Short Review: Mouse in Manhattan (1945)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from Vimeo.

Cast

William Hanna – Jerry

Clarence Nash – Alley cats

Release Dates

July 7th, 1945 in the United States (premiere and general release)

Run-time – 8 minutes

Directors – Joseph Barbera and William Hanna

Composers – Scott Bradley


1945 in History

Hitler takes up residence, marries Eva Braun and eventually commits suicide in the Führerbunker

Franklin D. Roosevelt is sworn in for a fourth term and is the only US president to exceed two

Soviet Red Army liberates Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps; others follow

Anne Frank dies of typhus contracted in the Bergen-Belsen camp of Saxony, Germany

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin hold the Yalta Conference to discuss postwar reorganisation

The future Queen, Elizabeth, joins the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service as a driver and mechanic

The Battle of Iwo Jimas is fought between the US and Japan

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel opens on Broadway, becoming their second stage classic

Benito Mussolini is executed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, in Milan

Infamous Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels and his wife murder their six children, then commit suicide

Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) celebrated as the Nazis surrender

The first test of an atomic bomb, the Trinity Test, occurs in New Mexico

New US president Truman approves the use of atomic bombs on Japan…

… so two are dropped, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, three days apart in early August

The mass death prompts Emperor Hirohito to accept surrender (VJ Day)

Indonesia declares its independence from the Japanese

WWII is brought to an end after six years of terror and death across the planet

UNESCO and the UN are formed

The Nuremberg Trials begin; various Nazi war criminals are put to trial during them

Births of Rod Stewart, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Priscilla Presley, Bette Midler and Helen Mirren


 

Tom and Jerry are perhaps the world’s most famous cat and mouse. Since 1940, the irascible duo have appeared together in 164 shorts (as of 2014), building a reputation around the world as some of the most beloved cartoon characters in history. It all began with two animators, named William Hanna and Joseph Barbera – while working for Hollywood giant MGM, they produced the first 114 Tom and Jerry shorts and won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film seven times, putting them in joint first place with Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies with the most wins in that category. In the days before television really caught on, collections of shorts like these were what made money, and it was largely thanks to the popularity of Tom and Jerry that Hanna-Barbera Productions was able to be founded in 1957. This led to the creation of a variety of other favourites, including the first primetime animated TV show ever, The Flintstones, in 1960, The Jetsons in 1962, and Scooby Doo in 1969. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the Disney Company didn’t really have much competition in the animation world – Hanna-Barbera thus made a name for themselves as one of the most important animation companies from that time.

In 1988, Tom and Jerry were lined up to appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit alongside a host of other popular animated stars, in homage to classic American animation. Unfortunately, this proved unworkable at the time, as Spielberg found when he tried to purchase the rights in 1986: at that time, MGM’s pre-1986 library (including Tom and Jerry) was being purchased by Turner Entertainment, which made it too complicated to get the necessary permission. Spike the Bulldog was the only character from the shorts who was able to make an appearance.

This wouldn’t have been the first time that the two made cameos in live-action films, though; in 1953, they appeared alongside Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet, which was also the same year that this particular short, Mouse in Manhattan, was rereleased. In the year of its original release, 1945, Jerry even made a famous appearance in the popular hit Anchors Aweigh; his dancing sequence with Gene Kelly from the film has gone down as one of animation’s most iconic images.

Mouse in Manhattan title card

So, why Mouse in Manhattan? Well, the simple reason for choosing this one to discuss is that it was always my favourite as a kid – we really owe Cartoon Network for making these classic shorts available to us throughout the 1990s, introducing a whole new generation to the wacky antics and dry humour of the Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry. Mouse in Manhattan was the nineteenth short in the series, making its debut mere months before the end of World War II, and it serves as an interesting time capsule, showing us what the “big city” looked like in the 1940s – and how a country boy like Jerry saw it.

 

Characters and Vocal Performances

The only character of any significance in this short is Jerry, who was clearly being given his moment to shine here. Seeing him on his own like this gives us a unique new insight into his character; unlike Tom, who was content just to throw a wild party with his friends when the household were out, Jerry was always more of a dreamer. He was described by William Hanna as “an incurable scene stealer,” and was usually presented as the protagonist to Tom’s antagonist; we were supposed to be on Jerry’s side. I have to admit, though, I was often more on Tom’s side, maybe because Jerry was clearly the smarter of the two, which gave him an advantage. Perhaps this was my favourite as a kid because Jerry gets his comeuppance!

Jerry in Grand Central

At the start of the short, we see Jerry setting out for the big city, bored of country life. Despite their enmity, it’s rather sweet that he bothers to leave a note for his nemesis to explain where he’s gone (although not without making a silly face at him before he goes). There must be some love (or at least respect) between them somewhere, as Jerry clearly doesn’t want Tom to worry about him while he’s gone! As it happens, Tom never even realises Jerry’s gone; the mouse somehow makes it all the way out to the city and back in one night, before Tom wakes up. Either he’s an incredibly heavy sleeper, or the city is practically on their doorstep; either way, Jerry sure knows how to make the most of a few hours on the town! This short shows the pair at their closest, with none of their signature slapstick fighting; Jerry is happy enough to see Tom after his traumatic experiences that he even gives the bewildered cat a big kiss!

