Tom and Jerry (Gene Deitch era, 1961-1962)

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NOTICE: Please have some respect for poor Gene Deitch and Allen Swift.

Tom and Jerry (Gene Deitch era, 1961-1962)
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The dark age of the cat-and-mouse duo.
Genre: Dark comedy
Dark slapstick
Running Time: 6-8 Minutes
Country: United States
Czechoslovakia
Release Date: September 7, 1961–
December 21, 1962
Created by: Gene Deitch
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Starring: Allen Swift
Gene Deitch

Kutula Zbyňková

Episodes: 13 Shorts
Previous show: CinemaScope era (1955-1958)
Foofle (Deitch's direction work)
Next show: Chuck Jones era (1963-1967)
Nudnik (Deitch's direction work)


Tom and Jerry is an American classic series of cartoon short created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Hanna-Barbera).

In 1961, several years after the original MGM cartoon studio had shut down in 1957, MGM continued production of new Tom and Jerry cartoons, but this time outsourced to Czechoslovakia with much smaller budgets. Under the supervision of American-Czech animator Gene Deitch of the UPA/Terrytoons fame as director and William L. Snyder as producer, Deitch and his team of Czechoslovakian animators produced 13 Tom and Jerry cartoons at Rembrandt Films for MGM with a very tight budget of $10,000.

While the earlier Hanna-Barbera era cartoons (1940-1955) of Tom and Jerry were well-received and the Chuck Jones era (1963-1967) garnered mixed to positive reception and the CinemaScope Era (1955-1958) garnered mixed reception, the Gene Deitch-era (1961-1962) was panned by fans and critics alike.

Shorts

  1. Switchin' Kitten (Deitch; September 9, 1961)
  2. Down and Outing (October 7, 1961)
  3. It's Greek to Me-ow! (December 7, 1961)
  4. High Steaks (March 23, 1962)
  5. Mouse into Space (April 13, 1962)
  6. Landing Stripling (May 18, 1962)
  7. Calypso Cat (June 22, 1962)
  8. Dicky Moe (July 20, 1962)
  9. The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit (August 10, 1962)
  10. Tall in the Trap (September 1, 1962)
  11. Sorry Safari (October 18, 1962)
  12. Buddies Thicker Than Water (November 1, 1962)
  13. Carmen Get It! (December 1, 1962)

