The Claude Cat Page: The Films and Evolution of Claude Cat
-by Matthew Hunter
|Claude Cat, like so many of the Warner
Cartoon "minor" characters, has become larglely forgotten. For some
reason, Claude was just never made into a "star" character like Bugs
Bunny, or Wile E Coyote., or Tweety , or the more familair feline,
Chuck Jones , creator and director of Claude, was a slow learner at the art of character creation early in the early 1940's, and sort of limped along with a mouse character called "Sniffles", who really had 3 traits that were used interchangeably....cute, charming, or annoying. Sniffles, by the way, was treated as a major star by the studio, promoted almost as much as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck.
But what goes overlooked about Jones in the early 1940's is that he DID have a character besides Sniffles. In fact, he had several. Some lasted longer than others, but they were still characters. A duo of dogs called the "Curious Puppies" were his first non-Sniffles attempts, and for "slow and subtle" and "frustration" humor, they were as good as they could be. But what even the most perceptive cartoon watcher, even the historians and experts, or maybe even Chuck Jones himself, fail to realize is that there was a lot of potential in a small black housecat. This cat never really had a NAME to speak of, but was undoubtedly a character. His first appearance was basically in "Sniffles Bells the Cat"(1941), in which the cat is so realistic in movement that he appears to have been rotoscoped (traced from live action) but was not. The cat had little personality and did not speak, but the design was there for a series of cat-oriented cartoons featuring a neurotic little black house cat, that continued over a period of about 4 years.
Beginning with "The Aristo-Cat", (1943), the character began to take off on his own, given a neurotic personality and voice , (which obviously became that of Claude), and sometimes just a sort of straight-man wherever a housepet variety of one was needed. This cartoon was another landmark for Chuck Jones, as it was the first appearance of the 2 mice Hubie and Bertie. "Aristo-Cat"'s second appearance was "Fin & Catty" (1943), where he said nothing of importance, just acted like a cat. Bob Clampett used a cat remarkably similar to this character for his "an Itch in Time" (also 1943) as an appalled onlooker to the chaos happening between Elmer Fudd, a dopey dog, and a flea. In the end, kitty once again uses the Claude cat voice, and says "now I've seen EVERYTHING!" and shoots himself in the head..
The cat disappeared until 1945, when Jones used him again in "Odor-Able Kitty". He still had the same voice, although this time he was a more humanized character, with a light-orange fur color, and the same neurotic behavior. Unfortunately for him , Pepe Le Pew came along, (his first cartoon) not only chasing but upstaging the little guy. For a few more cartoons he settled down again, got rid of the orange highlight in his fur, and became more like the Clampett version of lazy onlooker.
1947 brought the final revision to the "Aristo" cat character, making him into a victim of Hubie and Bertie mouse's mind games. The next year a new cat took his place, but only in outward appearance. "Mouse Wreckers" (1948) introduced Claude Cat, a lazy, neurotic yellow cat named Claude with a strange red hairdo.
THE FORMATIVE CLAUDE CAT
The formative Claude endured many subtle makeovers throughout his 9- cartoon career, (such a limited amount of cartoons may be the reason for his forgotten existence), and he ended up becoming a perfect poster-cat for jealous rage. However, every one of these films has something to like about it, and several of them have a surprisingly dark undertone to them, a trait shared by a number of Jones' films in the 1950's.
"Mouse Wreckers" (1949) finds Claude at the mercy of Hubie and Bertie's relentless tricks, a concept first explored in "Aristo Cat" and "Roughly Squeaking." In "Mouse Wreckers", Claude stands between a warm house and two homeless mice....and doesn't stand a chance. Hubie and bertie inflate him with an airpump, nail the furniture and his bed to the cieling, and put aquariums in the windows (to make it look like he's underwater.) Claude looks in the mirror, wondering what's wrong with him, and takes pills. Ultimately, he runs away screaming, cowereing in a tree in the back yard, leaving Hubie and Bertie to roast marshmallows in the fireplace. "Hypo-Chondri-Cat"(1950) finds Claude fearing for his life, as a hypochondriac on the verge of madness. Hubie and Bertie notice his fear of disease and make him think he's dead.
The same year, Chuck Jones began to experiment once again, introducing the cat to Frisky Puppy, a little terrier with a loud yip. Claude is once again terrified out of his mind. But another element to Claude's personality is added here...jealousy. Beginning with "Two's a Crowd" (1950) Claude becomes fiercely competitive. He tries do get rid of Frisky, who has been brought into his happy home by his owners. Predictably, he can't.
OF JEALOUS NATURE
His neurotic and nervous phase was wrapped up for good in 1951's "Cheese Chasers". Here, Hubie and Bertie try to commit suicide, in a plot strikingly similar to Friz Freleng's 1945 cartoon "Life With Feathers", which introduced Sylvester the cat.
That cartoon was his last with Hubie and Bertie, as well as his last speaking role. Claude, for his last cartoons, shut up and became a silent, vicious, jealous, evil character. By far, his best performance ever in this phase was 1954's "Feline Frame-Up," as he tries to make his owner think that Marc Anthony (the bulldog from "Feed the Kitty", ) is trying to eat Pussyfoot, his pet kitten. Marc Anthony gets thrown out of the house, and Claude steals his soft pillow bed, (throwing Pussyfoot into a long-necked vase so he can't escape). Marc Anthony gets his revenge on the mean cat, by making him release Pussyfoot, sign a confession, and show that confession to the owner. Claude gets tossed into the street!
Claude's cartoons are underappreciated classics, they really show the talent of director Chuck Jones, and are among the favorites of true Looney Tunes fans.
"Mouse Wreckers" (Hubie, Bertie)
"The Hypo Chondri-Cat" (Hubie, Bertie)
"Two's a Crowd" (Frisky Puppy)
"Cheese Chasers" (Hubie, Bertie, Marc Antony)
"Mouse Warming" (boy/girl mice)
"Terrier Stricken" (Frisky Puppy)
"Feline Frameup" (Marc Antony, Pussyfoot)
"No Barking" (Frisky Puppy, Tweety)