Jerry's table top dance

One other thing to note about Jerry here is that he seems to be a bit of a ladies’ man, a strangely common trait in cartoon characters of the time (just look at Donald Duck in The Three Caballeros from the same year). It doesn’t seem to matter whether his quarry is a mouse or not; Jerry happily eyes up a succession of human women on the street, just their legs visible to us as we look at them from his perspective, wolf-whistling and waving his hat with glee. He also has a memorable scene in which he dances with some table placeholders in the shape of female dancers, but presumably he does understand that they’re not real!

Overall, Jerry’s appearance in this short shows him to be brave, ambitious and perhaps a little naive, as he bites off more than he can chew and ends up running for the comforts of home before the night’s end. It’s also nice to see him and Tom getting along for a change, however briefly.

 

Animation

The animation for the short was done by Kenneth Muse, Ray Patterson, Irven Spence and Ed Barge, and it is smooth, bright and bouncy, typical of its time. Some of the gag shots are emphasised by small white “action lines” or blurred effects, to simulate quick motion, and the famous squash and stretch technique is used frequently throughout the short, most notably in the elevator, where Jerry’s whole body mass sinks down onto his feet, before flying back up to its usual position as the elevator stops.

Jerry in elevator

At times, you can really see the ways that the animators came up with to try and save time and money; animation during the war years had to be done economically, like everything else. When Jerry comes across some well-dressed human women on the street, we are only able to see their lower legs and feet, which is all he can see – these legs are not animated, but instead are quite clearly part of the painted backgrounds, a fact emphasised by Jerry at one point when he checks his reflection in the polished toenail of one lady. There are a few other signs of the difficulties the war was causing animators, with small mistakes such as the hair colour of the final placeholder Jerry dances with changing between shots; re-doing a scene took a lot of time and money, so it was inevitable that little slip-ups like that would happen. Of course, it does nothing to spoil the effect of the film overall.

Easily the most dated (and controversial) piece of animation in the whole thing is the brief use of blackface for a gag in which Jerry is mistakenly dipped into a pot of shoe polish. It’s unfortunate, but blackface gags were all the rage in animation at the time, and many more of these gags can be seen throughout the Tom and Jerry series. At least the infamous Mammy Two Shoes character isn’t in this one; the stereotypes she represented were eventually considered so offensive that they had to be edited out of American broadcasts of the shorts. Interestingly, I don’t think this was the case with the UK broadcasts, at least not in the 1990s; I can remember her and her distinctive voice appearing in a number of different shorts as a kid, and for what it’s worth, I quite liked her.

 

Cinematography

All of the shorts were originally shot in the standard Academy ratio of 1.37:1 until 1955, before switching to CinemaScope that year. It’s a pity this one wasn’t in CinemaScope, as it features some beautiful backgrounds of New York City – the artists must have enjoyed being given more scope than usual, as they were normally confined to the interiors of the house (though they did a masterful job with even those).

Jerry in New York #1Jerry in New York #2Jerry in New York #3Jerry in New York #4Jerry in New York #5Jerry in New York #6

The use of a letter as a piece of plot exposition was quite common back then, but it’s rarely used today. I’m not going to start going on about “lower literacy rates” or “poorer attention spans,” but let’s just say that in today’s world of fast-paced action, the choice to make the audience spend several seconds reading an onscreen letter would be an unlikely one, especially one written in cursive!

The most inventive piece of cinematography in this short is the use of perspective to create an atmosphere unique to Jerry. In most of the shorts, featuring larger characters like Tom and lots of rapid action, the perspective was usually more standard, although the top halves of human characters were rarely seen and the camera was typically kept close to the ground. Here, though, we get lots of close-ups of little Jerry and camera shots from his perspective “looking” up at the towering buildings and people. It’s very effective, creating a sense of vulnerability despite the jaunty score – I think anyone who’s been to a big city in real life can relate to that feeling of insignificance they can produce.

Mouse in Manhattan train windows

There’s a fairly limited use of special effects (those darn war restrictions again), perhaps the most notable being the use of reflections during the table dance scene, but there are some creative angles and shots used to show the city off to its best advantage. My favourite shot is the one from a scene towards the end, where Jerry’s increasingly terrifying night comes to a close at a train station. On the run from the police (after being mistaken for a jewellery thief), Jerry sprints into a subway station and pelts off up the tracks… only to come tearing back down them again with the train hurtling after him. As the train races into the camera, we suddenly switch to an interior shot of it; there’s nothing visible in the darkened carriage, but we can see the platform through the windows as the train flashes past. It’s a bit random, but I’m glad it’s there.