Why This Era Deserves a Very Sour Custard Pie

  1. Bizarre and poorly crafted animation that is a massive downgrade from that of the Hanna-Barbera era, and to a lesser extent, the CinemaScope era.
    • The color scheme is very washed-out and unappealing to look at.
    • While some of the designs for a few characters, like Tom and Jerry themselves, the elephant from Switchin' Kitten, Tom's female owner in Buddies Thicker Than Water and Calypso Cat from the short with the same name look passable and resemble Tom and Jerry characters, the rest of the characters either look too simplistic, strange, horrifying, or even UPA and TerryToons rejects like Tom's Owner (despite his design looking decent enough), the Sheriff from Tall in the Trap (who looks like a walking corpse), the Ahab-Like captain from Dicky Moe, and even the elephant from Sorry Safari (which it looks nothing like any elephants are and looks like a strange cartoon creature).
    • The character movements look very strange and jerky.
    • There are tons of distracting and out-of-nowhere jump cuts in certain shorts.
      • It can even occur in good shorts.
      • Deitch claimed this was due to his team of inexperienced animators and a tighter budget of $10,000, in contrast to Hanna-Barbera's more lavish budget of $50,000, and it was canceled after 13 shorts.
  2. Awfully weak writing that doesn't stay true to the original and other reboots, movies, spin-offs, etc.
  3. The humor has been downgraded from being amazingly clever and hilarious to being obsessively mean-spirited and horrendous, as the majority of the jokes in this era are mainly centered on Tom getting maliciously abused and tortured for no reason whatsoever (see WTEDVSCP #5).
  4. The era's logic makes absolute zero sense, even for Tom and Jerry standards. An example is when Tom's owner in High Steaks shakes an entire bottle of soda, forces it into Tom's mouth, and turns him into the shape of the soda bottle.
  5. This era is very one-sided and one-dimensional, as almost all of the shorts are nothing more than Tom torture scenarios (Down and Outing, High Steaks, and Sorry Safari being the worst offenders). Unlike in the classic era and Chuck Jones-eras, where Tom never suffers through actual harm going on even if it's mostly undeserved, and everything is played for laughs, here, he is innocent and does nothing wrong, but gets maliciously abused and tormented for no reason other than trying too hard to make the slapstick extreme.
  6. Jerry has gotten flanderized from being a troublesome and cunning, but very lovable, funny, and cute mouse into a flat-out malicious sadistic jerk who always tortures Tom at the slightest provocation or for no reason at all, and in a way that seems more like serious attacks rather than just tricking or teasing him. Unlike the classic and Chuck Jones-eras, where Tom occasionally wins or he and Jerry put aside their differences (or yet, where Jerry would even get his comeuppance as well especially based on provoking Tom), Jerry almost always wins in the end. Instead of bonding over a mutual sentiment towards an unpleasant experience as he usually does with Tom, he became a complete Karma Houdini that never gets what's coming to him. Most of these really show that they had Jerry play at his absolute worst and Tom being utterly harmless.
    • Likewise, even Tom has been flanderized, as he's even more of a punching bag than he previously was. Also, he appears to be much weaker, more cowardly, and frail than usual, which is the most notable in the three cartoons featuring his infamous and notorious owner (see WTEDVSCP #8). There were also a few notable examples:
      • In Switchin' Kitten, he is seen afraid of the Lightning lookalike orange cat (who switched instincts with an unnamed bulldog).
      • In It's Greek to Me-ow!, he is seen running from the horses controlled by Jerry and seen running out of Greece.
      • In Mouse into Space, he gets scared of Jerry when he is trying to ignite his rocket badge, which made the mouse fly to the point that Tom packs up his bags and leaves the house.
      • In Calypso Cat, he seems to be weak as he loses to the calypso cat very quickly while fighting on his drums, in stark contrast to previous cartoons from the original Hanna-Barbera era (1940-1958) where Tom doesn't really lose that easily to Butch when fighting over him for either love interests or even Jerry.
      • Unlike previous cartoons and just like Foofle, he is always filled with bad luck wherever Jerry goes.
  7. Many likable, funny, and memorable characters from the classic/golden era, such as Spike the Bulldog, Tyke, Mammy Two-Shoes (despite being a racist stereotype), Butch, Meathead, Joan, George, Quacker, Nibbles/Tuffy, Toodles Galore, and Topsy, etc. are nowhere to be seen or heard about in this era.
