Sunday, 9 July 2017

419. Puss n' Booty (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 418.
Release date: December 11, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Bea Benaderet (Woman); Mel Blanc (Hiccups).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Cal Dalton.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Rudolph awaits for a new canary to arrive, with the intention of eating it. Little does he realise how resilient his prey is.

By April 1943; Warner Bros. had ordered for all cartoons from the Looney Tunes series to be produced in colour for the 1943-44 season. Not only would all of Leon Schlesinger's cartoons feature colour, but the distinction between the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies segment would cease to exist. Prior to the demand, only a handful of cartoons from the series were still being produced in black-and-white under Frank Tashlin.

Tashlin's first few cartoons during his second directorial stint at Schlesinger's that screamed with lavish film techniques and strong uses of cinematic staging. Once Tashlin moved over to colour cartoons - he begun experimenting more with design work and angular movement.

For the final Looney Tunes short produced in black-and-white; Tashlin ends the tradition with a satisfying sendoff. If Porky Pig's Feat was Tashlin's finest cartoon in terms of its successful use of comedy and experimental filmmaking blended together; then Puss 'n Booty is arguably Tashlin's finest cartoon as far as dynamics, pacing and audacious camera angles.

The cartoon's premise is a cliched formula, which consists of a duelling cat and canary. Warren Foster brings innovation to the characterisations - by making a seemingly harmless canary more potent based on its true colours. Foster finally has an opportunity to showcase his talents as a story man. Although he worked on many classic Bob Clampett cartoons - the stories always feel more like Clampett's than Foster's. The concept is largely a forerunner for the Sylvester and Tweety series. The cartoon itself would be remade with the duo in I Taw a Putty Tat (1948). Frank Tashlin turns such a formula-ridden idea into a cinematic experience!

Tashlin's ability to stage animated scenes in the style of a cinematographer never fails to impress. Such planning might've been a burden for the layout artist or the cameraman; but the results were worth it.

In the opening scene of the lady entering her house, the shot is depicted from point of view. The camera pans at various corners and edges of the house; once the woman discovers the disappearance of her missing canary, Dicky - (gettit?).

Johnny Burton's camera department have the delicate assignment of nailing the timing of the panning; to make the simulated P.O.V. convincing. The mistress's point of view ends once her cat Rudolph, is introduced to the audience, supposedly snoozing away.

The mistress asks for the whereabouts of Rudolph, who shakes his head. The evidence is revealed once Rudolph accidentally hiccups bird feathers from his mouth. Tashlin applies some intriguing timing of the cat burying the evidence with him. Much of Rudolph's frantic action of retrieving the feathers consists of approximately twenty frames: one feet and four frames in animation, or just slightly under a second. The following frame immediately cuts to Rudolph pretending to be asleep; which looks very jerky in motion whilst freeze framing. Such jerkiness works to an advantage by adding emphasis of a cat, hiding his crimes.

Although Tashlin's keen usage of cinematography is evident, he doesn't go too farfetched to the point it could potentially interfere with scenes involving character personalities or bits of exposition. Tashlin keeps a fair balance between characterisation and cinematic techniques.

Following the opening; Rudolph's character is devoted some time - by establishing his conniving persona. He tricks his owner by opening a window, mimicking canary whistles, and pretending to cry of despair.

The mistress is tricked into believing the canary had flown away. A fair use of exposition reveals that five canaries have been eaten by Rudolph in a month - but "lost" from the perspective of the owner.

It always strikes me as odd how the mistress never suspects Rudolph of her "missing" canaries, in that short span of time - especially when her cat is home alone regularly. I'd imagine Rudolph pulls the same trick on the lady for each canary. Such naivety would be legit for a Warner Bros. cartoon, that oughtn't to be questioned.

The sequence ends with a simple solution for the mistress: order another canary from the pet shop - to the satisfaction of both the lady and Rudolph. The shot of Rudolph curling around his owner's legs is very striking and insightful of the character - who hides his sinister nature in the presence of the lady. Rudolph's two-faced personality and motive has firmly been established by the end of the sequence.

Suspense and tension begins to build during a sequence of Rudolph impatiently awaiting for the delivery of the canary. The dreaded wait is hilariously illustrated through Art Davis' animation. Rudolph paces back and forth on top of the front wall of 1605 Maple Drive. Once Rudolph turns to pace back; his head turns after his body begins walking!

Carl Stalling's music enhances the tension of the wait - further emphasised in Rudolph's restless walk cycle on the wall. Stalling also briefly uses a part of Powerhouse with a tense musical arrangement that fittingly provides atmosphere to the cat's desperation.

Tashlin experiments with scene transitions when a different truck representing a gas company drive past the house. Rudolph is already standing on the sidewalk; attempting to attract the attention of the driver by literally ripping off the house sign from a brick wall!

In a side shot, the truck drives through the shot - but once the vehicle disappears, Rudolph has returned to pacing anxiously on top of the wall. It's a dangerously ambitious piece of staging, that makes the transition very unique as far as timing's concerned.

Already Frank Tashlin was gradually experimenting with angular, stylised poses for his characters. It would eventually take its course during his last few cartoons for Warner Bros. - but elements of it started to crop up in his black-and-white shorts. A scene of Rudolph whistling desperately for the pet store van is not only broad in animation; but also shape-like in proportions.

Once the delivery man walks to the front door of the house; Rudolph discreetly sneaks behind. Rudolph's tiptoe cycle is economical, but without lesser quality. Rudolph's body is a held drawing, but only his paws and feet are animated. It's an innovative, stylised piece of animation that might cut corners, but still exemplify Rudolph's slyness.

