Tuesday, March 09, 2010

WHAT THIS BLOG NEEDS IS SOME HEAVENLY PUSS! This is a tribute to two great cinematic duos: Tom & Jerry . . . and Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Now that might sound daffy but I lay it all at the feet of David Thomson who, in his newish book "Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films" tosses off the remark that the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon "HEAVENLY PUSS" from 1949 is a remake of The Archers' "A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH" which I discuss here! Being rather fuzzy on it, I went back and re-watched the cartoon. The first couple minutes are definitely inspired by the British film but the rest of the cartoon has just as much in common with HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943 -- NOT with Warren Beatty) or the Three Stooges short where Shemp dies and comes back to rehabilitate Moe and Larry. You remember that one: "HEAVENLY DAZE" of 1948.
The cartoon HEAVENLY PUSS opens with the traditional chase scene during which Tom gets flattened by a grand piano. Unlike every other Tom & Jerry cartoon, however, this actually kills da cat and he finds his spirit self ascending a golden staircase through the clouds and glorious light (a shot definitely inspired by the Powell & Pressburger film) to be dropped off in heaven. A kitty St. Peter/railroad conductor figure is checking the credentials of several dead kitties to see if they are entitled to enter the heavenly gates. An incredibly shocking moment occurs when a soaking-wet bag containing three little kittens - the cutest kittens you're likely to see - bounces up and St. Peter tsk-tsks "What some people won't do!" You got it. Somebody DROWNED these three adorable kittens!!! Are you likely to see anything that dark sneaking by in a cartoon made in the last 25 years?!?!? I doubt it. Well, of course, when Tom tries to sneak in, St. Peter stops him and reads how he spent his life basically tormenting a poor little mouse (Jerry) so he's gonna end up in H.E.Double.Hockey.Sticks. But there IS a way out! The "Heavenly Express" doesn't leave for heaven for another hour. If, in that time, Tom can go back to earth and get Jerry to sign a "forgiveness" document, Tom can enter into heaven. If not. . .well. . .a little heavenly closed circuit TV shows the scene in a fiery hell in which the Devil (played by Butch the bulldog) is waiting for Tom.
Tom returns to earth and the clock is ticking. He brings Jerry a nice cake and presents the forgiveness document to the mouse. Jerry is not in a forgiving mood and squirts ink in Tom's face before ripping the document to shreds. Tom gets ticked and lapses back into his Jerry-bashing ways but the devil bulldog appears and eggs him on. Tom repents and pleads with Jerry to sign. Jerry, who after all is a kind mouse, finally relents -- if for no other reason than to get this pestering cat out of his hair. Jerry signs. But before Tom can race back up the heavenly staircase, the clock strikes an hour and Tom falls through a fiery hole into hell where he splashes into a boiling cauldron while the Devil sticks him with a pitchfork. But wait! In true Hollywood cop-out fashion, Tom wakes up and discovers it's all been a dream. However, he is so thankful that he grabs Jerry, smooches him and hugs him close. A bewildered Jerry breaks the third wall as he looks at the camera. Fade out.
The entire cartoon seems to rocket by before you know it and I would've liked a couple more minutes since it all seems rather rushed. However, after the initial Tom & Jerry cartoons, the studio shaved a minute or two off the running times of subsequent cartoons and we're left with only 8 minutes; good as they are. William Hanna and Joe Barbera directed while the great Fred Quimby produced. All in all, a fun cartoon with a different storyline than the usual T&J situation. Warner Bros. did a similar cartoon which I discuss here called "SATAN'S WAITIN'" featuring Sylvester & Tweety.


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Small Fry said...

I remember this episode very well, I'm 45 now.. :) It was rerun on TV a lot in the 80s in the NYC area.