Happy Henfruit Pt

4: “More Eggs-acting Detail”

A new decade – an old breakfast. Eggs continue to be delivered sunnyside up by all the major animation studios. Let’s serve up a dozen this week so there’s plenty to go around.

The Good Egg (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 10/21/39 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.), marks animation’s first egg confusion Involving an egg not derived from a feathered species – although our story still starts in a barnyard. As with Mickey’s The Musical Farmer, we’ve got one hen who just can’t lay. She watches while other hens easily hatch families (such as by putting their eggs in a pop-up toaster and popping out chicks instead). She can’t even befriend and cuddle the other hens’ chicks without them taking the youngsters away and snubbing her. Finally, she can stand it no longer, and places a suicide note on her nest: “Goodbye, cruel world” – with an extra sign in the nest reading, “Space to Let.” She heads for the river, waves the world a last farewell, and lunges for the deep water. But before she can reach the waterline, she stumbles over a large, unattended egg in the sand. Seeing no one else around, she makes a desperate move, and “eggnaps” the orb. Back at her nest, she clucks happily seated upon the egg, knitting clothes for the new arrival, decking her nest out with a banner reading “Welcome, Little One”, and even spreading publicity in the form of a handbill outside reading “What local hen is expecting a blessed event?” The hatching takes place, producing – a baby turtle. Mama is oblivious to his differences, and only knows he’s cute, and provides him with a diaper change inside his shell. She attempts to get him to mix in with the other chicks – but the chicks laugh at his attestations of being a chicken, too, and ditch him by sailing away on a small box with sail which they’ve rigged as a pirate ship. The dejected turtle watches from shore – as the glue holding one side of the box together gives way, dumping the chicks into the river. Another river rescue a la Disney’s 1931 “Ugly Duckling” (with the turtle converting his shell into submarine mode). The turtle gets to sail on the next voyage – in the crow’s nest, with his new title emblazoned on the front of his shell – ‘Life Guard”.

Slap Happy Pappy (Warner, Looney Tunes, 4/13/40 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – Porky’s farm is just loaded with poultry (and non) movie celebrities. An oversize hen swallows a craw full of gravel, then speaks with the gravely voice of Andy Devine, shouting, “Hiya, Buck!” (in reference to Andy’s recurring appearance in “Buck Benny” sketches on the Jack Benny Program). Sure enough, on the other side of the farmyard stands Jack Bunny, busy at a conveyor belt applying Easter Egg paint to the day’s egg production. He runs across a black egg and is about to dispose of it as bad, with a mallet. But out pops a black duck, speaking in the voice of Jack’s radio manservant, Eddie (“Rochester”) Anderson, who shouts, “Hold it, boss!”, avoiding the mallet, then asides to the audience, “Heaven can wait.” (Oddly enough, the Korean redrawn version of this film gets the egg color completely wrong, drawing the shell in white, but still producing a black duck.) But the center of attention is the home of Eddie Cackle (a rooster version of radio comedian Eddie Cantor), who as with his real life counterpart, has a problem with his expected parenthood. Five eggs – all girls. A sign hanging on his door, reading “Boy wanted”, is replaced with one reading, “Boy still wanted.”

Original “Slap Happy Pappy” cel courtesy of Ian Soden

But along comes another celebrity papa – a look and sound alike to Bing Crosby, with a baby carriage full of boys. Eddie begs Bing for his secret. Bing demonstrates his secret power – by crooning to a nearby hen, who swoons, then lays a mountain of eggs, each with a boy’s name written on the shell. “That’s a cinch”, Eddie replies, and darts back into his roost to serenade his missus. A small bird peeps into his door keyhole, then produces a radio mike, sending a “Flash”: to the world as Walter Finchell (parodying tattle-tale reporter Walter Winchell) of an anticipated blessed event. Eddie emerges and performs a production number to celebrate his belief that this time it’ll be a boy, getting some less-than-committed encouragement from additional fowl caricatures of Kay Kyser and ever-gloomy Ned Sparks. The big moment arrives, an an egg-shell labeled “Jr.” hatches. “Is it really a boy?” inquires a happy Eddie. “Ummmmm…Could be”, replies the chick (Artie Auerbach’s catch-phrase as Mr.. Kitzel on multiple radio shows).

