Disclaimer: This site contains racial imagery that may be offensive to some. We, the owners of this blog, include it not only for the sake of preserving these artifacts of our history, but to call attention to the brilliant people who contributed to them--including actors, comedians, and musicians of color

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"A Bad, Bad, Naughty Little Baby"

The following is from a letter regarding my review/synopsis of one of the odder early Tom and Jerry cartoons, a 1943 entry called "Baby Puss." Why so odd? You'll find out...


I had intended to do Lantz' BARBER OF SEVILLE next, but you don't have
to hit me on the head with the proverbial cartoon mallet--I can take a
hint. You want BABY PUSS, so that's what you'll get. I have *recorded*
notes this time--unless I have to totally wipe the hard drive, I'll have
something to refer to if necessary.

I'll also try to answer the questions you addressed in your letter as I
come to the appropriate scenes.

A little background information first. This, like ZOOT CAT and other
early Tom and Jerrys, was animated in large part by Pete Burness (Ray
Patterson, Irv Spence and Ken Muse are also credited). I only wish I
could tell you who did what scene, though I suspect Spence did the dance
sequences, as in ZOOT CAT. It was released, oddly enough, on December
25, 1943--Christmas Day. It's not the best Tom and Jerry entry of this
period, but it sticks out in my mind for the oddest of reasons, that
being that it's the only cartoon I know of in which a diaper is
realistically rendered. In cartoons, usually you see the caricatured
"one-pin" variety or something that looks like white shorts. The one Tom
is wearing has two pins, the stress lines are all in the right places,
and it even sags properly when Tom stands. There's even a gap in the
legs, something one would expect to see in a cloth diaper. Harman and
Ising's "hyper-realism" obviously still has its hold on the
Hanna-Barbera group--Tex Avery's influence had yet to permeate the
entire studio. The action takes place in an equally realistic child's
bedroom, complete with dollhouses, a rocking horse, a doll bed and even
a changing table with a scale. Normally this would seem superfluous,
but it's part of the cartoon's charm. To match the realism of the
drawing, the cartoon is also rather evenly paced--earlier frame-by-frame
checks showed it was mostly shot on twos, which would tend to even out
the timing.

When the cartoon opens, we see a little girl presumably about five years
old--or only part of her, since she's shown from the chest down like the
black maid--yelling at Tom, who's apparently fled to hide under a
dresser: "You is a bad, bad, bad naughty little baby, runnin' away from
your mama like that..." She's wearing a yellow dress with the puffed
sleeves that were popular in that era, plus white ankle socks and Mary
Jane shoes. You asked in your last letter if she looked imposing, and
she certainly does in this scene, almost as much as the maid in other
cartoons. Nothing at all like skinny, sweet little Agnes in NASTY
QUACKS--the girl in BABY PUSS is a more realistically-proportioned
kindergartner, complete with pudgy hands and fingers. Strange,
considering I always pictured Tom as being about four feet tall on two
legs, and here he seems to be more realistically cat-sized, at least in
the scenes with the girl. I'd say that if he stood on two legs, he'd
look the little girl straight in the chest. The rest of the time he
looks relatively normal, but then, most of the cartoon is from his point
of view.

She drags Tom out from under the dresser by the tail, and we see for the
first time he's wearing full baby regalia--a pink bonnet, blue booties
on each of his four feet, and the aforementioned diaper. As she pulls
him along, he has his head propped on one "arm" and wearing a disgusted

In the next scene she's carrying Tom in the clumsy way most kids carry
pets, with one hand under his "armpits" and another under his ankles,
with his middle sagging so low it almost hits the ground. She carries on
in an obvious imitation of her mother--to me, it sounded like "I'm
telling you, Nancy, it ain't the work, it's the worry..." (Note: I have since been informed that the actual dialogue is "Land sakes, it ain't the work, it's the worry!" Thanks, Kevin). It does make
one wonder what sort of mother this kid has. (I'm guessing a 40's "Rosie
the Riveter" type.) She must be both a holy terror and extremely
indulgent, since the child's room is filled with so many toys, realistic
baby furniture, and stacks of real diapers. (A particular overindulgence
at that time, since cloth was in short supply during the war). Then
again, the kid could be "borrowing" stuff from a little brother.

She slams Tom into the doll bed with the force of a wrestler, tucks the
blanket around him, and shoves a full milk bottle into his mouth. After
declaring she's going out to "buy a new girdle", she stomps out.

