The Eighteenth Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband


This week’s Talkartoon is from the 13th of March, 1931. One of the credited animators was Shamus Culhane again. The other, Rudolf Eggeman, didn’t get listed in the credits for anything we’ve seen so far. And I don’t know much about him. The Early NY Animators blog has a tiny bit more, including attributions for some scenes in “Dizzy Dishes” and “Barnacle Bill”, plus cartoons I hope to get to. Early NY Animators found recollections of him working as far back as 1916, for the Pat Sullivan studio, but with the note that he had a reputation for crude and messy work. If Eggeman animated anything after 1932 they don’t know about it, and nor does the Internet Movie Database. (The IMDB doesn’t have anything from before 1930, when Eggeman joined Fleischer Studios, though.)

Do bullfighting cartoons always come down on the bull’s side? At least in the American tradition. I confess my deep ignorance of other countries’ animation patterns. I can’t offhand think of one, though, where the audience is clearly expected to be on the toreador’s side. Even when the bull is a big, menacing, unfriendly presence. I suppose the knowledge the bull would really be doomed however the fight goes makes him unavoidably sympathetic.

So this gives the cartoon some plotting trouble. You can have a sympathetic character be the toreador; Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and the Pink Panther did some great work in their bullfighting cartoons. But Bimbo’s a weaker character than any of them, even here where he’s doing the sorts of reality-warping gags that you’d get from screwball Daffy Duck. Take the bull, who’s naturally sympathetic to start with, and start his cartoon with a minute of teary farewells to his children and even his fly, and there’s no hope for Bimbo to actually star in his own short.

The teary farewell does give the first line of Talkartoons dialogue I remember making me laugh aloud though: the second child’s reassuring “Don’t worry, daddy, we’ll collect your insurance” is great. It makes more shocking the next child’s “never mind, Pop, momma’s gonna buy us a new daddy”. It feels like a joke from a more modern, cynical-edging-on-nihilistic cartoon. I didn’t like that; it felt like a shock-for-the-sake-of-shock joke, and I’m less fond of those these days. But that cynicism is of a piece with the end, and the bulls marching off unknowingly into the butcher’s.

So Eggeman had a reputation for sloppy work, albeit work that the Early NY Animators blog credits with good, funny expressions and movement. This makes for an interesting counterpoint because this cartoon features rotoscoping. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope (the patent was issued 100 years ago this past 9th of October). It made the studio. Thanks to tracing the movement of a real figure they were able to make Koko the Clown move in more natural, believable ways in-between being melted into a blob of ink or stretched into a hammock or something. It’s still one of the indispensable tools for the animator. Every studio would use it when they had some movement they needed to get right. It’s at least intellectually part of the heritage of motion-capture animation.

The bull’s dance is rotoscoped. I’m curious who the original dancer was, but that’s probably lost to time. The animation suddenly bursting into this smooth, gracious ballet figure, though, still stands out. I haven’t got any idea who did the actual tracing and adaptation of the original movement to a bull’s body shape. Maybe it was Culhane, who did have a strong drafting hand.

The cartoon several times uses the gag of someone’s accessory going about its business while they do something else. That’s a Fleischer Studios staple. It’s also got a nice proper fight-cloud, that I don’t remember encountering in the Talkartoons before. I only spot mice once, a trio of them on the giraffe’s neck at about 6:38 in.

I like the logic of the parade reversing course after the cop warns they’re going the wrong way down the one-way street. But my favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag is Bimbo and the bull staring one another down, nose to nose, until Bimbo’s nose comes off him and attaches to the bull. I was worried they’d repeat the joke, spoiling its whimsy, their next face-to-face showdown.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

10 thoughts on “The Eighteenth Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband”

    1. You’re right, it has. And I feel like it works better in Sherman’s Lagoon. (Here’s the strip for the 24th. It’s part of the comic’s surprisingly strong science-exploration streak, as the characters interact with a newly discovered species of snail.) The joke feels less startling in Sherman’s Lagoon and I’m not sure why. Possibly that there’s more story setting up Sherman’s general sadness and his relationships, in this storyline and in the comic strip’s history. In the cartoon all we really know about the bull is he expects he’s doomed, and here his family is ready to replace him right away?

