It’s been acknowledged by the creators of The Simpsons that the blood-thirsty antics of Itchy and Scratchy were inspired less by Tom & Jerry and more by the violent situations of Herman and Katnip. By the 1950s, the writers at Paramount’s Famous Studios were suffering from cartoon fatigue — endlessly rewriting and redrawing the same tired stories for Popeye, Casper, Baby Huey et al. for years on end. The Herman and Katnip pictures were pure cat-chasing-mice opuses, which were by now running on auto-pilot, and got progressively more and more violent as the years went by.
The cartoons have what I call “Shemp syndrome” – it’s the same problem the Three Stooges shorts of the 50s had – they forgot what was funny about slapstick in the first place. The filmmakers just knew that “hurt gags” worked, so they upped the “hurt”, figuring it’ll be funnier. The results were less funny and more painful, and often in horrible taste.
Embedded below is the last 90 seconds from Mouseum (1956) which features my all-time favorite bad-taste ending. I love it. It makes me laugh because of how wrong it is. By this time, the animators had really lost all perspective. Here’s the set-up: Katnip is chasing Herman and his cousins through a natural history museum.
What follows next is pure genius: The cat chases the mouse into a stuffed elephant’s head. Katnip sticks a rifle into the elephant’s trunk and Herman, using super-human strength, bends the rifle to aim it back towards Katnip. His gunshot blast blows the elephant’s glass eyes into Katnip’s head! The eyes fall from his head and the cat thinks the eyeballs are his! He shoves them into his eye sockets making himself blind… he goes running into the street blindly, as Herman and the mice laugh at his handicap. Iris out.
Quentin Tarantino would be proud.