    • Unlikable human characters, where most of their only purpose in these cartoons is mainly just to torture Tom for no discernible reason whatsoever or become filler, such as the butcher and sheriff in Tall in the Trap (originally meant to be a Looney Tunes short starring Sylvester and Speedy Gonzales before Tedd Pierce, a Warner Bros. screenwriter, sold the script to Bill Danch and Gene Deitch after director Robert McKimson rejected that script, which explains the out-of-character behavior for the duo), the crazy mad scientist from Switchin' Kitten, "the pirate captain in "Dicky Moe", and the opera conductor in "Carmen Get It!". However, the worst one is Tom's owner, who is outright abusive towards Tom. Whereas Tom's original owners would usually throw him out of the house temporarily, kick him, or hit him with a broom at worst (even when it's usually undeserved), Tom's owner in this era actually physically abuses and violently tortures Tom in ways that are basically animal abuse. Even Spike the Bulldog isn't that aggressive to Tom. Alongside that, he never gets his comeuppance except in his final appearance, Sorry Safari.
    • There are also unlikable animal characters too, such as the Lighting lookalike orange cat and the unnamed bulldog from Switchin' Kitten (whose instincts which the Lighting lookalike orange cat switched within that short), the woodpecker from Landing Stripling, and both the female Persian cat and the calypso cat from Calypso Cat.
  8. Gratuitous over-the-top violence that isn't funny at all, but is instead rather brutal, sickening and downright uncomfortable to sit through, like in Down and Outing. A good example of such sadistic brutality displayed in this era is a scene from Landing Stripling where Jerry and the woodpecker sling-shot Tom from a telephone pole into a tub of boiling water, where the cat splashes around yelling in pain, jumps out and bounces away and back with a partially cooked bottom half that makes him look as if he's bottomless.
    • The classic era may have had its violent moments, but it never went this far.
  9. The soundtrack is horrendous & really generic. The sound effects (which are designed by Tod Dockstader; no disrespect to the deceased) are just plain creepy. For example, when Jerry saws through the wood in Landing Stripling, it sounds more like an angry cat than wood being sawed. In the same short, there's a woodpecker character who only makes these creepy and annoying synthesized warbles.
    • The sound effects sometimes don't sync up, mainly as the result of bad editing. For instance, at the beginning of Calypso Cat, the clanging sounds heard as Tom bashes at Jerry aren't in sync, mainly because there's too many clangs.
    • In all fairness, the music and sound effects were so poor because the creators tried to buy sound effects from the state-owned Czechoslovakian studios, the communist authorities would've found them and kicked them out.
    • In most of the cartoons of this era, the MGM lion (portrayed by Leo the Lion) roars as heard in the Metrocolor "A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Cartoon" opening logos often sound rather bored, phoned-in and low-volume for some reason, in contrast to the original Hanna-Barbera era (as well as all the other MGM cartoons produced by the MGM cartoon studio between 1939-1958) and the Chuck Jones era where the MGM lion (portrayed by Tanner the Lion) roars instead sound incredibly loud and ferocious, which is a odd since Tanner's ferocious MGM lion roars at the opening MGM logos are some of the biggest highlights of the Tom and Jerry and other MGM cartoons of the classic era.
  10. Subpar voice acting from Allen Swift (who, by the way, was usually the only voice actor). For example, Tom and Jerry's laughing in some shorts such as It's Greek to Me-ow! and Mouse Into Space come off as creepy and unfitting. Also, Tom's new screams and cries in shorts like Landing Stripling and High Steaks sound disturbing.
    • It doesn't help that Allen Swift seems to have been performing without any script most of the time, meaning that all he gets to do is provide insane, improvised rantings while playing characters like Tom's owner, or the Ahab-like captain from Dicky Moe. Tall in the Trap and The Tom & Jerry Cartoon Kit is the only short where Swift gets any scripted dialogue, and not surprisingly, it's the only one where he gives a decent performance.
  11. Most of the shorts' endings can range from terrible (like It's Greek to Me-Ow!) to downright horrible (all three of the shorts that featured Tom's Owner)
    • While the ending of Buddies Thicker Than Water is okay and much better, it is pretty meh since while Tom is scared off by Jerry due to him throwing Jerry out into the cold in favor of getting pampered by his thin female owner and deserves it, the only problem is that when Tom tries to get Jerry back into the home through the letter, Jerry simply throws a hockey outfit to Tom.
