Saturday, 16 October 2021

Running Butch

In Chips Off the Old Block (1942), Butch the cat gathers orphan kittens in a vase and runs away with it, trying to hide them from the mistress of the house. As dramatically loud music by Scott Bradley saws away, the cat doesn’t run in a straight line. That’d be kind of boring, right? So he runs toward and away from the camera in perspective.

The woman is rotoscoped in scenes where she’s reading, but there are other places in the cartoon where parts of her body are made up of nothing but outlines and dry brush to make her movements look faster.

The cartoon does raise questions like: why do the kittens look like Butch? Is he the daddy? Is that why they were left in a basket on the doorstep? Why aren’t kittens with their mommy cat?

Yes, it’s pointless to try to make sense of a cartoon designed to be seen maybe once by someone in a theatre as they’re being urged to buy War Bonds.

The director of the cartoon was Bob Allen, with animation credits to Al Grandmain and Carl Urbano. I will bet you the final scene is animated by Pete Burness. He has the same “beard” that, as Mark Kausler points out, Burness gave to Tom in Puss Gets the Boot (1940)

It would appear, by my reading of the timeline, that this cartoon was made after Hugh Harman left the studio. There are no credits on MGM cartoons until this one. Jerry Brewer and Allen both directed at least two cartoons, then it seems producer Fred Quimby bypassed them and went outside to hire Tex Avery to direct in September 1941. MGM’s studio was rife with politics from the beginning. Bringing in someone from outside, even someone as brilliant as the Oscar-nominated Avery, couldn’t have soothed anyone’s ambitions. Allen, a fine designer, left in October 1942 to work for Harman (though in Mike Barrier’s Hollywood Cartoons, he says the two were not on speaking terms in 1938). Brewer decided to use his middle name and wrote for radio, television and films—including The Incredible Mr. Limpet—as Jameson Brewer. He died in 2003.

MGM loved putting Donald Duck’s voice in cats. The original Tom in The Alley Cat (1941) had one and the same actor voiced Butch in this short (no, it is not Clarence Nash). I’d have to listen closer but my wild guess is Martha Wentworth is the housewife.


  1. H,Yowp, I love that short..almost like MONSTERS INC. and FEED THE KITTY with Butch having to hide the kitten...and it's said that Sara Berner is the housewife..

  2. There is a bit of terrific animation in this cartoon--The scene where Butch slowly jumps off the armchair and stretches his legs as he walks looks exactly like real cat movements. Wish there had been more of that.

  3. And I love Scott's original(?) kitten theme, also used in the later CAT AND MERMOUSE (with you know what cat and mouse), and the rendition of "Sleep, Baby, Sleep", when Butch first wakes up..