It looks like Tashlin was influenced by the avant-garde layouts Dave Hilberman provided for him. In one shot; Rudolph's body aligns with the shape of the porch steps as he follows the delivery man carrying a cage.

By the time the canary, now named Petey, has settled into its new surroundings and left alone from the mistress - the action begins. Extensive use of fast-cutting and perspective heightens the tensity of the scene. To begin with, the mistress places a saucer of milk on the floor and leaves the scene. Rudolph spits out the milk with heartfelt disgust, and sneakily advances towards the birdcage.

Perspective animation is applied to create the illusion of a continuous shot; as Rudolph's body obstructs the camera, and walks to the birdcage - facing rearwards at the audience. The technique isn't quite perfected, as an obvious cut occurs once Rudolph's body blocks the camera. It's a daring device that deserves credit for effort.

After the elaborate perspective shot; Tashlin's fast-cutting makes up a lot of the action of the cat pouncing coinciding with the canary's reaction. The intercutting builds suspense and danger for the canary; whose seen as helpless from a viewer's perspective.

Spontaneously, the canary lifts the birdcage upwards; causing Rudolph to narrowly miss his prey. The spontaneous delivery of the canary is a nice payoff from Rudolph's pouncing action staged as a nail-biting moment. The cat crashes onto a wall; taking the physical shape of a coin that rattles on the floor after the impact.

The nighttime sequences occurring during the cartoon's climax; exhibits Tashlin's finest use of a cinematic mode. The layout work of Dave Hilberman (who worked with Tashlin around that time), is a masterpiece in dynamics. Each shot is uniquely staged and framed; and it flows effortlessly in continuity action. The build-up and use of dynamics are comparable to auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock or cinematographer Gregg Toland.

The scenario consists of very imposing camera angles, as well as an emphasis of low-key lighting and silhouette. It's largely a homage to the film-noir style of filmmaking - which was all the rage during 1940's Hollywood.

Samples of beautiful staging are too many to analyse. Very impressive ones feature a low-angle shot of the canary looking up at Rudolph sneaking up on the rafters. The scenes manage to use the 180-degree rule effectively from very complex camera angles.

Effects animation is strikingly utilised in a shot of Rudolph's paw seen in silhouette form - attempting to slowly catch the canary. Unexpectedly, the canary quickly responds to the threat by striking Rudolph's paw with a cartoon mallet. Elements of comedy are applied in this sequence; but the complex staging is applied extensively to emphasise suspense and buildup.

After an artistic tour de force of suspense and staging; the final battle between Rudolph and Petey commences. The cat pounces on top of the bird cage - resulting in some broad action of Rudolph crashing upwards and downwards. The canary almost encounters a close call; as he narrowly escapes the jaws of Rudolph.

The rest of the battle isn't seen, but interpreted through crashing noises - as the scene focuses on the disturbed mistress, who wakes up from her sleep.

The cartoon's ending works as a juxtaposition of the opening scene. In a throwback to much earlier, the camera pans across the room from the P.O.V. of the mistress, concerned of Rudolph's absence. She "awakens" Petey, asking: "Have you seen Rudolph?".

Petey shakes his head; but accidentally hiccups Rudolph's ribbon from his mouth - strongly implying his own demise. The punchline is both wacky in its depiction, if considering the laws of physics. The element of dark humour may be jarring; but serves as fine justice for poor Rudolph!

For the final black-and-white cartoon in the Looney Tunes series - you'd wish to see more shorts paying homage to the film-noir technique. Puss 'n Booty is perhaps Frank Tashlin's greatest cartoon, in terms of impressive staging and suspense. The use of camera angles are not only sublime; but its masterful pacing and structure that's almost equivalent to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. The short also remains funny in its characterisation and timing; with the talents of Warren Foster fulfilled. The canary is illustrated unpredictably - a fine showcase of how there's more than what the eye sees! Although the tradition of black-and-white would fade from the series - it's last cartoon is a testament of how visually appealing it can be.

Rating: 5/5.


  1. I don't wanna sound like an impatient bugger but I would like to point out if you continue with the reviews that the rate you're currently going, it'd take well over a decade for you to finish. I know you have a life and stuff but I'm just sayin'.

    1. Look, I understand if my slow pace is a burden towards some people. I wish I could turn out much more reviews than I normally do, and to some extent I'm trying to do that. Rally, I am. My pace might be on George R. R. Martin territory, but the difference is Martin is a full-time writer who is notoriously slow, whereas I'm not.

      I'm currently in the middle of my degree in university, I also have a part-time job to earn a living amongst other commitments, etc. My blog is really just a hobby of mine. Whenever I have an evening of little activity, I might use that opportunity to do some writing. If it takes over a decade like you suggested, then so be it. After all, it took 17 years for J.R.R. Tolkien to publish a follow-up to "The Hobbit", that would become "Lord of the Rings". It was worth it, and I hope it will be here.

    2. Who knows, Steven? You might end up making the greatest collecrtion of Looney Tunes/Nerrie Melodies reviews EVER but it already is.

  2. I'm most definitely not trying to rush you. And I'm certainly not trying to sound condescending or mean. If you can do this until 2035 that's completely your business. It's your blog and your blog alone. The reason I'm even mentioning this is because I am a devout follower of your blog. I've been reading your reviews while I watch the cartoons as of late, and I really like your opinions. And please, take your time. I am just am impatient man, and I'm sorry about that. I'll keep following your blog for the time being, and although I may get ahead, I'll still read what you had to say for the earlier ones.