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There’ll be food around the corner

Bob Cox • Oct 20, 2019 at 12:00 PM

During my youth, I was a movie theater devotee, attending most venues in downtown Johnson City along the way, namely The Liberty, The Majestic, The Sevier and The Tennessee. I enjoyed cartoons as much as I did motion pictures. I have been known to attend a movie and leave after the cartoon ended (don't laugh) or stayed in the theatre until it rotated back. There was no requirement then for a massive exit; you just came and quietly went as desired.

I decided to feature a cartoon in today's column. My choice is an easy one: a 1943 Looney Tunes cartoon titled “An Itch in Time,” (now listed in the public domain). It is a takeoff of the phrase, “A Stitch In Time.”

There is a little female hillbilly flea that was portrayed in it with a catchy exaggerated southern drawl, all the while singing the ditty: “Food around the corner, food around the corner, food around the corner for me.” Food was generated when the cute little insect went to work on the hapless canine.

The flea was dressed in its farmer's-type outfit with a big sombrero and carried a satchel with the name "A. Flea" on it.

I watched the cartoon numerous times over the years on television. I first saw it in one of Johnson City's local downtown theaters and immediately fell for her. She was my sweetheart. When VHS tapes came out, I ordered one from eBay, later graduating to DVD.

The story line shows stuttering Elmer Fudd and his favorite canine relaxing by their cozy fireplace on a chilly evening when a passing hobo flea decides to make a delicious meal out of the family pet. It made its entrance without notice and immediately went to work.

After a furious round of scratching and a heavy dose of flea powder, Elmer warned his dog that he'll be given a bath if he scratched just one more time, a fate the dog considered dreadful.

The cute little frolicking insect continued her excavation of the dog's extremities, even employing various power tools and condiments. The dog's efforts not to scratch caused him to hold his breathe turning several facial colors, but he still managing to hang on.

The dog, in desperation, kicked efforts up another notch, resorting to explosive powers. The cartoon conveniently didn't reveal where such unstable matter comes from, but as we know, the cartoon world can get by with just about anything it wanted without even a hint of plausibility or explanation required.

As the dog starts to become demented trying to get rid of his unwelcome, uninvited tenant, Elmer drags him off to the bathtub for his promised washing, whereupon the flea attacks him as well and further benefits from a bath. Predictably, both dog and master end up in the tub. As the cartoon rides off into the sunset, the dog and his master are seen being carried off by the flea being identified as a "BLUE PLATE SPECIAL."

She gets out her telescope and straightaway spots the canine. After spotting a sizable shot of the dog's hind-quarters, the flea whistles in excitement, screaming "T-Bone!" She then sings, "There's food around the corner, food around the corner, food around the corner for me." That catchy ditty can be heard frequently throughout the cartoon.

The flea still searches for savory meat and uses pickaxes, jackhammers and even explosives while the poor dog tries to withstand the bellowing out his afflicting pain, but finally throws in the towel. He had had enough.

There are several observations about the film. Throughout the movie, Elmer is reading a Bugs Bunny/Porky Pig comic book. The voice of A. Flea is not credited, but I researched it. Sara Berner was better known as the telephone operator on the Jack Benny Program.

Sara stepped aside occasionally to allow Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny) scream "T-Bone.” Blanc also performed the voice of the dog. As usual, Arthur Q. Bryan (who played the role of a physician, Dr. Gamble, on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show) was the voice of Elmer. He was a natural. Bob Clampett's “An Itch in Time” milks seven minutes of crazy action.

As an adult, you would be surprised at some of the situations portrayed in the cartoon, for which I will not elaborate. It is subtle so you have to look carefully to find it.

Unfortunately for the dog, a relentless flea makes it all but impossible to stop from scratching. The cartoon switches between the flea's progress inside the dog's fur and the dog's desperate attempts to cope with it. “An Itch in Time” is timeless and very funny. Locate the cartoon if you can. You will not be disappointed.

Reach Bob Cox at boblcox@bcyesteryear.com or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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