The Egg Collector (Warner, Merrie Melodies (Sniffles), 7/20/40 Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.), may be in a photo finish for the title of lamest Sniffles the Mouse cartoon of all time (only rivaled by the entirely unfunny “Sniffles Takes a Trip” (1940)), in that it is little more than a retread of plot points from “Little Brother Rat”, with about 1/4 of the action and 1/4 of the pacing. This time joined by his recurring sidekick the Bookworm, Sniffles pours over old books on the hobby of egg collecting. (At least last time he had the motivation of a scavenger hunt requiring daring deeds to win a prize – this time Chuck has him voluntarily sticking his neck out into danger for no logical reason.) Worse yet, Sniffles is painted as stupid – not realizing a book reference to a rodent as an owl’s favorite food is a reference to his own species. (Chuck! Sniffles may be innocent-natured – but you don’t have to make him so dumb just ‘cause you’re stuck for your production quota.) Even the Bookworm, who should have “digested” knowledge on every subject, can’t tell Sniffles what a rodent is, (Well, duh!). So they meet the same Papa owl, with the same half-hatched hooty offspring in the same labeled nest. Sniffles has none of the same complications in transporting the baby’s egg as in the first film, and takes it, baby and all. It takes him nearly a full two minutes of the film to realize, as he brags to the bookworm about taking the egg out from under the nose of the “stupid old owl”, that Papa owl is standing right in the same room with them, and for Papa to explain that Sniffles is a rodent. “What did you think you are – – a cow?” There is not even a chase, as Junior pops out of the shell, distracting Papa long enough for Sniffles and Bookworm to make a clean getaway. All Jones can come up with for an ending is for Bookworm to be scared back at the bookshop by the illustration of the owl in the egg collecting book, and Sniffles’ hat to be switched with the Bookworm’s glasses for the iris out. Despite his many career successes, Jones holds the unique ranking among Warner directors of being the only one among them who could turn out a string of pictures that were downright dull.

The “Good Housekeeping” page for “Golden Eggs” (click to enlarge)
Golden Eggs (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 3/7/41 – Wilfred Jackson, dir.) – The Farmers’ Gazette reports the price of eggs has skyrocketed to 85 cents a dozen. Farmer Donald has a chicken coop full of hens, and declares, “I’ll be rich!”. But rushing to his henhouse, he finds production decidedly off. Almost all the hens are sleeping, and one of the few hens awake lays a pipsqueek egg out of the chute from her nest, and gets congratulated on it by the other hens as if she did an exceptional day’s work! No wonder, as Donald finds a record plating on a Victrola with the title “Lazy Daze.” (Plot hole #1: Who put this record on in the first place? Is this Donald’s normal idea of motivational music? How did he make a living before the big egg boom?) Donald flips the record over to “Hot Stuff”. The chickens swing into action, and Donald soon has a huge basket filled to the brim with what he refers to as “Liquid gold”. (A funny gag has Donald zipping back and forth around the henhouse in superspeed action to gather the eggs – running so fast that he crashes into a blurred version of himself, with both halves of his personality saying to the other, “Watch where you’re going!”) But just as he is about to leave, the flock’s rooster appears on the scene to determine what the hubbub’s about – and takes an instant dislike to Donald and an aversion to allowing him to gather the eggs. (Plot hole #2: Isn’t this Donald’s farm? Hasn’t the rooster ever seen him gather eggs before? And while most cartoon roosters encourage production, why does this one discourage it? Moreover, if Donald is in charge, why does he put up with the rooster’s rough behavior. Shouldn’t he just do like farmer Fudd in a Warner cartoon, and “Give him the axe, the axe, the axe”?).

Donald hides in a tool shed while the angry rooster paces sentry duty in front of the egg basket left behind (which Donald sees with every shell transformed to gold and marked with a dollar sign). Donald happens upon a feather duster, a red rubber glove, and a brown burlap sack, and gets an idea. Using these props, he dons a makeshift chicken disguise (revisiting the basic idea of “Koko Gets Egg-Cited”, discussed in part 1 of these articles, but switching gender to a female disguise instead of a male). Donald flirts seductively with the rooster, attempting to lure him away from the basket. But the rooster’s amorous overtures continue to keep getting in his way. On top of that, Donald keeps periodically having the rubber glove pop off his head (at one point, a caterpillar the rooster has dug up for him gets inside the glove, and wiggles the fingers of the glove so that Donald’s “comb” looks like a beckoning hand), and also loses his feather duster at times too. The rooster engages Donald in a tango dance that transforms Into apache dance whirls, ultimately loosening all of Donald’s appurtenances. Revealed, Donald makes a run for the egg basket, taking off with it faster than his own shadow can keep up. He darts out the chicken yard gate just in time to slam it on the rooster, who leaves a three-dimensional impression of himself in the chicken wire. Donald gives the rooster the horse laugh, but spills one egg in his own path, slips, and somersaults headfirst into the basket, scrambling the day’s supply. As two yolks substitute for his eyes, then slide down his face, Donald can only repeat in sardonic underplay, “Liquid gold.”

