Thursday, 16 July 2015

379. Eatin' on the Cuff (1942)

or 'The Moth Who Came to Dinner'
Warner cartoon no. 378.
Release date: August 22, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Moth / Voice of Narrator / Various Voices), Leo White (Narrator), Sara Berner (Spider / Bee).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A pianist reflects a story about a moth, ready to get married, but ends up held captive by a manipulative spider.

Bob Clampett is the kind of director who likes to experiment technically on a lot of different levels. Similar to Porky's Pooch, he tries to blend in live-action with animation to give his shorts a unique approach. With the former, it was live-action stills as backgrounds; whereas in this cartoon: a live-action pianist narrates the story.

The narrator is portrayed by English actor Leo White. However, the pianist is actually Dave Klatzkin, with White posing as one on-screen. For readers who are clueless of the man, he is perhaps best known for his "bit player" roles in Charlie Chaplin's immortal comedies from the teens. A photo on the left features White, pictured with the immortal Chaplin.

Appropriately, Blanc dubs White's live-action dialogue, which not only is likely because of budget constraints, but Blanc's voice is so appealing and versatile, it could be dubbed on everybody.

The narrator starts as he sings a story about a "moth and a flame", with music and lyrics written by Clampett himself. Clampett's tune is cheerful and sets the tone of the short nicely: featuring a courting moth and spider who happen to be engaged. The blend of live-action and animation, also creates an appealing effect.

Bob McKimson animates a remarkable cycle of the moth dangling on the flower bell which is wonderfully controlled. The scene fades to a snoozing moth sleeping in a breast pocket of a jacket. The narrator sings the last words: "Cos at 3 o'clock today, you're gettin' hitched!". The moth wakes up, and takes with joy exclaiming: "Oh, happy day!".

Clampett and Foster both take advantage of creating some innovative gags for the sequence of the moth nibbling and eating the pieces of clothing. Clampett's timing comes to good advantage when the moth nibbles the clothing in sync to Yankee Doodle.

Foster's gags are wonderfully creative, especially for the flowers in a flowered dress falling into a bundle, landing on a shoe. Sneakily, a Hitler-sight gag is added when a stuffed fox's fur gets clean shaved completely: revealing a Hitler face underneath fox skin. A great metaphorical gag.

 As the groom makes his way to the altar happily singing Here Comes the Groom, his sight of clothing from a bar saloon distracts his big event. He is lured inside the saloon, unable to resist eating more pairs of clothing.

Some excellent character animation of the moth ripping a piece of a man's trouser collar, with some added character to the moth as he sniffs and observes the piece before eating it, giving the moth a rather pompous manner.

He goes ahead and sheds all of the men's trousers, where the ladies in the saloon become sexually thrilled through their screams. If there's anyone who'd get away with a gag like that, it's Clampett. Blanc's delivery on the dark-skinned man screeching like Rochester, "My, oh, my!" works in delivery.

The following scene of the moth chewing the last remains of clothes, complete with a full and fat stomach. Only Rod Scribner could animate the moth removing the zip from his mouth so convingingly with his beautiful use of squash and stretch and his follow through and overlapping action. The moth comments, "Oh, darn those zippers!". The following scene of the clock ticking is unique, and yet appealing in its delivery. Blanc's vocals "Tick, tock, Tick tock - look what time is on the clock!" has tempo and rhythm, and Clampett's timing on the exaggerated pendulum swinging is glorifying.

Upon realising he has missed the wedding,  he cries: "Oh my gosh, it's half past three!", and attempts to make a move. Meanwhile, his bride is left at the steps of the altar; weeping with devastation. Foster's use of wit comes to use as the narrator's mention of "black widow spider" becomes a caricature itself.

On the other hand, this short really gives Scribner the opportunity to really shine with his tour-de-force character animation. The spider approaches the moth and cries: "Look, a man!", which itself is a nod to Cobina, a character on The Bob Hope Show.

The widow spider rushes back to her powder area, and disguises herself with a glamorous blonde wig and make up. Scribner's straight-ahead animation has a combination of subtle and outrageous drawings. The subtlety appears when the spider's multiple arms reach out as she does her makeup, which itself looks like a frantic piece of animation.

Once she reveals her disguise, it can't be hidden when her ugly nose slides out, ruining her image..and only Scribner's edgy timing could've been pulled off. As she arrives back, Clampett's cheekiness kicks in during another wild piece of follow through action by Scribner, where the widow spider arrives in her half naked form, and then her disguise follows. She attempts to manipulate him by seducing him. In a close-up, her disguise is ruined by the appearance of her ugly nose popping out: causing the moth to shout "Yipe" and leave. His leaves behind his spirit, who also screams "Yipe", before he zips out.

