BOOTLEG FILES 503: “Dicky Moe” (1962 Tom and Jerry animated short directed by Gene Deitch and produced by William L. Snyder).
LAST SEEN: The film is online at numerous video sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Who knows?
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is available on a U.K. DVD, so maybe it can come to the U.S. someday.
Our previous two columns took a look at examples of the late-stage output of Hollywood animation units: the charmless Warner Bros. offering “Rabbit Stew and Rabbits Too!” and the intriguing Ralph Bakshi-helmed Paramount release “Marvin Digs.” This week, we return to the animated short genre with one of the oddest cartoons ever released by a Hollywood studio: the 1962 “Dicky Moe” from MGM.
Now, you may have noticed that I said “Dicky Moe” was released by MGM – I didn’t say that it was made in Hollywood by the studio’s animators. That’s because “Dicky Moe” was part of a brief and bizarre series of shorts created in Czechoslovakia by expatriate American animators on behalf of the studio. This was fairly unusual, because Czechoslovakia was part of the Soviet bloc and the idea that the Commies in Prague would allow Americans to run an animation shop on their territory made little sense in the Cold War period.
This strange story began in 1957, when MGM decided that it was going to shut down its animation unit. Unlike Warner Bros. and Paramount, MGM realized that the short subject theatrical market was shrinking, and it made little sense to create new films for this limited space. Besides, the studio had a huge backlog of cartoons that it was able to re-release – why create new stuff when the old classics were still commercially viable?
By 1960, the studio abruptly changed its mind and decided to bring back the top characters of its animation unit, Tom and Jerry. However, there was a problem – William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the creators of Tom and Jerry, started their own studio and were successfully producing original animation for television. Since Hanna and Barbera were unavailable, MGM contracted the team of Gene Deitch and William L. Snyder, who created animated shorts in Prague under the Rembrandt Films banner. (To avoid questions of this unlikely outsourcing, MGM anglicized the names of the Czechoslovakian artists for the credits of each cartoon.)
From the beginning, this proved to be a not-very-wise idea. The Czechoslovakian animators were mostly unfamiliar with Tom and Jerry and had no reference points to base their work. Even worse, MGM wanted the new Tom and Jerry cartoons to be created as cheaply as possible. Deitch would later state the average budget for each seven-minute short was $10,000, with the inferior Metrocolor process replacing the long-used Technicolor hues. As a result, the cartoons created in Prague lacked the polish and style that the Hanna-Barbera cartoons enjoyed – the artwork was often crude and jerky, and the sound effects were loud and irritating.
Complicating matters was Deitch’s lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. In later years, he would claim that he always loathed the Tom and Jerry cartoons, adding that the Hanna-Barbera output was a “primary bad example of senseless violence – humor based on pain, attack and revenge.”
Curiously, the Deitch-Snyder Tom and Jerry films were often more violent than the Hanna-Barbera films. A great deal of this violence was based on sheer sadism, rather than any inventive slapstick. The combination of excessive roughness coupled with shabby animation made Deitch-Snyder cartoons an unpleasant experience for many Tom and Jerry fans, who were shocked that these cartoons were so wildly different from the Hanna-Barbera offerings.
But there was one Deitch-Snyder cartoon that was interesting: the 1962 “Dicky Moe.” This riff on Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” may not have been hilarious, but it was strange enough to warrant some extra attention.
Set on board the doomed ship Komquot (a fruity spoof of Melville’s Pequod), the cartoon has the peg-legged Captain Ahab obsessing over the elusive white whale Dicky Moe. The captain’s frustration scares his crew, and all of the men jump overboard. The captain goes to the harbor port and knocks the unsuspecting Tom on the head with a telescope. The cat wakes up on the Komquot and discovers to his horror that his new job is to clean the deck – a point that is reinforced with the captain shoving a brush into the cat’s mouth.
There is another individual on the ship: Jerry emerges from a mouse hole with a deck chair and a book, ready to enjoy a day at sea. Tom grabs Jerry and vigorously rubs him down with his brush – to the point that all of the color is removed from Jerry’s body, leaving a transparent mouse. The rodent runs into his hole and emerges seconds later with his color restored, and then he plots revenge. (A candle burns over Jerry’s head, symbolizing the birth of an idea.) Jerry replaces Tom’s wash bucket with a bucket of tar. Tom scrubs tar all over the deck and then somehow winds up spilling tar all over himself. Frantic that the captain will be furious, Tom hides against a wall and pretends to be the captain’s shadow.
Tom later seeks his vengeance on Jerry with a harpoon, but the resourceful rodent draws a face on the tip of Tom’s tail. Tom mistakes this for Jerry and harpoons himself, creating a violent scream of pain. Tom then tries to trick Jerry into grabbing a slice of cheese that is placed under an anvil, but Jerry replaces the cheese with a fish. Tom goes to retrieve the fish and winds up crushed in his anvil trap.
Dicky Moe turns up and the captain loads a harpoon into a cannon. Jerry takes the rope at the end of the harpoon and hands it to Tom, who gets yanked away when the harpoon is fired. The rope wraps around the whale’s body and Tom is tightly tied against Dicky Moe. As the whale swims away with Tom, the captain yells, “Come back with my whale!” Jerry gives an insincere tsk-tsk over Tom’s fate and resumes reading the book he tried to enjoy at the beginning of his encounter with his feline enemy.
Most of the fun in “Dicky Moe” comes from the crazed Captain Ahab, who steals the short with over-the-top lunatic behavior. Whether chewing up a picture of his elusive whale or tapping his peg-leg with irritation at Tom’s lethargy or mumbling to himself with anguished fury (the voice performance by Allen Swift is brilliant), this is the funniest Ahab in film history. In comparison, Tom and Jerry are one dimensional and even a bit boring – Tom’s seething hatred of Jerry and Jerry’s smug one-upmanship keep the characters from connecting with the viewer.
Deitch and Snyder only made 13 Tom and Jerry cartoons before MGM dropped the animators in favor of a new series produced by Chuck Jones, who cranked out shorts between 1963 and 1967. Deitch would later dismiss his contributions to the Tom and Jerry series as “dreck” and claimed the problem was that his Czechoslovakian artists were unable to adapt to the slapstick style established in the Hanna-Barbera films.
To date, “Dicky Moe” has been absent from U.S. home entertainment release; it is one of 10 Deitch-Snyder films still missing from DVD. An image of Tom and Ahab was used on a menu screen for the “Tom and Jerry Deluxe Anniversary Collection” DVD, which is fairly odd because the cartoon itself is never cited in that collection. “Dicky Moe” is available on a U.K. DVD, along with the other Deitch-Snyder films.
The cartoon is hardly lost – it has played on TV many times, and a number of online sites have unauthorized postings of the film. It is possible that “Dicky Moe” may turn up on DVD. But unlike Melville’s fabled whale, this is one target that no one appears to be hunting for with any great mania.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!
Posted on October 25, 2013 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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