, the fence turning in perspective is done rather rapidly to add depth to the scene as the alley cat is at gun point. The perspective animation takes at least 9 single drawings to move the fence in order to make the suspense look more dramatic. Not only does the timing have to be dead on, but the perspective turn is also very complex to do, and to combine the timing altogether is a pretty gutsy thing to do for Freleng, who proved ambitious when tackling a scene, and the results are rather rewarding.
The next little scene, is rather comical and cleverly combined by Mike Maltese when it comes to a popular song and blending it in a gag in the right place. The cat opens the front door singing the very popular song of its time, and still popular today: Jeepers Creepers.
Porky rushes to the door to slam the door, but the door slams back open when the alley cat finishes off his song. Noticing Porky's black-eyes, the cat sings out one of the song's lyrics "Where d'ya get those eyes?". This is an amusing little visual gag based from the song's lyrics, that is rewarding itself.
The scene with the alley cat dying didn't feel it needed to be there, for it made the climax of the shooting scene look anti-climatic, and thus it slowed down the ending slightly.
The alley cat sings Aloha Oe, though parodied as Farewell to Thee as he chokes during the death scene. Porky walks away from the scene, feeling slightly guilty for shooting the cat: "I didn't wanna do it, but I had to.
He was driving me n-n-n-n", and at the point of the stutter: Porky discovers that the cat's nine lives still live on as spirits as they sing Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. It's an entertaining way to conclude the short, as it raises even more problems for Porky, and it's certainly as inventive as how Maltese would have concluded a short, but I can't help but believe that the ending to Back Alley Oproar was more superior than this short. Possibly due to the dark comedic ending, where Elmer Fudd accidentally kills himself, but still finds himself disturbed in the after life, making the dilemma more hilariously executed. For this short, it would definitely not be fitting to have Porky Pig die accidentally, as it would seem out of character to do so, if that was how the cartoon was going to originally end.
To get this over and done with, Back Alley Oproar was indeed the better short, but with that aside: this is also a rather groundbreaking short in terms of the wacky humour the Warner Bros were known for. Who'd on earth, other than Mike Maltese would create a story idea of an alley cat singing music in the middle of the night, disturbing Porky? A very bizarre concept but it's what makes the Warner shorts truly special. Porky certainly shines in the shorts and Mike Maltese explores a lot more further towards the character, in a way, refreshing the character by making the character still appealing amongst audiences, whereas beforehand he was underplayed in almost every cartoon since 1939. This is one of the highlights of this year, and Friz Freleng is proving he is capable of producing cartoons at Tex Avery's standards, or perhaps beyond his standard, when it comes to characterisations. Overall, it is a very entertaining short with some very slick timing, music and an original concept so nice, it was used twice.