As soon as she leaves, Tom kicks off the blanket and decides to sample
the milk--he takes the nipple off the bottle, guzzles some milk, then
puts the nipple back on. He's slowly getting into this "baby" routine,
amusedly hitting the little mobile on the cradle and sucking on the
bottle with his legs in the air, "goo-gooing" and "da-da-ing" all the while.

Meanwhile, Jerry happens by, peeking around the corner of a dollhouse.
He hears Tom "goo-goo-ing" away and slips under a rocking horse for a
closer look, leaning on the rocker. Seeing Tom in full baby mode,
contentedly sucking his bottle, Jerry slaps himself in the face a few
times to make sure what he's seeing is real--he can't believe his luck!
A prime opportunity to make fun of the big dope, which he does. Going
over to a nearby kiddle record player, he starts the record
(appropriately, "Rock-a-Bye Baby") and lies on his back imitating Tom
and sucking his thumb. Tom, naturally, is infuriated by this teasing,
chasing Jerry all over the room and into a dollhouse--Jerry slams the
tiny door in Tom's face before Tom can get to him, hanging a "Measles"
sign on the door.

Opening one of the tiny windows, Tom peers in on Jerry, who is in a
little bathtub pretending to take a bath. Jerry's humming Cole Porter's
"How About You?" Seeing Tom, Jerry emits a feminine-sounding scream and
hits Tom several times with his little bath brush. (Accentuated with
appropriate violin "plunks" on the sound track).

Jerry then runs down the little stairs into the dollhouse's bedroom, and
gets into the little bed. A doll lying next to him suddenly sits up and
says, "Mama!" This gives Jerry an idea....

He emerges from the dollhouse dressed in the doll's outfit (floor length
pink dress, large hat, parasol, and frilly underwear) sashaying to the
tune of "Strolling Through The Park One Day." Tom is momentarily taken
aback and watches Jerry blankly. But Jerry's ruse is discovered when his
dress slips off; Tom puts his paw on Jerry's tail, but Jerry escapes and
runs back into the dollhouse.

Tom, determined to get him, tries to pry the roof off the dollhouse. He
almost succeeds when the girl re-enters, yelling "Baby!" This startles
Tom--he drops the roof on his head and for a moment, it's stuck in the
dollhouse. Once he's free, the girl scolds him, telling him to stay in
his bed this time or she'll make him taste castor oil..."and it'll taste
awful bad, and that ain't good!" (A sly reference to a popular song of
the day). She slams him in the bed, tucks the blanket around him, and
leaves (reusing the earlier animation).

Deciding to ignore Jerry, Tom goes back into his baby routine--but
Jerry's not through with him. Still dressed in the doll's frilly
underwear, he sneaks over to an open window and attracts the attention
of three alley cats in nearby trash cans--one black cat, one orange cat
and one short beige cat (whose names, I later found out, are Butch,
Meathead and Shorty, though they're not referred to by those names
here). Jerry strikes a provocative pose, sticking one frilly leg out.
You hear a wolf whistle on the sound track, but it's unclear where it
comes from.

The cats start to chase him, but when they come to the window, they stop
when they see Tom, who is oblivious to everything. He's suddenly
startled and disoriented by their singing "Rock-A-Bye Baby", and
thrashes around a bit before regaining his composure. Cut to a scene of
the three cats: the black and orange cat are singing while the orange
cat is rocking the smaller cat in his arms, in an attempt to mock Tom.
They end the song by having the orange cat flip the little cats lips
with his fingers (sort of a "blblblbl" sound done to the tune of the music).

Furious, Tom, stands up in his cradle, his face beet red. He runs over
to the three cats and stands over them threateningly. He's anything but
intimidating, though: the cats simply go "Ah-GOO!" and Tom is suitably
cowed, shrinking back slightly.

The black cat shoves Tom's entire head into his diaper and kicks him all
the way from the window back to his cradle. Once there, Tom timidly
pulls the covers up to his chin and puts the bottle back in his mouth.
He's sort of between a rock and a hard place, not sure whether to fend
off the intruding cats or obey the little girl. The black cat says
"Rocky-bye?" and proceeds to violently shake the cradle. He then grabs a
significant portion of Tom's cheek, says "Kootchy koo" and shakes Tom's
face every bit as violently, Tom's bottle still in his mouth.