  12. Many shorts in this era are a huge waste of potential, since even though they do utilize many great ideas and setups with heaps of potential for slapstick comedy gags, whether it is a mad scientist lab theme like in Switchin' Kitten, an Ancient Greece theme like in It's Greek to Me-ow!, an outer space theme like in Mouse Into Space, a nautical pirate theme like in Dicky Moe, or a jungle theme like in Sorry Safari, but unfortunately these concepts have been ruined by botched executions with their plots limited to just one or two of the most dull, unfunny, stale, barebones and cookie-cutter gags ever conceived in animation which is mostly dragged out for way too long, while the rest of these cartoons' plots are basically filled with the stale and often-repeated cruel gags of giving Tom as much pain and suffering as possible all thanks to Jerry causing trouble on purpose, not helping is how the writing of the shorts of this era overall tends to be badly-rushed most of the time.
    • Sorry Safari for example is the worst offender of such wasted potential, as, despite its jungle theme setup giving heaps of potential for comedic gags such as quicksand, man-eating plants, snakes, monkeys, crocodiles and lost African civilizations, most of the gags and jokes in said cartoon are limited to Tom and his owner falling off the back of an elephant and getting chased by both a lion and a rhinoceros, as well as Tom getting needlessly abused and tortured by his owner all thanks to Jerry causing trouble on purpose.
    • The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit, Tall in the Trap, and Carmen Get It!, however, are fortunately the only three cartoons from this era than managed to escape this problem and instead make good use of their respective great concepts to their full potential, but even that wasn't enough.
  13. Gene Deitch himself disliked the original Tom and Jerry (most likely because of its violence), yet he was given the task of working on the series (instead of Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, or some other great animation director of the time), though Deitch later changed his opinion. After being assigned to work on the series, Deitch quickly realized that "nobody took [the violence] seriously" and it was merely "a parody of exaggerated human emotions". So what was the point of having him work on a franchise he doesn't like or even care about, to begin with?
    • To add salt to the wound, Deitch was the only person of his entire animation unit in Czechoslovakia who had ever seen any of the original Tom and Jerry cartoons, while the rest of his Czechoslovakian animation crew had never seen any of the Tom and Jerry cartoons at all (as the country was on the Communist side of the "Iron Curtain", making this somewhat excusable), hence the Deitch unit's inability at making great Tom and Jerry cartoons.
    • Hypocrisy: Despite the fact that Gene Deitch himself disliked the original Tom and Jerry cartoons because of how he found them to be "needlessly violent", he went out of his way to make Tom and Jerry to be far more (needlessly) violent and brutal than it already was in the worst possible way and made Tom receive as much pain and suffering as possible in the worst way in these cartoons (especially in all three cartoons featuring his infamous owner (see WTEDVSCP #8)) so that the audiences would hate Tom and Jerry as much as Gene Deitch did!
  14. Some scenes feel like prolonged filler. Take the first short Switchin' Kitten, which begins with a needlessly lengthy scene of a horse carriage coming from the distance before Tom is ejected.
    • On that note, the pacing is all over the place in many of them. Some of them are very sluggish and tiresome such as Switchin' Kitten and Sorry Safari, while others such as High Steaks and Landing Stripling start slowly, but suddenly become way too fast, which is a big contributor to most of the gags falling flat.
  15. Most of the background music by Štěpán Koníček (again, no disrespect to the deceased) are just generic stock music (again, the budget issues make this somewhat excusable), and when the final few shorts do start using original music, it doesn't feel anything like what you'd expect in a cartoon.
    • Speaking of which, many of the shorts' opening music is archival audio taken from the Hanna-Barbera era cartoon Jerry's Cousin composed by longtime MGM cartoon composer Scott Bradley, which could be considered infringement.
  16. The title cards are confusing and misleading. For example;
    • In High Steaks, where Tom cooks Jerry on a barbecue which in the short Tom is just trying to keep Jerry from ruining the day's events.
    • In Dicky Moe, we see Tom and Jerry inside of the whale but in the short, they never get swallowed by a whale during the entire cartoon.
    • In Calypso Cat, we see Tom and Jerry trapped in the calypso cat's drums, but in the short, this never happens at all as only Tom ended up being the victim to the calypso cat, not Jerry.
  17. The backgrounds can sometimes feel unfinished and empty in details, most notably in Landing Stripling.
  18. Lazy editing as there are many animation errors everywhere. For example, there was a scene where Tom's eyebrows disappear in The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit.
  19. Multiple Misspellings like in "Tall In The Trap" says "Shairf" instead of "Sheriff".

