Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stubs - Lady and the Tramp


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LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955) Starring: Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom. Directed by Clyde Geronime, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi, Story by Joe Grant. Based on Haoot Dan the Whistling Dog by Ward Greenn. Produced by Walt Disney. Run time: 75. Color. U.S. Animated, Musical.

Lady and the Tramp is considered one of the Walt Disney animated classics, but it is not quite up the standards of the best films that studio produced. While it contains many of the same basic elements one finds in all of the classic Disney films, including interesting backgrounds, one or two memorable songs and top notch animation, Lady and the Tramp falls somewhat short of the mark set by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940), Cinderella (1950) and Alice in Wonderland (1951) to name a few.

Like my previous review, Christmas plays a part, but isn’t really involved in the plot of the story. In the case of Lady and the Tramp, Christmas is used to bookend the story, which begins Christmas morning 1909 with Lady (Barbara Luddy), a cocker-spaniel, presented as a gift from Jim Dear (Lee Millar) to his wife Darling (Peggy Lee). (One can only assume these would be the character names a dog would pick up on, rather than anyone’s real names. Otherwise, the wife would be Darling Dear.) After some power play between Lady and Jim Dear, the three of them settle down as a happy trio; Jim and Darling appear to be archetypal pet parents.

Meanwhile, across the tracks, things are much harder for a mutt named Tramp (Larry Roberts). While he has a happy disposition, Tramp is still forced to beg for food. One of his favorites is Tony’s, a local Italian restaurant. But Tramp also looks after his fellow dogs and rescues Peg (Peggy Lee), a Lahsa Apso and Bull (Bill Thompson), an English bulldog, when they get picked up by the dog catcher. Tramp is a bit of a legend among the other stray mutts.

But things change in the Dear household when Darling gets pregnant, The couple becomes more distant and wary of Lady. Feeling low, Lady turns to her neighborhood friends, a Scottish terrier named Jock (Bill Thompson) and an older bloodhound, Trusty (Bill Baucom) who has lost his sense of smell. They make Lady feel better about herself and her situation and when the baby arrives and Lady is finally introduced to the baby, things settle down. That is until Jim and Darling go on a trip without baby and Lady, putting Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton) in charge. She doesn’t like Lady and to top it off, she has two mischievous Siamese cats, Si and Am (both played by Peggy Lee), who do nothing but make trouble for Lady. Finally, Aunt Sarah takes Lady to the pet store to be fitted for a muzzle.

Frustrated, Lady flees and once on her own is chased by a pack of wild dogs. Lucky for her, Tramp comes to her rescue. Tramp takes Lady to the zoo, where he tricks a beaver (Stan Freberg) to remove the muzzle. Tramp shows Lady what it’s like to be collar-free and shows her the places where he gets fed, taking her to Tony’s and the film’s best known scene as Tramp and Lady end up kissing while sharing a strand of spaghetti. The two dogs end up sleeping together in a hilltop park.

Tramp escorts Lady home, but decides to cause havoc in a chicken coop they pass on the way. The farmer catches them, but while Tramp and Lady manage to escape him, Lady does not escape the dogcatcher. When she gets to the pound, Lady meets many of the same stray dogs that Tramp had previously saved. She learns from Peg that Tramp has many girlfriends and is unlikely to settle down anytime soon. Aunt Sarah does come to retrieve Lady, but takes her home and chains her up in the backyard doghouse. Trusty and Jock come to comfort her and Tramp drops by to apologize. Lady confronts Tramp about his many girlfriends and his failure to rescue her. Tramp leaves.

As soon as Tramp leaves, it starts to rain and Lady watches helplessly as a rat scurries into the house. She is sure that the rat will harm the baby. Lady barks, but Aunt Sarah tells her to be quiet. However, Tramp hears her and returns. Tramp gets into the house and confronts the rat. Meanwhile, Lady manages to break free of her chains and hurries to the nursery. Tramp fights and kills the rat, but inadvertently knocks over the crib and awakens the baby. When Aunt Sarah finally arrives, she blames the two dogs. She forces Tramp into a closet and locks Lady up in the basement. And then Aunt Sarah calls the dogcatcher to take Tramp away.

Jim Dear and Darling arrive just as the dogcatcher departs and free Lady, who leads them and Aunt Sarah to the dead rat, exonerating Tramp. Jock and Trusty overhear what’s happened and chase after the dogcatcher’s wagon. Trusty manages to follow the scent of the wagon and the two dogs manage to spook the horses, who drive the wagon into a pole. Jim, Darling and Lady are also chasing after the wagon and arrive on the scene and Lady is reunited with Tramp. However, Trusty gets injured.

By the next Christmas, Tramp is now part of Lady’s family with his own collar and license. The two dogs are raising four puppies of their own, Annette, Danielle, Collette and Scamp. Jock and Trusty, still recovering from his injury, come to visit. And all is well; happy ending.

The film is fun and enjoyable to watch, but doesn’t quite rise to the same level as earlier Disney efforts and some would point out that One Hundred and One Dalmations (1961), also dog-themed, is better well-known and more satisfying to watch.

That said, there are several things to recommend the movie. The backgrounds, if you look at them, are reminiscent of those utilized to better effect in Sleeping Beauty (1959). As in that later movie, Eyvind Earle, a Disney artist at the time, was in charge of the backgrounds. Earle, who had been an artist at Disney since 1951, would eventually go on to become a well-known painter of expressionistic landscapes. He had worked on several Disney films before Lady and the Tramp, including Peter Pan.

The voice acting is pretty good, with several actors, including singer Peggy Lee, taking on more than one role in the film. The songs, however, with few exceptions, are pretty forgettable. The best known is “The Siamese Cat Song”, which like all the songs in the film was co-written by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke, better known as a big band arranger in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.

While Lady and the Tramp may not be up to the same standards as the best Disney animated films, it is still pretty good and should be on anyone’s viewing list if they like animation. However, it might not be a film that you watch over and over again, such as Snow White, Cinderella and Peter Pan.

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