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  1. Can’t agree that all American cartoons sympathize with the bull. Remember, when these classic shorts were made most Americans would have been happy to identify themselves as unapologetic beef-eaters. In “The Hollywood Matador”(1942), “Little Pancho Vanilla” (1938), “For Whom the bulls toil” (1953) and “Sportickles” (1958) the bulls lack redeeming social virtues. These swaggering bullies attack first and plainly enjoy beating up toreadors (especially the little guys). Note that in “Sportickles” el toro is killed by a mini-matador who hides a tombstone behind his cape and his unseen fans in the stands love him for it. Here’s what I think happens to us viewers, though. The longer the fight lasts the more vulnerable the bull seems to a new generation of viewers. They are upset the bull dies or loses just to give us a final, big joke. You don’t believe me? Go to Youtube and see the comments after watching Mighty Mouse in “Throwing the Bull.” I don’t think the viewers felt sorry for this mean beast just because he could sing in a grand, operatic voice (see below), do you?

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    1. Thank you for the cartoon link! I’ve been thinking a fair bit about it. And also enjoying it; Mighty Mouse was among the cartoons that I could not possibly watch enough when I was seven years old.

      I think you’re right that ultimately Throwing The Bull isn’t on the bull’s side. (I haven’t had the time to watch the other cartoons you suggest.) But it’s hard to convince a viewer, at least a modern viewer, that we shouldn’t be on the bull’s side. There’s a couple things that I think contribute to that. For the first half of the cartoon, the bull is the protagonist. This is maybe by default. There’s several toreadors, none of them named or distinct, all of whom get knocked out in moments, so they can’t carry the cartoon, and everybody else is even less important. This is related to your proposal that the longer the bullfight lasts the more vulnerable the bull seems. But I think it’s more that we’re following what the bull does, and why he does it.

      It’s fine for the camera to follow the villain, but we have to see the villain doing villainous things. And I just don’t see it. Through that point, he’s been fending off people who choose to attack him, and he’s doing it in great style. Oh, he brags about his magnificence, but, like, the first Popeye cartoon opened with two minutes of him telling us how awesome Popeye is. This cartoon throw in a line about having to save Carmencita from the bull, to summon Mighty Mouse. This reads to me as wallpapering over the plot hole that they forgot to make the bull the villain.

      Maybe if there were an establishing scene up front, that the bull was going to have his way with Carmencita unless a toreador defeated him, then the cartoon viewpoint and plot would agree. But if they could afford to add scenes to fix story problems they wouldn’t be Terry Toons.

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      1. Of course, todays audience is expected to side with the bull but I’m referring to the kids watching the matinees in the ’30’s and 40’s. Let’s be honest, in the first half of most Mighty Mouse cartoons the villain is usually the protagonist. Kids must have loved seeing MM whip Oil Can Harry’s butt but how evil was Oil Can? My favorite piece of singing from one cartoon goes something like…

        Pearl Pureheart: Oil Can Harry, you’re a villain!

        Oil Can Harry: I know it but it’s a lot of fun

        They don’t write ’em like that anymore. Let’s return to “Throwing the Bull.” The bull is the villain because he’s beating up dear little mice dressed as toreadors. He’s a menace to cuteness (as are all villains in Mighty Mouse cartoons) and he’s NOT defending himself. As in all American bullfighting cartoons you can’t show blood so those mice do not attack with lances, banderillas or swords. They are rodents with short capes. Those picadors have one singing moment and are never seen again. Notice the histrionics on the faces of the remaining mouse toreadors when the first is carried out before them on a stretcher. When Mighty Mouse does enter the arena the bull’s lyrics insist bluntly and briefly that he plans the same for our hero, or worse.

        See if you can find the remaining cartoons I listed. Most are on Youtube. In “The Hollywood Matador” the silent bull is so eager to attack that he’s slavering. In “Little Pancho Vanilla” the bull is a thug with only one line “Watch d’is, eight ball in the side pocket” and his last intended victim is a shirtless, little boy. In “The Timid Toreador” we respect the bull for chasing off an inept, cowardly toreador but then he becomes the villain because he hasn’t a good reason for attacking innocent, tamale vendor, Porky Pig.

        Note how bullfight cartoons often work on role reversal concealing the fact that, in real bullfights, el toro enters only once and is dragged out dead. Where the bull is the villain the plot is something like a boxing/professional wrestling match in which el toro is the bigger, meaner and stronger opponent. Remember, this is an American cartoon and a bull can’t gore anymore than a toreador can stab. We are meant to sympathize with his victims and ultimately cheer his defeat. These cartoons often leave you with the illusion that the bull enjoys and benefits from his career returning over and over until someone puts him away permanently. For the ultimate version of this, in which the sympathetic bull is depicted as a positive sportsman and loving father, see if you can find the Terry Toons, “A Bum Steer.”

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  2. After thought. Wouldn’t you say that the bull descends into pure villainy towards the end of “Throwing the Bull?” Once Mighty Mouse starts clobbering him el toro knows he can’t win with brute force so what does he do? He enlists a herd of smaller bulls to join him and gang up on MM. That’s cheating (shame, shame, shame)!

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