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The Chuck Jones era is a huge improvement over this era.
    • Gene Deitch thankfully eventually learned from his mistakes from this era, and therefore after his contract with Tom and Jerry ended, he then moved on to create Self Defense...for Cowards and Nudnik which were massive improvements for his direction and also saved Paramount Cartoon Studios.
  2. Gene Deitch adds some new ideas to the franchise that haven't been done before. For instance, most of the shorts no longer take place near a house and utilize other themes, which would carry on into the Chuck Jones era, and other reboots, movies, and/or spin-offs.
  3. The awkward animation and voice acting can make for unintentional comedy, particularly in Dicky Moe.
  4. Tom himself is the easiest to root for and still very likable character as usual, despite him being weak. He serves as a more or less precursor to Foofle.
    • Jerry was at least likable in Buddies Thicker Than Water and The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit.
    • There's only one decent likable human character in this era, and that is Tom's female owner in Buddies Thicker Than Water, despite having only a very minor cameo role and her ear-grating screaming.
  5. There are still a few good shorts, like Buddies Thicker Than Water (the best one from this era), The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit (also counts as the best), Tall in the Trap, Calypso Cat (the only cartoon where Jerry loses), and Carmen Get It! (which ended this era on a high note).
  6. Switchin' Kitten and Sorry Safari both have slightly better animation than the other shorts, as they were both produced in the U.S. with more experienced animators, even though that's not saying much.
  7. Some funny moments, like Jerry impersonating the MGM lion and the famous bird-voiced elephant gag in Switchin' Kitten, Tom bouncing around with a burning bottom in Landing Stripling, the line "DON"T TOUCH MY GUNS!" from Sorry Safari and the entire "stairway in the dark" scene from Tall in the Trap.
  8. Creative opening sequences.
    • Also, the Tom and Jerry title cards as seen in the opening and closing title sequences in this era, while still simplistic and cheap-looking, is a huge improvement to CinemaScope Era (which the previous era look cheap and simplistic with notable use of flat colors and poorly-rendered typography). One particular cartoon, Mouse Into Space, had the Tom and Jerry title cards rendered with 3D-looking depth for the first time since the original Hanna-Barbera era's pre-1957 cartoons.
    • The MGM cartoon onscreen credit being placed on a Wanted poster depicted on a cartoon lion bandit in Tall in the Trap.
    • The MGM cartoon onscreen credit is placed over a cartoon lion roaring in the jungle in Sorry Safari.
  9. The music intro from the original cartoons returns and has at least stayed true to the 1940-1958 cartoons.
    • On a side note, while most of the music is forgettable, the music on the end cards sound epic (especially in Dicky Moe and Carmen Get It!) and sound better than the rest of the cartoons.
  10. Tom's owner gets his comeuppance in Sorry Safari.
  11. Depending on your view, Calypso Cat is the only short in this era where Tom wins in the end and Jerry gets his comeuppance, as despite losing his love interest to the calypso player, he instantly pursues Jerry in a chase at the end.
    • There are also a few cartoons where Tom does deserve his comeuppance, such as Landing Stripling (even though this one went a little too far), Buddies Thicker Than Water and The Tom & Jerry Cartoon Kit (the latter two is done cartoonishly and in a funny way).
  12. A few Hanna-Barbera era characters return, such as Lightning Cat (in Switchin' Kitten).
  13. Despite the number of horrendous shorts (and some good ones), the quirky and surreal nature of this era is unique.

Reception

Unlike his other series like Nudnik, Gene Deitch's Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts produced between 1961-1962 were panned by both critics, fans, and audiences alike. This is mainly due to the extremely low quality animation, the extremely low budgets, the weak writing, the lack of returnee characters like Spike, Tyke, Nibbles, Mammy Two Shoes, Butch, Joan, Quacker, and a few others from the Hanna-Barbera era cartoons, its terrible voice acting, music, and sound effects, the more brutal and hurtful usage of slapstick and violence, the flanderization of the cat-and-mouse duo such as Tom being reduced into a huge punching bag and Jerry being reduced into an unlikable sadistic jerk who enjoys torturing Tom for fun, the one-sidedness of Tom and Jerry's battling rivalries where it always ends with Jerry winning and Tom losing even though the former usually does not deserve it, the introduction of Tom's notorious owner in three of his shorts, the inexperience of his Czech animation crew in making these Tom and Jerry cartoons and the fact that Deitch himself was tasked to work on the cartoons despite his personal dislike towards the series due to finding it "needlessly violent".

Despite the negative reception of Gene Deitch's Tom and Jerry shorts, they were commercially successful in movie theaters back in the day, and some fans wrote positive letters to Deitch, stating that his Tom and Jerry shorts were their personal favorites due to their quirky and surreal nature. While most of Deitch's Tom and Jerry shorts were widely panned, some of his Tom and Jerry shorts had better audience reception, most notably The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit and Buddies Thicker Than Water.

Gene Deitch, in response to the negative reviews of his Tom and Jerry cartoons, admitted that the negative feedback he received was justified given that he already "hardly had a chance to succeed" given the low budgets and the inexperience of his Czech animation crew. He believed "They could all have been better animated – truer to the characters – but our T&Js were produced in the early 1960s, near the beginning of my presence here, over a half-century ago as I write this![1]

Trivia

  • Tom's owner in this era bears a slight resemblance to Clint Clobber, who is one of Gene Deitch's original characters that appeared in Terrytoons shorts that ran from 1957 to 1959. Rumor has it that the two characters were the same person in which all fans called him "Clint Clobber". Because his name was never revealed, some fans refer to him as the fat man. According to Deitch, however, these similarities between the two are coincidental.
    • But to be fair, he opted not to use Mammy's character in his shorts, as he felt a "stereotypical black housekeep" character "didn't work in a modern context."
  • Due to the negative reception from fans, Tom's owner is never seen or heard from again after "Sorry Safari".
  • While this era uses the new black-background Metrocolor MGM Cartoons logo featuring Leo the Lion (replacing Tanner the Lion, who was previously used for the Technicolor MGM cartoons of the 1940s-1950s), there are a few exceptions though: Switchin' Kitten, Down and Outing, Buddies Thicker Than Water, and Carmen Get It! instead use the 1960s theatrical MGM logo featuring Leo the Lion without the "A" and "CARTOON" at the top and bottom of the MGM logo respectively (though the "A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Cartoon" onscreen credit does appear in a separate title card in both Switchin' Kitten and Down and Outing), while both Tall in the Trap and Sorry Safari on the other hand didn't use the MGM logos at all and instead have the "A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Cartoon" onscreen credit appear on cartoon lions in the background).
  • Beginning from this era, all subsequent MGM theatrical cartoons produced are copyrighted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. instead of Loews Inc., with both Down and Outing and It's Greek to Me-ow! being the final MGM cartoons copyrighted to Loews Inc.
  • Beginning from this era and Chuck Jones era, all subsequent MGM theatrical cartoons are produced in Metrocolor, a less expensive color process used from a selection of Kodak's film products and color processes, in stark contrast to previous MGM cartoons from the 1930s-1950s which were mostly processed in the more lavish and costly three-strip Technicolor color process. By 1965, three years during Chuck Jones era, most of MGM's animated output sold for television are re-processed in this Metrocolor color process, hence explaining these cartoons' more poorly-faded, washed-out color quality when they first aired on television at the time.
  • Gene Deitch once stated that he had received a death threat due to the shorts' quality. He since mellowed out and even accepted to talk about these cartoons and the threats of working behind the Iron Curtain, which the fans accepted as soon as they understood his reasoning.
  • In 2015, an entire collection of all 13 cartoons made by Gene Deitch were released onto DVD following the 75th anniversary of Tom and Jerry.[2]
  • Gene Deitch had sadly passed away in Prague on April 16, 2020, at the age of 95.
  • Many other Deitch cartoons, such as Munro, the first non-American Academy Award winner for "Best Short Animated Film" are considered some of the "better" abstract animations ever made.
  • The crew who later worked on Nudnik films.

Videos

A riff on the entirety of the Gene Deitch era of Tom and Jerry.

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