Wednesday, 1 April 2015

373. Double Chaser (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 372.
Release date: June 27, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
No cast.
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Gerry Chiniquy.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A mouse uses a bulldog as protection to repel the cat, although little to the mouse's knowledge is that the dog is an unreliable ally.

When you associate with pantomime with animation, the link usually goes to Chuck Jones. He wasn't the only master of it: Michael Maltese was too. Later in his career, Maltese has the ability to achieve successful pantomime as well as keeping the narrative coherent and straightforward.

In this short, Maltese experiments with the typical animated formula: the cat, dog & mouse routine. In an attempt to make it original and fulfilling, Maltese observes the behaviour of each animal, so the characters can be portrayed differently.

The cat and mouse both act like a typical animated character, whereas the bulldog is a little different. It's cliched to portray bulldogs as masculine dogs to protect vulnerable characters, but Maltese makes the character much more unreliable in terms of picking an ally: as at point he allies with the black cat, targeting the mouse: which doesn't add up in a cliched formula. Upon reviewing the cartoon, we'll see whether or not the formula paid off from both Freleng and Maltese.

With many cat-and-mouse cartoons, it starts off with a sequence of the cat (in design, no relation to Sylvester) plotting at the mouse: a useful device to establish the character's relationships. The cat's trap is very straightforward, as he plants a piece of cheese by the mouse hole, as bait to catch the mouse. The cat hides behind the wall, ready for the mouse.

Freleng's unit create some rather comical, and stunning visuals of the cheese scent morphing into a spiritual form. It follows the mouse hole, and takes the mouse outside with it, enticing him to the scent and delights of cheese.

An old gag indeed, but it's still a great visual, portraying the process metaphorically. The mouse double-takes at the spiritual scent, and rushes back to his hole. Tempted, he quietly reaches over for a cheese and proceeds to return to his hole.

Without caution or alertness, he runs inside the cat's jaws into his body unknowingly. Some appealing timing created by Freleng of the mouse wriggling down the cat's tail and back out. This follows with a small chase scene that occurs outside, and the encounter of the bulldog establishes the rest of the cartoon. The mouse uses the bulldog to protect himself from the cat. By using him, it is rather physical as the mouse forces the bulldog's eyelids open to frighten the cat, without any activity with the dog whatsoever.

With that said, Maltese makes it intentional that the bulldog hardly acknowledges the mouse at all, or to even have a motive. The bulldog is mostly concerned with resting in his kennel. At times when he acknowledges the mousse he supposedly "protected", he glares at him menacingly as shown in the scene of the mouse nibbling cheese, showing he is unreliable.

Maltese is still open to inventive gags and sequences relating to the bulldog. This is evident in the sequence where the cat unintentionally buries him. The cat advances towards the mouse, nibbling the cheese. Realising he is unprotected by the bulldog, he hopelessly whistles for him.

In a hurry, the mouse hides underneath a hole - and ends up cornered by the cat. In a desperate attempt to claim the mouse, the cat digs up the ground for the mouse. In the process it's revealed the cat has dug the bulldog from the ground unintentionally.

It's a bizarre gag and scenario to begin with, but Maltese's wit and spontaneity has a charm of its own, which you'd expect from a Warners short. The scene finishes with the cat pushing the bulldog's head underneath the ground, and digging the ground back.

Friz Freleng's greatest skill, timing, comes to great advantage in several sequences. One great sequence that comes to find is the fence mimic scene. The cat who hides behind a fence, tiptoes behind the fence cautiously. As he crosses a gap with no planks, he tiptoes quietly and on the other side the mouse mimics his actions.

It's a great showcase for Freleng and Stalling who cooperate well in achieving the gag as well as comic timing. The sequence gets goofier, when the mouse controls the bulldog to mimic the cat's actions, leading him to double-take.

Maltese turns the gag even more broadly when an exact image of the cat mimics himself. The spontaneity of that scene is what makes the sequence an underrated gem for Friz's sense of exaggeration.

