Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Camera of Dicky Moe

Gene Deitch made a dozen Tom and Jerry cartoons at his studio in Czechoslovakia in an exercise that brings about much debate amongst old-time animation fans. Some people love them. Others think they’re horrible. Frankly, and I don’t mean any disrespect to Mr. Deitch, I’m not a fan of them.

To be honest, the Tom and Jerry series was already downhill when Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were still making the cartoons and things never improved when Chuck Jones took a crack at them after Deitch’s efforts. Jones’ cartoons look nice but I defy anyone to have any empathy for his version of the characters.

Deitch’s Tom and Jerrys are just too quirky for me. I won’t get into a whole shopping list of reasons but one thing that’s always bothered me is how jerky the action is at times, especially when impact is shown on the screen. I never understood what was happening until writing this post when I took a look frame-by-frame.

Here’s an example from the infamous “Dicky Moe” (1961). After some mismatched shots, and no dialogue when the Captain is gesticulating like he’s shouting, Tom is shanghaied. During the scene, the Captain shoves a brush in the cat’s mouth with inexplicably reverbed sound effects. I imagine Tod Dockstader, a pioneer in electronic music, had something to do with it.

Then Tom is tossed against the side of the ship. What I didn’t realise is the impact is so jerky because the camera suddenly moves in on the animation from one shot to the next.

Then the camera jerks sideways on the drawings while it pulls back at the same time. Some drawings are on one frame, others on two. It’s just a weird visual effect to me.

If you’re wondering what I mean by “matching shots,” here’s a good example. The Captain should be standing in the same place and have the same expression when the shot is cut from a close-up to a medium. But he’s not. Why? Style or an accident?

Gene wrote about the difficulties in making the series. You can read about it here on the AWM site (ignore error messages and scroll down). You can visit Gene’s web site here.

These cartoons were made a couple of years after my favourite Deitch series: Tom Terrific. And it’s one that seems to get the universal praise that “Dicky Moe” doesn’t.


  1. What a polite to say these cartoons were pretty hideous. Wasn'y it Leonard Maltin who said they sounded like they were recorded in a bathroom? Still, "The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit" was probably my favorite of the bunch.

    1. I've come to divide Deitch's work into pre- and post-"Tom & Jerry Cartoon Kit" in terms of stories.

      With his UPA background and off what he was trying to do at Terrytoons, Gene admits he wasn't the most sympathetic person in the world towards Bill & Joe's characters when Bill Snyder got the MGM contract, and it shows in the earliest efforts. There's a meanness and a sadistic feeling in the treatment of Tom in the early stories -- even aside from the animation, to watch Tom get it from his Allen Swift-voiced master just vicious with no redeeming comedy, as in the earlier T&Js with Mammy or Spike delivering the punishment.

      But Swift's narration in "Cartoon Kit" seemed to allow Deitch to get out some of the issues he had with the type of cartoon violence Tom & Jerry represented, and the final few cartoons on the MGM contract were -- if not all that good looking -- at least a little closer to the type of stories/feel that Hanna Barbera had been doing with the characters.

    2. The violence reminds me more of Famous Studios work - imagine them handling Tom & Jerry!

      Tom Terrific was great, but I'm a sucker for Jim Tyer's animation all around.

  2. Gene Deitch's Tom & Jerrys make Hanna-Barbera's 1950's TV product look like fully-budgeted masterpieces.

  3. These were “Oddball” in the truest sense of the word – and with a Capital “O”! “Dicky Moe” may be my favorite, because of Allen Swift’s superb “anger management” performance.

    As a kid, I thought they were too weird. Now, I love them for the bizarre masterpieces they are! Ya gotta admit, very little else was like them. And, was ANYTHING ever like “Landing Stripling”?

    If the Blu-ray Tom and Jerry sets are going to be TRULY “chronological”, I hope these finally get the attention they deserve. …And where’s Volume Two by now?

    1. "As a kid, I thought they were too weird. Now, I love them for the bizarre masterpieces they are! Ya gotta admit, very little else was like them. And, was ANYTHING ever like “Landing Stripling”?"

      I use to see stuff like that on an old Nickelodeon program called "Pinwheel" myself. The same Czech studio use to did their own domestic cartoons as well such as one about a mole character and his little adventures.

    2. They are not masterpieces!

  4. For the Captain's "peg leg" - was the sound effect the same "cowbell" type as later used on Blue Öyster Cult's 1976 hit "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"? Sure sounds like the sound effect was created by the same means as the percussive effect on the said classic rock staple.