The Henpecked Duck (Warner, Looney Tunes, Porky and Daffy, 8/30/41, Robert Clampett, dir.), has been previously visited and reviewed in depth in these columns, in my prior article, “Holy Matrimony! And a Stack of Storks (Part 1).” Daffy is left on the nest by the missus to mind their egg while she goes shopping. To kill time, Daffy improvises a magic act, making the egg disappear. But despite one success at making the egg reappear, a second try of the trick results in no egg at all. Despite Daffy’s attempts to cover up for his shenanigans by substituting a doorknob for the missing egg (a borrowed gag from Oswald’s “The Wily Weasel”), his carelessness winds him up in divorce court. He begs for one more try at the trick, and with a desperate repetition of the magic words “Hocus pocus, flippety flam, a razz-a-ma-tazz, and alakazam!”, the egg reappears in the nick of time. An old hen in the gallery utters the best line in the film: “Alakazam and you get an egg? Oh dear….And for fifteen years I’ve been doin’ it the hard way!”

Horton Hatches the Egg (Wanner, Merrie Melodies, 4/11/42), is Robert (Bob) Clampett’s brilliant adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s famous hit children’s book. While the verses of Seuss’s original manuscript are largely preserved, this being Bob Clampett, one can hardly expect the story to be told without a considerable number of gag embellishments. Lazy Maisie, the jungle bird who’d rather be on vacation instead of tending her nest, complains of bags under her eyes – depicted in expected visual pun. Horton the elephant makes his appearance singing a novelty ditty which was a national earache of the day, “The Hut-Sut Song” popularized by Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights on Columbia, with portions of lyrics in Swedish (or maybe mock Swedish), and getting the lyrics confused with substitute words like “and a so-on so-on so-forth”. Maisie fast-talks Horton into egg-sitting, while she ditches him entirely and flies off for an indefinite stay in Palm Beach (where she begins to take on airs in her dialogue lines to sound like Katharine Hepburn). Horton is left sitting for 51 weeks, through floods, ice storms, and finally into Spring, where he is spotted by hunters carrying an elephant gun so big it takes three of them to carry it.

Clampett’s interpretation of “A rifle was aiming right straight at his heart” has the gun’s sights firmly aimed at Horton’s rear end. But the hunters find the sight of Horton on the nest so funny that they take him back alive to a circus – for money. On the trip back. Clampett can’t resist including one of his old standby gags – a fish, talking like and resembling Peter Lorre, sees Horton on the ship’s deck in his nest, and states, “Well, now I’ve seen everything”, then pulls out a pistol and shoots himself. At the circus, Horton is put on exhibition – and who of all “people” attends the show but Maisie. Before Horton can explain his presence there, the egg begins to hatch. Realizing the work is all done now, Maisie demands it back – but realizes that it’s no longer what she expected. The hatchling has been “influenced” by Horton’s tender care, and emerges as an elephant-bird! (Much like Koko the clown’s hatchlings wearing duplicates of his hat). A frustrated Maisie is defeated, and Horton gains the benefits of parenthood – proving there’s more to being a mother than just laying it. Oddly, the circus doesn’t keep the new spectacle for its own, but send Horton and the fledgling back to the jungle – where they sing the lyrics to “The Hut-Sut Song” wrong again, but now in chorus.

The Ducktators (Warner, Looney Tunes, 8/1/42 – Norman McCabe, dir.), is another of those heavy-on-the propaganda wartime shorts that Norman McCabe got saddled with – or chose to get saddled with? He and Dan Gordon at Paramount seem to have set the all-time records for number of wartime-themed shorts turned out by a single animation director. Our brief interest in this title is for another “Ugly Duckling”-like hatching at the opening of the picture, as mama and Papa German Duck discover a black egg among their white ones. “Vat’s dis, a dark horse?” asks Papa. The result which hatches has all the facial hair and hairdo to bear a not-coincidental resemblance to a certain German dictator of the day, who immediately yells upon emerging, “Sieg Heil!”

Fine Feathered Friend (MGM, Tom and Jerry, 10/10/42 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.), perhaps owes a degree of influence to Dinky Duck’s “The Orphan Duck”, discussed last week, in having Jerry masquerade as a newly-hatched chick in a nest to obtain the bodyguard protection of an overprotective Mother hen. There are actually few gags in this episode dealing with the eggs themselves – the only notable one being the hen’s use of a farm “triangle” (the kind of bell that opened each week’s episode of “The Real McCoys” to call the farmhands to “Come and get it”) to rack up her eggs neatly like pool balls.