Taking the bottle from Tom, the black cat takes the nipple off, drinks
the rest of the milk, discards the bottle, then puts the nipple on Tom's
nose. In a wonderful bit of cartoon impossibility, he blows on the
nipple and inflates Tom's head, which then deflates and fills the nipple
with air. The black cat pops the inflated nipple with a pin, which sends
Tom spinning head over heels in the air and back into his cradle.

The black cat then decides to play "Ups-a-daisy" with Tom, throwing him
high enough in the air to hit the ceiling. He hits it so hard he knocks
some plaster loose. Landing on the floor on his rear, Tom bounces into
the black cat's arms, and gets thrown to the orange cat. The orange cat
kicks him to the little cat, who kicks him straight into the fishbowl,
rear-first. Tom's diaper is now soaked--he climbs out of the fishbowl,
shakes a little water off his leg, and holds up a portion of the soggy
diaper with a distressed expression on his face.

The cats say mockingly, "Aww..he fell in the fishbowl," making "shame,
shame" signs with their fingers. Deciding a diaper change is in order,
the little cat runs over to Tom with a baby carriage (to the sound of
sirens on the sound track) and pulls him in.

He rushes Tom over to the changing table, and flips Tom onto it (Tom
lands with his rear in the air). The black cat is wearing a bib over his
mouth like a surgical mask, and calls out instructions to the other two
cats like a surgeon:

"Anesthetic!" (The little cat hits Tom with a huge mallet--Tom goes
unconscious and his rear end drops down with a slide-whistle sound.)

The black cat calls for "Powder!" and then "Oil!" which he applies to
Tom's bottom.

"Diaper!" The black cat says. The orange cat responds, "Diaper!" and is
promptly hit in the face with the soaked one Tom was wearing.

Sliding the dry diaper under Tom, the black cat says, "Safety pin!" He
quickly folds and pins the diaper onto Tom, then jabs the extra safety
pin into Tom's rear. Tom, startled out of his stupor, screams, whereby
he's clobbered again by the little cat with the mallet.

The black cat then says "Forceps!"--the "forceps" turn out to be a pair
of pliers, which he uses to remove the now-destroyed safety pin from
Tom's rump. He then pulls some rubber pants on over the diaper and puts
Tom in a sitting position on the table, pulling the rubber pants out far
enough to accommodate the goldfish the little cat promptly throws in.

This, being an MGM cartoon, is a musical cue. The fish writhes and
wriggles around in Tom's rubber pants to a samba beat, and the cats
break into a rendition of Carmen Miranda's "Mama Eu Quiero." While
singing, they kiss Tom condesendingly, poke him in the eye, then hold
his mouth open and squirt him with milk from a bottle, all in time to
the music. (Which you could probably fathom from the "boinks" and
"splats" on the sound track).

The next scene shows the short cat dancing around in full Miranda garb,
complete with lipstick, as he sings the number. The black cat provides
accompaniment by playing poor Tom's rubber pants like a bass, while the
orange cat saws on Tom's whiskers as if they were violin strings.

(A brief side note. There's something strange about that particular
scene, at least to me. The pupils in the orange cat's eyes are drawn in
such a way as to make him look glassy-eyed, almost robotic. It seems as
though a junior animator or painter committed the cardinal sin of
placing the pupils directly in the center of the eye. Which, as Frank
Thomas and Ollie Johnston pointed out in their book on Disney, makes a
character seem lifeless.)

The little cat, now minus the Miranda outfit, dances with a rag doll,
exclaiming "Look, I'm dancin', I'm dancin'!" (That line, by the way,
appears in a lot of cartoons of the time, leading me to wonder if it's a
radio or movie catchphrase of some sort.) The little cat tries to flip
the doll over his head, but is somehow flipped himself.

The number is in full swing when it's suddenly interrupted by the shrill
cry (off-camera) of "Baby!" Yes, the little girl is back, and the three
cats scurry out, leaving Tom hanging from a post on the changing table
by his rubber pants, to await the inevitable...

The little girl, seeing Tom dangling from the changing table by his
rubber pants, says, "This is the last straw which is breaking my back as
soon as it is turned..." (a heck of a mixed metaphor--wish I'd thought
of it). The goldfish apparently disappeared to God knows
where--presumably it escaped from Tom's pants when the cats scurried out).