 

Soundtrack

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject of music in Tom and Jerry: “Music plays a very important part in the shorts, emphasizing the action, filling in for traditional sound effects, and lending emotion to the scenes. Musical director Scott Bradley created complex scores that combined elements of jazz, classical, and pop music; Bradley often reprised contemporary pop songs, as well as songs from MGM films, including The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis, which both starred Judy Garland in a leading role.”

The music of the shorts is indeed very memorable, and growing up it was always one of my favourite aspects of them – even now, whenever I hear similar music from the time, I think of it as “Tom and Jerry music.” Mouse in Manhattan features the 1928 Louis Alter song, Manhattan Serenade as its main theme, as well as Nacio Herb Brown’s 1935 piece Broadway Rhythm. Manhattan Serenade originally featured lyrics by Howard Johnson, before getting new ones in 1942 by Harold Adamson, and the song was featured in films such as My Man Godfrey (1936), Vertigo (1958) and The Godfather (1972). Broadway Rhythm had lyrics by Arthur Freed, and was featured in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

Jerry in an alley

The music is used perfectly here to accentuate the action and to set the mood at different stages of Jerry’s trip; there are sweeping romantic strings in his table dance with the placeholders, but in the next scene these give way to ominous drums and brass, which build tension in the alley before the final panicked crescendos as the night descends into chaos.

There is always little dialogue in Tom and Jerry shorts as the title characters rarely speak (although they do on occasion, despite claims that they were always completely silent). Minor characters were not limited in the same way, though, and so shorts featuring Spike the Dog, Nibbles or Mammy Two Shoes often included much more speaking. In this one, however, Jerry spends most of his time alone, so there is no dialogue at all – just a scream at one point, as Jerry accidentally wanders into a lady’s powder room! Tom and Jerry was always about action rather than words, and this is demonstrated in a more understated way than usual in Mouse in Manhattan.

 

Final Verdict

Mouse in Manhattan was another popular addition to the Tom and Jerry series, and is remembered as one of Jerry’s finest moments. The legacy of the characters cannot be overstated; as I mentioned in my introduction, they were largely responsible for bringing about the dawn of television animation through Hanna-Barbera Productions, and after a few years they eventually made the transition from shorts to shows themselves. As Wikipedia tells us, “A number of spin-offs have been made, including the television series The Tom and Jerry Show (1975), The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show (1980–82), Tom and Jerry Kids (1990–93), Tom and Jerry Tales (2006–08), and The Tom and Jerry Show (2014–present). The first feature-length film based on the series, Tom and Jerry: The Movie, was released in 1992, and twelve direct-to-video films have been produced since 2002.”

The first of these direct-to-video films was Tom and Jerry: The Magic Ring from 2001, a strange story which has the duo living with a wizard and seems to be inspired partly by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia, as they cause mischief with their owner’s magic ring after it becomes stuck on Jerry’s head. Sadly, this would be the last time that both Hanna and Barbera were able to work on a Tom and Jerry cartoon together, as Hanna passed away shortly after it was released (followed by Barbera five years later). I’ve seen one of their more recent direct-to-video efforts, Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz (2011), and it’s surprisingly good, a genuinely well-made homage to the original MGM classic and a nod to the pair’s origins as MGM properties.

It’s also interesting to note that the shorts have long been popular in Japan and Germany, and were some of the few Western cartoons to be aired in the Soviet Union shortly before its collapse. The lack of dialogue allowed the characters to transcend language barriers; slapstick is a universally understood language.

Today, thanks to Cartoon Network’s Boomerang channel, modern kids can still enjoy Tom and Jerry. I’m so glad channels like this exist, even if they are starting to see incursions from more modern shows – it’s such a shame that so many classic works from other studios end up lost to the mists of time once their original production run ends, when they could still be enjoyed by audiences today. Thankfully, things seem to be changing: Nickelodeon recently rebranded their popular overnight programming block dedicated to nostalgic favourites from their back catalogue as “NickSplat” (I wish we had this in the UK), and entertainment companies like Shout! Factory have begun releasing DVD sets of some of Nick’s classic animated series, such as Hey Arnold! and The Wild Thornberrys . Tom and Jerry has seen a number of home media releases over the years, such as the six-volume Classic Collection released in the UK in 2004, and the American version (Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection) released between 2004 and 2007, so there’s really no excuse not to see them. If you’ve somehow managed to get this far through life without ever seeing a Tom and Jerry short, I recommend you drop everything and watch one, right now – why not start with Mouse in Manhattan?

References

I consulted some standard web sources for this review:

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6815803 – credit for poster

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mouse_in_Manhattan – wiki article for the short

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_and_Jerry – wiki article for the Tom and Jerry series

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037929/releaseinfo?ref_=tt_ov_inf – IMDB profile

http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon/3071-Mouse-In-Manhattan – Big Cartoon Database profile

 

https://vimeo.com/90733822 – Vimeo upload of the short

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s