Saturday, 15 August 2015
384. The Hep Cat (1942)
Release date: October 3, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Cat), Kent Rogers (Rosebud), Sara Berner (Bird).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A cat who fancies himself as a player, is wooed by a cute kitten, who turns out to be a puppet disguised by a prankster dog who attempts to trap him every time.
As Leon mellowed this policy over the years, it mellowed considerably to the point where the "Looney Tunes" shorts started to have one-shot characters, and to appear in colour. This short marks the first time a short under the title "Looney Tunes" to be in colour.
On the other hand, Clampett's sheer energy and rapid pacing start to kick into gear. His experimentation of brisk pacing and gags beyond physics suddenly start to kick into gear; which is especially notable during the dog-cat chase sequences. On the other hand, his gags start to become more juvenile so it fits the tone of his wild experimentation.
Warren Foster's story is also very straight foward, as it relates to a cliched formula of dog vs. cat. Foster's opening sequence is very intriguing as it immediately starts off with an action chase sequence. The cat narrowly escapes, leaving the dog lying unconscious (named "Rosebud" in the cartoon - a direct reference to Citizen Kane).
The exposition is revealed when a knocked-out Rosebud lies down dizzily. As it turns out, the dog attempts to attack him on a daily basis but narrowly misses each time. A robin flies in a scene, and asks: "Gee Willikers, you almost got him tonight!". The dog responds, "Uh..Gee Wilikers, I almost get him every night."
The cat, who fancies himself as a hunk gets hit by a brick only to find a love letter written by Rosebud in disguise. Virgil Ross's animation of the cat reacting to brick features some very fluid arcing on the anticipation movements, with the drybrush effects fitting the tone of Clampett's work beautifully. It's a pity Clampett didn't think much of Virgil's work.
The cartoon itself very episodic, once the cat falls blindly to the love letter, the sequence results in another chase sequence with Rosebud. It seems a little out of place for the dog to chase the cat immediately after reading the love lettter, rather than getting prepared to stage his disguise. One could argue it's to emphasise the dog's ignorance, but that itself is vague.
Clampett's abrupt use of timing are put to good use for scenes that build up to suspense. The opening sequence where the cat walks past Rosebud's dog house is a striking example. The scene cuts rapidly to the dog's luminous eyes inside the kennel and suddenly to the dog fully anticipating a chase action.
The cat's unexpected encounter with Rosebud at the corner of the gate has a very excitable pace to it. For a couple of frames, only the cat's head appears in the scene, as well as the dog's head, but with speed lines to support his body. It's a very risky move to pull that off in animation and direction, without making it look too imposing.
The flower rack sequence is constructed similarly like a Tex Avery cartoon gag-wise and timing-wise. The cat is on top of the rack, the dog at the bottom - both of them mimic each movement without any realisation.
Once they stare at each other, they go into a shock-like take, which is a take like in any Clampett cartoon. The dog's head crashes on top of the rack, damaging the flowers and its soil. The shot of the dog and cat covered in soil has its moments, particularly when the flowers start to act like themselves.
During the cartoon's climatic sequence, it feels as though Clampett and Foster are attempting to throw in a lot of gags in between in a cry to make the sequence less predictable. This is evident in the shot of the cat deliberately interrupting the chase as he turns to Rosebud threateningly, "Hey, are you following me?". As he responds "Yeah", the cat replies: "Oh", and the chase continues.
Clampett also experiments with some far out angles to make the sequence more dynamic. The use of an extreme down angle of the cat and dog chasing each other up the apartment balconies is beautifully staged.
As the cat crosses a rope of washing line, Rosebud's attempt is incredibly clumsy. Causing the line to wobble, he finds himself in an awkward tangle. Clampett's comic timing is funny and the airbrush work is incredible, and to pull it off is some feat.
Juvenile humour adds to the touch of the climax, particularly the shot of a confused Rosebud making blubbering noises from his mouth after crashing into a door is a striking example. And of course, Clampett's love of babies in animated cartoon's resulted in Rosebud's fate. After getting untangled from the line, he finds himself landed on a line with baby bonnets and nappies, leaving him to wail.
References of the cartoon's time are directly included in the short, such as the Shiek of Araby, and the cat viewing himself as Victor Mature when he looks at himself in the mirror.
The cat believes he's "got a rep, for being kinda hep", when in reality he is deluded. This is particularly seen when the cat attempts to lust over a passing by female-cat. The animation of the female cat with a glamarous walk is somewhat awkward, especially when she has human legs. The hep cat impersonates French actor Charles Boyer, and he briefly fades into a lustful wolf. Also note the song reference, A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich and You. The visual metaphor of the female cat literally giving him the "cold shoulder" is amusingly visualised.
For the sequence of Rosebud using a female feline hand puppet for a disguise; this is an excuse for Clampett to go ahead and take liberties as far as gags are concerned. Some of them are innocent, yet hilarious. This occurs when Rosebud yells "Yoo hoo" in a falsetto voice, and then accidentally yells the same words in his normal voice, attempting to cough to cover it up.
Clampett's subtle sense of humour occurs in the scene of the cat caressing the puppet, with his French-talk. The gag is incredibly revealing when the cat's hand attempts to touch it's "rear end". Only Clampett could get away with a gag that's incredibly revealing, but perhaps innocent.
Little does the cat realise, he's feeling the texture of Rosebud's nose. He presses it and hears a horn voice, where he quotes Jerry Colonna, "Well something new has been added!". The cat's take from unintentionally kissing Rosebud on the lips has a very broad reaction towards it.
For the final scene, the cat still remains deluded to the fact the female kitten was only a puppet. He is reminded so by the bird (seen from early in the cartoon) who remarks: "Gee Willikers, mister, that ain't a real bird." Impersonating Jerry Colonna, he makes the final comment: "Well, I can dream can't I?" and he continues to kiss and caress the puppet as the short draws to a close.
For its rather short running-time, The Hep Cat is very briskly paced as a short, with an episodic story that clearly not wasting a second of screen time. Though, perhaps the fast-paced action of the cartoon was probably what resulted in its running time, as some scenes don't flow quite fluidly. From directing sub-standard Porky Pig cartoons for some part of his career, and taking over productions started by Tex Avery beforehand, this short allows Clampett to explore heavily on the possibilities he could provide for animation, and the risks he's willing to take. The tone of the short is still in the light of even his most wackier cartoons, despite not being at that level yet. Story wise, Warren Foster does a decent job at turning a cliched cat and dog formula into creating innovative gags with the help of Clampett's energy.