“Barnyard Waac” model Sheet (click to enlarge)
Barnyard WAAC (Terrytoons/Fox, 12/1/42, Eddie Donnelly, dir.), takes Rudy Rooster (in this film called “Hank”) into the WWII era. Rudy’s hens all want to do their bit for the war effort, and spend their time learning first aid instead of tending to their nests. When Rudy comes around to check on their production, all he gets for his troubles is a practice session leaving him wrapped in splints and bandages. But things get worse, as a spiffy-looking WAAC recruiting hen interests the girls into joining up. Rudy (Hank) has just gotten out of the bandages, only to find letter from his wives asking him to take care of the kids for the duration. The girls are all out practicing marching in formation, or driving around in their new armored jeeps. Rudy’s attempts to call them back are ignored entirely, and Rudy disgustedly shoves away an abandoned stroller with four eggs in it. Repeating the gag from “Barnyard Egg-Citement”, Rudy paces back and forth, while the four eggs half-hatch and match his walk step for step. The chicks finally emerge, and Rudy nervously attempts to round them back into the stroller. He gets them back to the henhouse, but now the other nests are hatching too, and Rudy is overwhelmed by downy chicks. The commotion has attracted a small army of foxes to the perimeter of the barnyard, and they launch a concerted attack on the henhouse. Rudy puts up a brave fight, but is forced to take refuge inside the henhouse with the chicks – and the foxes uproot the whole structure from its foundation and begin to carry it off. In the nick of time arrive the jeep troops of the WAAC’s, who pursue the foxes with their mobile guns, and also devastate any structure the foxes attempt to use as a hiding place. Amidst the shot and shell, the foxes dive into and cross a river – only to discover upon emerging on the opposite bank that all their tails have been shot off. The jeep brigade now carries the tails as trophies tied to the barrels of the guns on each jeep. Rudy clucks cheers to the brigade as they parade past the henhouse – but gets an unexpected surprise as an ambulance of WAAC’s drives up to attend to him as one of the wounded – winding Rudy up in the same bandages he started in. And to top things off, the chicks swarm all over him again. Looks like its going to be a long duration.

My Favorite Duck (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky and Daffy), 12/5/42 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.), is the first Technicolor partnership of the pig and duck duo upon Looney Tunes converting to color. For our purposes, it features a brief egg gag. Daffy is pestering Porky for no good reason at all in a lakeside camping retreat. As Porky attempts to prepare breakfast, Daffy switches his chicken egg with a much larger one. Porky accepts this in stride: “Boy, there’s nothing like this mountain air to make things grow.” Cracking the egg open, he discovers a young bird. “G-gosh, it looks just like a baby eagle.” Standing right nearby is a sternly angry Papa. “For your information, it IS a baby eagle!” Rolling up his feathered sleeve, he delivers an offscreen beating to Porky, which Daffy can only describe as “Brutal.” The baby talks at mile-a-minute pace: “Is he dead, Mommy? Is there rigor mortis? Did they kill the man? Will they have to bury the man, Mommy?” (Odd that he says “Mommy”, when the adult eagle’s voice was definitely male.) Meanwhile, Porky stands, with his frying pan smacked so hard into his face that an impression of his features appears through the pan metal.

The Yankee Doodle Mouse (MGM, Tom & Jerry, 6/26/43 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.) includes a brief but memorable egg gag, as Jerry barrages Tom with a crate of “Hen-Grenades” (a dozen eggs). One well placed shot hits Tom right in one eye, with the egg shell staying in Tom’s eye resembling a monocle, and the dripping yolk connecting to it like a golden chain.

Flop Goes the Weasel (Warner, 3/20/43, Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.), almost deserves to be one of the “Censored 11″ for its stereotypical designs and dialogue. A black hen detects tapping in morse code from the egg in her nest, which she interprets for the message, “Kill de fatted worm. Yo is practically a mammy. P.S. Congratulations. Junior.” Not many egg gags, but the usual business with a weasel pilfering the egg, then changing his culinary fancy to chicken when he sees the little black squab that pops out. Junior asks what kind of animals they are, and the weasel (posing as Mammy in an Aunt Jemima-style red and white polka dot bandana) tells him they;re both tricky weasels. This of course prompts junior to play every mean trick possible on “Mammy” to follow in the weasel tradition – from hotfoots to mallet bops to having Mammy inhale a shaker of pepper (borrowing some inspiration from Tex Avery’s earlier “The Sneezing Weasel “ of the 1930’s), to finally nearly drowning Mammy in a washing machine (causing the villain to hold a sign out of the water: “I surrender, dear.”) When the real Mammy doesn’t believe Junior’s tale of daring craftiness, the battered weasel is nearby to add his own eyewitness corroboration – with a last sneeze for good measure.

More cracked entertainment to come. Next week’s article promises to be a real “Lulu”.
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