The scene "wipe dissolves" to Tom in a high chair, his arms pinned by
the high chair's tray, as the little girl says, "You are a bad baby, so
now you have to taste CASTOR OIL!"

You asked me, I believe, how much of the little girl shows in this
scene. All we see here is her arm and hand as she's trying to force the
spoonful of the nasty stuff into Tom's mouth. One minor error here--the
little girl is wearing a bracelet in this scene, but in others in which
she appears, the bracelet is not visible, when it should be. There are
other similar details that are just a bit off, but I'll get to those in
a moment.

Anyway, Tom resists the little girl's efforts to force the spoon in his
mouth, but the scene cuts to Jerry, standing directly below him, with a
nutcracker. He clamps down hard on Tom's tail with it, causing Tom
to--of course--scream. The moment he opens his mouth, the little girl
shoves in the spoonful of castor oil. Tom immediately retches, breaks
free of the high chair (feet spinning in midair--a feature of Tom and
Jerry cartoons I've always liked) and runs to the nearest window, where
he apparently throws up. Jerry, watching all of this, laughs silently
(with appropriate "laughing" music on the sound track) until a small
drop of castor oil from the discarded spoon drips down into his mouth.
He too retches and runs over to the window with Tom. We see both of them
at the window heaving as the closing music starts, and the scene irises out.

To say the least, this is a strange little cartoon. Well, "strange"
doesn't begin to describe it, actually. This is cruel even by Tom and
Jerry standards; the animators appear to be acting out some private
fantasies of theirs, since there's a strong sadomasochistic element to
the whole thing. The cartoon is perhaps the only one in which there is
no sufficient motivation for all the torture Tom endures--he's just
minding his own business when Jerry decides to take advantage of the
opportunity to torment him. Jerry really comes off as a jerk here, which
is why I suspect a scene was added in which Jerry literally gets a "dose
of his own medicine."

Putting Tom in a diaper apparently posed a quandry for some of the
animators, who seemed not to know just what to do with Tom's tail.
Should it go inside or outside the diaper? In some scenes--for example,
the one in which Tom in sucking on a bottle with his legs in the
air--the tail *should* be visible, but isn't. Nor is it visible when
he's standing with his soaked diaper next to the fishbowl--but it
reappears when the little cat runs up and grabs him (he yanks Tom's tail
and pulls him into the carriage). It disappears again when Tom is
hanging by his rubber pants, but reappears in the castor oil scene (so
Jerry can clamp the nutcracker onto it, obviously). Whether that's an
omission on the part of the animators or inkers is hard to say, but it's
one they never caught.

There were a couple of scenes I forgot to mention--I did take notes, but
ultimately did the thing from memory, viewing scenes on which I was
uncertain. Minor stuff, but I figure you'd want to know what was going on.

In the scene just after the goldfish is deposited in Tom's rubber pants,
and the music cue starts, the black cat and the orange one start
plucking on Tom's whiskers (the guitar sound you hear on the track).

In one scene, the little cat is playing rattles like maracas, followed
by Jerry moving part of a curtain back and forth across his rear in time
to the music (in the way Latin dancers move a cloth back and forth, as
if they were drying themselves with a towel), I'd have to look again,
but I think this occurs just after the "Look, I'm dancin', I'm dancin!"

Ironically, Butch (the black cat) "plays baby" himself in a much later
cartoon, BABY BUTCH, though his motivations are different (he's trying
to get at a huge piece of ham he spies in Tom's refrigerator, and cons
Tom into "adopting" him). He gets subjected to some of the same
humiliations Tom endures in BABY PUSS--karmic retribution, in a sense.

If this cartoon has one redeeming feature, it's Scott Bradley's lively
score, which runs the gamut from old standards (we hear "You Must Have
Been A Beautiful Baby" when Tom is drinking from his bottle, and "Baby
Face" when he's being kicked into the fishbowl by the three cats) to
Latin rhythms. Like Stalling at Warner's, Bradley could match a scene to
the appropriate song in order to set the mood. Ultimately it makes the
cartoon far more energetic than it otherwise would have been, and blunts
the cruelty somewhat.

I hope I did an adequate job describing/reviewing this. Rather than
going on to BARBER OF SEVILLE, I'll move on to the long-promised ROMEO
IN RHYTHM, itself a wonderful showcase for Scott Bradley's music.


Tags: , , , ,

No comments: