Hey, Warner Bros., when are you going to release Mouse Cleaning and Casanova Cat on disc here in the U.S.? If you had put them on this title, Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3 would have received our highest recommendation here at DVDTalk (just for guts alone), and you would have moved a lot of units out there with fans who have just about given up on corporations who quake over phantom P.C. controversies (are you listening, Song of the South's Disney?). So...onward and downward, America. As it stands, Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3 is a short but sweet little collection of 14 classic Tom and Jerry one-reelers (presented in their correct aspect ratios), giving you a healthy dose of sadistic pain and hilarity associated with classic animation's most violent couple of psychotics.
Violence. Pure, unadulterated, unapologetic violence. Mayhem, really. Chaotic, homicidal bedlam. I'm not sure what else better describes classic Tom and Jerry hijinks. Animated dramatics distilled down to the most primitive, base properties, your typical classic Tom and Jerry short consists of either mouse Jerry or tomcat Tom doing something, anything, just to piss off the other one, and before the viewer knows it, knives are being thrown, broomsticks are shoved down gullets, various heating elements are applied to body parts, necks are grotesquely broken in doorjambs and window sills, heads are squished under any number of heavy objects, bodies are sheared in rotating lawnmower blades, and it doesn't stop until someone is dead. Well...not quite "dead," since Tom and Jerry always pop back up to life again and again...but someone is going to damn well submit in the end. The possibility of payback always come in the next cartoon, but before the short is over, one of the duo is sure sorry they started messing with the other one. Through the long, long production history of this iconic animated team, endless variations on this basic set-up were attempted (someone even had the bright idea of making them friends at one recent low point in the series), but the shorts that are still remembered today, the cartoons that I cherished during the golden age of syndicated afternoon and weekend television, are well represented by these original MGM efforts, on this Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3 disc. And the core purpose of these classic Tom and Jerry shorts was the essence of mathematical elegance: make us laugh by showing, in as many permutations that could fit within seven minutes of screen time, the most heinous possibilities imaginable when a cat and a mouse - hell-bent on destroying each other - possess the same merciless ingenuity to destroy as their human counterparts. Sam Peckinpah didn't invent the excruciating poetry and humor of cinematic blood-letting - Tom and Jerry did.
Watching these shorts for the umpteenth time (god knows how many times they were burned into my brain during childhood), the sheer exuberance of the violence is what still stands out, particularly in contrast to today's bloodless, weak-kneed children's toons. You can tell the writers and creators/directors Hanna-Barbera enjoyed making these shorts as sadistic as possible, with Tom's face often made feverishly insane, with a maniacal glee projected right before he smashed Jerry (look how many times Tom was transformed into a devil, complete with gnashing fangs and pointed ears). While the Looney Tunes group over at Warners relied more on sophisticated, fast-patter verbal gags, and Disney kept things squeaky clean even when Goofy became entangled in physical mayhem during his "How To" series or Donald flew off the handle (swearing, of course, in a manner that was unintelligible and therefore, safe), MGM went for flat-out primitive aggression with Tom and Jerry (a tone that always seemed slightly out of whack with MGM's classy "Tiffany" studio status). What did smack of MGM was Tom and Jerry's most frequently used battleground: the American suburban home and backyard - and that dichotomy between the coziness of the traditional, spacious, well-appointed house and immaculate, lush backyard, and the nightmarish violence that reigned within those walls and fences, was, and is, hysterically funny.
Here are the 14 one-reeler MGM Tom and Jerry cartoons included here on the Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3 disc. I've included the year of release and the run time of each (for Tom and Jerry experts concerned about complete versions of the shorts), along with a random thought or two of my own:
CAT NAPPING 1951 (7:00)
A classic battle royale in the American suburban backyard, complete with hammocks, push mowers, and of course, ants (the same marching ones from Pup on a Picnic and Barbecue Brawl). There's a funny moment when Jerry shows how mean he can be when he kicks the unsuspecting frog right in the can, and into Tom's cool summer drink. If only our backyards were this much fun.
THE FLYING CAT 1952 (6:47)
The little yellow canary from Kitty Foiled is back, and Tom wants to eat him. Another spectacular backyard battle, where the confines of the yard are surrealistically stretched to accommodate the action (and to create a marvelous fantasy world for the viewer). How cute is Jerry's little outside entrance door, complete with porch light and mail slot? And how spectacular is the elation on Tom's face when he leans he can actually fly? A true highlight of the series.
THE TWO MOUSEKETEERS 1952 (7:23)
Jerry and his little friend Nibbles are mouseketeers in old France, with Tom their enemy. I was never a big fan of Nibbles (Jerry is cute, but Nibbles pushes it), nor did we like it as kids when Tom gets the guillotine at the end of this short - it isn't played for laughs and seems entirely too serious for this kind of cartoon (plus we don't get to see Tom "come back" from his injury). A strange, creepy ending, but this was a very popular short when first released to theaters (it won the Academy Award).
SMITTEN KITTEN 1952 (7:30)
A clip-cartoon where Jerry, egged on by the Green Devil part of his conscience, remembers all the dames that poor dumb Tom has fallen for over the years. Clips from Salt Water Tabby, Texas Tom (a personal favorite when Tom imitates Gary Cooper), Solid Serenade, and The Mouse Comes to Dinner. While it's great to hear Tom sing Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby, or see Tom casually try and roast Jerry over a candle flame, or see Tom choke Jerry to get his tongue to come out (to lick his cigarette paper), Smitten Kitten ultimately just makes you want to watch the original cartoons.
BABY BUTCH 1954 (7:01)
Alley cat Butch spies some food in Tom's and Jerry's home, and he'll stop at nothing to raid that ice box...even if it means passing himself off as a baby. Fast-paced Tom and Jerry short; I've always enjoyed the Butch character, and he's funny here as the mean baby, innocently saying, "Ah-goo" before screaming like a maniac when he doesn't get his way (the set-up reminded me of the Looney Tunes "Baby Finster" short with Bugs Bunny).
DESIGNS ON JERRY 1955 (6:39)
An often-used concept for a toon - line drawings on an easel or drafting table come to life - doesn't work as well here, because we miss the corporeal heft of the "real" Tom and Jerry. Much better once the Rube Goldberg trap swings into action.
PECOS PEST 1955 (6:40)
Jerry's Uncle Pecos, a guitar playing singer, makes a stop at Jerry's before his big singing debut on TV. But he keeps breaking his gee-tar strings during practice, so he yanks out Tom's whiskers, one by one. An all-time favorite, with a brilliant vocal performance by Shug Fisher as the feisty, tough Uncle Pecos (and he gets off a mean guitar lick, too). Why this was the only appearance by Uncle Pecos I'll never know, but it's a shame, na-na-na-na-na-na-ne-phew!
TOUCHE, PUSSY CAT! 1954 (6:44)
In a prequel to The Two Musketeers, we see Nibbles (I mean Tuffy - same character) begin the process to become a mousketeer...which includes slicing off Tom's tail a couple of times. Great gag of Tom getting chopped in half, but that, "Touché, pussy cat!" gets annoying after awhile from a character I never particularly liked. Still, it's great to see the first CinemaScope Tom and Jerry in its proper ratio, which is presented here anamorphically (as are all of the widescreen shorts on this disc).
THE FLYING SORCERESS 1956 (6:36)
Tom is looking for a job, and he gets one...with a witch who owns a twitchy broom. Beautifully stylized widescreen Tom and Jerry (I love the sparse, empty backgrounds), this one was always a little confusing to us as kids since the different-looking witch shared the same voice as the celebrated Witch Hazel in a couple of Bugs Bunny toons (supplied by voice artist genius, June Foray). Good gags with the broom and Tom.
BLUE CAT BLUES 1956 (6:49)
Tom's lovesick, and he's sitting on the railroad tracks, waiting for a train to take him out of his misery, while Jerry remembers his friend's fall from grace. A truly "sick" (in a 1950s "sick joke" manner) Tom and Jerry which just gets better and better every time I see it. Paul Frees' voice work here as the narrator is sinuously morbid and almost perverse (listen to him say, "Tom had a rival...Mr. Butch," and try and figure out how many weird subtexts there are just in that one line-reading). The final image of both Jerry and Tom waiting to die on the tracks, the whistle of the engine coming faintly from a distance, is bizarre. A hipster's delight that sounds like "Lenny Bruce Meets Raymond Chandler."
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS 1941 (8:38)
In only their third outing together, the cat and mouse team celebrate a rowdy Christmas as they chase each other under the vast tree filled with presents. A perennial favorite (it would always be brought back to run close to Christmas), this Tom and Jerry sees the two as friends...but only for the duration of the holiday. I love how an entire world with seemingly endless borders is created under that one Christmas tree (isn't that just how you saw your own Christmas tree when you were little?), and the final message is quite sweet, with the surprise musical mousetrap a nice wrap-up.
THE BOWLING ALLEY-CAT 1942 (7:58)
Tom and Jerry go bowling...with typically disastrous results. An early effort, with Tom much more detailed and fuller of body, and gorgeous background inking. Lots of good pain gags (Tom's head in the ball return is the best).
FINE FEATHERED FRIEND 1942 (7:49)
In a setting seemingly more appropriate for an early Disney effort, the barnyard provides lots of opportunities for physical gags as Tom chases Jerry. Not a favorite of mine (I don't find it memorable), but I do like the old-style, detailed animation.
PUTTIN' ON THE DOG 1944 (7:02)
Tom is after Jerry again; this time disguising himself as a dog in a mean-looking dog pound. Spike screaming like a girl when he sees Tom without his head is a highlight, but the bad print here (lots of scratches and dirt) takes away from the otherwise fun short.
The transfers for Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3 look good - particularly the CinemaScope 2.35:1's, which are anamorphically enhanced. The source materials used for these transfers are for the most part okay (only Puttin' on the Dog truly looks subpar), with grain and a few scratches and dirt noticeable, but not distracting. Colors are generally strong, although I did notice some shifts here and there and the image is reasonably sharp (Designs on Jerry looked a little dark to me, though).
There's a Dolby Digital English mono audio track that's entirely adequate for the job here. Hiss is discernable, but again, considering the original elements, not unexpected. There's also a Portuguese mono track available. English subtitles are available.
There are no extras for Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3.
A good sampling of some of the classic Tom and Jerry MGM Hanna-Barbera one-reelers (Pecos Pest alone is worth the purchase price). If you have the more comprehensive Spotlight collections, you won't need this disc, but it's a nice introduction to the team, at the right price, for newcomers or if you're looking for an upcoming holiday gift. I highly recommend Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, Vol. 3.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.