This follows with a wacky and energetic little chase sequence with the moth and spider. They chase each other around a man's hands who is seen playing poker. The cards reveal that he has the strongest hand (a royal flush), and the moth and spider run around his deck of cards. The spider rushes in and places his Jack card on the pot, "Play your Jack". The player's hands themselves are beautifully dyamic and realistic in drawing.

The hopping action of the moth and spider jumping through ice-cubes has a lot of beautiful energy and rhythm. Bob McKimson's animation of the hopping cycle of the spider is somewhat mechanical, but it has spirit. Clampett's timing begins to show a fast tempo and brisky pace to his cartoons, always willing to top one after the other.

The spider barks, and smirks at the audience, "Something like Uncle Tom's Cabin, ain't it?" which is a nod to a scene of Uncle Tom getting attacked by bloodhounds. Not focusing on her trail, she falls underneath a glass of water; ruining her disguise as her wig rises up from a bubble.

Desperate to find a new strategy to claim the moth to herself, she researches in a book, and discover's the moth's weakness: the flame. She exclaims whilst reading, "I don't want to set the world on fire, but it says 'A moth's attracted by a flame'", and she grimaces at the thought.

In an attempt to escape the widow spider, her hand reaches into the shot with a lighter. She lights a flame, which attracts the attention of the moth. The effects animation is visually fulfilling, and it becomes a visual metaphor of how alarming flames are to moths, as though they have a personality of their own.

The flame morphs into a hand and taps the moth on the shoulder. The moth is reluctant to glance at the moth, and turns his back on it. By force, the flame spins the moth into the other direction, hypnotising him. In a silhouetted shot, the spider grabs the moth and cheers boisterously. The spider claims the moth for herself and holds him captive in her home. She quickly nails out 'do not disturb' signs, including one that pokes fun at Greta Garbo's famous line, "Ve vant to be alone!"...and to add to the fun, her dialect is spelled out.

Trapped inside the widow spider's lair, he cries out for "Help!", loud enough that his bride can hear him. Walking away from the altar, dejected; she hears his cries and immediately arrives to the rescue. The female bee arrives at the spot, and immediately they go into a duel: using their stingers. This leads to a funny piece of animation wonderfully exected by Virgil Ross, where they duel with their stingers in the style of fencing.

The bee defeats the spider in the duel as she stings her rear end. She leap and howls, and then comments: "Confidentially, she stings!"--a line parodied from a Frank Capra film, You Can't Take it With You - where the original line (parodied in numerous Warner Bros shorts) reads: "Confidentially, it stinks."

Clampett's abrupt cuts are even more revealing in the following shots. After the spider's close-up shot, the scene quickly cuts to the bee and spider reconciling each other. The female bee is flattered, "My hero", and kisses the bashful moth in a cliched embracing pose. It seems to me that of all animation directors, Clampett has the most abrupt cuts, with scenes from Russian Rhapsody sticking to mind.

And so, as the narrator sings the happy ending on his piano: he takes the opportunity to give his cynical view of the story. White's competent acting adds to the spot as the narrator remarks to the audience: "But you know, folks, I never could understand what that cute little bee would see in that silly moth. Mm, what a dope!" The moth springs to life; hardly a figment to his imagination. The moth scoffs, "Oh yeah" and in retaliation, sheds his trousers. The final shot leads to a hysterical moment of the narrator attempting to leave the studio set, but crashes into all the chairs and props clumsily. To add to the comedic effect, the film is sped up to a rapid pace, very much like a silent two-reeler especially in Chaplin's Mutual comedies.

Eatin' on the Cuff feels very much like a Clampett colour cartoon, not only because of the unit he had but because of Clampett's frantic timing and energy which you wouldn't find in a black-and-white short by Clampett. In comparison, many of the B/W Clampetts and colour Clampetts are very different in tone and style. It's possible the short was shot in black and white as shooting the live-action scenes in Technicolor would've been too expensive, especially with the limited production values Schlesinger's had. Clampett's timing is definitely getting brisky and edgy, catching up to the wildness in his most celebrated cartoons like The Great Piggy Bank Robbery. Scribner's animation shines in the short, adding more humour into the eccentric widow spider, who steals the performance. Clampett's search for different unique approaches is always very encouraging, and it's a pity he didn't experiment much with live-action afterwards. Being his last B/W cartoons (excluding his Snafus and Mr. Hook shorts), it's a great sendoff and a new start for what is to come.

Rating: 3.5/5.


  1. Spider's wig and makeup disguise is her attempt to emulate actress Veronica Lake.

  2. Clampett was a genius. No two ways about it. Can't wait for your review of "Coal Black". That was probably one of the many peaks of Clampett's (and Scribner's) career.