Saturday 15 October 2011

Texas Tom

Tom and Jerry may have won seven Oscars in the ‘40s and early ‘50s but I’d, frankly, rather watch a Warner Bros. cartoon from that same period over them any day. The MGM cartoons are expertly animated with wonderfully displayed emotions. But I prefer the wise-ass Warners characters who are silly and unexpectedly inventive, generally in the same cartoon. Tom and Jerry are too full of humiliation and pain for my liking. And the less said, the better, about the later Tom and Jerrys which needed to rely on whining ducks, childish mice and even a teenaged babysitter to drive the plots.

But there are some cartoons that don’t altogether fit in those categories, and they can be enjoyable. ‘Mouse in Manhattan’ (1945) has a charm that overcomes potential hokeyness. ‘Heavenly Puss’ (1949) is highlighted by Tom reacting to his own desperation and a fun, evil Satanic bulldog. And then there’s ‘Texas Tom’ (1950).

There’s a great sequence of animation by Ray Patterson as Tom dudes up in cowboy duds to impress a girl kitty with his “singing”, only to have Jerry show off what a poser he is by changing the speed of the record the cat is lip-synching to.

And just before that, we get this reaction from Tom when he sees the girl cat. Yeah, it’s not as wild as a Tex Avery take, but it’s an attractive and effective one. The animator is Ken Muse, a former Disney animator who was a mainstay when Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera opened their own studio in 1957.

Tom’s song, “If You’re Ever in Texas, Look Me Up,” is casually crooned by Ken Darby of The King’s Men, the vocalists (with Billy Mills and his Orchestra) on ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’ (radio comedy shows always seemed to break for a musical interlude). Darby also worked on ‘Song of the South’ for the Walt Disney studio.


  1. Watching seven T&Js in a row on WPIX in New York after their acquired rights back in 1977 could get monotonous at times, when too many of the same plot structures showed up back-to-back-to-back. Adamson's book on Avery notes that Bill & Joe were getting ribbed by the late 1940s about how they "really beat the shit out of that cat," which may explain why Tom starts getting a bigger break in the cartoons around 1953 or so. Too bad they couldn't have varied up the endings a little earlier in the series, when the animation budgets were higher and before all the secondary characters started to arrive (and Jeannie the babysitter would never work today, because she'd just be text-messaging on her cell phone and we'd en up with four silent characters in the cartoon...)

  2. Everyone still has some kind of phone like Jeannie has in their house. Just NOT dialed with le rotary dial.....good point though...

  3. Perhaps one of the things that helped the Warners characters, J.L., is there were three directors who all treated the characters a little differently. Jones would never have made that ridiculous Bugs vs greyhound cartoon.
    If you want monotony, you don't have to look farther than Bosko, as young Steven has pointed out on his blog. Same drawing style, same basic plot, even the same animation in places. It's quite understandable, though. No one watched seven in a row back then and if an audience liked something, you gave 'em what they wanted.

  4. No question the Bosko (and the Ising MM and the Buddy cartoons) were repetitious, and a one-hour show of nothing but Road Runner, Pepe LePew or Speedy Gonzales cartoons would end up feeling the same way. Which is why the other great thing about the Schlesinger studio is they seemed to have learned their lesson from Clampett's frustration at being stuck with Porky on the LT series, and when the great characters of the 40s were created or fully fleshed out, nobody grabbed the prime director and told them to do nothing but cartoons featuring that/those character(s). It's not until the end of the 40s that Warners started really pairing up the newer characters exclusively with their creators (and even then Friz wasn't stuck with doing nothing but Sylvester cartoons).

    It's to Hanna-Barbera's credit that they were still able to make at least some entertaining T&J shorts into the mid-1950s, but you always have to wonder if MGM's output would have been better if Bill & Joe had been allowed to at least make a few cartoons featuring other characters before Fred Quimby retired (I would have just be happy to see one experimental 'swap", where Hanna-Barbera did a Droopy or Barney Bear short while Avery tried his hand at a T&J cartoon. Neither result might have been successful, but at least they would have been different).

  5. You don`t like "Greyhounded hare", Yowp?
    I'll admit it's a little awkward in the villian/confilct department, but I think it's a really good example of Warren Foster using the "What do you mean it's not awesome" principle.

  6. You've nailed the reason I don't like it. There are several McKimsons that are great and a few where Bugs is out of character for me.

  7. Ray Patterson indeed animates the shots of Tom playing his guitar, but I think the shots of Jerry changing the speed of the casette was by Kenny Muse.

    I love the scenes of Tom and the bull which was animated by Irv Spence, while Ken Muse does the finale from which Tom gets struck by the bull and which Jerry rides Tom like a horse at the end. Ed Barge did the whole beginning with Tom and Jerry before the car approaches with the "cowgirl".