Tale of Two Kitties (1942)

Director: Bob Clampett
Story: Warren Foster
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc and Tedd Pierce
Musical Director: Carl W Stalling
Cast: Babbit and Catstello, Unnamed bird (proto Tweety Pie, nicknamed Orson by the staff)

This 1942 cartoon in notable for a number of reasons. It features peculiar cartoon cat versions of the popular comedy partnership of the day Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Babbit and Catstello made a number of appearances in Warner Bros. cartoons, but never cut it as real stars. It also features the first screen appearance of the unnamed character who would eventually become Tweety Pie and features a couple a belting sequences, made famous by Who Framed Roger Rabbit. According to Wikipedia Tale of Two Kitties it is one of many a.a.p.-owned cartoons to fall in the public domain, as United Artists did not renew the copyright in time. I’m betting there’s a connection.

The first sequence that caught my eye was Babbit trying to push the reluctant Catstello up a ladder to catch Tweety, there’s a charm about these precious seconds that would be difficult to capture with mocap and CGI. A lovely example of the animators craft.  Struggling up ladder claiming no desire to harm the bird, Catstello is “motivated” with a pin, there is a protracted ladder sequence with all kinds of funny business ensuing, including breaking rungs, stilts and balance gags. The short features a number of references that would have been familiar with the audience of the day, but are no longer clear. Babbit shouts up the lady “Give me the Bird!”, Catstello slyly remarks to camera the “If the Hayes Office would only let me I’d give him the bird alright.” The Hayes office were the guardians of taste and censorship in America during this period. A popular target for jokes.

I noticed a nice gag where Babbit forces Catstello into a small box. Catstello pleads and begs not to be locked inside the box. Finally when he is trapped Babbit releases him like a Jack-in-the-box and Catstello flies into the air on springs in an bid to capture the tiny bird.  The spring sequence shows Catstello bouncing up the the rim of Tweety’s next and disappearing down again, bouncing back and forth one swipe after another. Tweety is a baby bird pink colour in this feature but he is unmistakable. Mel Blanc‘s voice characterisation is fully formed and the character is exactly the same. That wonderful mixture of cute and psychotic. The first thing he says to camera is “I taught I taw a putty cat.” as Catstello disappears again. With each reappearance of the tubby cat Tweety delivers a punishment, a baseball bat, Catstello returns with a tin Air raid helmet and cigar (like Winston Churchill), Tweety removes the hat and beats the cat again, this quickfire exchange of one-up-manship includes a divers helmet a bird cage and a large stick of dynamite. So many of the Looney Tune signature jokes are included in this cartoon, probably more so than any of the later features we’ve looked at so far this year. The sequence ends when Catstello doesn’t return after the final stick of dynamite. Tweety squeaks “Oh the poor little putty cat, he cwushed his poor wittle head.” followed by the widest grin possible for a character so small.

Catstello ends up in one scene on a telegraph wire, holding on with three fingers; Tweety does the famous gag. “This widdy piddy went to market, dis widdy piddy stayed home, did widdy piddy had woast beef. Well wadda you know. I wan out piddys.” This was re-played with Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In one sequence Catstello finds himself falling and Tweety shows some compassion for the cat by throwing him a rope, with an anvil tied to the end. When Catstello hits the ground, all the background and scenery is dragged into the hole along with it. Classic!

The penultimate sequence really sets the period. Catstello takes to the air with planks for wings and thanks to Tweety is chased by searchlights and anti-aircraft fire like the London Blitz which ended the year before.

The final scene-closer shows the two cats creep up of the tin-hat wearing air warden tweet and begin a terrifying snarling pounce. Tweety turns and with a voice as big as a mountain screams “Turn out those lights!” Babbit and Catstello shrink back in fear and their yellow eyes switch off to grey one by one like electric lights.

Leave a comment