Believing he has the mouse trapped - he dives to the other side of the fence, reaching for him. He quickly leaves the scene when he is ambushed by the bulldog who naturally chases him. Another scene accomplished by Friz and his animators is the scene of the cat inside the shed, with the mouse on top of his head. The cat is on the lookout for the mouse, without realising that he is sitting on his head. It may be a straightforward scene, but its a little trickier in staging, and it pays off with an exaggerate take from the cat, upon seeing the mouse.

Perhaps the funniest sequence conceived by Mike Maltese, is the sequence where the cat masquerades his chicken performance, in over to trick the bulldog. In a desperate search for the mouse, he investigates the nest area, throwing the hen out the scene. As he is narrowly close to catching him, the bulldog enters the shed.

He quickly disguises himself as a hen, by placing a rubber glove on top of his head as well as make clucking noises. The scene of the eggs hatching rapidly, as witnessed by the bulldog is hilarious in terms of circumstance.

The bulldog's dumbfounded take at the chicks and the cat from observing their different proportions says it all, and yet it's very subtle. The cat hopelessly attempts to full the bulldog once more by mimicking a chicken walk, as he continues to cluck. The bulldog grabs the hen and cat together, observing the pair of them suspiciously. The hen clucking wildly leads into a frantic chase sequence with the cat and bulldog.

The chase scene is rather short but also productive in energy. The shot of the bulldog anticipating a chase action is very broad and energetic. The bulldog notices the cat hiding behind the barrel as the mouse gave away his hiding spot. This cuts to a quick montage of the mouse revealing different hiding places of the cat through whistling. The montage is fast paced and it's the right sort of energy required for a chase, as its inventive and fresh. In the last hiding spot, the bulldog chases the cat through a bush where it creates off-screen crashes and chaos. The bulldog has crashed at a junkyard, and struggles to release his head from a cuckoo clock. Whoever animated the sequence, the bulldog shaking his jaws is very appealing, and solid. The jaws continue to shake when it reveals the cuckoo, supposedly inanimate has life. The cuckoo snuffs the bulldog for the crash and leaves.

As the cartoon is close to finishing, the bulldog has turned against the mouse: recognising it as a foe. This is a great setup by Michael Maltese, who now has the two opposites attract (cat & dog) ally together to chase after the mouse. The bulldog whistles to the cat to catch the mouse, where they both cooperate.

Desperate to scare them off, the mouse finds an apple and a tin of black paint, which he uses to disguise as a black bomb. He superfluously lights the match on top of the stem, and successfully scares the bulldog and cat away.

What you can admire about the classic Warner Bros. shorts is how unpredictable the ending can be, and this ending is a striking example. As bizarre the gag does, the apple explodes like a bomb: and it is revealed the mouse has passed away, and transformed into a spirit ascending to heaven. He stops pointing at the apple until he realises he is spirit; aware that he has screwed up.

Overall, it's a decent effort with some fun comic timing by Friz Freleng, as well as some witty pantomime created by Michael Maltese. Maltese manages to benefit something from the cliched (cat-dog-mouse) formula, and create a funny twist in the short's ending: even though the ending is a little cynical. It's not the greatest twist to the formula Maltese has written, though his early experimentation clearly had something to show for it in his future, superior work. Some sequences worked really well in pantomime, whereas some scenes were a little lacking, but that's about it as far as criticism goes. The gags in the cartoon are very broad and subtle which was what Friz was a master of. He was capable of conceiving a gag that is really exaggerated and bizarre and make it beautifully subtle - which was what he did in the fence sequence.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. This almost seems like a reply by Friz and Mike to the Tom & Jerry series that was picking up steam over at MGM by 1942. Hanna-Barbera at the time were still suffering a bit from their Harman-Ising roots with Tex Avery having just recently arrived on scene -- The T&J shorts of the period tended to focus strongly on the personality animation, with each gag more drawn out; in this cartoon, Freleng and Maltese cram in the wild gags, and the personality of the characters comes from their plotting and reaction to the gags.

  2. The grin on the cat when he hatches the chicks must have been a Friz favourite. Sylvester did it in later cartoons.